Three years ago, Megan and I bought a cute little house. It is three bedrooms, it’s got an open floorplan that my wife adores with a large kitchen and family area. It had a great yard for the kids, and plenty of space for our growing family. We loved the colors, the layout, and I especially loved the kitchen. (I’m the cook in our family!) I was content and happy.
And then … we started watching HGTV. And we would see all the things we didn’t have in our own home: we had standard countertops, not granite or marble or quartz or whatever else; a couple of our colors were a little out of date; and our bathroom, while spacious, was also the original. As we would watch these shows, I would find myself becoming more and more envious of the things I would see and wonder, Man, why can’t my house be like that?
And suddenly I started noticing things:
- The scuff marks on the wall
- The places where someone knocked the paint
- The dated shower
- The never-ending landscaping
When compared to others, I suddenly found things I wanted or needed to improve.
But sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes you have grown so used to the problems that you don’t see them anymore: that squeaky door, the malfunctioning appliances, the quirky light switch that just won’t seem to work right, the clutter and the wear and the sagging gutters, the overgrown yard. Because it is familiar, because it is yours, you look past it … and you don’t see the changes that might need to be made.
Sometimes this is true in our spiritual lives, too.
We think everything is going well. We are content with where we are in our relationship with God. We go to church, we give, we pray. Maybe we read our Bible during the week or go to a Life Group or listen to the Christian radio station.
But then we come to the realization that all is not as it should be:
- We find ourselves becoming angry and irate over little things in our lives, snapping at our coworkers, our families, or other drivers.
- We realize that we’ve been neglecting relationships in our lives with our spouse, our kids, our family, or our friends.
- We encounter a challenge or difficulty, and we find that our faith isn’t quite as solid as we had hoped.
- Worship isn’t quite as impactful as it used to be; our spiritual lives have grown stale; the things that once brought us spiritual vitality and joy now have become routine.
- Maybe we are struck by our own sinfulness somehow: we realize that we act one way in public and another way in private; we participate in the office gossip; we hoard our possessions rather than practicing generosity; there are the lingering glances at an attractive coworker or at images on the internet.
- Maybe we have been ignoring the problems for a while. We think that a life falling apart is absolutely normal. But then we discover our anger, hostility, rage, envy, and malice.
We’ve spent so much time in dysfunction that it seems normal—and not only does it work, but it works well. It seems that everything in life is perfect, even if our lives are a perfect mess.
But finally something has made us realize that there is something more, something greater and grander and godlier in store for us. We realize that where we are spiritually isn’t where we want to be. Maybe we see someone who has a relationship with God that seems more life-giving and hopeful than ours, and we wonder what they have that we are missing. We encounter someone who has peace and joy in a measure we would aspire to. Maybe we come to the realization of our own sinfulness. Or we hear a sermon or go on a retreat or are struck by a Scripture or devotional thought that makes us yearn for a deeper relationship with God. All of the sudden, we want something different.
Something stops us. We start seeing that cracks, the worn places, and the dated features in the life we have lived for so long.
But the world tells us that we have to look like we have it all together, even if we don’t. We have to seem polished, professional, and perfect, so put on that mask, throw up the old façade, because if you seem like you don’t have it all together people are going to judge you.
A few months ago, Chris Pratt accepted an award from the MTV Video Awards. He has some hilarious things to say, and some meaningful things to say. But his last statement was profound:
Nobody’s perfect. People are going to tell you (that) you are perfect just the way you are. You’re not. You are imperfect. You always will be, but … there’s a powerful force designed you that way, and if you are willing to accept that, you will have grace.
Finally, someone who was willing to throw aside the mask and say what we all know: none of us is perfect! We don’t have it all together. We aren’t perfect just the way we are.
But here’s the beautiful thing. God doesn’t expect us to be! God knows that, on our own, we will never measure up, we will always fall short and miss the mark, we will often allow our hearts to worship things we shouldn’t.
God knows we aren’t perfect, but God sees us as perfect because of Jesus. Hebrews 10:14 puts it this way: “For by one sacrifice [through Jesus] he [God] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
When God looks at us, he sees us through the lens of Jesus. He knows our sin; that’s why Jesus came—because of our sin. But God doesn’t define us by our sin.
Instead, he sees us as people who have been forgiven, redeemed. He sees us as perfect … even though we aren’t.
I love the second part of that verse, too: “those who are being made holy.” God is working on us. We are “under construction.” We are like that house: slightly dated, a little off and out of date, in need of some major renovation. But God walks in and sees the potential. This is perfect, he thinks, as he gets to work in our hearts and lives.
He has taken away our sins, but now he gets to work filling in those cracks in our lives. He sands off our rough edges. He patches up the drywall, paints over our failings, and gives us new life. He works from the ground up, realigning our foundations and shoring up our walls, and leveling out the places that have gone out-of-joint.
All we have to do is let him.
Find part 1 of this series.
Daniel McGraw is the senior minister of the West University Church of Christ in Houston, Texas. He is married to Megan and has two daughters, Hannah and Lydia, who teach him more about the love of God than any of his theology degrees ever has. He is a passionate, but wholly average, runner.