Have you ever tried to imagine what Christians gathered for a worship service look like to a visitor who really doesn’t believe in God; who doesn’t think He exists? Merely a ragamuffin group of relatively unimpressive people singing songs, praying, sitting and listening to someone talk–sometimes, not necessarily always, eloquently–in their little (or not-so-little) groups? There’s nothing here to impress anyone–it certainly doesn’t have either the sophistication of academia or opulence of business. It’s certainly no Apple phone launch or TedTalk. To the contrary and in contrast, we must seem genuinely strange to someone observing us from a mindset that believes God’s not real. Yet superficial impressions can be deceiving.
“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2 NIV)
This prophecy found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah confirms that even Jesus wasn’t visually distinctive–there is no Biblical reference to an extraordinary physical appearance; no record of someone ever saying, “Wow! He looks exactly like I imagined God become a human would!” Yet what He did was miraculous, and what He still does in those who trust Him is equally extraordinary, because it is nothing short of that which is otherwise humanly impossible.
What’s spectacular about God’s followers is not our appearance (although knowing Christ does tend to soften our appearance–we are not look hateful or angry or bitter as others, who are habitually tormented by those emotions). What’s spectacular about Christians, rather, is the miracle Jesus has and continues to accomplish in our lives–the “killing off” of our old self (or old man, as some versions of the Bible call it).
That’s a harsh term, so before you panic and say you don’t want your “self”–old or otherwise–killed off, let me explain that I’m not referring to anything that’s really truly “us”; that what Jesus “kills off”–help us overcome in ourselves–is our selfishness, our unquenchable tendency toward self-centeredness. It’s that miserable quality all of us are born with to be concerned primarily with me, myself, and I; to only look to how any particular decision or circumstance affects or benefits me. I understand the argument that this is a survival technique; that we’d die off the planet if we stopped caring about our own well being, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Jesus doesn’t take away our concern for our well being; He gives us the power to say “no” to ourselves to benefit another.
Before you dismiss this as relatively insignificant, let me point out that a life of selflessness is an impossible feat without the activity of God in us through His Spirit, because it goes completely contrary to human nature. I challenge you, in fact, to find even one instance where a person who has rejected Christ has consistently done this–especially in matters where it “hurts;” where the metal hits the road; where it hits too close to home; in respect to things they care about much. You won’t be able to, because without God it simply doesn’t happen on an ongoing basis.
The fact is that it is Christ only–through His Spirit working in us–who empowers us to be able deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Because that’s what selflessness is. It’s denying what I want, in favor of what benefits another.
It’s why people become missionaries–why they suffer hardship for the purpose of spreading the message of forgiveness through Jesus as He commanded His people to do. It’s why others, in countries hostile to Christianity, who convert to Christ–who believe the message–are martyred for their faith rather than deny Him. And it’s why we continue to meet in our little–or not so little–groups, to worship and corporately talk to, and be taught more about God.
So even if our meetings are not opulent or superficially impressive, we worship Someone who is most impressive–the One who is able to accomplish in us that which no amount of money can–a new heart and life!
Dear Lord Jesus,
Help me above all to, “Gain You, and be found in You,” because You are most precious above everything! Amen.