Excerpt from chapter 3 of Loved: When the One Who Knows You the Best Loves You the Most (Forerunner Publishing, 2019, used by permission).
When we have a wrong picture of what God is actually like, our ability to relate to Him will be hindered. Our hearts will shut down toward Him. We could sing along in church but have a heart withdrawn from Him because deep down we are afraid of Him, afraid He will reject us, or afraid He is disappointed in us.
If you don’t have a revelation of God’s love for you personally, you will strive to earn His love. Many Christians, dearly loved by the Father, live as spiritual orphans. Because they don’t expect anything good to come their way from the Father, they have to make it happen in their own strength. Life then becomes all about what they can do. This makes for a very tiring life of constant striving.
Something in us wants us to make a name for ourselves. We want to accomplish things in our own strength. If we want to experience intimacy with God, however, we have to turn from this independent attitude.
Jesus is a great example for us. He was a perfect Son who lived for and drew life from His relationship with His Father. He surrendered His will, saying not His will but the Father’s will be done (Lk. 22:42).
A heart humbly submitted to the Father comes to life. Like Jesus, the children of God acknowledge where they came from and submit to their Father. Instead of seeking to make a name for themselves, they say, “Father, I give You the right to define me. I want to derive my sense of self-worth, my sense of identity, from You and You alone.”
There are many things that are true about us, right? For me, it is true that I am from the Netherlands, that I am married and have lived in Kansas City, Missouri, and Kitale, Kenya, East Africa. I have three kids and a dog. I have certain strengths and weaknesses. I’ve done things well, and I’ve messed up. There are some people I know, and billions of people I don’t know. And I love scuba diving, and I hate eating liver.
A lot of things are true about me. All those things together make up the story of my life.
The same holds true for you. There are many things true about you, good and bad, and they make up the story of your life. That’s fine. The problem, though, is when we take something that is true about us and make that the truest thing or most important thing about us. If we then allow that to define us, we encounter problems.
Because everyone builds their identity around what they believe is the most important thing about them. So, when we overidentify with something that is true about us, it messes with our sense of identity.
For example, many people overidentify with what they do. They derive a sense of value from what they do. It gives them their sense of self-worth. Therefore, they conclude that they matter or have value because of what they do. But people can overidentify with other things—things like what they have, how they look, whom they know, whom they are dating, or what their position is.
As God’s children, only one thing is the most important thing about us. It’s the thing that should define us more than anything else. It’s the deepest thing about us.
What is it?
It’s that we are children of the Father who made us and loves us. It should be what matters most about us and what defines who we are more than anything else. It’s the source of true self-worth and where we find our confidence. We don’t overcome insecurities through achievement, but through believing and experiencing how God feels about us.
People may also overidentify with things that are negative about themselves. They battle with a horrible sense of self-worth because they have allowed something negative that is true in their lives to define who they are. It can be something bad that happened to them, or it can be something bad that they have done. It could be a persistent sin that they are fighting. The devil loves it when we let our sin define us. But we are not our sin. You are not your sin. It is not the deepest thing about you.
The devil knows your name, but he calls you by your sin. God knows your sin, but He calls you by your name. ¹
When we look to something or someone to give us our sense of self-worth, we are also empowering that something or someone to take away our sense of self-worth. What if we lose our jobs, or our spouses leave us? Or we lose our possessions, or are not invited to sing on the worship team anymore?Henri Nouwen said, “If you know you are Beloved of God, you can live with an enormous amount of success and an enormous amount of failure without losing your identity, because your identity is that you are the Beloved.” ²
David Lomas, in his book The Truest Thing about You, asks a great question that helps us see where we stand with this. In my own words: What is it in your life right now that is giving you your strongest dose of self confidence? Think about that for a minute. What is your primary source of self-worth right now?
God wants to be that.
For years, I lived by a very unhealthy formula. I believed that my accomplishments plus people’s opinions of me equaled my importance as a person. When I was achieving good things and others spoke highly of me, then I felt valuable. I felt I had the right to sit “at their table,” as it were. But that formula made me a slave to the opinions of others.
Don’t do what I did. Don’t look to people or things to define your worth. I had to turn away from listening to people’s opinions and turn to the Father. I had to ask forgiveness for looking to people to validate me when the Father wanted to do that. I had to stop striving and stop trying to make a name for myself. Instead, I had to allow God to name me. Instead of trying to create self-worth, I had to discover it in God.