Before we continue to explore a few more ideas and conclude the Triune Gospel Series, I thought the ideas of the last article (Triune Transformation) were important enough that it is worth taking a moment more and revisiting them and working to contextualize them down to the level of our personal journey a little more concretely. This is a critical aspect of the triune gospel message and one of the major areas of benefit for those of us who are already believers.
In the last article, we explored how the structure of the economic trinity implies there is an order that God layers the triune gospel journeys on each other in our growth and development. To make that a little more accessible, let's do our best to label these journeys one of the central aspects that gets established in us through relating to God in that journey. We could probably choose a number of different words, but the ones I like to use as shorthand are Belong for the relationship Journey, Be for the identity journey, and Do for the destiny journey. The transformation process we're talking about is this:
Clockwise vs Counterclockwise
To see this process in action, it's valuable to contrast the process of clockwise rotation with counterclockwise rotation with these concepts. The pattern of the trinity operates in the clockwise rotation: layering first Belong, then Be, then Do (and then having the whole cycle repeating over and over in our lives). What God doesn't do (and what the enemy is working to do) is rotate the other way: Do, Be, Belong. This is one of the critical observations here: this framework makes clear God's transformational process vs. the enemy's "transformational" process. Both the kingdom of light and kingdom of darkness are working to pattern our lives after their rule, and the enemy's pattern is precisely opposite of God's.
Furthermore, the work that God (and the same could be said for the enemy) is inclusive of every aspect of our lives. Said another way, we shouldn't limit the journeys of relationship, identity, and destiny (and the belonging, being, and doing they result in) to "churchy stuff" - they play out in every part of our lives; in our internal mental world, in our relationships, with our finances and our occupations. Every part of our lives is an opportunity for this pattern to be fleshed out in us. Let's look at how these can play out in a workplace situation: let's suppose that you get a promotion at work. How does this play out with God's plan vs. the enemy's?
The Enemy's Plan
The enemy will work here to have you approach this change through the process of Do, Be, Belong. Here is what that could look like in our approach:
Doing - The first thing I need to do in my new position is demonstrate my competence. I need to do the job well, so I jump in and try and burst out of the gate with extra momentum. I start to work longer days and I work to read a few extra books and perhaps attend a training or two. Along the way, my focus is on doing the job well. My focus becomes my activity and on how well I do it. I analyze everything I do (and don't do), and I'm constantly critiquing my success or lack thereof.
Being - My goal is for doing to lead me into being. That means that I am trying to use my own efforts and accomplishments to form an identity: I am trying to pull myself up by my bootstraps and prove to myself that I should have that promotion - that I do deserve to be where I'm at. The result is that my sense of worth in the job hangs on whatever my latest feedback was. If I get a good email, I'm doing great, if something headed in the wrong direction I find myself second guessing my capabilities and wrestling with insecurity. This results in a kind of endless striving, because as soon as I stop doing, I go into an identity crisis with respect to my job.
Belonging - My dream is that eventually if I can prove to myself that I do belong here, that others will see and value me in my new position as well. I'll be valued by others and people will believe in me. I'll be accepted for the contribution I'm making and feel the sense of belonging where I'm at.
The overall theme of this cycle is that it is one of endless performance. I'm trying to work my way into first my own sense of identity, and then a sense of value from the community, all driven by my own efforts. We don't realize it, but this positions us in the situation of savior (the one who solves the problem), and the whole thing hangs on us. This is a burden we were never meant to carry, and it's why performance doesn't work. It can't work; we are not the savior and we are not meant to pattern our needs in this order. It only ever results in exhaustion, frustration, and disappointment. Truth be told, even as a write this I'm feeling icky just because of what thinking about this cycle produces in my internal world.
God's plan works precisely the opposite because it flips two key aspects: (1) It changes the rotation from counterclockwise to clockwise, but it also (2) flips who the energizing factor for this process from myself to God. Triune transformation is driven by God, not by myself; it is something I yield to and partner with, not something I make happen myself. Here is what it looks like:
Belonging - The first focus for us isn't on doing well, it is on receiving this as a gift from the Father. We process this as something that flows relationally from God: we are here because God has put us here, and as a result, we do belong here. We belong not even because the community accepts us, but because God himself has put us there, and God doesn't make mistakes. We are there because he says we belong there, and we tune into his voice to hear him say that.
Being - As we continually receiving a belonging in our new position from God, that forms an identity and an ability to be in (see ourselves as compatible with) our new position. We begin to see ourselves through the lens of God's affirmation that we belong there. "Wait a minute, if God put me here, he must know that I do belong here. I am a ________!" This becomes more and more fixed in our mind as we receive the identity commensurate with belonging where the Father has placed us.
Doing - The overflow of this is that it is natural for us see ourselves as capable and competent to do in the capacity this new position requires of us. "Hang on, if God put me here, and I am a ________, then let's get busy doing that!" The doing naturally flows from our God-formed identity and our relational partnership with the God who put us in the position in the first place. As we receive these things, our action and activity is a living out of the identity and relationship we have. It's not doing to get these things, it's doing because we already have these things.
As you can possibly feel as you read this (and as I do feel as I write it), there is a grace and peace on this process that isn't on the enemy's plan. Rather than feeling a sense of losing ourselves to an endless process that we will never be able to catch up with, we move from a sense of settled peace because we already have the things we need in the situation. We aren't trying to get anything, we are just walking our walk with God, and the overflow is the doing that's required for this new position.
The same situation, but do radically different approaches based upon the order we expect these needs to be met, and where the energy of the process comes from. One is rooted in self and striving, the other in receiving from God and rest. I know where I'd rather live.
Now imagine we took that shift and mapped out that different to every area of our lives. Not just our jobs, but our friendships, marriages, parenting, our finances and our dreams and aspirations, our walk with God and our experience of church. What would it look like for every part of our lives to be a conduit to experience this triune transformation? Not only would every nook and cranny of our lives become a part of our adventure with God (which is amazing enough), but imagine the peace we would feel as the striving and performance that is so easy to fall into was ironed out from every facet of our lives? That sounds like an incredible thing, and I think it's ours if we're willing to walk this journey of triune transformation with our triune God.
An Interesting Confirmation
One more thing that I think is fascinating and interesting confirmation of sorts comes from psychology. In the 1940s & 1950s, Abraham Maslow studied motivations and people who made outstanding contributions to society. His findings have been captured in what is often called "Maslow's Pyramid" - a description of the sequential needs that we as human beings need met in our lives. Maslow's idea was that each layer needs to be met before the next layer above can begin to be established. The people who become everything they have the potential to be in this world are people who can get each of these needs met in due course and self-actualize. Here is what the pyramid looks like:
There are, of course, subsequent revisions and proposed alternate models, but I want to highlight something very interesting to me here: the top three layers of the pyramid are consistent with the conversation we've been having about triune transformation. Once the physiological needs and safety needs are met (which are also part of the ministry of God to us), the subsequent three layers are precisely what our journeys in the triune gospel provide for us, only through God himself and not just human means. Consider this example of the description of these three layers:
Yellow layer: Love and belonging, friendship, intimacy, family, sense of connection.
Green layer: Esteem respect, self-respect, status, recognition, strength, freedom.
Blue layer: Self-actualization: desire to become the most that one can be.
To me, these are nearly a perfect description the belonging that we receive from the relationship journey, the being we receive from the identity journey, and the doing the flows out of the destiny journey (as we join a kingdom that is the highest calling we can join ourselves to). Do we need science to confirm what we learn to be the gospel from the Scriptures? Of course not - but as my alma mater Bethel University used to frequently say, "all truth is God's truth", and hence it's not surprising that the science of psychology finds that we are made to experience belonging, being, and doing in that order.
Putty Putman's Spirit-inspired innovative insights come from his wild journey with Jesus from physicist to pastor to entrepreneur to author and speaker. His three main passions are the Holy Spirit, effective communication and journeying towards the future God has for the church and the world.
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