The other night I was having a moment of feeling judged by the world and ugly inside and out. Gracie, as is her way, put her little hand to my cheek and said: “You are a most beautiful princess because Jesus has put a special treasure in your heart.”
To say that Gracie is obsessed with princesses is an understatement. From movies and dolls to dress-ups and dancing balls we live and breathe royalty daily! I think most girls have something in them just connects with a “royal” identity and it gets me thinking: “Where does this sense of identity come from? Is there a part of us that is attracted to royalty because deep inside we want to belong to a King who will crown us with recognition? As we grow older we resign those things to childhood fantasy, but I think there is still something in us that longs for it— so we start looking for other “crowns” of recognition to define who we are.
Where does your own sense of identity come from? I will suggest that what forms our identity are the things we pursue and pour into our hearts. So what “crowns” are you pursuing? Is it your career? The size of your bank account or 401k? Is it your “good” reputation? Your clothes, house or the kind of car you drive? Is it motherhood, being a wise father, or being “the good child” in the family? And what are you pouring into your heart? Is it beauty magazines or action movies, facebook and twitter, mindless television and pop music, retail therapy and romance novels, baseball games and talk radio, chick-flicks and chocolate? I’m not saying that any of these things are bad. But the question is: Are these the ultimate pursuits that define your identity? Are these the things you are pouring into your heart more than anything else— more than God? More than the One True King who wants to crown you as His own?
The Lord continues to place this verse before me because it reveals our true identity: Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear: Forget your people and your father’s house. The king is enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord. (Psalm 45: 10-11)
This Psalm is an allegory where the characters in it represent real people. We are representative of the “daughter.” This particular allegory is reminiscent of the Biblical notion “leave and cleave,” where a couple will leave their families and cleave to each other making a new identity as one. This verse says we are to forget our old lives and our old ways (forget your people and your father’s house.) These things no longer define our identity! Why? Because we cleave to our King. Who is that King? Jesus- the King of Kings! Just like in marriage where two become one, we are joined with Christ— “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians) Because we now belong to the King we throw away the trappings of the world, the old idols of the heart, the things we have been pursing in vain to give us our identity and define our worth. Now we give our whole heart to the Lord and He defines our worth. The King is enthralled with our beauty! In fact it is the King himself who makes us beautiful. John Gill says: “… and this beauty is not natural, nor acquired… but what is given… it is not an outward, but an inward beauty; nor is it fictitious, but real…” It is real! This is no feel good platitude. Son or daughter of The King, you are beautiful because God says you are beautiful! Whatever attribute He ascribes to you is true because He says it’s true! He crowns you as His beloved! When the God of the universe crowns you as His own what other crown could we possibly need?
But, the truth is all too often we do not let the Lord crown us with His identity. We ignore who He says we are and turn to other “crowns.” We look to successes and accolades of this world to tell us we are “beautiful people” or have done a “beautiful job.” We pursue these things to try and fill a space that is never satisfied. Oh, maybe you have moments of it, but deep inside you know a heart chasing these “crowns” is insatiable and insecure. David Foster Wallace explains the psychology of this brilliantly. In summary he says: If money is what you’re running after you will never have enough. If body and beauty- you will always feel ugly. If power and status- you will always feel weak and afraid, even at the highest position. If Intellect- you will always feel stupid no matter how much education you get. We are constantly looking for something or someone other than God to “crown” us— to give us the official “stamp of approval.”
The really unfortunate thing is that when we look for others to give us the “stamp of approval” by pursuing these “crowns” we become disappointed. I used to try and live by what I called “The rule of thirds.” I heard it once in a talk by Eric Saperstine. He spoke about the wisdom of understanding that in your life 1/3 of the people are going to love you, 1/3 of the people are going to hate you, and 1/3 of the people are not even going to know or care about you. This is certainly wise advice for keeping one humble. But it’s not very satisfying. My heart is looking for affirmation from the outside, and bringing this to its logical conclusion— my goodness, I have to deal with the fact that 2/3 of the world doesn’t like or even care about me! A 1/3 “Approval Rating” is certainly not enough to fill the void in my heart and give me any sense of a positive identity. Where can I go to get it?
Do I simply say: “It doesn’t matter what others think of me! It only matter what I think of myself! I can give myself my very own ‘stamp of approval!’” Seriously? I hope you are laughing with me— I mean isn’t that pretty lame? Even more lame than politicians believing they have done such a good job they’ll vote themselves a raise! It occurs to me this idea of only caring about what “I” think of “me” doesn’t work. Turning “inward” for defining your identity and worth only means your ego will render the same three verdicts as the “rule of thirds,” maybe not in the same percentages, but it renders the same verdicts nonetheless. Sometimes I “love myself” and am satisfied with what I’ve done. Sometimes I “hate” myself and what I’ve done. Sometimes I will be totally oblivious simply going through the motions of life. The truth is no matter how much I try to “love myself” and only care about “what I think of me,” I’m probably not going to be “pleased” with myself much of the time…. And that’s no more satisfying than my 1/3 “approval rating” from other people.
No matter what, we can never meet the standards set by others or our “self.” In our quiet moments of honesty we realize that we live under the constant belief that we are never “enough” while we vainly pursue things that have no value to try and give ourselves value. But what if we embraced the truth of who God says we are instead of turning to the “world” or our “selves” to get little stamps of approval or “crowns” of achievement? What if we truly allowed Him to define who we are, how we are loved and why we are valuable? What if we poured Him into our hearts more than anything else? What if we let the Lord crown us and tell us we are His beautiful child… and we believed it? Talk about a special treasure for your heart!
And, what if you let the Lord define you, not by what YOU have done, but by what HE has done for you? When you pursue and pour into your heart the truths and promises of God— what He says about you, and what HE has done for you— it changes everything! You realize it’s true: you are not enough. You will never be enough—but that is ok, because Jesus is enough! He is enough, he was enough, and he will always be enough! He lived the perfect life—the only life that ever met the standard. And when we accept Him we are clothed by His record of perfection. Though He lived a life that should have been given the ultimate “Stamp of Approval” from the world, the world condemned him and hung him on a cross. And He willingly allowed that to happen because He wanted to give you His perfect record. When you choose to accept him, all your failings are imputed to him and hung on the cross too. He gets the cosmic withholding of approval, so that you can get the cosmic stamp of approval! That’s the real treasure for your heart. Again I ask you: When the God of the universe crowns you as His own what other crown could you possibly need?
You see, you cannot let the world pull you down. You cannot allow the insatiable pangs of your own self-esteem gnaw at your soul. You cannot be toppled by the exhaustion of your work, the hurts you face, or the din of a culture screaming to you that you are not enough… It is not true. Do you know what you are? You are a treasure in the arms of Christ. When you pursue that as your true identity and allow Him to tell you who you are and how you are valued, then you can rest. Then you can have utter confidence. Then you can “perform” with excellence, because you already have the crown! And you are performing for an audience of One—the One true King—who says of you just as he says of his Son—“this is my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.” You are delightful and enthralling to your King— because as my Gracie says, “Jesus has placed a special treasure in your heart.”
“The Freedom of Self-forgetfulness” Dr. Timothy Keller, 2012
“The Journey” Eric Saperstine
John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible, Psalm 45
David Foster Wallace, Commencement speech: Kenyon College in 2005