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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Neediness in the Family of God

The audio from my husband, Kristian Ellefsen's, sermon on the "Children of God" from August 5th is available here: preached on how God calls us to be needy.

This sermon got me thinking about a lot of things. One of them is church culture.

By “needy”, Kristian is not talking about being demanding of others to meet our needs. He is not talking about idolizing people or allowing or expecting people to fill a role that only God was meant to fill in our lives. He is not talking about an obsession with self or an unhealthy introspection. He is not talking about selfish excuses not to love and humbly serve those around us. He is not talking about laziness or suggesting we do not seek to work hard and excel in the things that we are called and equipped by God to do. Rather, he is talking about a humble posture that acknowledges that we do not exist apart from God’s sovereign hand. We need Him for everything. We were created to need Him. And an important way that God administers His grace, love, and help to us is through each other!

Being needy tends to be a negative term in our culture and even in churches--especially the longer you are a Christian and especially if you are in leadership. It is just one of the ways the church has borrowed secular business principles in a way that is not consistent with living as the family of God. Drive or ambition that is funneled through self-sufficiency and individualism is something that is prized in the business world and the competition that it breeds often leads to tremendous innovation.

And yet, the Bible presents a radically different way of living where we are called to humility and an acknowledgment of our dependence on God firstly, but also we are told that we were created to rely on one another as we image Him to each other and administer His grace to each other. While at times our “achievements” and feelings of independence in life can deceive us into thinking we are self-sufficient, Acts 17 tells us that we depend on God for even the most basic human act of breathing! And 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Peter 4:10 are examples of how we need each other in the Body of Christ.

In church culture, sometimes we look down on those in the Body who appear “needy” or “high maintenance”, as if those who need are somehow less spiritual or have less faith than those who are “put together” or those who have learned to “feed themselves”. (Interestingly, the people Jesus hung out with during His life on earth were what we could recognize as needy!) Sometimes we ignore our neediness because it is too much for us to do deal with--either because it is too painful or to wearisome to ourselves and others. (If we tire of our own selves, how much more will we tire the "friends" around us.)  Sometimes neediness is figuratively beaten out of people in churches through “tough love” measures. Sometimes we distract ourselves from our neediness (knowingly and unknowingly) with so many things that we become blind or apathetic toward our own great need. We even get distracted by good things like leading and serving others.  Sometimes we are deluded into thinking others are more “put together” due to a church culture where we hide our sin and mess from each other out of fear of looking bad or being rejected or shunned by the Body. And in particular for men in the church, there is sometimes an over-compensation against the sinful passivity of men in the church where now the pendulum has swung the other way and “Biblical” masculinity is presented more like a caricature of tough, emotionless, sports-loving, meat-eating, testosterone pumped “dudes” rather what we see in Scripture (for example, Scriptures that address men specifically--like Ephesians 5:25-33 or 1 Timothy 3:1-7 or Titus 2—or Scriptures that talk about the fruit of the Spirit in general, or even Scriptures that point us to the example Jesus modeled (!). In Jesus, we see such strength and tenderness, such power and humility, such emotion and sharpness of mind, and such a strong dependence on the Father. Interestingly, these traits are treasures in women too!). And yet men in the church are often shamed out of acknowledging or displaying neediness of almost any kind.

I have noticed that the Christians who have most impacted me with their faith-backed wisdom and example are Christians who are aware of their brokenness. Many of these Christians have walked through circumstances of suffering or struggles with sin or weaknesses (much like the “thorn” that Paul references) that have taught them of their own need. Frequently (but not always) they are Christians who have walked in faith for much longer than I have. These are Christians who have such a strong and beautiful glimpse of the great sacrificial love and grace by which the God of the Universe saved His rebellious creation (i.e. all of us!). They are slower to judge those around them for this reason and are quicker to show compassion and tenderness without compromising truth. These are Christians who live out and out of the grace they have experienced in Christ and in their need of Him. These Christians are like a breath of fresh air. Instead of pointing me to themselves or to the law, they point me to the freedom and hope that they have found in Christ. They point me to the heart of love that my Heavenly Father has for me without sugar coating my sin, minimizing the pain in the struggles of life, or making much of themselves. They are not full of platitudes or Pharisaical and self-righteous remarks. They are not characterized by boasting or self-deprecation. They are not afraid to share from the messiness of their lives. Rather, their brokenness and awareness of their need before God has produced a quiet and steady confidence and hope in God that is grounded in humility. As they have acknowledged their need before God, God has filled these Christians with His love—both with His love for them but also with authentic affection and love for those around them—even those of us who are the most inconvenient or hardest to love. God uses these Christians to show His love and grace and to create an environment where others feel safe to express their need too. One of these dear saints in our lives frequently tells us “I am not going anywhere”. This friend understands steadfastness and perseverance in love. And in doing so, this friend has imaged God’s love to us in such a beautiful and powerful and life impactful way.

I pray for God to mold me and mature me like this too!

If you want another example of the posture of godly neediness that I am talking about, a great book to read is “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence. Here it is on

To go directly to Kristian’s sermon on neediness, click here:

Acts 17:24-25 ESV “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”         

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say,“Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

1 Peter 4:8-11 ESV “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

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