Tuesday, September 27

Staying authentic in a conflicted world

Recent years have reshaped how we need to approach the world, our lives and ministry. I’m not just talking about the effects of the pandemic, but also shifts in sociological norms, the savage pressures of media on Churches and the shifting expectations from within ourselves.

We need to navigate this well as our future success and well being will hinge on it.

It has been my observation that there are some fundamentals we need to keep in shape in order for us to stay strong in the midst of these onslaughts. These observations, I trust, will help us live free of internal conflict or division, hence why I use the word ‘authentic’ to describe them.

Authenticity in its purist sense is being the real deal. It is a behaviour that is integrated within oneself. A person who is what they say they are, and they project what they truly are both in public and behind the scenes. A person who is not constantly conflicted in their fundamentals. This is not an excuse to do or say whatever we want, in the name of ‘take me as I am.’ Anyone who wants to make life work well, will understand that we want to be working on ourselves, to be better people.

3 areas of critical authenticity:

Authentic Identity

It requires great intellectual calculation and energy, to have a different identity in public to your private world. To be incongruent is conflicting, to be conflicted is not good for our wellbeing. In our attempt to measure ourselves by a certain set of sociological values, we can develop a tendency toward being someone in public who is different in private. This exhausts and divides our soul.

For example, a big one right now, even in the Church world, is the value of ‘coolness’. The cool have influence. So we ask ourselves “what is cool?” “Am I cool enough?” We come home and realise ‘cool’ doesn’t cut it amongst our close circle. However much we like cool, it is not our true identity.

Now I am not saying we are to give no attention to how we behave, dress or speak in differing situations; we cannot literally be the same everywhere. But we can learn to be comfortable in our own skin everywhere; we can find our true identity in Christ and live this out everywhere; we can drop the chase for self, for approval and fulfilment of a certain mould.

This is having an authentic identity. You are no longer divided within yourself.

Authentic Spirituality

All of us at some point or in certain areas of our lives face the pressure to conform to a certain set of standards. We feel the pressure to live to external expectations. Not all of this is bad if those standards and expectations are healthy for us. However, where they cause us to compromise, dilute, or veer away from our true north in Christ we are in danger.

When talking about freedom and the expectations we live by, Tim Keller, American pastor, theologian, and Christian apologist, puts it like this : “Because a fish absorbs oxygen from water, not air, it’s free only if it’s restricted to water. If a fish is ‘freed’ from the river and put out on the grass to explore, its’ freedom to move and soon live is destroyed.”

When our spiritual life becomes merely a show to others; conforms to the pattern of our society; or is an attempt to meet other’s expectations, or our own expectations, of what a good Christian life looks like, our hearts get divided and cold really quick.

Holiness is wholeness, says Australian pastor and author Mark Sayers. It is not an attempt to be uncool, cool, relevant or irrelevant; it is not a calling to be boring, but neither is it a calling to be adrenaline driven. Holiness is a form of spirituality that seeks Jesus first and therefore wholeness of spirit and soul in Christ.

Spiritual authenticity shows itself in a person whose true devotion to Christ is consistent and unwavering. They care less about the approval of others or society, and care a whole lot about seeking first, Jesus.

My wife, Lizby, frequently says, when describing what we are looking for in our preachers, pastors and ministers, “I want to be able to feel their relationship with God”. Our deep connectedness to Jesus, a life in worship, working through our deals with Him (and others), keeping our hearts soft and pursuing, humble and strong, determined and focussed on Him.

This is spiritual authenticity. It is tangible.

Authentic Calling

It is my observation that some people live a conflicted life, carrying a degree of unnecessary internal pressure because they are pursuing avenues of life they were never meant to pursue. We have probably all heard the phrase ‘stay in your lane’ many times before. Well there is some sense in this. Knowing what you are called to do and sifting out other options enables us to stay authentic and not conflicted in our internal world, our external focus and our energy output.

There are so many good, urgent and important causes all around us. Some of which we may even be gifted to serve, but still shouldn’t as it is not our primary call or purpose in life. Saying no to the opportunity can be hard, but necessary.

When Lizby and I got married I had just ended a job and was looking for a new one. I declined a sales job that was offered to me, trusting God for a door to open that better matched my gifting. Neither of us had much work and we had little financial buffer; I wouldn’t even recommend this action to someone else. However, I did it. Within a short time doors did begin to open in an avenue of business that eventually became the financial opener to Pastoring. Your primary call is cared for better sometimes when we say no.

If you are working left handed when you are right handed, life will be conflicted. If you are working 2 right hands, when you only have 1, life will be hard. Whether you are adding to your primary call something contrary to your gifting or complementary, you don’t have to be doing it.

Now I am not saying you can’t work more than one job, carry more than one project or run a business alongside ministry. All of this may be necessary, maybe fulfilling and manageable for you, it maybe what you are called to and fruitful in your life; it may not be conflicting. But I am saying remain authentic to your first and primary focus.

Stay true to your primary call.

In closing my friend. Stay authentic, as non-conflicted as you can, stay true to Jesus and be in good health.