There are many stunning things about Jesus of Nazareth. He was so different, so unlike most of the people I know—so unlike myself—in ways that make him utterly compelling to me. The crowds were drawn to him, and for more than his miracles, I think. There’s something about him that draws us in and makes us want him and want what he has.
One of those aspects of his life I’ve been thinking about recently is how Jesus was utterly unmoved by the criticism of others. He was unmoved by their praise too. Whether the crowds loved him or hated him, it didn’t concern him much. It’s not what made him tick. He wasn’t looking for approval. He wasn’t devastated by criticism. He was free. I’d be the first to raise my hand and say I could use some of what he had.
Why was he so different in this way? As I’ve thought about it, two answers have risen to the top. First, Jesus knew who he was. He knew the voice of the one who spoke over him, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased” (Mark 1:11). A second reason, closely related to the first: the Gospel writers tell us that Jesus would often withdraw to solitary places to pray (see Mark 1:35; Luke 5:15-16; Matt 14:23). Sometimes he would spend all night alone in prayer (see Luke 6:12-13). I think it was in those solitary places, spending time alone with his Father, that he heard that same voice over and over again, reminding him who he was, reminding him he was God’s beloved Son; and in that security, in that love from his Father, he was free to be and say and do the things God called him to be and say and do, without being moved by what others thought of him. That’s rare. And that’s compelling.
I think Jesus shows us a different way to live than what many of us know. He shows us a way of being free. Of having nothing to prove, not seeking to impress, not feeling the pressure from without—or from within—to be or do or accomplish something in order to feel like we have worth or value or significance. We’re meant to be defined by God’s love, not by what others think of us or even what we think of ourselves. Only when we find our worth and security in God can we be really free. For that, I’m becoming increasingly convinced, we need spiritual practices, disciplines, and habits that help us be with our Father and orient our hearts toward him.
Henri Nouwen defines discipline as “the effort to create some space in which God can act.”1 We need to prevent all the space in our lives from being filled up, so we can encounter God. We need to be alone with God—as Jesus often was—in order, as Nouwen says, “to listen to the voice of the One who calls you his beloved” and “to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being.”
One of the reasons we feel so fragile and insecure, I think, is because we neglect to give room to time with our Father that can give us an inner quietness and security from which to live. Nouwen, I think, pinpoints our great need: “You have to listen to the voice of the One who calls you his beloved, because otherwise you will run around begging for affirmation, for praise, for success. And then you’re not free.” But if you know you’re God’s beloved, Nouwen says, “you can deal with an enormous amount of success as well as an enormous amount of failure.”
I long for this freedom, this richer way of living—free from the desire to impress; free from being overly concerned with praise or criticism; free from the need to prove anything or to accomplish something in order to feel like I matter. I want to know this freedom that comes from knowing I’m deeply loved by God.
As I’ve thought about these things, I’ve sensed an invitation to reconsider and reorient some things in my life in order to create this space to be with God and hear his voice speak to me in the deep places of my soul that I’m loved by him.
This is one of the reasons we’ve included in our discipleship plan called GROW some spiritual practices for us to consider adopting. They’re practices—like meditating on Scripture, prayer walking, practicing silence and solitude, among many others—that help us create space to encounter God and to live from a richer, more restful, more secure place. If you haven’t taken a look, I’d invite you to do so and to join me in this journey of living out of the fullness of our Father’s love.
1. Henri Nouwen, “From Solitude to Community to Ministry,” Leadership Magazine, 1995.