She was talking, but I wasn’t listening. I was thinking about what I wanted to say. I don’t have to tell you how popular this weakness of mine isn’t, especially with my own family.
“So what’s your experience been?” she was asking. Caught red handed, I had no idea what she was talking about.
“The homework question. You know. From BSF. ‘How do people today boast about their spirituality?'” ￼
It had been the first question we talked about at Bible study this week. Some had mentioned tooting our own horns–letting others know about the meals we fix for new mamas, the Sunday School class we teach, the help we gave our neighbor last week. It’s easy to see when others boast, isn’t it?
It’s the reason I’ve disliked church. And other Christians. Our spiritual self-righteousness, believing we’re better than the rest of the world, is the thing people outside the church hate about Christians. It’s what I hate about us, too.
Even so, I’d struggled to write something down as my answer. I’d much rather think about how other people boast. I sure didn’t want to look at how I do it.
But when I read the second question, “What happens in your heart…” I knew that’s where this was going.
Danged Bible study homework.
“Oh, Jesus, I don’t want to see it, but you must want to show me. So show me.”
And I remembered right away a devotional that said we boast whenever we take credit, either with our words or with our silence, for God’s work anywhere, including his work in ourselves. So to act as if we have it all together, as if the gospel is for those folks “out there” rather than for me, is a lie.
And it’s boasting to let others believe that lie rather than to tell them that I am desperately in need of Jesus’ love and power every single day and even, when appropriate, to tell them exactly how I need it–for my filthy mouth, for my gluttony, for my resentment and bitterness, just to name a few.
The truth is, I am in desperate need, and whenever I’m too proud to admit that need, I’m boasting.
Whenever I say something to sound spiritual rather than to tell the honest truth about my life or what’s in my heart, I’m boasting.
Whenever I act as if others need the gospel more than I do, I’m lying and boasting.
Whenever I pray for a certain someone to see the light and repent and fail to say–and believe–the same exact words for myself, I’m boasting.
Whenever I fail to give God the credit for the good things in my life–the kindness from a daughter in law, the sweetness with friends, the insight I had–I’m boasting.
Whenever life is going well, and I’m silent about the source of my strength or the things that God is doing in and for me, I’m boasting.
Lord Jesus, save me!
My entire life is a boast, a shameless patting of myself on the back, whether I ever say the words out loud or not. You see my heart. You know how far I am from Paul’s heart when he wrote, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”
James says that coming together, confessing our sins, and praying for one another heals us (5:16). I love how God has made the church so that its people can learn and love and heal together, and then share this bounty with others.
My experience with church people has often been to hear how well everyone is doing instead, how much we know of sound doctrine, or to overshare about who needs prayer, as if we’re not all a bunch of spiritual quadriplegics ourselves. As if Jesus’ blood and death and resurrection is good for other people, but not for us.
I’m remembering how much Jesus despised the Pharisees, those hypocrites he said were white washed tombs “full of dead men’s bones,” who thought they didn’t need him.
My experience with church people has also been with some who think it’s bragging to share the sweet things they’re experiencing in their journeys with Jesus, so they don’t. But we’re exhorted to tell each another the goodness of God to us. That’s not boasting about ourselves. That’s praising the One who gives us himself, so that we can turn and share him with each other. “Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.”
Boasting of my own goodness or refusing to tell the truth about his goodness is really the same thing. It’s taking credit for what isn’t mine.
But refusing to boast or to be silent, and telling the truth about my weakness and his strength instead, is freeing. Soul stirring.
It builds relationship. It rips off the mask my pride wants to hide behind, that keeps me cut off from myself and others and says instead, “I need! I’m empty! I’m hurting!” or “He’s enough! He’s filling me! I’m healing!”
There’s no filling where there’s no emptiness.
No healing where there’s no wound.
No saving when no one’s lost.
Henri Nouwen wrote that “it is amazing in my own life that true friendship and community became possible to the degree that I was able to share my weaknesses with others…often deepening the pain is the way to healing because deepening the pain means to go to that place in me where I am really broken, sinful, dependent and where I’m no longer trying to stay in control but where I can reach out to God and to my fellow human beings without fear.”
James said it best, “confess your sins to one another that you may be healed,” 5:16.
All that to say, if you aren’t comin’ to Bible study this week, I’m not healin’.
The devotional mentioned is The Songs of Jesus by Tim and Kathy Keller.
Henri Nouwen’s quote is from a collection of his letters, Love Henri, p. 47.
Quotations are from
2 Corinthians 11:30 NIV
Matthew 23:27 NASB
Psalm 66:16 NIV
(This is one of a series of emails written to the women’s Bible study group of Rock Creek Fellowship.)