A few years back I had the great privilege of working with the talented and crazy team at The Austin Film Festival. I love those guys. Because they’re funny, and humble and kind in ways that teach me the glory of common grace. And they love stories. They taught me how to love stories. They taught me what happens when someone tells a story and lets the words wind around the audience so that a whole world is created without ever leaving your seat.
They taught me how to annoy my friends by being unsatisfied with cookie cutter, carbon copy, pathetic scripts designed to stir my emotions. They taught me to despise those ‘writers’ who use stories; who think about a plot or a character as nothing more than a tool to make an audience laugh or cry. They taught me that for a true storyteller, seeing the audience light up is a by-product of telling a great story, but it’s not the point. Great writers don’t decide what their characters will do based on what will provoke a response in you and I. Great writers follow their characters into the story. Great writers write because there are stories that must be told.
I hate movies that are designed to make me cry. Tell me a good story, and you’ll move my heart. You’ll get my tears easily enough; I don’t have a hard time letting them fall (just ask my boss). But if you set out to make me cry you lose me at the opening credits; you lose me at the preview. I can tell when a writer has written dialogue purely to provoke a response. I can tell when a plot twist is written simply to make me gasp. And I hate it.
And it gets a little bit more disturbing when you put Jesus in the mix.
I remember what it felt like when the sun shone the right way and the Spirit moved in me and in a moment I knew that I wanted to lift high the name of Jesus, and so I would write. I didn’t write so that you would praise me and I didn’t write so that you would cry. I didn’t manipulate language to change lives; I fought for the best word for each moment so that I could paint Him more clearly. I wrestled with syntax and punctuation because I wanted you to see Him as He is. I wanted Him to be seen.
But I work for a ‘successful’ church, and I teach women who let compliments flow freely, and I have encouraging friends and these things are great, but I am terrified – absolutely terrified – that somewhere along the way things got shuffled around in my heart. I know there was a time when I just wanted to be used to make His name great, but what if now I just use Jesus to make my name great?
It’s painful to type these words. May God be merciful to sinners like me.
There’s something dreadful and devastating about that shift in my heart. There’s something deadly in it.
I long for Jesus to show up in my classroom. I want Him to move through my words whether it be on this page or in curriculum or in a conversation in my office. But what if the motivation is because I know that when Jesus moves, when He shows up, I get glory?
There are so many things I want to write about. I want to write about the point of the world, and I want to write about what I’m learning in 1st Peter, and I want to write about work and roommates and puppies and everything in between and I think – I really do think – that I want to want to write about Him.
But life is muddled and dark and motives are hard to discern. And in less than 2 minutes I’ll begin editing this so that it moves you more or hits you just right and there are moments when it all just feels like manipulation.
And I don’t want to manipulate you. Not with this content. Not with the name of Jesus.
In John 7 a weird thing happens. Jesus’ brothers want him to go to a feast so that He can show off His skills and John tells us their motives. The brothers wanted this because they didn’t believe in Jesus. Jesus’ brothers wanted Jesus to reveal His power and John says that they did this because they didn’t have saving faith in Jesus. Weird.
Wanting God to be glorified isn’t necessarily evidence that we love Him. There is a way to want the name of Jesus to be seen as great and glorious and not believe in Him at all. Jesus’ brothers wanted people to see how great Jesus was so that they could get praise. They wanted Him to show off so that they could be ‘proud’ He was their brother. If we use God’s glory to get us glory – we testify that we don’t trust or know Him at all.
I could write a blog for years about the greatness of God and all the time just be using Jesus to get praise for myself.
What does it look like for Jesus to be the end and not the means? I honestly don’t know. I know that it looks like putting my name under His. I know it looks like wanting Him to be glorified even at the cost of me being humiliated. I know that because Jesus taught me that. He was willing to be thought a fool for God to be glorified.
Am I willing to be humiliated for His name to be lifted high? Am I willing to be forgotten, unknown, unwanted, alone and rejected if that’s what it takes to bring Him glory?
I don’t know what God is going to use me for this side of Heaven. I know that my gifts are His and therefore they will never be ‘wasted’. He’s not interested in giving people gifts and then refusing to use them. But I know that visible gifts aren’t more valuable than the ones that keep you hidden in the corner, far from the praise of men. And I know that He gets glory whether I get glory or not.
Reading Exodus this morning, it seems like God intentionally uses screw ups cause He’s really interested in being seen and He doesn’t want anything to get in the way of that. And that includes my sin. Even my twisted motives will be put to work to display His character. He is so magnificent that even when I think I’m using Him for some other end, He is going to be the end.
I’m a wreck. I’m not great and I’m not good, but He is. And if He waited for a saint with perfect motives before He revealed His glory, He’d be waiting for the second coming. So He’ll use me. Not in spite of my weakness,but because of it. Because in my weakness you can see him all the more clearly.
I may be threading these words together in an attempt to make you feel something – or to make me feel something. But they’re still true. And somewhere in my heart – I think – I pray I really mean them:
I hope that in my weakness you see God more clearly. I pray that in this blog today you see our God – who will use someone who is as selfish and self-centered as me – because He’s filled with mercy and made of grace. He’s not waiting for better people, He’s willing to teach through a girl who is busted and broken and deeply and darkly sinful in places that are too hideous to see.
The story of the Gospel does make me cry. But it wasn’t written to make me cry. It was written to make Him known. And I don’t have words to make that story more beautiful. I don’t have words to make Him more beautiful.
Oh my Father. Be known.