I remember about three years ago walking out of service having heard an excellent sermon on the character of God. I forget now which attribute was being discussed. The portrayal was vivid and compelling. The biblical support was solid. But I was discouraged.
It was not a condemning sermon. I just had enough other pieces of God’s character I was trying to emulate. I didn’t need something else added to my plate; no matter how beautiful. If I’m honest, I was more than discouraged; I was little irritated. It was starting to feel like “one more thing” I couldn’t do.
What struck me that afternoon was this was not the right way to respond to God. I began to be more concerned about my reaction to a clear presentation of God’s character than I was about the fact that I fell short of that aspect of God’s character. I got the sense that I was missing something about the big picture that would never allow me to get this piece right.
From the reflection that began that Sunday afternoon, I have become convinced of a principle that has changed my approach to the Christian life – we will not consistently emulate a particular aspect of God’s character until we have first come to find rest and security in that aspect of God’s character.
Until I rest in God’s grace, I will only see His kindness as a standard I can’t reach. Until I find peace in God’s wisdom, I will only use it as the standard against which I measure my ignorance. Until I take refuge in who God is, then I will view his excellence as being against me.
Where might this be support in Scripture? I believe the emphasis upon change as imitation and the model for this imitation being children toward their parents supports the principle that rest is the best motivator for emulation.
Consider Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.” We are called to imitate God as children who know that they are well loved by their father.
Let me offer one of my favorite stories. When my oldest son was in pre-school, he had a classmate who was upset. Being a compassionate boy, he tried to ask his friend questions and console him. After several unreturned questions, he patted his friend on the shoulder and said, “I have a good book on anger you should read.”
He was in pre-school and barely knew his letters! But he had seen me interact with people who were upset in the halls of our church frequently. These conversations, being brief interventions, often ended with a word of encouragement and the recommendation of a resource. So not knowing how to read, he was offering a “good book on anger.”
I take this as a high, high compliment. My son felt loved and secure with his Papa (that’s what my boys call me). This drew his heart to want to be like me. Rest produced emulation. I am not proposing this as an alternative model for repentance and discipline. But those models of change are rooted in moral crisis.
That Sunday afternoon I was not having a moral crisis. I was viewing God as my standard (imposed authority) more than my loving Abba Father (my rescuing hero standard). For day-to-day change, I think the latter is essential and often neglected.
When I am resting in God’s character, then every time I see how He responds to people, then I can’t wait for my chance to do the same. No longer do shame and failure drive me; a child-like affection compels me. I long to have more of that sense each time I see a glimpse of God’s character.