IDENTIFY
“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.”

(Ephesians 1:11)

Before You Begin

Take just a few moments to still your heart and mind. Remember, God desires to speak to you in these moments.

 

You got me when I was an unformed youth, God, and taught me everything I know.

Psalm 71:17

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Ephesians 1:11-19

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

 

It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free — signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you — every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask — ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory — to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him — endless energy, boundless strength!

 

THINK
“I took all this in and thought it through, inside and out.” (Ecclesiastes 9:1)

• “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.” That sentence might be worth the price of this book. Do you believe it? Reflect on what informs your answer.

• Would you describe your life as “glorious living”? If so, give some details. If not, how would you describe it?
• Reread this passage and underline or highlight the ways Paul prays. Do you have anyone in your life who prays for you like that? Do you pray in that way for someone else?

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From Between the Dreaming and the Coming True by Robert Benson1 Four The great risk is not that we will fail to qualify to be reunited with God. The risk is that we will somehow fail to understand why we are here. That we will end up believing that we are being punished because Adam and Eve were barking up the wrong tree. That we will be so fearful of the stories about separating the sheep from the goats that we will end up believing that it is okay to try and have God all to ourselves and shut out those who do not look, act, sound, believe, or worship the way we do. That we will see those stories as the only authentic God stories and put little faith in the ones about hungry prodigals and redeemed tax collectors and Johnny-come-lately yard workers and the lucky sinners brought in to fill up the banquet halls.

 

We are not here to show something to God. We are here because God — the One who wants to be completely known — has something to show to us.

 

THINK
“I took all this in and thought it through, inside and out.” (Ecclesiastes 9:1)

• What’s your initial reaction to Benson’s words? Anything that speaks to you and makes you respond “Aha — yes!” or “No way!”?

• Can you think of a time when you were among what Benson referred to as “hungry prodigals, redeemed tax collectors, Johnny-come-lately workers... lucky sinners”? What do you think God was showing you during that time?

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From Telling Secrets by Frederick Buechner3 The WhiteTowe rGenesis points to a mystery greater still. It says that we come from farther away than space and longer ago than time. It says that evolution and genetics and environment explain a lot about us but they don’t explain all about us or even the most important thing about us. It says that though we live in the world, we can never be entirely at home in the world. It says in short not only that we were created by God but also that we were created in God’s image and likeness. We have something of God within us the way we have something of the stars. . . .

 

This is the self we are born with, and then of course the  world does its work. Starting with the rather too pretty young woman, say, and the charming but rather unstable young man who together know no more about being parents than they do about the far side of the moon, the world sets in to making us

into what the world would like us to be, and because we have to survive after all, we try to make ourselves into something that we hope the world will like better than it apparently did the selves we originally were. That is the story of all our lives, needless to say, and in the process of living out that story, the original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.

 

THINK
“I took all this in and thought it through, inside and out.” (Ecclesiastes 9:1)

• How about you? Have you tried to make yourself into something the world would like better than the way God created you? Think through your reasons for being content or dissatisfied with the way God made you.

 

• “I ask — ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ . . . to make you intelligent and discerning . . . so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do” (Ephesians 1:18). Do you think Paul prayed that we would rediscover who God intended us to be? Why or why not?

 

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From Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle4 A Coal in the Hand My son-in-law, Alan Jones, told me a story of a Hassidic rabbi, renowned for his piety. He was unexpectedly confronted one day by one of his devoted youthful disciples. In a burst of feeling, the young disciple exclaimed, “My master, I love you!” The ancient teacher looked up from his books and asked his fervent disciple, “Do you know what hurts me, my son?”

The young man was puzzled. Composing himself, he stuttered, “I don’t understand your question, Rabbi. I am trying to tell you how much you mean to me, and you confuse me with irrelevant questions.” “My question is neither confusing nor irrelevant,” rejoined the rabbi, “For if you do not know what hurts me, how can you truly love me?”

 

THINK
“I took all this in and thought it through, inside and out.” (Ecclesiastes 9:1)

• Whoa! What’s your reaction to the story of the rabbi? Think about the people who say they love you. Do they know what hurts you?

• Do you know what hurts you? Rest assured, that’s not an “irrelevant question.”

 

READ

From The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen5 Claiming Childhood

(Nouwen’s reflections take place in the aftermath of an encounter with Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son.)

 

The younger son’s return takes place in the very moment that he reclaims his sonship, even though he has lost all the dignity that belongs to it. In fact, it was the loss of everything that brought him to the bottom line of his identity. He hit the bedrock of his sonship. In retrospect, it seems that the prodigal

had to lose everything to come into touch with the ground of his being. When he found himself desiring to be treated as one of the pigs, he realized that he was not a pig but a human being, a son of his father. This realization became the basis for his choice to live instead of to die. Once he had come again in touch with the truth of his sonship, he could hear — although faintly — the voice calling him the Beloved and feel — although distantly — the touch of blessing. This awareness of and confidence in his father’s love, misty as it may have been, gave him the strength to claim for himself his sonship, even though that claim could not be based on any merit.

 

THINK
“I took all this in and thought it through, inside and out.” (Ecclesiastes 9:1)

• In one way or another, we’ve each been the prodigal. Think back to a time when you left and then returned. What did you lose while you were gone? Do you think you lost a certain kind of dignity during that time? Think on this awhile.

• Maybe you’re still away from home or the Father or whatever. Or maybe you’ve returned home (literally or figuratively). What happened that brought you to your senses?

 

PRAY

Slowly read the following poem a couple of times. What speaks to you? Ask God to bring a word or phrase to the surface. Then allow that word or phrase to begin your prayer. It might seem awkward at first. Fine, let it be awkward. But stick with it.

 

A Story That Could Be True

If you were exchanged in the cradle and

your real mother died

without ever telling the story

then no one knows your name,

and somewhere in the world

your father is lost and needs you

but you are far away.

He can never find

how true you are, how ready.

When the great wind comes

and the robberies of the rain

you stand on the corner shivering.

The people who go by —

you wonder at their calm.

They miss the whisper that runs

any day in your mind,

“Who are you really, wanderer?” —

and the answer you have to give

no matter how dark and cold

the world around you is:

“Maybe I’m a king.”

—William Staford

 

LIVE

These words from Stafford’s poem serve as a reminder of this section’s theme — identity: and the answer you have to give no matter how dark and cold the world around you is: “Maybe I’m a king.”

 

You’ve read from the journal entries, letters, and poems of others. Now it’s your turn. What does God want you to live when it comes to identity? Use the space below to write a letter to yourself. You might want to date the letter so you can later reflect on where you were and what was going on in your life regarding identity.

                                                                                                                                                          Date ________________

 

Dear ___________________


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