On Calling: Part 3…Image Bearers and Cross Carriers

If you were to see a picture of my sister and I, you would know we are siblings. In most ways, we are wildly different: she’s a night owl, I’m an early bird. She’s a procrastinator, I’m a planner. She’s Mensa and I’m…not Mensa. We only share one genetic parent, but somehow the essentials came through: auburn hair, relentless freckling in the slightest sun, green eyes, full lips. It’s like, against the odds, when God made us, He gave us the same stamp.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means that we are Imago Dei, made in the Image of God, and how that applies to our calling. Romans 8:29 says the main call on our lives is to be conformed to Christ’s image, so we might be Jesus’ brothers and sisters. We are already crafted in God’s image but, somehow, the more we move toward our calling and purpose, the more we look like a sibling of Jesus.

I read something this week that has stuck with me. Robert Mulholland says, “Our cross is the point of our unlikeness to the image of Christ, where we must die to self in order to be raised with God into the wholeness of life in the image of Christ”. I like that imagery. It reminds me of the Celtic cross with its circle around the intersection of the two beams. Like its saying, “look over here! This is the important part, focus on this!” This intersection is who you’re meant to be, Imago Dei, but you’ve been trying so hard to be someone else that it’s gotten mucked up. Maybe you’ve self-obsessed and self-destructed for so long that the image is hardly recognizable to you. Or maybe you’ve been hurt and abused and your image of yourself and your image of God is deeply distorted. Whatever it is that has tarnished the original, beautiful stamp, the cross restores it.

My husband offers the best example I know of this. This year, after many years of trying, he launched a non-profit that unifies all the churches in our city. He believes with his whole heart that if all the little ‘c’s can come together, the big ‘C’ Church can change the world. It’s been a decade-long effort and it has been uphill every step of the way. Wonderful things have come from it- the homeless Symposium and, subsequent, Coalition- which is making a real impact on our city’s most vulnerable citizens. Without it, we wouldn’t have launched Imagine Whitter (remember the time I asked Facebook and Google how to write a grant and because God delights in using fools, we got all $100,000 funded?!) On the other hand: it pays zero dollars, it costs him almost all of the time he has off his real job, and a lot of our time as a family. No one asked him to do it, no one applauds him for it, and few people actively support it. But he still does it. He can’t not do it.

In part one of this series, I asserted that our calling is not about us. Last week, in part two, I talked about the flexibility required to follow what God might have for us. This last installment is a combination of both thoughts: God is in the process of transforming, shaping and molding us, for a specific purpose and in a specific way: to look more like His Son. I think we can get confused in today’s culture where we equate ‘living out our calling’ with a polished, finished product on a shelf. We begin to think our calling is meant to make us happy, pay our bills, give us validation or maybe even make us successful. Jesus followed His calling and it did none of those things for him. Jesus followed His calling all the way until it killed Him.

I’m grateful I live with someone who sees God’s calling as an intersection, since we both hit that intersection almost every day. God gently presses at the point at which we are least like Him. Without this example, I might have neglected God’s call on my life because it looked like dull, hard work. Transformation is often messy and laborious and repetitive and boring. And the real bummer is that it is never finished. Sometimes I feel like I’m working myself to the bone and then look up and realize no one is asking me to do it and no one will know if I don’t. That’s the intersection. I think it can serve as a type of litmus test for the rest of us: the first and best way to know if you’re following God’s call on your life, is at the end of the day, you look more like Jesus.

Thanks for those who followed along on this series- What should we tackle next?