The GCSE art students at school were discussing their work yesterday and I discovered that their first ‘theme’ had been ‘Identity’. They had to come up with original artwork on that theme, looking at the question of identity from whatever viewpoint interested them.

I was interested because the question of identity is one which fills my thoughts on a regular basis. I have written my thoughts on this on a post-it note which sits in my classroom where I can see it every day: “We are children of God. Our identity must always be based on who we are, not on what we do.”

Today I was reading a commentary on David which contained this quote: “The primary concern of the spiritual life isn’t what we do for God, but what God does for us.” (Eugene Peterson, ‘Leap Over A Wall’).

Eugene Peterson takes this thought further in his paraphrase of Romans 12: “Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” (Rom 12:1, The Message) He goes on to say “Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” (Rom 12:3, The Message)

Casting Crowns tackle this theme in their song ‘Who Am I?‘, saying that our identity is
“Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are.” (Casting Crowns, ‘Who Am I?’)

Our purpose and identity are, therefore, bound up in who God is and what He does. Eph 1:11 in the Message says “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.” So often we feel uncertain about who we are and what we should be doing. Kutless sing, “I don’t know how to find myself. Am I the only one, the only one?” (Kutless, ‘Identity’) – a question to which I always give the answer ‘No!’ with gratitude that someone else is articulating how I often feel!

I find the thought that my primary concern in the spiritual life is what God does for us both reassuring and frustrating. It’s reassuring because it removes the burden of performance from us. We live in a performance-saturated culture. Jobs are very task-oriented these days and pay is often linked to performance with little thought to other factors. Employers look at the ‘bottom line’, ‘value for money’, ‘hitting the targets’ till employees feel like performing monkeys. It’s a relief to know that God is not that kind of boss!

But it’s also frustrating to me because I am not in control of God. I can’t dictate what He does, how He does it or when He does it. So often I feel frustrated as I wait for God to move, to speak, to heal, to restore. I am reminded that I am not in charge. I am relatively impotent!

As always, there seems to be two ways of looking at the same thing! Learning godliness with contentment, being willing to wait for the Lord patiently, are things which take time (for me, anyway!) to grasp…