Not the Christ

One has to be exceedingly cautious when passing on second-hand information, but according to my buddy and old school chum Aaron Crews, Dr. Jay Sklar is fond of beginning at least some of his Covenant Seminary classes by asking all of the students to recite with him a brief-but-memorable creed: “I am not the Christ. I am not the Christ. I am not the Christ.” Three times he has them repeat the same sentence; apparently, this is a truth that Dr. Sklar wants deeply impressed upon the souls of every wide-eyed seminary student.

Although the truth that none of us is the Christ should be laughably obvious to anyone not living in an asylum, in the past few weeks this catchy little catechism has enabled me to take a time-out in the middle of various situations and ask myself, “Wait a minute…am I ‘trying to be the Christ’ in this situation?”

It’s amazing how this short creed has shed light on how often I wander into situations where I am doing exactly that – trying to control what, for flawed human flesh, is uncontrollable.

I don’t think it’s just me, either. The telltale signs of a “lower-level Messiah Complex infection” are everywhere to be seen, if only we will pause briefly and meditate on how we respond to the “difficult people” in our midst or the “challenging life situation” that stubbornly refuses to get any better. Don’t we all begin constructing outcomes of tough situations in our own heads, and then begin acting upon those outcomes, working to bring them to fruition in one way or another?

Point being, I have been rather surprised to find how often I have used this piece of wisdom – from a class I never once attended – to stop in my tracks and consider the ways in which I have unwittingly tried to inject gospel truth into the lives of others and then bring about “the desired result” simply by praying for the Holy Spirit “to do His part.” After all, my design is clearly the best outcome for advancing the Kingdom of Christ…well, the best outcome that I am able to see, anyway.

I believe most of us, if we’re honest about it, tend to enter into the lives of others with “a clear sense” of what should transpire, if only we apply the right amount of prayerful intercession. And, of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with praying sincerely for healing, reconciliation and so forth; those are good, right, and God-honoring prayers. As far as I can tell, the problem begins to manifest itself whenever we believers attach ourselves too tightly to a desired outcome. In those moments, the larger truth we may be willfully ignoring is that we simply have no idea what God is really doing in any given situation. Sometimes, in stark contrast to the prayers we pray, illnesses end lives…troubled marriages very often crumble and come apart. How these heart-breaking outcomes might be “better” than the healing or reconciliation we asked for is not ours to decide; we cannot possibly see all God’s handiwork.

Even my Kindergartner knows that the fall of mankind took place precisely because we desired to be like God, all-powerful and completely sovereign (Genesis 3:4-6). Because we are so familiar with this very simple truth, though, I wonder if one of the neater tricks of our common enemy is to not so much argue against this truth, but rather allow us to validate it and then “file it somewhere” such that it collects dust from lack of use. “Yes, yes, I know that already…so what’s next?” Perhaps we oh-so-slowly slide into our desire to treat God like a brightly-colored birthday piƱata – with prayer functioning as a baseball bat – not by an outright denial of our sinful tendency to nurse our own God complex, but merely by having our view of the truth “obstructed” by time and neglect.

For my part, I have come to greatly appreciate the class-opening creed of Dr. Sklar. His simple recitation consistently pops up on my radar now and is helpful in driving me hard toward praying in a manner that imitates Jesus in Matthew 6:9-13:

“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Lord, you already know what I think is needed in this situation – even before I have opened my mouth or had my first thought this day – so I relinquish this situation to Your good and perfect will, even if what is best for Your kingdom ends up hurting me badly.

That’s a really hard prayer to pray sometimes, but I think it more accurately reflects who Christ is – and who I am.

I am convinced beyond any doubt that our enemy is relentlessly whispering in our ear such that we are able to earnestly seek God’s will in this world and yet still pollute all of our efforts with our own desires (Isaiah 64:6), inner longings that may remain hidden even to ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9). Though there is nothing at all wrong with asking for healing, restoration, reconciliation or any of God’s other good gifts, it really only takes the most minor tug on the steering wheel of our hearts to redirect our course such that we are trying to be God, rather than trusting in the One who is God. What a great way, unless we are very careful, to dishonor God and lose sight of all that He has provided for us in Christ (Romans 8:32, Ephesians 1:7-10, Colossians 1:19-23).

Christmas is a great reminder, at least for me, that God’s ways are very often not my ways, and yet so much better than any of us could ever conjure up. I would never have conceived of God living among us as flesh and entering into the messiness of our world, let alone considered asking God to sacrifice His own Son for my benefit. Thank God that there truly is a Christ, and that Jesus is merciful and kind to patiently reject all of our applications to join the Trinity.

Job 38:1-3 (ESV)
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.”

Isaiah 46:8-11 (ESV)
“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”

Habakkuk 1:5 (ESV)
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”

John 3:6-8 (ESV)
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

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