What am I missing? This was the question I asked myself as I stood, deflated, in front of the list on the wall. It was Monday morning. My name was three slots lower than it had been the month before. Just yesterday I had heard the preacher say, “The race is over. You are accepted. Your identity is not in what you do or have done but in what Jesus does and has done. You can rest.” That sounded like such good news.
But here at the corporate bank where I worked, the race was far from over, and this week I was falling behind.
Each month the company would post a ranked list of everyone’s performance—how much money we had earned the company year to date. No matter what the preacher said my value was, here it was by another measure, in black and white, posted on the wall for all to see.
I was like one of those giant inflatable Gumby-men you see at the used-car lot. My heart would rise and fall depending on how many deals I had closed. When I was successful or applauded, my heart would swell. When I was criticized or failed at something, I would deflate in disappointment.
I didn’t want this list to bother me. I wanted to have peace, peace like a river. Hadn’t Jesus promised, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38)? I read this and wanted to take Jesus at his word. But when I looked at my life, I wondered, Rivers? Really? Maybe a trickle here and there on my best days. But I don’t see any rivers flowing out of my life. Hadn’t Jesus said, “I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)? Then why was I still so restless?
I felt like that man in the gospel of Mark (8:22–26). Maybe you’ve read the story too. He was blind and his friends brought him to Jesus. Jesus “spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, [and] he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’” The man said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” The man was no longer blind, but he could not yet see clearly. He was stuck. He was in between.
This is the only partial healing in the Gospels. What happened? Was there a power shortage? Did the one who calmed the stormy seas with a word need a second chance? Did the one who raised the dead need a do-over? Or did Jesus intend this man to serve as a sort of living parable, to say it’s possible to see, but not yet see clearly?
I felt like that man. Stuck.
What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t the gospel doing its deep work in my heart? The gap loomed large between what the gospel said was true of me (I’m forgiven, accepted, and secure) and how I saw myself. There was a chasm between what I said I believed and what I was experiencing. I felt discouraged by my lack of spiritual progress and exhausted by my efforts.
I had seen enough of Jesus to spoil my enjoyment of the world but not enough to be content with Jesus alone. And I didn’t know how to move forward.
I became frustrated, then cynical. I wondered if other people were reading the same Bible and sensed the same disconnect. I felt alone. I felt like a fraud.
You may find it odd, then, that a few years later God called me to be a pastor. But this question of how to close the gap between our faith and our real lives remains one of which I’m always mindful. How can we connect the grand, high promises of God to the gritty details of our daily lives? How can we get the beautiful truths we hear on Sunday to sustain us on Wednesday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., so we don’t rise and fall like inflatable Gumby-men? I’m writing this book to answer those questions, because I’ve learned I’m not the only one who asks them.
Rankin Wilbourne and John Ortberg, Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2016).
We have just released a new Bible Study based on the book: Union with Christ, by Rankin Wilbourne
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.
Union with Christ, Lesson #1
Living in the Gap
Union with Christ, Lesson #2
Union with Christ. What Is It?
Union with Christ, Lesson #3
Why We Need Two Songs Playing in Our Head
Union with Christ, Lesson #4
Chapters 4 – 6:
Union with Christ in the Bible
Union with Christ, Lesson #5
Chapters 7 – 8:
Who Am I? / Where Am I Headed?
Union with Christ, Lesson #6
Chapters 9 – 10
What Am I Hear For? / What Can I Hope For?
Union with Christ, Lesson #7
Chapters 11 – 15
Abiding in Christ
Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking. Answers are provided in the form of quotes from respected authors such as John Piper, Max Lucado and Beth Moore.
These lessons will save you time as well as provide deep insights from some of the great writers and thinkers from today and generations past. I also include quotes from the same commentaries that your pastor uses in sermon preparation.
Ultimately, the goal is to create conversations that change lives.