WOW! I’m so grateful for the level of support you give to one another on this blog and your willingness to go deeper inside, to discover hidden or unknown parts of yourself. I was talking with a friend this week about this whole idea of knowing who you are and growing up to be all that God created you to be. We talked about what it means to be created in God’s image.
As I’ve said before, we all have various “selves” internally. Some are healthy, others are not so healthy. Some parts we know really well – perhaps like our accommodating self, our fearful self, our shamed self, our Christian self, nurturing and caring self. Other parts of our self we do not know very well such as our angry self, our sexual self, our aggressive self, or our strong self.
Based on my conversation with my friend, I want to use a different metaphor to help us understand this concept. When I described this process with my friend I used the terms masculine and feminine. When we think of these two words, we traditionally separate them strictly into male and female, boy and girl. Men are supposed to be masculine and women are supposed to be feminine. Yet the Bible says something different, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them: male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27). God’s image is both masculine and feminine. What does that mean for you and for me?
Take a paper and list all the character qualities that would be traditionally described as masculine and then list those that would be called feminine.
Next, I want you to reflect on Christ’s life and character. What are the qualities you see reflected in him? Were they all masculine ones, even though he had a male body? No. Jesus expressed tenderness, compassion, empathy, and strong emotion, which are typically described as feminine traits. In addition, he was decisive, not easily intimidated, spoke up for himself when necessary, and used his authority and power appropriately when he expelled the money changers out of the temple, (Matthew 21:12) and rebuked Peter (Matthew 16:22,23).
If we are to grow up and reflect God’s image in our human body, we will reflect both masculine and feminine characteristics no matter what “gender” we are. Sadly when church leaders are asked what characteristics reflect a godly Christian woman, most people’s answers reflect solely feminine traits such as gentle, nurturing, compassionate, humble, vulnerable, empathetic, submissive, supportive, wise, quiet, and emotional.
When asked the same question about a godly Christian man, they usually describe more masculine traits such as strong, capable, a leader, initiates things, wise, independent, decisive, and assertive, and they may add one or two of the feminine characteristics such as compassionate and empathetic.
Why is it that the ideal godly woman is not described with any masculine traits yet we all know that a man who has none of the feminine traits of humility, compassion, empathy, and vulnerability doesn’t have a good relationship with his wife or children? Could it be that women also need a few of the more masculine traits such as assertiveness, independence, and being strong and capable in order to reach her fullest potential?
Getting back to the Cinderella story that we talked about last week, there were masculine characters and feminine characters in that story – some mature, some less mature.
My question to you this week is if you are a woman, do you see any masculine characteristics in you? If so, are they expressed in healthy (godly) ways? What about your feminine characteristics? Are they maturing and godly? What steps could you take this week to explore your masculine characteristics, affirm them as part of God’s image in you, and ask God to help you mature in them?
Guys, if any of you are reading this blog, I’d encourage you in the same way. What are some of the feminine parts of you that you are not seeing or avoiding? Vulnerability? Empathy? Submission? If we are to be complete in Christ, we will learn to express both sides (in healthy ways), for that is the wholeness and maturity God wants for us.
This week’s question: I’ve been a Christian for a long time. I believe in the Bible and have asked Jesus to forgive my sins but I want to experience a deeper spiritual life. I don’t really know what it means to practice God’s presence or abide in him. Can you help me learn how to do this?
Answer: I know what you mean. For a long time in my own Christian life I knew the right things to believe and believed them but I didn’t understand what I could do other than read my Bible and pray to experience a closer walk with God. Many of us never receive any training in learning how to experience God’s presence or how to listen for his still small voice. We know we should but actually knowing what to do to make that more likely to happen isn’t taught very often.
I don’t claim to be an expert in this. I am still learning so I will share some of my observations and experiences with you and some ways I have learned to experience God more fully. Perhaps others can comment so that we can collectively learn other ways of how to abide in Christ and he in us.
First we are not going to experience God if we are too busy to hear him or even notice him. God assures his people that he is always present with us (Hebrews 13:5) but we are not often present to him. He says he is in us, all around us, and Paul reminds us that “in him we live and move and have our being (Acts17:28). We are never alone (Luke 17:21) and so the problem isn’t figuring out how to get God to be present to us, but rather how to get us to be aware of God’s Presence that is already with us.
Recently I was struck by the words of Job. He said, “Behold he passes by me and I see him not; he moves on me but I do not perceive him” (Job 9:11). God is in us and with us but we don’t perceive him. In another example, Jacob woke up from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it” (Genesis 28:16).
So how do we learn to be more aware of God? First, slowing down and being still is key to perceiving God’s Presence. He tells us to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Our lives are so full of noise that we must be intentional about creating pockets for quiet and stillness. I’d recommend making silence a regular part of your daily prayer. I have discovered that prayer is much more about listening for God than telling him what he already knows. Start with 5 minutes of silence and work up to 20-30 minutes each day. When distracting thoughts start swirling around in your mind, just gently let them go and return to being still.
One way of thinking of this period of silence is being willing, eager and open for God to make himself known. You can’t make yourself “see” him or “perceive” him anymore than you can make a seed take root. But you can make it more likely that a seed will take root if you prepare the soil and water the ground. In the same way, practicing the discipline of stillness and silence, prepares you heart to “notice” the Presence of God more readily. It prepares your heart to be “in tune” with a larger spiritual reality that is always there, but like radio waves or cell phone waves, we can’t “experience” them unless we are tuned in to the right frequency.
A second way to be more present to God is to spend more time in nature. The psalmist declares that, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Paul tells us that we can know God by observing the natural world. (Romans 1:19,20), but instead of honoring him and thanking him we exchanged the truth of God for a lie and became foolish and our hearts were darkened.
As I write this I am on the beach in California. It is hard to not experience God’s Presence amidst such beauty. But our busyness and priority on productivity robs us of actually experiencing beauty, even though it may be all around us. How many times do we fail to notice what is right in our own backyard just because we are too busy getting things done or worrying about the next thing on our list of errands or chores.
Slowing down and intentionally noticing what is already there, helps us be more able to “notice” those God moments as well. (Tweet this)
Lastly, Jesus tells us throughout the gospels, especially in the book of John that abiding in him and in his word is key to experiencing his Presence. Abide means to stay close and connected. It is an experiential knowing, not an intellectual assent.
The Word of God isn’t merely the scriptures; it is Jesus himself (John 1:1-14). How close would you feel to someone if they were always too busy doing other things to spend time with you? How connected would you feel if whatever he or she said you didn’t remember, or didn’t believe or think was important?
Jesus told the religious leaders “my word finds no place in you” (John 8:37). Instead of seeing your time with God as one more thing to “do” in your day, begin to cherish your time with God as if you were a lover in love and see what happens. As you read God’s words to you, ask him what he wants you to pay attention to. When something jumps out at you, take time to ponder it throughout your day. I believe as you do these things, you will become much more aware of God in you and with you.
Friends, what have you done that has helped you deepen your faith in God?