Writer: Hayley Knowlton
Big Idea: Perfection is elusive. Just when we think we have achieved it, things start to tear apart at the seams. We know the story – a woman who has everything, achieved the influential career, a photogenic family, the immaculate home, and yet something is missing. Is it love? Is it a greater purpose? Suddenly, her life begins to unravel and she finds herself at rock bottom. At this moment, she befriends a young woman who is on the opposite extreme. She is working 9-5, lives in a modest studio, she’s single and yet – she has a sense of joy and contentment about life. In Silicon Valley we desire physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual perfection. We appear complete and whole, so we project an image of perfection to mask our short comings. In the end we often discover something is missing despite having it all. We are proud of our independence and saying we are “self-made”, so often, God is who we turn to when it’s our last resort. We want God to consult our lives, because we don’t want him to be King of our lives. The Gospel of Jesus functions as good advice, rather than good news that changes everything. Jesus did not come to the world to consult humanity on the good life. Jesus came into the world telling stories and parables to capture our hearts and to help us reclaim the vision of who God created us to be. NT Wright says of Jesus’ ministry, “Jesus changed the world, through stories.” In Jesus’ most famous parable He captures the human experience: the longing for more, the search for the perfect life, but when something happens leaving us at rock bottom, we must turn to something outside of ourselves in order to be found.
Key passages: John 1:1-18; Luke 15
Growing up in Los Gatos, I desperately craved the approval of others. I needed people to like me, and I needed to know for a fact that they thought I was “cool.” I would mold myself to be whoever people needed me to be in a specific situation, and all my interactions became inauthentic. In high school, I prioritized this need for validation over what Jesus wanted for me. In fear of being labelled as the “weird Christian girl,” I could not bring myself to share my faith with others. Who I was at church became this secret identity I never let my school friends see. I never felt satisfied. No matter how much affirmation I received from people, I couldn’t seem to shake this feeling of emptiness that took over my heart.
So often, we get lost in thinking, “If I just had this one thing, I would be happy.” The reality, however, is that even when we achieve our goals, we still don’t feel completely full. No matter how much we have in this world, things won’t satisfy us. Joy does not come from material possessions, but only through a dynamic relationship with Jesus. I sought out affirmation incessantly in high school, and I often still feel I need validation. However, I have learned these affirmations and fulfilled goals will never be enough. I still couldn’t fully believe the compliments people gave me because words coming from people don’t hold nearly as much weight as words coming from Jesus. The way others view me is not what defines me. My identity is solely placed in who Jesus says I am, regardless of whether I believed this truth at the time or not.
The goal I felt I needed to reach was receiving validation from others. It stems back to the mindset of thinking one will reach satisfaction by achieving whatever goal occupies our minds. These obsessions not only leave us unsatisfied they keep us from deepening our relationship with Jesus. Of course, having ambition is not a bad thing. Being ambitious and goal-oriented is how people thrive, especially in the Bay Area. However, these traits become dangerous when we place our material successes over the development of our faiths.
We will never reach perfection. However, in Jesus we can obtain joy. Jesus tells us that He loves us just the way we are, but He loves us too much to leave us as we are. In Him, we are enough, and we are known. In Him, we will become people of real purpose. If we want to reach this joy, we need to actually start living in Him. We want Him to give us “good advice” on how to live our lives and be successful, but we struggle with giving Him control of our lives. We struggle most with surrender in the areas we feel most competent in, but He wants us to give Him these areas too. He is our Father and our King, and He wants us to trust Him more than we trust ourselves. When we place our value in Him rather than in the successes we accumulate, over time, we will discover there is so much more peace and satisfaction in the identity He gives us. All we have to do is let Him steer.
- At times we all think, “If I just had this one thing, I would be happy.” What is that one thing for you? What area of success do you seek?
- How have you placed this area of success over your relationship with Jesus?
- Can you think of a time where you’ve intentionally placed your worth in Jesus over any worldly validation? Share your experience. How did it impact your sense of self?
- Who does Jesus say you are?
- What tangible goals can you set for yourself to begin turning your identity into who Jesus says you are?
Read John 1:1-18.
- We read here that God’s light shines through all darkness. How does this relate to the idea of placing our worth in God rather than in material success?
- How are we receiving grace from God’s fullness?
- What would it look like if we allowed this grace, fullness, and light to overcome our obsession with perfection?
Read Luke 15:11-32.
- How does this parable demonstrate the act of repentance?
- How did the father in the parable react when his son returned home? Based on his reaction, how does God react when we return to Him after being lost?
- How does this passage relate to the idea of giving God control of our lives? How can we return home to our Father, just as the lost son did in this parable?
- Going forward, how will you take steps to choose God over validation from success?
Prayer: Take a moment to share prayer requests and pray for each other.
Weekly Prayer Focus: Pray that we would invite God to be the King and center of our lives.