Depleted. Exhausted. Overwhelmed.
If those words resonate even a little, you’re not alone. Two years ago, my wife Kelly felt all those emotions and more. She wisely recognized her need to meet with God, so she headed to South Florida for a personal retreat at a friend’s house. She approached the sabbatical as I imagine a lot of Christians might – expecting God would show her what she was doing wrong, and she would repent and get better.
What actually happened was entirely different. God didn’t meet her with chastisement and reproof, or ten steps to remedy her failings. He met her with profound and extravagant love. He met her exactly where she was, not as Judge, but as Father.
When she came home and told me what God had done, I was so touched I decided to study the gospels again. I found myself hungering to learn from Christ, to remember who He is and how He views humanity. What I found is exactly what Kelly found – the overwhelming love of Jesus, calming my fears, speaking into my circumstances, tending to the private corners of my soul.
Through this pandemic, I’ve returned again and again to the gospels and the extraordinary heart of Jesus. I’ve watched Him sit at a well with a broken woman and offer her living water (John 4). I’ve listened to Him call, “Zacchaeus, come down! For I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). I’ve seen Him touch lepers, absolve the guilty, praise a prostitute’s worship, wrap His arms around children (Matthew 8:1-4, Luke 7:36-50, John 8:1-11, Mark 10:13-16).
It’s impossible to read the gospels without recognizing that Jesus’s general posture toward everyone who seeks Him is kindness, goodness, and extravagant love. His heart is the basis for our 2021 theme at Grace: The Beautiful Story. After a year that’s taken more than it’s given, we want to celebrate the beautiful life Jesus brought to the world, and the beautiful story He’s building in us now through the Holy Spirit.
We’ll be focusing a lot on the idea of wholeness. Did you know the Hebrew word shalom, which is commonly translated “peace,” more literally means “wholeness” or “completeness”? The meaning comes from the adjective form of the word, shalem, which is used to describe uncut stones. These precious stones were whole and true, not cheap imitations designed to cheat customers. Thus, a shalem heart is a whole heart – undivided, true, and devoted to God in worship (2 Kings 20:3).
How do we develop such a heart? If we’re honest, our hearts may feel more fragmented and broken than whole and true. Over the past few years, I’ve become fascinated by the differences between the Western and Eastern Church – in particular, their views of sin and the implications for restoring a broken heart.
The Western Church has a judicial view of sin. We tend to see sin as a violation of the law; therefore the remedy for a sinful heart is to be made legally right before God. The Eastern Church, however, views sin not as legal violation, but as sickness. They recognize that sin is inextricably linked with death – every time we sin, a little piece of death enters the equation. If I cheat on my taxes, I experience the death of my integrity. If I cheat on my wife, the death of our intimacy. Sin, then, is a form of death and disease in our lives, and as such requires more than legal absolution. It requires healing. Restoration. Wholeness.
I see the eastern view throughout Scripture. Notice, Jesus doesn’t tell the woman at the well how to fix her promiscuity (John 4). He doesn’t talk about five steps for overcoming sexual sin. Instead, He offers her a magnificent trade: her death for His living water. He wants to heal her from the inside out, to breathe life into the dead places of her heart, so that she may become more like His Father.
That is wholeness.
Jesus’s singular aim throughout the gospels is to help people resemble His Father. That’s the beautiful story in a nutshell: We experience the healing beauty of God when we look to Him. When we allow Him to transform us from the inside out.
What words would you use to describe your life leading into 2021? Are they the same words that drove Kelly to South Florida two years ago? Depleted. Exhausted. Overwhelmed. Or would you add something else to the list? Ashamed. Enslaved. Anxious. Defeated.
Don’t be afraid to confess your sin – your sickness – to Christ. He Himself once said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). The word disease literally means “dis-ease.” It’s that squirmy, uncomfortable, lack of ease deep within that tells us something is wrong. If you feel it in your bones, as David once did (Psalm 32:3), don’t ignore it. It is your heart’s cry for healing. For life. For wholeness.