Belonging

I stood quietly at the back of the group, watching as over fifty women talked in small groups about 2 Timothy 2. We were at the end of the first day of a conference on leadership, this session focusing on community. Some women were deep in conversation. Others’ eyes darted between the three “mzungu” (white person) standing on the outskirts. I resisted the urge to get squirmish under their gaze, reminding myself that it wasn’t judgment, but curiosity their eyes were communicating. Then almost as quickly as their eyes landed, they’d return to the other women in their discussion group.

What were they saying to each other, I wondered. Deeply wishing I could understand their native Maasai language.

This was my first time to behold the beauty of Africa. The people, culture, landscape, and wildlife had me in constant awe of the creativity and vastness of the Creator. The Maasai people form one of Kenya’s forty two tribes. Throughout the country the Maasai are respected for preserving generations of tradition. They are the warriors, even feared by the lions in some areas. They are the naturalists, respecting creation and living in harmony with it. They are the creatives, experts at making everything from colorful jewelry to sturdy houses made entirely of sticks and termite clay.

Our native friends had told us that “no matter where you were in the world, you know a Maasai when you saw one.” I soon learned why.

As I stood observing the women, it struck me. Not a single one of them was questioning whether or not they belonged. They were not questioning their identity as a Maasai. Every single woman wore similar clothes; their dresses following the same sewing pattern and jewelry using the same beads. They spoke the same language; their native tongue sustaining the decades of oral tradition. They acted the same; from dancing to sitting they mirrored each other’s posture. They looked the part, they spoke the part, they acted the part. There was no questioning if they were a Maasai. In fact, I doubt that question has ever even gone through their mind.

That sort of unquestioned belonging is something I believe all of us long for. The desire is deep in our souls. We don’t have to consciously tell ourselves to crave belonging, it just is there. Hardwired from the very beginning we yearn for the day we do not second guess our place, our role, in society.

As a believer, we do not have to strive.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

Every ounce of me believes that God desires for His children to be so confident in our belonging in His family that we don’t get entangled with pointless pursuits (2 Tim 2:4). He wants us to fully embrace our place as His royal chosen priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). He has given us the Holy Spirit to help guide our actions and our speech (Phil 2:13; 1 Cor 6:11). Not to mention that He has given us His image (Gen 1:27). We are thoroughly His.

Even though it is sometimes very tempting to question whether or not we “belong,” we have assurance that we are His. And since we are His (and I say this knowing it is so very hard sometimes) we should be so marked by Him that we “look,” speak, and act like Him. Every believer shares in this belonging, regardless of any other factor.

Our belonging is twofold. We belong to God. Once we confess our need for God’s forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus’ death and the hope in the resurrection, our belonging to God is secure. Additionally, just like the Maasai look, speak, and act like Maasai, we as Christians are given the ability to walk in the newness of life and look, speak, and act like Christ.

What if instead of “you’ll know a Maasai when you see one” it was said “you’ll know a Christian when you see one.”

What’s keeping you from living out your belonging?

Strong

We barely finished our introductions before my new friend rattled off her first question. Have you ever been in love? Our little group of four all shared our ideas on love, sex, and relationships. The next question: what would your ideal life look like? Again, we went around and answered. Then the next: why believe in God?

When it was my turn, I shared with them about how my life looked like before I surrendered my life to my Creator: trying and not-surprisingly failing to attain perfection. I told them about how because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection I can be brought back into the presence of Almighty God and all my shortcomings be redeemed through Christ.

This same new friend from above sat and listened, but I could tell there was something fiery on the tip of her tongue. Sure enough, she didn’t let even a second of silence pass after I had finished speaking.

“I think you’re weak because you believe in God.”

I almost laughed. Her words didn’t cut, didn’t hurt…the thought just seemed outrageous to me.

To her, the source of strength comes from within ourselves. When we feel that we are lacking, she believes we should dig deeper and cultivate it from within ourselves. So in her mind I’m not strong enough to gain that strength from within, and therefore I need to believe a “higher power” can intervene on my behalf.

And guess what, she’s right!!! I’m not strong enough on my own. But it took me a looooooong time to admit that.

I want to say that it is just the fact that I am a firstborn that makes me independent, but it’s not. According to my mom, I was always a “free-spirited and strong-willed child.” I operated under the mindset that whatever it is, I can do it. On my own. By myself. Without help. And I’m going to prove something to someone in the process. While this has softened as I entered into adulthood, this manifests in me wanting to be the person who can help everyone else but never wants to be on the receiving end of said help. When asked, “what do you need” I love being able to answer, “nothing, I’m fine.”

Because if I’m fine, I’m not lacking anything.

Turns out I am never really fine.

Turns out I am human.

Being human means being in a constant state of brokenness. Being in a constant state of brokenness without God is like living in a wooden house infested with termites and no exterminator left on earth. The house is going down, it’s only a matter of time.

When God created the world, He deemed it perfect in His sight. As the epitome of holy and perfect, God’s standard for His creation was to bear the same image. We make it two chapters into the Bible before things go south. Real fast. When humans decide to do things on their own, imperfection (sin) enters and overtakes God’s perfect world. On its own the world is still as broken now as it was 3,000+ years ago. Try as we might, solving the brokenness of humanity is not up to us; we will always fall short of God’s perfection.

Enter: Jesus.

Jesus has been, and will be, the only man to ever walk the earth and live a perfect, blameless, and sinless life. When Jesus, God’s one and only son, died on the cross He took on the imperfections of the world making total forgiveness possible. Now, when God looks at me, a Believer of Him, He sees the Perfect Son and not my sin. (And no, I don’t think I will ever fully grasp that!)

I love how the Gospel of Mark jumps right into why Jesus came, sharing how Jesus Himself said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

This means God doesn’t need me to be fine. In fact, He wants me to admit my dire need for Him. He wants me to admit how I can’t fix myself, how I am weak left on my own. I can slap some bandaids on a mortal wound but I’m still dying. He is the Great Physician.

It seems counterintuitive, but the only way we receive healing is by laying our lives down and in total humility declaring our need for God’s saving grace. We admit where we have fallen short, that we are too weak to fix ourselves, and ask God to forgive us.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I don’t know about you, but I have seen PLENTY of times when I cannot do even life in general on my own. My pride doesn’t want to admit it, yet it is so true. But if I wasn’t broken and in need of help, would I actually see my need for a Savior? Probably not.

I will never forget the first time someone shared with me Psalm 73:26. I was at summer camp with my family and one of the super cool college counselors wrote out part of Psalm 73 for me. After some digging, I found that the New King James Version is the closest translation here: “My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” The Hebrew verb used here for “fail” is definitive, meaning it will happen. I can vouch for that, because there are, again, PLENTY of times when my flesh and my heart have failed me. I am not strong on my own. I am not fine.

But Psalm 73 is not the only place we see a need for greater strength. In the book of Psalms alone, there are 45 times* where the Psalmist sings of God’s strength, asks Him for strength, and admits that human strength is not enough. Paul prays that the church in Ephesus would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit” (3:16) and continues to attribute strength to God in many of his other letters. Peter reminds us that as Believers, “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10) Strength cannot come from ourselves because we are not the source.

When the girl told me she thought I was weak for believing in Jesus, the rest of the table squirmed for a few moments due to the directness of her comment. Then her friend across the table jumped in. “I disagree. I think she’s strong for believing in God. I wish I could.”

I simultaneously wanted to high-five this girl as well as weep for her that she thought she couldn’t believe in God. I’ll tell you what I told her: “you can.”

If you’re tired of trying but always failing, never feeling like you’ll measure up, or ready to give up the “I’m fine” act, I encourage you to know the Source of all good things. God is a whole bunch of incredible things like unconditional love, hope, and joy, but do you know Him as your Strength?

“O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress.” (Psalm 59:9)
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” (Psalm 28:7)
“God is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1a)

*Psalm 8:2; 10:17; 18:1; 18:32; 18:39; 21:1; 21:13; 22:15; 28:1; 28:7; 28:8; 29:1; 29:11; 31:10; 32:4; 38:10; 46:1; 59:9; 59:16; 59:17; 65:6; 68:35; 71:1; 71:9; 73:1; 73:26; 81:1; 84:5; 86:16; 88:4; 89:17; 89:21; 93:1; 96:6; 96:7; 105:4; 118:14; 119:28; 138:3; 140:7

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