Last week, I had to fill out one of those annoying account application forms. Those ones that, when you’re almost done, slip in an asset test: liabilities on the left, assets on the right. When I was done there was one more box at the bottom left of the table: net worth.
Net worth: the sum of our assets minus our liabilities. If things are going ok, it will have a ‘+’ in front of a decent number. If not so good, it might leap out in red or be preceded with a ‘-‘. Somewhere in a concrete tower far, far away, alarm bells ring, and people run in haphazard directions, pointing to screens before shaking their heads and denying you whatever it was you may have been pitching for when you started out on your form.
On the Sunday just gone at The Big Table, we were talking about ‘getting past our past’; moving from the scripts we’ve handed ourselves as we navigate life. They’re the labels, failures, successes and hurts that we’ve racked up. The ones that can drive the self-limiting stories within. This Sunday was the first of two messages on the subject (turns out it takes more than a week to ‘get past your past’).
Back to net worth. Implicitly and explicitly we’ve been taught that we are the sum total of the choices we’ve made. We’re the product of the experiences we’ve enjoyed, the failures we’ve survived, the labels we’ve acquired and the hurts we’ve endured. In our perceived ‘ledger of life’, we can critique ourselves on the balance of those successes and failures to land out a notional figure of net worth. I’m not saying we do, but we might.
On that journey, we pick up some baggage. Perhaps the weight of another’s abuse lightened by the wings of another’s encouragement. The labels and put-downs, the physical, emotional and spiritual abuses, all of these congrue to make you “just how you are”. We leak out the residue formed by the agglomeration of those deposits and withdrawals.
Sometimes we see the residue consciously. We reflect on a terse remark or a nasty response, and we realise it has deeper roots than the cynicism or sarcasm that presents itself. Other times, it’s a slower decay that erodes our net worth. We repeat and affirm the labels that have been stuck on us by ourselves or others. Sometimes we keep the labels that sting in a safe place and nourish them so we can pull them out now and then (just to makes sure they still hurt. Genius, huh?)
Our labels are predictable enough. You’re too smart/dumb, fat/skinny, slow/fast, ugly/beautiful, rich/poor, proud/up-yourself, weak, fake, try-hard, late, inadequate. You’ll have more; they’ll form a pretty boring list.
Some of these might be outright lies, some are tinged with the truth, others still are right on the money. They form our narrative about ourselves.
The apostle Paul reminds the church in Corinth that “if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come”. (2 Cor 5:17)
We may know that a verse like that at a cerebral level, but at some point, we need to make the exchange between what we declare over ourselves (and what others say), and what God says to us in Jesus.
God is in the work of continually creating and giving us new names. He strips back the declarations we have made over ourselves rather than ignoring them, to speak a better word. He invites us into a bigger story. Who’s doing the renaming? The name that is above every other name.
Whatever we say of ourselves, whatever others have said, whatever those labels, Jesus speaks a better word.
Hebrews 13:5 says ‘Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…speaks a better word (than the law spoke over us).’
Jesus sees you as you are but he takes you from there based on HIS character.
The names by which He defines you are not based on your past, but on your future with Him.
As we begin to understand and hear these new names, there’s also an invitation. Jesus invites us to trade the expectations we have based on our past, for God’s purposes for our future, based on His character. A sweet exchange!
If this re-naming and better word stuff sounds self-helpy, you’ve missed what I’m saying. I’m not trying to psyche myself into a positive mantra; I’m replacing what I say about me with what God says about me. I’m replacing a relatively impotent voice with the one that has the greatest authority.
You still have a part to play. You have to amplify the voice of God over the voices in your head/in the crowd. There has to be a better word from a better soundtrack that counters the lies that you believe about yourself. And you have to be able to discern the soundtrack that speaks the truth about you.
If all you’re left with is what you hear, what you imagine might be said and what you say to yourself, then you’ll have all the material you need to convict yourself of any crime.
Without hearing the compelling narrative that God speaks over us, we will turn our real and imagined past into a guiding narrative for the future. It will be those stories that shape our decisions, words, and actions. The voices that can be loudest in our lives can’t hijack the voices that are most important.
Of course, you’re not going to hear what God says about you through reading your own script. You need to read His Word. Reading his Word moves you from what you imagine God might declare about you, to what He does say about you. Left to your own devices, you’ll conjure a translation of your compilation – not a strong idea.
Want to develop an understanding of what God is declaring about your identity in Christ? Start reading your Bible while being alert to the declarations He makes about you. Some of them are overt; others are a product of His character. As you read, form a list. Out of God’s character, he declares stuff about us. He is FOR you, He loves you, He has chosen you, He pre-meditated you, He blesses you, He has plans and purposes for you; the list goes on. That’s just a few verses from Ephesians
Here’s the truth: No label you have ever had or will ever have is too sticky for God’s grace.
Your net worth? It’s not determined by your bank balance, nor the labels that have filled your past, it’s determined by what Jesus says about you. It’s determined by Him. If anyone is in Jesus, He is a new creation.
Of course, labels are just one part of our past that Jesus wants to declare ‘old,’ there’s failures and hurts too. But that’s for next week.