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chase studychasing after the heart of God
By jennie allen
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Jennie Allen
All right reserved.
Chapter Oneidentity :: 1
The identity we are all chasing has already been given to us by God.
What Is Identity?
Identity is found in the distinct characteristics that set us apart or give us worth.
We want to matter and to make a mark on the world. It feels selfish, even arrogant, to admit it. But every one of us has this need for a significant identity. This need possibly lies at the root of every human interaction and achievement. We all need to know why our life counts and what sets us apart, since life is short and there are a lot of us on this planet.
In the space below describe yourself. Who are you? What do you do? What is your personality like?
I was innocently sitting in science class my sophomore year of high school, waiting for class to start, when two guys known for bullying turned around and decided it was the day to make me their target. I don't remember what they said, but I still can picture where I was sitting and what I was feeling. I felt like I was spinning and could not put my feet down. I could not land on what was true. As they laughed about who they perceived me to be, all I could think was,
"Who am I?"
I knew they did not know me and what they were saying was careless and untrue, but I did not know me and I did not know what was true. It wasn't long after that experience that I met God. And it wasn't until He began to undo me and define me that I finally could put my feet down and stop spinning. But even now, there are still plenty of days I spin, even with God in me.
No matter our age, we often find ourselves with feelings like those I had in high school. We have an identity crisis because we build our identity on things that move—things that aren't dependable or constant.
The list of what we build our identity on goes on and on:
family / bank accounts / friends / personality comfort / house / marriage / leadership / job vacations / children's success / relationships future / abilities / clothes / acceptance / love respect / morals / church / behavior / purpose
David lived a life unconcerned with appearances and image, rooted in a secure identity. Yet those of us who have put our faith in Christ live with the same identity; we just forget.
Let's begin this journey to discover where David's confidence and worth was rooted.
Even though very little is said about David's life directly in these verses, note some of the things we learn
about his life ...
about his relationship to his father and brothers ...
about where and how he likely spends his time ...
about his heart ...
about his new identity ...
"And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward" (1 Samuel 16:13, emphasis added). This single fact would go on to define every moment of the rest of this man's life, every psalm he would write and every obstacle he would overcome. What did it mean for David that the Spirit of God was on him?
Read these verses and consider how those of us who know Christ have a calling similar to David's.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
What does He say you are?
What does that mean to you?
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 peter 2:9–10
What does He say you are?
What does that mean to you?
As long as we try to find our significance and worth in ourselves, we will feel disappointed. Self-esteem only works if we have a self worth esteeming. I am so sinful and selfish that I don't want to put my hope in myself.
Understanding these two truths keeps me from building my hope in myself:
1. We are all lost and pretty messed up, and
2. God in His grace rescued us.
As long as I am looking into myself for my identity, I will either be self-righteous about how great I am, which would be inaccurate, or distraught by the reality of the wreck I actually am.
The gospel steals all self-esteem:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.
Defined by God
"Nothing good" dwells in us. This statement in Romans is depressing if you don't hear the rest of the gospel. The whole story, the truth of the gospel, is we get something infinitely more sturdy and fulfilling than self-esteem. For those of us who know Christ, we stand on the unchanging reality that we have been so loved by our God that He purchased us with the blood of His Son. See, we have worth, but it doesn't come from within us—it comes to us from the One who made us. We share in a destiny and the calling David received that day. We have been rushed by the Spirit of God too. We will rule as sons and daughters of God someday. We have an insane calling, an insane identity.
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
1 john 3:1 NIV
If our true worth and significance and identity come from something so solid and eternal as God Himself, we don't have to pretend when we are imperfect. We don't stand on our accomplishments and personality and performance. We stand securely on the nature of an infinite, loving God. We don't have to manage our image or pretend we are okay, when we are really broken and imperfect. The grace God gives us in defining who we are changes everything.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
2 corinthians 4:7
Christ's Spirit is this treasure inside of our broken lives, in us, moving and working in powerful and unique ways. Imperfect jars of clay each shaped uniquely to hold the Spirit of God for different purposes, each with unique marks and cracks and broken places. And through those spaces God shines out. The shameful places are torn down and become the places that are most useful to God.
The gospel strips us down to nothing but builds our hope in a secure, reckless, passionate God who loves us and saved us in spite of our messed-up selves. And then He uses those wrecked places to show His glory.
He is that good and, yes, we are that bad. All of us ... especially those of us who think we aren't.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
Our value comes from God; it can never be found in how we measure up. So whether you feel worthy or ashamed, this news should probably undo you. It is the character of God that gives us worth, not anything we have done or will do.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
There is freedom in accepting our unworthiness and receiving God's worth. But self-esteem dies hard, especially for those of us who stand on a great performance.
The work of Christ steals all shame but it also steals all of our pride.
The years David spent in the hills tending sheep birthed a familiar psalm that has comforted every generation since. As you read the psalm, respond to the Lord through the two questions on the next page.
The lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the lord forever.
Who are you, Lord? & What do you want for me?
God desires for you to know His heart. He wants to lead you beside still waters and to restore your soul. He wants you to embrace your identity as His child. These are my hopes and prayers for you this week as you take time to reflect on His Word through these projects.
Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!
It is hard to make the time and the space and to make our worlds quiet. We have to fight for it. It was in the quiet of the hills that an intimate relationship between David and God was born. It was when David was alone.
Get alone with God, with no agenda. Go outside and sit; turn off your phone. Pray and be with God. Confess your dependence. Thank Him. And listen.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the lord, who made heaven and earth.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.
These blocks represent the things you have used to construct your identity. What have you built your identity around? On each block write something you have used to define yourself. (For example: kids, job, appearance, abilities, friends.)
We all know these things are inadequate. But we are still building our lives and our worth on them.
How do you feel if the things you listed are threatened?
Who are you if you lose all of this?
How much are you trying to control your image or what others think of you? Answer these questions:
Do you freely confess your current struggles to close friends?
When someone accuses you of something, do you immediately get defensive?
Are you quick to condemn when you hear about someone else screwing up? And do you feel like you are above making massive mistakes?
Do you get frantic when you feel misunderstood?
Do people think you have it all together?
There is freedom in understanding we are all equally and completely messed up, selfish, and prideful. We belittle the God of the universe whether we have an affair or we just worry He won't provide. None of us is above messing up, even in what some might consider small ways. We all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. There is no way anyone can live as though they are better than someone else. God is our only hope, our Defender, our Definition, our Righteousness. Apart from Him there is no good thing.
As we begin this journey, chasing the heart of God together, wrestle with what you know about God. Write a letter to Him—describe how you feel about Him right now. How do you feel when you approach Him to pray? How do you think He views you? Is His definition of you hard to believe?
Be honest. Put words to how you view Him and how you think He views you.
The right answer is to rest our identity in the God who created us and defines us. He gives us our identity. The right answer sounds amazing and even potentially fulfilling. But most days it feels impossible to believe in an invisible kingdom, in an invisible God who actually loves us. So we attach ourselves and our worth to things we can see. We try to control our image, since what is inside feels impossible to fix.
This is the war that often consumes our lives; here lies the root of insecurity. But also on a good day when we feel our image is intact, there lies the root of pride. And neither insecurity nor pride serves as a fulfilling basis for our identity.
These questions matter, since they lie at the core of our hearts and navigate our lives.
Who am I?
How am I finding my identity in things outside of God? Is it working?
How do I align my identity around God's character?
Do you want to know why David lived so confidently, so boldly? He actually believed this stuff. David believed God is who He says He is and what God said about him was true. David's God was real. David was God's and David knew it.
The fear of God makes people brave.
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 timothy 1:7
Fear has so captivated our minds we don't even recognize it anymore. It's just how we think. We live paralyzed, afraid to stand out yet also afraid of being invisible, afraid of something terrible happening yet also afraid something good will never happen. We live afraid of people and we think all of these thoughts are normal. We don't live seeing God, we live seeing worst-case scenarios.
While everyone stood around acting like they believed in God, David actually was experiencing Him. This is why God worked so powerfully through David's life. God was a matter of fact to David. God was so real, David found everyone else silly when they stood around not doing anything because they were afraid. He was recklessly brave simply because he knew God was real and with him.
Do we just confess an intellectual belief in God or is He real enough to impact our circumstances? Do we see God rather than physical realities? Fear is not just a little thing. Fear is stopping us from the things we are meant to be doing, the things God means for us to accomplish. And we must begin to experience God and hear Him or we will just stand there looking at whatever giants we face, unable to move forward. We need courage. But courage feels impossible to muster up on days we feel paralyzed by fear.
David wasn't especially courageous when he faced a giant; he just believed God was bigger than the man he faced. He believed God was real and with him. The same God with David is with us. God actually has plans for our days, and seeing God gives me the courage I need to live out His plans, no matter the risk.
For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. acts 28:27, emphasis added
Do we see and hear God? Would we live in fear if we did?
Our fear of God has to expand to be greater than our fear of anything else. Fearing God simply means that, above any other thing, we love and want to please Him. The first of the Ten Commandments is, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). When God is in His right place, He will be the only thing we fear, the only thing we worship.
Be willing to go out on a limb with Me. If that is where I am leading you, it is the safest place to be.... Your desire to live close to Me is at odds with your attempts to minimize risk. You are approaching a crossroads in your journey. In order to follow Me wholeheartedly, you must relinquish your tendency to play it safe.
Let Me lead you step by step through this day. If your primary focus is on Me, you can walk along perilous paths without being afraid. Eventually, you will learn to relax and enjoy the adventure of our journey together. As long as you stay close to Me, My sovereign Presence protects you wherever you go.
sarah young, Jesus Calling
What did the Israelite army believe about the situation, and how did they act upon their beliefs?
What was on the line if they fought?
What did David believe about the situation, and how did he act upon his beliefs?
How was David different from every other man there? What gave him the courage to act?
What was David's motive for fighting Goliath?
What did he want most?
Nothing to Lose
The smaller this life gets and the bigger God and the next life get, the more we are willing to risk here on this earth. We live courageously because in light of God's glory, we don't have as much to lose. Courage is grounded in a big view of God.
A truly dangerous person is one who has nothing to lose. Saul and all of the Israelite men were protective of themselves, their freedom, their comfortable lives. David did not see what he might lose, he saw God; he saw God's glory and name being mocked, and in faith he was motivated to bring glory to God. David did not live protectively of this life; he had nothing to lose here, because he believed his God was real and heaven was coming.
Fear is rooted in unbelief and unbelief is sin. Courage is fundamentally a fight for faith. We fight to believe all the way down to the deepest parts of us that God is real and enough. He alone makes us brave.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"
Excerpted from chase study by jennie allen Copyright © 2012 by Jennie Allen. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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