(If you’re not much of a reader but are interested in this topic, this series has been condensed into a 43min sermon that I was privileged to share with my church family in Manchester earlier this year. Click here.)
I apologise for the huge gap between this post and the last one to those of you who’ve been following along. My bad. But thanks for coming back! If you’re just joining us, do head back and read Matthew 6:1-18 along with the Intro and Part 1 , they’re not very long.
This time round I’m going to be writing about Icebergs and Cruise Ships! Before I do that though, I’ll just mention something important on this whole topic. It’s pretty easy to slip into false humility or self-righteousness when we talk about the secret place. I don’t believe that it’s wrong for us to enjoy affirmation and I hope I’ve not implied that. It’s one of the most beautiful things about living in close-heart-community with other human beings! God created us to live that way because He lives that way within Himself. If you know anything about the Five Love Languages, words of affirmation is at the top of my list! The right words from someone close to your heart nails you right between the lies and life flows in! It happened to me today actually. Affirming one another is one of the ways that we manifest the love of God to each other and to the world (1John 4:11-12)! Fact. However
When I have an unhealthy dependence on the approval of others, I know it backfires when God asks me to do something unpopular. And He does. It also makes me vulnerable to flattery which is a tool of the enemy. See 1Kings 13 for further details.
As we learn to live from the Father’s approval rather than for the approval of others, revelling in His delight over us, we deepen our relationship with Him digging a foundation of love for Him to build on. The deeper the foundation, the higher He can build on us safely. This is a reality that exists in the smallest of our decisions that other people don’t see. It’s a continual setting of our hearts and intentions to bring joy to His in all that we do just because we love Him. This isn’t about playing small by avoiding the limelight in false humility, it’s simply about gratitude and as Misty Edwards puts it, living before the eyes of the audience of One, for the sake of His smile.
American minister Bill Johnson spoke about this in a way that really challenged me. After realising how much of an attention seeker I was, I tried being the “…it’s not me, it’s God working through me…” guy for a while and it really didn’t work. Bill said when people praise you for something God has done through you, just be polite, take it and say thank you and then later, in the privacy of your own heart, turn to the Lord and say “Father, I think this is Yours” and give it to Him. That’s how to give Him glory.
I don’t think humility is about hiding your greatness, I think it’s about seeing it in comparison to His so that you don’t get carried away with yourself. Speaking from experience, if I honestly believe that I have to work to keep people from affirming me, it’s probably because I’ve lost sight if Him and pride has me believing my own hype. It’s really hard to swagger in front of the Eternal Throne.
The word iceberg means Ice Mountain for obvious reasons but as big as icebergs look, 90% of their mass is actually unseen, below the surface. Cruise Ships however are the exact opposite! I assume percentages will vary from ship to ship but it looks to me like 90% is above the surface and 10% is below. Cruise ships look really big and impressive with their bright colours, multiple storeys and dazzling lights. They’re full of people having a great time with their cocktails and conga lines!*
When our lives are all about external appearances and what people see, it’s easy to make them look very impressive and get the quick fix of affirmation from people when we know that our life with God lacks any real depth. We become just a bunch of people comparing their big cruise ships hoping no one goes below deck and hoping that we don’t meet any icebergs…
I believe that in Matthew 6 God is saying that He wants us to be Iceberg Christians with 10% of our spiritual life visible to the world and 90% visible only to the Father who sees in secret. What does this look like? I’m not totally sure but I think that at least in part it means we actually have a prayer life as in, a life of prayer where we’re constantly in communion with God while also setting time aside especially. It means that we cherish the moments we get to serve others when only He can see us and there’s no applause. It means we don’t mind being overlooked and don’t need to let everyone know about all the good we’ve done to feel valuable.
Have you ever met an Iceberg Christian? They make your cruise ship wobble! Maybe you’ve heard one preach and you spent a week rethinking your life. Maybe you’ve read about one. They carry a weight in the Spirit that is uncommon. They’re not shaken by much as they seem to be anchored in an unseen place, punching above their weight. The enemy seems to flee from them when they resist him because they live a life of submission to Another. They go doe-eyed when you just mention the name Jesus because they’re head-over-heels in love with Him. He is the limitless source of their love joy, peace and identity so they are free to pour theirs out onto others.
On the flipside of false-humility is self-righteousness i.e. righteousness I whipped up myself! It can be pretty tempting to get on a good run with praying, sacrificially loving people and serving the Lord for the reward of His pleasure, only to start feeling like “Captain Lowly the Humble: Mighty Master of the Secret Place” whom God is really lucky to have in His kingdom. Let’s just not, ok? It leads to us looking down on others and feeling entitled to things.
Living in the secret place before His eyes we learn to die to ourselves and become more like Christ. Not having our egos fed regularly can be an unpleasant experience at first but sooner or later the hunger pains give way to a satisfaction too deep for words. It can be a place of great pain but it’s also a place of highest delight! It’s a place of purest joy and life for us, living before the Father who sees in secret. This is The Furnace of the Father’s Heart, the title of our next post.
Thanks for reading!
*It’s just a metaphor. I’m aware cruise ships have huge engines and stuff.