In What Do You Root Your Identity?

At the age of 49, Dr. Thomas Graboys had reached the pinnacle of his career and was leading a charmed life. A nationally renowned Boston cardiologist popular for his attention to the hearts and souls of his patients. Graboys was part of “The Cardiology Dream Team” summoned to treat Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis after he collapsed on the court in 1993. He was the senior cardiologist at Harvard Medical School. He had a beautiful wife, two wonderful daughters, positions on both the faculty of Harvard Medical School and the staff of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and a thriving private practice.

His book “Life in the Balance” describes his despair as he is stripped of his professional identity due to Parkinson’s Disease. How important is it for us to root our sense of identity “in Christ”. Many get their sense of identity from what they do for a living. This leaves all of us vulnerable to three particular temptations.

At least once a year, I reread this little book: In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen.  In this book he discusses three temptations to which Christian leaders are especially prone to fall. His two primary texts are: Matthew 4:1-11 and John 21:15-21.

            Jesus’ public ministry is about to commence. He faces the full fury of the devil and His temptations. In each temptation, the devil attempts to lure Jesus into finding his sense of identity in anything other than His relationship with His father. 

Temptation 1: First, the tempter invites Jesus to turn stones into bread. The Temptation to be Relevant—more properly put—the temptation to gain your sense of identity from what you do. How prone we are to compulsively crave admiration for our gifts and abilities.

The gospel cure is to root yourself in the love of Christ so that you are secure when the temptation comes and you feel the need to gain human approval.  Spend time with the Savior—for no other reason than you NEED HIM!

You cannot simply be a person who has well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. You and your leadership must be rooted in a permanent, intimate relationship with Jesus and find in His love the fuel for all your living and serving.

“Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time.  Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance.  Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen again and again to the voice of love (Jesus Christ) and to find there the wisdom and courage to address whatever issue presents itself to them.  Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject.  But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative.”

Temptation 2: The Temptation to be Spectacular and Popular. Jesus was invited to throw himself from the temple and let the angels come and rescue him.  In the same way, you will be tempted to be GREAT! Jesus resisted finding his identity on the acclaim and approval of others. We struggle with the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation from others.

Confession and forgiveness is the currency of the gospel in our relationships.  This discipline keeps our ministries and lives communal and mutual. People desperately need this modeled—for many may have never seen someone truly apologize and forgive from the heart.

Temptation 3: Oh… the temptation to be Powerful—How difficult to resist power and control! Finally the tempter offers Jesus power and possessions… literally all the kingdoms of the world if only He would bow down and worship. But once again Jesus rejects the offer.

Why is this temptation to be powerful so irresistible? Power offers an easy substitute for doing the hard work of truly loving others.  We find it easier to be God than to love God. Easier to control people than to love people.  Jesus asks us, “Do you love me” and we respond, “Can we sit at your right hand?”   

How do you resist the temptation to find your identity in your competencies, the acclaim and applause of others and power and control?

This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased… (Matthew 3:17). You’ve heard that voice with your own spiritual ears… for You are in Christ and you are your Father’s dearly loved son and with you He is well pleased.

Therefore, let me urge you to continue to root your sense of identity and acceptance in the Lord and in His love for you. Only then will you be empowered to serve the Lord with gladness all of your days.

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