I love asking questions about why people think the way they think and do the things they do, trying to figure out the hidden assumptions that people don’t question.
For example, in today’s society what passes as “common sense,” as seen in the dominant message in music, TV shows, books and movies, is that the purpose of life is to look inside and discover yourself and then express yourself to the world. But when you peel back the layers of some of our best-loved slogans like “Be true to yourself” or “Follow your heart,” you realize that this way of life doesn’t work. It doesn’t deliver what it promises. What’s more, other societies reject this way of thinking.
I’ve written a book, Rethink Your Self: The Power of Looking Up Before Looking In, that I hope will shine light on the insufficiency of today’s mantras and bring the ancient wisdom of the Bible to bear on this way of life. I believe people need to see just how countercultural Jesus is—his counterintuitive take on the meaning and purpose of life, and why it is more powerful and fulfilling than all the other ways of life on offer in our world.
Who This Book Is For
I had three people in mind as I wrote. First, the 20-something college student at the start of his or her life, preparing for career choices, who has some big life decisions ahead and doesn’t want to mess up. They’re young and have their whole future ahead of them, thinking, How should I live my life, the best way possible?
Second, I wrote to the 30-something Christian who wants to grow as a follower of Jesus, who wonders if they’re following the common sense of our society more than the countercultural way that Jesus lays out. They know God, Jesus, and the Bible but they worry they may be influenced by cultural messages that conflict with Christian teaching. What are they to believe? How are they to live?
Third, this book is for the person who’s a little older, who has experienced setbacks and disappointments in life, who wonders if all the talk about “chasing your dreams” and taking charge of your destiny is good advice after all. Experience shows otherwise, so what to do now? They’re thinking, perhaps, it’s time to rethink their previous assumptions.
Considering Cultural Streams
We’re more formed by our society than we realize. We assume things to be true of the world simply because that’s what everyone else seems to think. Most of us swim in cultural waters that are always flowing toward this “be true to yourself” perspective. We need to be more aware of how easy it is to go with the flow, and then be challenged to rethink ourselves and to have the courage to swim upstream as we seek to follow Jesus.
Social media and online interaction can complicate this process. If the purpose of life is to discover who you are and then express your unique self to the world, then social media makes it easier than ever to put yourself “on display.” Social media makes it easier for us to define and redefine ourselves and to craft the image we want others to see. It makes “identity” more permeable, subject to change and easily reinvented.
The problem, of course, is that this display so often feels phony, and the acclamation we get online rings hollow, because we feel like we’re putting on a mask through our social media presence. Even worse, sometimes we can get lost in the social media vision of our identity, to the point where we don’t even know who we truly are anymore. Social media exacerbates the problem of feeling like our identities aren’t centered or stable.
‘Look In,’ ‘Look Around,’ and ‘Look Up’
In Rethink Your Self, I discuss three approaches to life that people lean on to determine who they are and what their purpose is: the “Look In” approach, the “Look Around” approach, and the “Look Up” approach.
The “Look In” approach says to start with yourself. You do the hard work of looking in, to discover who you are and what you want to do with your life. You then look around for friends and colleagues who will support the version of yourself you choose. And then, if you feel like you need a spiritual dimension to your life, you may look up to God or a higher power in order to have something more transcendent to add to your life. This is the dominant way of thinking in our Western society today.
The “Look Around” approach says to start with the people around you. You look around to your community to tell you who you are and what your purpose of life is. Then, you look up to the sacred order that connects you to the people around you and the ancestors who have gone before you. Finally, you look inside as you come to terms with the person you are, in relation to the community you belong to. This is a widespread way of thinking in other parts of the world and has been dominant for most people throughout history.
The “Look Up” approach, though, says to start with God. You look up first in order to see what God says about you and to better understand his divine design. Looking up prioritizes the transcendent. God—not you and not your community—is the one who defines you and your purpose. Next, you look around to the community of faith that is called to cheer you on, to correct you, to love you as part of the family that looks up as its starting point, not ending point. Then, you look inside and see how God loves you just as you are, while still planning to make you the best version possible, as he conforms you into the image of his Son. This is the biblical way of seeing life—God first, others second, yourself third.
How to ‘Look Up’
“Looking Up” requires looking into the Bible. One of the later chapters in this book focuses on spiritual disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, and churchgoing because we will not be able to counter the “Look In” approach unless we commit to consistently bring ourselves back in line with the “Look Up” approach.
The problem is, even these spiritual disciplines can drift toward the “Look In” approach––namely, if you read the Bible merely for inspiration in your quest to define yourself, or if you pray to God just as a helper when you need him, or if you go to church so you can be affirmed by others in whatever life you decide to pursue for yourself. What we need are disciplines intentionally directed toward keeping our primary focus and priority on God at the center of all things.
Let the Bible Challenge Your Assumptions
Through this new book, I hope readers will begin to recognize the “be true to yourself” message in all sorts of media and entertainment and politics whenever they see it. I also hope they will better understand how the Bible challenges this perspective with something so much better and more soul-satisfying.
Mostly, I hope readers will see Jesus for who he is, come to love him for being so much better than what the world has to offer, and follow him with increasing passion and devotion.
Start Reading Now
Rethink Your Self will be available on October 20. If you’d like to begin reading it right now, the best way to do so is to preorder it at one of the online retail stores on the Rethink Your Self website. Then, you can redeem your receipt by filling out this form, and B&H will send you a link so you can begin reading the eBook via NetGalley. You’ll also be entered to win a collection of my favorite books.
Pre-ordering shows retailers the level of interest in a book and it gives them guidance in how much they “stock up,” which then affects the number of people who are likely to come across the book. If you know you’re likely to read this book, please preorder now. It helps authors like me get our message in front of more people who might benefit from it. Thank you!
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