Burden 1: Defensiveness (Chips ahoy!)
Think about these questions and answer them “Yes” or “No”:
- I feel self-conscious or defensive when I’m the only Christian in a group of people where my faith might come up.
- I’m uncomfortable praying in front of others or praying for others.
- As a Christian I have to be a “pleasing aroma” (2 Corinthians 2:16) to non-believers.
- It’s important that God’s power is visibly demonstrated in the lives of Christians.
- There are times when I feel being a Christian places an unfair “burden of proof” on my life.
If you answered “Yes” to most of these questions, you might be bearing the burden of defensiveness.
What does this burden look like?
Have you ever been at the other end of someone’s smile when they had something in their teeth? It’s silly, but it’s awkward, right? It’s pretty obvious the other person doesn’t realise what’s going on. And, no matter what they say or how we otherwise feel about them, we remain conscious of the offending food particles almost to the point of the exclusion of all else.
I think having a chip on your shoulder is much the same: while we remain oblivious to it, it’s almost always noticeable to other people and colours their perception of us and anything we say or do. When, deep down, we feel like we need to defend God or his honour, or our faith or the way we live our faith – that will bear this burden of defensiveness in our lives. We easily mistake it for faith, but of course it’s not. We find a good example of this in Matthew 4: 1-7:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
In the temptation of Jesus we see Jesus being tried and tested by the Devil in the desert. But what’s curious to me is that the first two provocations the Devil throws at Jesus start with the word “if” and seek to challenge Jesus’ identity. “If you are the Son of God…” He was trying to lure Jesus into “defending” himself and God. On the surface this doesn’t seem like a bad thing – standing up for God, to old Nick himself! But why would Jesus need to?
If we are totally secure in God, in our faith, in God’s nature and in our salvation – why would we feel like we needed to prove something about God? When we are tempted to “defend” God, aren’t we really defending ourselves and the insecurities we feel that lie at the root of this burden?
Recently I’ve started doing the slides and music for Sunday worship. And for a while there I thought (but didn’t realise I did!) that the onus was on me to deliver a good “worship experience.” Certainly I try to select good songs and so on, but as I watched the people sing one Sunday it dawned on me that their “worship experience” was about as much my responsibility as getting the sun to rise in the mornings. When we try to “shoulder in” on God’s work, good intentions or no, we are punching far above our weight.
You see, God never mixes up job descriptions. He doesn’t expect us to do work that only he can do. For God our obedience far outweighs any words we may say in his defence, because obedience proves that we trust and rest in him, whereas defensiveness only proves that we still think we need our hand on the steering wheel.
So how do we stop bearing this burden without burning down the whole tree? I think the best way may be to starve it of its nourishment. Peruse my (badly drawn) diagram. What nourishes the root of insecurity that leads to our bearing defensiveness? Self-sufficiency. Thinking, at the back of our minds or in a corner of our heart, that we may at some point still need to “go it alone”; that God doesn’t truly care. Self-sufficiency is a reluctance to let go of the reins.
This week let’s try to be tuned in to where our hands are in relation to the steering wheel of life. Is God purely an emergency brake? Might he even be riding shotgun? If we rest in his security instead of our insecurity and self-sufficiency, what kind of an impact will that have on the size and weight of any chips on our shoulder – would we still feel like we needed to prove something? Or would the proof be in the pudding, quite without any input from us other than trust and obedience?