BY CHAD BIRD
Dual narratives are unfolding in our lives at every moment. There’s the story we’re writing, and the one penned by the Spirit. A great deal of overlap exists between these two narratives, but there’s plenty of divergence as well. The story we’re writing goes something like this. We live our lives in the freedom God has given to us. We fall in love, get married, raise a family. Or we remain single, foster friendships, cultivate hobbies. We go to school, find a career, purchase a home. We discover what makes us tick, where our passions lie, then try to find activities and responsibilities that match those. We settle into our place in this world. Life may not be perfect, but it’s good, or at least okay. We plan where we’ll be this coming Christmas with the full certainty that it will happen. We decide where our kids will go to school. How we’ll celebrate our fifth or twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. So our story unfolds. And then there’s God’s story.
His narrative is writ large when ours shrinks under pressure. When ours is in eight-point font, his is in all caps. Our marriage becomes strained, or we divorce, or our teenage daughter tells us she’s pregnant. This is not the story we want written. The company where we’ve worked for the last ten years goes belly-up and we’re forced into a new career. We spend the weekend visiting pawn shops to find the tools or jewelry our son hocked to pay his dealer for a fix. This is not the narrative we had planned. This is not a life we forecast or one we can control. We don’t have the emotional resources to deal with it. Everything we didn’t want to happen has happened. But this is God’s story happening inside our story. His own narrative is superimposed over our own. And he’s an eccentric author. We write our story in a way that draws upon our strengths, our hopes, our plans and dreams. But he writes our story in a way that highlights our weaknesses, our fears, our deficiencies.
Why? Because in so doing he showcases the areas of our lives where he does his best work. Yes, of course, he can and does use our unique talents and abilities, but most often he uses whatever is going to spotlight our nothingness and his everything. His story in our lives is most obvious when the narrative has taken a turn toward the cross. “When I am weak, then I am strong,” said the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 12: 10). But this confession only comes after complaint. He pleaded, three times, for the Lord to extract his “thorn in the flesh” (v. 7). Paul had his story to write, after all, and the Lord’s thorn was getting in the way of his narrative. But God dug in his heels. No, the thorn stays, he said. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). In other words, if Paul is powerful, Jesus is weak in him. If Paul is weak, Jesus is powerful in him. The more Paul gets to write his own story, the less the story of Jesus gets told. So the apostle, finally realizing this, says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv. 9–10).
The stories we prefer to write about ourselves, as outwardly attractive as they may be, will never get us into the narrative in which Christ truly shapes us into his own image. The self-image we cultivate tends to work on the false assumption that God desires us to grow more independent. To become better and stronger so that we need him less. We imagine ourselves growing when we lean less on God and more on our own gifts and talents. As if the Lord is waiting for us to spread our wings and make our own way through this life. But Christian maturity is not marked by independence but dependence. A growing awareness of our incessant need for Christ. A focus off me, my talents, my doing, even my religious life, and a focus instead upon the Son of God. The less we are, the more Christ is. But far from being bad news, this is the best news of all. For the more Christ is, the more we are the very people God has created us to be.
This is an excerpt from the book Your God is Too Glorious by Chad Bird, Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017, Used by permission. www.bakerpublishinggroup.com
Chad is an author and speaker who's devoted to honest Christianity that addresses the raw realities of life with the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. Chad has served as a pastor and assistant professor of OT theology, contributed hymns to the Lutheran Service Book, and cohosts the podcast “Forty Minutes in the OT.” He holds Master's degrees from Concordia Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College. In addition to writing the books, Christ Alone and The Infant Priest, he has contributed articles to Modern Reformation, The Federalist, Concordia Pulpit Resources, and other journals. His new book with Eerdmans, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul, is now available for pre-order at Amazon. His writings and other resources can be found at his website, chadbird.com. Chad and his wife, Stacy, enjoy life together in the Texas Hill Country.