Letters to My Future Self: Beauty

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Dear future Kristen,

Don’t tell me you are having an identity crisis again.  We’ve been through this before, haven’t we?  Calm down; it’s ok.  Can I tell you something?  I know about you, I know something deep, something fundamental to the feminine humanness inside of you.

You want to be beautiful.

You have a deep longing to be seen and recognized by those around you as an attractive person.  And do you know what?  That’s okay.  It’s a natural part of your heart; it’s an expression of being the person God has made you to be, and it is good.  However, I’ve seen recently the way that this good desire can become twisted and destructive rather than edifying and life-giving.  But what is beauty anyway?  What is this strange quality that our culture is obsessed with — that we have over-defined until it has almost lost its definition completely?  Beauty has become nebulous, based on whimsical societal norms rather than reality.  But God is the ultimate Reality.  He is the One who created beauty and caused you to desire it, and He is the One who tells us what it truly is. Yet how many times have we chosen to believe what our culture says instead of trusting what God has said?

God’s definition is strikingly different from that of the world around you.  Our culture screams that long lashes, and beach bodies, and photoshopped magazine models are where it’s at. God skips the external almost entirely and hits at your heart.  When God speaks of beauty, He speaks of beautiful character — a life of godliness that overflows into good works.

1 Peter 3:3-4  “Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair or the putting on of gold jewelry or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which in God’s sight is very precious.”

Proverbs 31:30  “Charm is deceptive and beauty does not last, but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised” (NLT).

1 Timothy 2:9-10  “I want women to be modest in their appearance.  They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do” (NLT).

Scripture also speaks of God as being the perfection of all beauty (Psalm 27:4; 50:2; 96:6; Isaiah 4:2; 28:5; 33:17).  Do you realize that God is the most beautiful person who exists? Lift the eyes of your soul and gaze on His beauty.  Look long and hard at Him — meditate on His Word, get to know Jesus.  Beholding is becoming (2 Corinthians 3:18).  By looking at His beauty you will become beautiful.

God wants to make your soul a welcoming estate, with beautiful gardens and a majestic castle to bring life to all who venture past.  He lives within you, and wants to make you a dwelling place fit for Himself.  But sometimes that means He must first do some painful purging.  There are weeds in your soul that are keeping you from being a delightful place of hope and rest for those who enter your life.  Sometimes He must tear down your self-built character shack, so that you might have a Spirit-built palace in its stead.  Sometimes that means your soul feels like ground zero for a time; you may feel decimated, worthless, ugly.  But God can always, always be trusted.  He will plant a new garden and build a new house, and it will be far better than you could have dreamed.  God is a Master Builder with an eternally green thumb.

But enough with the metaphor.  What does it look like when some unsuspecting fellow human stumbles across that garden?  How does this beauty of soul translate into real life when that random person meets you at the park or starts talking with you in the Starbucks line?
Here are some helpful questions:

  1. Do you genuinely see, love, and care for those around you or do you ignore them in a huffing hurry to get to where you need to be?
  2. Do you give sacrificially and generously to everyone around you with your time, your money, and your energy?
  3. Do you consistently show loving patience to those who frustrate you?
  4. Do you faithfully serve your church even in ways that no one will ever see because you know that you are serving Jesus?
  5. Do you live with confident peace no matter the circumstances surrounding you because you trust the wisdom and sovereignty of God?
  6. Do you show compassion to those who are needy and hurting?
  7. Do you live with radical joy and gospel boldness in whatever station of life you find yourself?

Who is the person behind your eyes?  Is your soul beautiful, or just your body?  Your outer beauty will shine for a time, and then diminish, but your personhood will last.  Make your investment count for eternity.

That is not to say that your external beauty is unimportant!  The question is why do you beautify yourself?

  1. Is your motive selfish: I want others to notice and appreciate me?
  2. Or is your motive spiritual: I want the words I speak about my Jesus to be enhanced by my appearance?

Your beauty becomes dangerous when you are so preoccupied with your external appearance that you cannot focus on those that you have been called to love.  Our culture says, “Build your self-esteem. Focus less on those around you and more on the person you are becoming.”  Jesus says, “Give me your life, live to serve those around you, and trust Me to take care of the rest” (Matthew 16:25).

You have been given a body, but it is a body on loan that doesn’t ultimately belong to you (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  It belongs to Jesus because His precious blood has bought it.  This body has been given to you so that you can shine the light of Jesus wherever you are.  You have a body and a soul so that you can adorn a beautiful Gospel with a beautiful life.  You did not get to choose which body is yours, but you do get to choose what you will do with the one you have been given. And to whom much has been given, much will be required (Luke 12:48). Steward it well.

So don’t push away your desire to be beautiful.  Don’t fight it or condemn it.  But do not worship it.  Rather, let it be an outgrowth of your worship to Jesus.

There is something else you need to know.  It is something you may not believe right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is true.

You ARE beautiful.

I know about all those moments you have spent inwardly wishing that God had made you differently.  But He hasn’t.  He has made you exactly the way He wanted to so that you are uniquely enabled to fulfill His calling on your life.  He has called you “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).  You have been distinctly fashioned by the Master hand of God Himself, and He never makes anything that is ugly.

You are beautiful because you are human.  You have been crafted in the image of God, and no matter how marred by sin that image is, His beauty still rests upon you.  In fact, the Gospel is all about Him restoring you to the beauty you once had when you reflected His image perfectly.  You are a “new person” who is being “renewed in knowledge after the image of [your] Creator” (Colossians 3:11).  The mistakes you have made and the past you have dealt with is being remade.  You are being transformed until His beauty shines through your brokenness with power that declares to a watching world the magnificence of your God.

You are beautiful because you are His.  Do you know what He says about you?
He says you are:
beloved — John 3:16, 15:9; Romans 5:8, 8:37-39; Ephesians 2:4; 1 John 3:1, 4:9
chosen — Ephesians 1:4
new  — 2 Corinthians 5:17
free  — Romans 8:2
delivered — Colossians 1:13
clean — John 15:3; 1 Corinthians 6:10-11; Isaiah 1:18
blessed — Ephesians 1:3
upheld by everlasting arms — Deuteronomy 33:26-27
forgiven — Micah 7:18-19
royal — 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:9-10
rich — 2 Corinthians 8:9
secure — Romans 8:35-39
reconciled — Romans 5:9-11
renamed — Revelation 2:17; Isaiah 62:2
healed — Psalm 103: 3
crowned with glory and honor — Psalm 8:5
known — Psalm 139
alive — Ephesians 2:5
accepted — Ephesians 1:6
victorious — 2 Corinthians 2:14; Isaiah 54:17; Romans 8:37
blameless — Philippians 2:15; Colossians 1:22
listened to — Psalm 4:3; Psalm 116:1-2
holy — Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 1:21-22, 3:12
uncondemned — Romans 8:1
treasured & delighted in — Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 62:4-5
complete — James 1:4; 2 Timothy 3:17-18

beautiful.

Look up those verses again.  Meditate on those truths for a while.  This is your identity.

Your looks, your personality, your abilities, your interests — everything that makes you you — none of it is a mistake.  He has made you impeccably perfect and He loves what He has made.  And do you know what else?  That will still be true in 45 years, when you turn 65 and finally lose count of your grey hairs and wrinkles.

So don’t be afraid of the mirror.  Don’t hate what you see there, or worship what you see, or even disregard what you see completely.  See yourself (your whole personhood) through God’s eyes, and thank Him for the amazing gift of being human.  Let it draw you up into worship to the One who created you and stamped His seal of approval on you.  But also don’t linger too long.  There is a waiting, watching world desperately in need of the Jesus that the person you see in the mirror has been uniquely enabled to proclaim.  Go — live fully, and tell them with your lips and life.

Yours truly,

Kristen

Letters to My Future Self: Surrender

Dear future Kristen,

I am writing this letter to you coming off of a very difficult season of struggle against sin.  I am hoping that the next time this letter comes to your attention you will have made significant headway in the quest for humility and sacrifice and joy in God.  Right now, though, the struggle is tearing me apart.  On one side I feel God pulling me more strongly than I have ever felt toward Himself, while at the same time in a corner of my heart, rebellion still lurks as a squatter, relentlessly yanking me back from giving it all to Him. I don’t want the rebellion, but my heart still wants to fight against God, while at the same time I also desire to fight my heart. Now do you understand why I feel torn to pieces?

Why do I tell you all this?  Well, I think it’s because this is by far not the last time you will feel pressed by sin. We are still in our fallen bodies and that wretched flesh still lives inside of us. Yet at the same time, we have the Spirit. He wants different things than our flesh and actively fights against our flesh to destroy it. (And He will destroy it, hallelujah!) The result? We become a cosmic battleground where God fights the wars of His kingdom. It’s Galatians 5 all over again. “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.” It is the reality of the Christian life.

Thankfully, Paul gives us some help.  Galatians 5:16 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The flesh is still there, but it’s straight-jacketed as long as you are walking in the Spirit.  But the problem is that the flesh is like Houdini. As soon as you stop intentionally walking in the Spirit and letting Him keep it restrained, it finagles a way out of the straight jacket and back into rule of your heart. The other dangerous thing about the flesh is that you love it. It feels good, even though it’s end is the way of death. “To set the mind on the flesh is death…” (Romans 8:6).  Like Tozer said, it is an opaque curtain of self that keeps you from seeing the glory of Jesus (and therefore being transformed into His image), and it is so intertwined with our hearts that to rip it away and crucify it hurts like hell. But truly, the path of the flesh is the path of hell – forever death without ever being able to embrace the beauty of Jesus.  And you will know the death of your flesh now, or forever death then. Choose death now.

But how?  How on earth do you kill that slick, parasitic con artist that will destroy your faith and steal your joy and leave you hopeless and empty and begging despite all you have given it?  You choose to say “yes” to Jesus no matter what He asks for or requires of you. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” If you belong to Christ Jesus, if you are His, if you are a blood-bought servant of Jesus Christ, you have crucified the flesh. Why? Because the Spirit of God dwells in you and you walk with Him. Note: that does not mean you can never sin again. But it means that as long as you are walking by the Spirit and saying “yes” to Him, you will not sin. 

However, to do so you must learn to surrender.  In our Christian subculture, we often entertain the idea that surrender is a “one time thing” we do in a moment of emotionalism, but I don’t think that is true. True surrender is life as sacrifice.  That’s what Paul means in Romans 12 when he says, “Present your bodies to God as a living sacrifice.” You don’t surrender once. You surrender every single time that you must again choose to say “yes” to Jesus and “no” to yourself. Your decision of surrender lies not in saying “yes” once in a moment of emotion, but in choosing to say “yes” over, and over, and over and over again, no matter what He asks for. 

The question that remains: Why should you do so? Paul answers that question as well. “Present your bodies… which is your reasonable service.” Why? Because Jesus deserves it!  “I make my appeal to you by the mercies of God, present your bodies.” See what Jesus has done, understand that He deserves your “yes”, and then choose to say “yes” to Him.

I say this to you now, in light of the struggle and the sin that I’ve seen in my own life lately because I know that God reveals sin to us progressively.  As we fight and defeat one sin, another is brought to our attention. But I want your future struggles to drive you to God and cause you to submit to Him out of thankfulness, rather than causing you to run from Him. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes sin runs deep. But grace is always there and always accessible because the God of infinite grace never leaves His children. Never. Ever. You must believe that.  Never forget that He loves you and wants to hear your voice, so don’t stop talking to Him, even when He seems far away or you feel like you’ve failed him again. Maybe you have, but He still loves you! He wants you to run to Him! Believe that!! Keep holding on to hope — hope will not put you to shame as long as it is in Him and His Word.  

One last thing: sometimes choosing to obey gets really hard and tiring. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to produce any fruit and isn’t going to make any difference. But I promise you it will. If nothing else, it is worth it for Him alone. He says, “Do not be weary in doing good, for in due season you shall reap if you faint not.”  He says, “Keep doing good. Keep doing good. Don’t give up. Sow good seed, no matter the blood and sweat and tears it takes to sow them, because God will make them grow.” The joy of reaping will be worth the pain of sowing. You have to believe that it’s worth it. Because it is.  

Soon the clouds will clear, and the dim reflection you now know of the Lord Jesus will give way to unobstructed, face-to-face fellowship.  And in that moment all the pain you experienced in striving to please Him will be utter sweetness, and any trite sweetness for which you sacrificed His fellowship will be as bitter as wormwood and gall in your stomach.

So stay in the fight till the final round. Jesus is worth it.

Yours truly,

Kristen