As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was blessed to have a month-long study break back in June. I loaded up my Kindle with more books than I could read in one month and ended up tackling seven. While all seven were good reads, there were two that were the most impactful — Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen and The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzaro. I would recommend both of these books to any Christ-follower — and especially to Christian leaders.
Beginning with this post, I want to share a few reflections from Nouwen’s book (it’s the shortest and most accessible of the two).
When it comes to spiritual formation, identity is important. How do you see yourself? How does God see you? How are those two perceptions similar? Different? Nouwen uses four simple words to help us understand our identity as beloved children of God.
“When I know that I am chosen by God, I know that I have been seen as a special person.” – Nouwen
“Our preciousness, uniqueness, and individuality are not given to us by those who meet us in clock-time— our brief chronological existence— but by the One who has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity.” – Nouwen
It is one thing to be chosen for a game of pick-up basketball and another thing altogether to be chosen by the Creator to be included in his family, kingdom, and story. You might be selected for a project at school or work, but it’s nothing compared to being selected by Jesus himself.
Fundamental to a healthy spiritual life is understanding how affirming and determining it is to be chosen (taken) by God.
It is affirming because frees from a self-imposed, self-righteous performance trap. Many unhealthy Christians — especially those who fall into the traps of legalism or a generally negative attitude — are trying to win the approval of God through better behavior, or having the correct system, or performing better than the other person. And if they’re not consciously trying to win his approval, they are certainly trying to make themselves feel better about themselves.
If I truly see myself as chosen by God, then I don’t need to win the approval of others whose opinions do not carry the same weight as God’s opinion. This doesn’t mean I act in an offensive or harmful way; quite the opposite. When I see others as chosen by God as well, then I must see them as valuable and worthy of great care and respect. To speak ill of another person who has also been chosen of God reveals one’s own insecurities about their status with God.
A self-righteous person is not someone who understands better that they have been chosen; it is one who doesn’t much at all about what it means to be chosen.
But as a person chosen by God, I don’t have to bend, twist, and contort to win the temporary and non-sustaining approval of others. If my boss undervalues my contribution to the company, that does not change my fundamental identity as one chosen by God. No one – not your boss or spouse or teenager or critic — can change the fact that God himself has taken you to be his own.
Let me put it this way: No amount of self-esteem can match how much God esteems you.
To see yourself as chosen is not only affirming, it is also determining. It determines how you see yourself and the world at large. It determines your steps. As a chosen person, I must ask if my choices reflect an eternal weight of importance or do they reflect the momentary temptation to impress others (thus making me feel more valuable in their eyes)?
If every Christ-follower understood the significance of being chosen by God, it would be reflected in our demeanor at church, in our conversations at home, and in how we handle difficult people and circumstances.
I believe we would be nicer, calmer, more patient and assured — not a smugness that is birthed out of insecurity but a confidence that comes from knowing you don’t have to win every argument or prove your value. You have been already been chosen — taken by God to be his.