This is a long one, so get comfortable. If you know me personally you’re likely reading this in disbelief, and I’m still in some state of incomprehension myself, so before we get to reasoning this through, I just want to grieve the loss of this dear, old friend.
The first time I ever heard John Mayer, and I am entirely serious when I say I legitimately have this memory, was from a radio blasting in my sister’s room. I was probably around 10, we were doing chores, I had been assigned to bathroom duty, and down the hall, I heard “No Such Thing” for the first time. I went down, knocked on the door, asked Molly who was singing, she told me, and I stored that fact and went back to the bathroom. I was too young at that time to buy my own music, so I carried on blissfully ignorant of all things John Mayer until my second encounter a few years later, in my brother Austin’s car. Austin had this little blue Camry that he had, upon inheritance, immediately added a muffler to (which all our neighbours hated) along with some subs (which I loved). His girlfriend at the time had recently bought him “Continuum,” it was dusk on a hot Texan evening, and as the subwoofers hummed with the beautiful simplicity of “Gravity,” my addiction became official.
A short while later we moved to Canada, away from everything and everyone I had known and loved, and I listened to “Continuum” over and over again. JM crooning “The Heart of Life” got me through sleepless nights as I struggled with suffocating loneliness and homesickness.
“Pain throws your heart to the ground,
Love turns the whole thing around,
No it won’t all go the way it should,
But I know the heart of life is good.”
On the morning of my eldest sister’s wedding, as the reality of change came crashing in, I turned to “Stop This Train” and let John Mayer sympathize with my desire for life to slow down. “STT” has remained my favourite of all his work and has become the theme to my life events. Coincidentally, it was even chosen to be performed at my high school graduation.
The “Battle Studies” album conveniently came out before my first break up, so as my heart was laying in shards all around me the familiar lull of his guitar and songs like “All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye” could comfort me. “Born and Raised” always makes the think of the mountains, because the first time I truly loved it was driving to my grandparents’ home in Fairmont. At first I had rebelled against the country feel of it, but lyrics like:
“Know your fight is not with them,
Yours is with your time here,
Dream your dreams and don’t pretend,
Make friends with what you are.”
“So line on up, and take your place
And show your face to the morning
Cause one of these days you’ll be born and raised
And it all comes on without warning”
eventually won me over.
As I left my high school bubble and paraded out into the real world, working more than I could manage and gearing up for university in the fall, “Paradise Valley” welcomed me like a long lost companion; soon “Badge and Gun” had become my mantra and scrubbing bathrooms and serving beer suddenly wasn’t as bad as long as I was humming one of those tunes. During university I decided I needed to get to know the pre-Continuum John thus making “Room for Squares” and “Heavier Things” the soundtrack of far too many late night study sessions.
In the last 2 months here in Kenya lyrics such as
“Why is it not my time?
What is there more to learn?
Shed this skin I’ve been tripping in
Never to quite return”
“Everybody is just a stranger but
That’s the danger in going my own way
I guess it’s the price I have to pay”
have brought me immense comfort.
You can see how John Mayer has weaved his way through the soundtrack of my life. When I don’t know what to listen to, if I need to think, when I’m reminiscing, if I want to fall asleep but can’t because it’s noisy, when I’m in the car, if it’s late at night, or the family asks for dinner music, if the Northern Lights come out, I put on his music. It’s a weird obsession, I know, but it’s just a crazy habit that I didn’t know I had until I was too far gone to change it.
So I’m sure at this point you’re starting to think I probably need therapeutical help.. either because I listen to JM way too often (you’re probably right) or because you can’t figure out why I’d bother stopping now (I’m struggling with this one myself haha).
*disclaimer: I do not properly cite the information gathered from “The Pursuit of Holiness” throughout the rest of this post because I read it on my Kobo, which doesn’t give me the page count, sadly. I apologize for any confusion caused, and do not in any way claim this knowledge as my own; this is merely my response to the author: Jerry Bridges.
Well. Per Kinara requirements, I am to read a book and write a report each month. This month I made the huge mistake – err – decision (though I didn’t realize then it would be huge) to read “The Pursuit of Holiness” by Jerry Bridges (not the actor, that’s Jeff). If you want to ruin your life, read this book. If you want be unbelievably convicted, read this book. If you want to shake up your faith a little, read this book.
When I chose this title off the approved reading list, I literally thought nothing of it. It didn’t even faze me. The pursuit of holiness, why not? Let’s pursue that, because holiness is just “what God is” right? I mean when we use adjectives to describe God, we usually throw “holy” right after “love,” and then we repeat it three times for good measure and move on with life as we know it. We sing “holy, holy, holy,” in like, every fifth worship song, and yet, for how often “holy” debuts in the Christian world, I think we should be ashamed at our cheap attempts of knowing holiness, let alone living it. At least, I think that now – I didn’t care last month.
I want to give you some of the insight I gained from “The Pursuit of Holiness” and then I’m going to encourage you to go wreck your own life. It’ll be fun.
First up, Bridges attacks the misconception that we are supposed to be victorious over sin. (Not to give you punch line too soon, but Christ already won that victory.) In fact, he calls the Church right onto the mat by claiming that we have focused the battle against sin almost exclusively on ourselves. Nothing like a good sucker punch to start a book off with, right? Truly though, Bridges challenges our attitude: are we more concerned with victory than the fact that we grieve the Holy Spirit when we sin? God wants obedience from us, which is oriented towards Him in submission to him, whereas victory is oriented toward ourselves. Victory should be the byproduct of obedience, not the goal.
Secondly, we don’t take sin seriously. (This point was even bigger for me than the first one.) This quote from Andrew Bonar was exceptionally humbling for me, “It isn’t the importance of the thing, but the majesty of the Lawgiver that determines our obedience.” See, I fall into the trap of “doing pretty good.” Compared to other Christians, I’m doing alright. Compared to humanity as a whole, I think I’m doing pretty great, as a matter of fact. I can’t remember a time when I compared myself to God. Honestly. I’ve always known that I will fail, so why bother trying? But complacency is born of comparison. I read a quote somewhere that said “Be fearful of mediocrity” and I loved it. Party planning? Let’s go all out. Hate to be mediocre. Relationships, education, work ethic, etcetera, I am anything but mediocre, but this book called forward my mediocre walk with God. I am not actively pursuing holiness, and as such, I distance myself from an absolutely holy God. Obviously holiness at His level is impossible, but I think He’d like to see me trying; “make every effort to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). I don’t know about you, but I want to have a faith that allows me to see the Lord.
I had explained away a lot of “little sins” out of comparison. Sure I listen to John Mayer, but I don’t *inset “bigger” sin here.* (I don’t think JM’s a sin, but I do think choosing secular music over Christian music is unwise.) Why does it matter if I watch a compromising movie, if I don’t *insert “bigger” sin here?* When in reality, neither of those things inspire me to “think on all things true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable,” do they? (Philippians 4:8) Nor do they necessarily please God. Susannah Wesley said that “Whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind – that thing is sin to you.” Maybe in your life that’s alcohol or like me, the entertainment you choose. God didn’t call me to be like my neighbour or my pastor or the lady who serves coffee every Sunday. We all sin differently, but He was pretty clear when He called me to be like Him. And we can’t deny His holiness, can we?
“It is less injury to Him to deny His being than to deny the purity of it; the one makes Him no God, the other a deformed, unlovely, detestable God.. He that saith God is not holy speaks much worse than he that saith there is no God at all.” Stephen Charnock
Bridges then points out that holiness isn’t a condition for salvation, but it is required for fellowship with God. Beyond that, we can’t bring our service in an unclean vessel, “If a man cleanses himself from (ignoble purposes), he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful for the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). Similar to the way I hope to have a faith that allows me to see the Lord, I also want a faith that makes me useful unto him.. my whole future basically depends on his working through me. I remember once at a conference when I was maybe 13, the speaker asked us if we wanted to be men and women of God. Of course I raised my hand. I can’t think of anything better than being a pillar of faith like my parents or some other adults that I have always looked up to. “If you want to be a woman of God, you should know that it doesn’t happen over night,” he said. That has always stuck with me. Faith takes work. Salvation doesn’t take work; grace is free, thank God. (Literally.) But faith? Faith is like a muscle. It needs conditioning, it’ll get sore every once in a while, and it will go out of shape with out constant training.
Okay last point. The rest I’ll leave you to discover on your own.
“To confuse the potential for resisting (which God provided) with the responsibility for resisting (which is ours) is to court disaster in our pursuit of holiness.” Christ has given us victory over sin by virtue of the fact that we died to sin once accepting the gift of salvation and uniting with His Holy Spirit. No additional victory required: he did it all. There is nothing left for us to do but to reject sin, to deny it, to flee in the face of temptation. It’s hard, but “it is the Spirit of God who works in us that we may decide and act according to God’s good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). We sin when we choose to sin, not because we lack the ability to resist sin. Holiness will take dedication and practice and it will be hard and it’s going to hurt and be uncomfortable, but I think He is worth it, don’t you?
“God has provided all we need for our pursuit of holiness. He has delivered us from the reign of sin and given us His indwelling Holy Spirit. He has revealed His will for holy living in His Word, and He works in us to will and to act according to His good purpose.” The choice is ours. Thus, I listened to John Mayer for the last time yesterday. He is just one of the many things I am going to be changing over the next while, and I sincerely hope you at least consider reading this book and finding some of your own things to change. If you think you’ve got holiness down, you should probably read it, if you know your faith is dying or stagnant, you should definitely read this book. I’m just saying. It’s worth your time.
“Here I am.. I have come to do your will, O God.” Hebrews 10:7
much love & many blessings,