Death to My Boast

“If at the end of your degree, you don’t get a job, but you get more of Christ, will that be enough?”

I was forced to see a spiritual director three times my second year of my seminary journey, very much against my want or will. I also had to put some stock into it, paying some of our cold hard dollars that as newlyweds, we were strapped for. This meant that although I wasn’t buying it (but had to buy it), I was going to spend this time talking this poor woman’s ear off.

This of course led into someone who is trained to be discerning to be discerning about one of my biggest fears.

The question left me dumbfounded, struck, simply because I knew with all of my heart that I wanted the answer to that question to be a cheerful and glad “yes,” but it was most certainly a “no.” How could Christ call me to something like this and not have my future in mind?

And yet, it showed in me such a deficit. Not only was I hearing the question, “Do you love me?” I was hearing the question, “Do you trust me?” The answer revealed itself in a hearty “no” once more, not trusting Him with this thing that had so quickly become my prized possession, my idol, my identity.

Fast forward to a year and a half later and now, I am rejoicing that I get to look at the finish line in front of me, my last semester. I thought in this time period that I could firmly tell you that I had dealt with this thorn, walked through this desert, giving my Lord my abundant yes. However, in the midst of looking ahead to what is next, I have lost sight of what is here and now, fixated upon the question of if God will come through in the way I want him to four long months from now. The death has not been pruned from me yet.

This weekend, my pastor said something in the midst of his sermon on being led as a captive in Christ’s triumphal entry (2 Corinthians 2:14-16), that struck me once more.

You know what you boast in by how you defend yourself when things go badly.
— Martin Luther

As I have had to deal with the hardships that come with working with other sinful people, myself included, I have refused to see the goodness that comes from Christ’s pierced hands. Instead, I have found myself wandering to humans, asking for acceptance and approval as they look at my works and judge whether or not they are worthy of me staying or going. Instead, I have used my works these past three years in seminary as a way to qualify myself, rather than covering my face and pointing to His glory.

This sounds severe, but whenever we move a simple degree away from sola gratia, grace alone, in even our own lives, a serious temptation in the work of ministry, this is what we have done: glory robbing, idol coddling, autonomy.

What has my boast been in? This future degree, and the hope of something that could give me status other than the ever-looked-down-upon “student.” My boast has not been in His work done for me, and the work that I can see He is doing now.

In order for me to find life again, to find joy in surrender, to find peace amidst such unknown, I must know with certainty that my life is not my own. I must remember who God says He is, and that those words are true and trustworthy. I must know that this dream, this hope, this life of mine, needs to be put to death in order for true life to make its way through the muck and the mire.

So like I did for two straight weeks with a group of sweaty people on either side, I recite the Shema, and pray to God it takes root and changes this heart of stone into one beating and full of His beautiful light.

Hear, O Israel.
The Lord is our God.
The Lord alone.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your might,
and love your neighbor who is like yourself.

My only boast is Christ alone. Who is like the Lord our God?