The Peace of Christ is Powerful

Christian intellectuals laudably relay this really powerful and appropriate Christian message:  “Know yourself.  Know your sins.  Dig deep into the sins of your life and sacrifice them to God.”  We seek to motivate the complacent, uninterested, non-invested sectors of Christianity, and rightly so.

But analytical enthusiasts can take this call to action too far.  We can seek to know our deep sins with such fervent earnestness that the responsibility becomes a self-sanctifying pressure.  This occurs especially among the intellectual Christian community: some of us take on the heavy burden of uncovering our flaws, adjusting in light of the illumined flaw, and trying to be really careful not to overcompensate.

For example, a fellow college student might see the various ministry opportunities around his campus and decide to participate.  He joins an evangelistic ministry in steady alignment with Christ’s Great Commission.  As his education grows, he realizes that sin can even lurk in the purest-seeming parts of his soul.  Being sharp and inquisitive, he starts to question the motives behind his ministry involvement.  He notices that some reasons he is in ministry are quite sinful: he does it to look good before others and give himself peace of mind.  Therefore, he cuts back his participation a little, but not too much, constantly assessing and reassessing both his reasons for involvement and the satisfaction he finds in the ministry.

We try so hard to know ourselves, our deepest desires, and our various ambitions so that we might attain better grounding in Christ.  But if we are so preoccupied with self-awareness, analysis, and even over-analysis whatever happened to Christ’s ostensibly easy yoke and light burden?

Paul addresses the Ephesians, who struggle with the inability to understand the mystery of Christ’s gospel and wrestle with the tendency to pursue deeply intellectual Gentile ways, reminding them of what Christ is doing:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

Here, Paul is not very concerned with what Christ’s work allows them to do, but what work Christ is actually doing in them.  Christ stands as their peace, breaks down hostile walls, creates one new man, and reconciles them to God.  There’s a lot of talk of what Christ is doing, to the end that peace replaces hostility and oneness with God replaces division.

The peace is important for Paul. It even shows up in the armor of God, “…shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).

In this passage Paul could have said, “gospel of salvation” or “gospel of Christ “ or  “gospel of truth,” but he chose “gospel of peace.” Why the gospel of peace, specifically?  Because the fact that Christ orchestrates and completes our oneness together, in peace, with God is good news.  It’s good news because we’re attaining to a peace with God.  Even better news:  we actually aren’t the ones doing the attaining: Christ is presently making this otherwise impossible peace happen.

This peace is not a feeling of coziness with God, but a dissolved hostility and resultant oneness with God and fellow Christians, through Christ’s work, not just on the cross, but in our daily lives.   Notice that such news would have prepared the ministry enthusiast student for ministry, not led him to unduly second-guess his ministry motivations.  He thinks he might be involved because it gives him peace of mind, when Christ’s work within him actually gives him the peace of mind in preparation to do God’s work in reliance on Christ.

All this to say the pressure to expose hidden sin rests under Christ’s jurisdiction.  And it’s our responsibility to listen to his exposing judgments.  We will naturally fight against this, but Christ’s work in us will bring even our tantrums against Him to our attention.

We need not worry about a pressure to over-analyze ourselves.  We can instead rest in Christ’s peace-forming work within us, which conforms us to His very likeness.  One sure way to attend to Christ’s work in us involves noticing consistent messages that come our way.

Again, take the example of the student involved in ministry.  It’s one thing for him to assess his motives to the point of madness.  It’s quite another to hear a message on finding identity in ministry at Church, and then hear a buddy say, “You care more about ministry involvement than the people with which you are involved,” and even see a billboard on the side of the road saying, “Is your work your livelihood?”  And still think nothing of his ministerial motives.

We cannot pre-determine the messages we encounter.  We cannot even ensure that we will connect the things we notice in life’s encounters, though we can take steps to improve observation.  Situations, messages, observations, and memories sometimes just come to us, vividly. This is the power of Christ within; the peace of Christ is powerful, not requiring our own power but showing-off Christ’s.

This is not to say that a Christian cannot cultivate careful and observant instincts, but that reliance on himself to do the cultivating results in a less reliable cultivation than a hearty dependence on Christ.  Christ’s peace working within us is a power beyond our own, yet mysteriously accessible to us.  We need not struggle to make sure it will be attained; but we must struggle to remember our place as his patient.  We need to let Christ do what he does best, His Father’s healing and redemptive work.

God and Myers-Briggs: The Science of Spiritual Gifts

My friends and I have adopted a new slogan of sorts that comes up during most social gatherings. Almost like clockwork, someone over by the salsa will drop the phrase “ESTJ,” at which point we’ll grin:

“It’s not a party until someone brings up Myers-Briggs.”

Lately, it seems to be a fair statement. Articles about introversion and 30-second tests to show left- or right-brained tendencies are popping up everywhere. The more psychologically-minded among us would probably comment that we’re really late to the party on this, too. People have been studying personalities for almost as long as people have had them.

My initial exposure to personality testing was a junior-high version of The Five Love Languages. It did little for me beyond confirming what I already knew—that I like presents. Later on, in my first semester of college, our required “Freshman Seminar” lumped StrengthsFinder in with its other life-discovery tools.

Which is how I found myself, at 18, awkwardly telling a new group of peers that I’d gotten “Woo” as my top strength.

“What does that even mean?” one boy demanded, face scrunched.

I blushed. “It’s like…ice-breaking and stuff.”

Yet even in that moment of wondering whether I would be branded “Woo Girl” forever, I saw a tiny bit into myself. And it was revolutionary.

Prior to that point, it hadn’t really dawned on me that I had any more of a knack for making people feel at ease than anyone else—or even that it was really a talent at all. Yet as I alternately relished and barely survived my next few semesters, I realized the truth: I could make friends very, very easily. Almost instantly. I could figure out the right thing to say to diffuse an awkward situation. And I began to regard it as almost a superpower.

This brings me to my current year-and-some of having a lovely roommate who is also a therapist. During the course of our time together—since we can’t just talk about boys all the time—we’ve had many conversations about personality tests.

It was she who first introduced me to Myers-Briggs.

To “diagnose” me, we started to talk through my tendencies: everything from my relationship with my friends, to my relationship with work, to my relationship with the dirty dishes. When she thought she had a good guess, she started reading through the personality profile. I generally agreed with what it said, but wasn’t fully convinced until she got to one line.

“The ENFP can talk her way in or out of anything.”

We exchanged amused, knowing looks. Guilty. Oh, so guilty.

Over the past year of constant conversations, I’ve become a big fan of the science of personality. Still, it sometimes feels like I’m talking about a glorified horoscope. Sure, these tests assess people individually, rather than making a sweeping judgment about everyone born in June—but there’s still that little part of me that recoils against saying anything close to, “All of Type X, will do Y.” Surely I must be more unique than that.

Plus, I’ve had multiple friends who took these tests and got wacked-out results. Why operate based on something that isn’t 100% accurate?

In the Apostle Paul’s discussion on spiritual gifts, he does a little personality-profiling of his own.

He gives the Romans a basic breakdown of ways to serve the body of Christ: teaching, giving, mercy, etc. It’s by no means meant to be an exhaustive list. (After all, including items like “tech support” and “Sunday School” would have done nothing but confuse the first-century church.) Yet in these simple classifications, Paul clues the Romans in to something that must have been weighing on quite a few hearts: “If I am to follow Christ, do I need to preach too?”

Of course I’m not going to lie to you and say that I’ve never wished for a personality trait I don’t have. My friend Jared and I commiserated a few weeks ago about the struggle of being creative people who have trouble staying focused. At one point he jokingly lamented, like some personality-deficient Tin Man, “If I only had a J!”

And so often, seeing more logistical brains at work, this is how I feel.

If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

 Our natural, sad human inclination is to find ways to make things about ourselves. We want to nail down our strengths so we can flaunt them in job interviews and on first dates. Paul doesn’t say that everyone is relegated to one gift, as though God passed out cards during Creation. He also doesn’t outline how to use these gifts to get rich and famous. His emphasis is on the fact that we will naturally find these gifts in our service together.

The Romans didn’t have online tests, but they did have each other and a whole lot of church-establishing to do.

I’ve always been fascinated with the way that our physical bodies are attuned to each different part. A blind person, for example, developing razor-sharp hearing and a heightened sense of touch to compensate. When one part of the body is lacking or hurting, even the parts with a completely different function band together to help the body as a whole continue on.

And so it should be with us.

I use my “Woo” on the hospitality team at church, but this does not give me a pass to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t come to Serve Day because only introverts should do things like vacuuming.” God is glorified in us both when we find an outlet for the gifts He gave us, and when we push past our natural tendencies in a way that only His strength could accomplish. Fishermen can preach, and they have.

Our personalities and gifts should only limit us enough that we remember that we can’t do the Christian life alone.

My pastor, Joseph, exhorted us on this topic by saying, “Think of yourself in regard to the good news of Christ, which shows you who you really are.”

And we know that God works all things (and personalities) together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.