True Belonging: Identity

Holy discontent — an impression that something spiritual isn’t quite right or enough. A holy notion that an experience should be better or more. As I’ve learned and prayed about holy discontent, its truth has nestled itself into my soul then bloomed into the realization that’s how I’ve been feeling.

I think back to Easter Sunday 2021, one I’d anticipated since Easter-in-person had been shut down by COVID. To be with other believers, celebrating our Savior’s resurrection, elated me! My anticipation of cheering Jesus’ defeat of death rose within me as we stepped into the sanctuary. The music launched into lyrics of hallelujah, but the people barely sang. They seemed half asleep, not nearly as ecstatic as I’d imagined. The celebration fell flat. My disappointment threatened to steal my joy.

Similarly, my husband and I have felt discouraged as we visit churches in our new town. Sermons feel like fluff. Energy levels are more like snooze on a Monday morning than soul-giving life on a Sunday. I think I’ve even wondered, is this it? Do we have to settle for less? And I realize these feelings are that of holy discontent.

Then we went to the New Room Conference ten days ago. Where we felt the move of the Spirit. Where we experienced what we’ve been longing for — believers who are awakening to the full gospel, to all that Jesus is and has to offer. Where people worship Jesus like it’s a Saturday at their favorite football stadium instead of a boring lecture they can’t wait to get out of on a Friday. THIS is what our souls have been seeking. 

My hope is reenergized. My desire for finding a new church is renewed. New Room reminded me there are other believers out there who are awakening — and I am ready to find them in Texas! Well, that’s a pretty big search demographic, but you know what I mean.

Our Identity

My holy discontent defined, I can now look at my experience at New Room and see the longing of my heart reflected among believers who are becoming more and more surrendered to God’s work and way. I also sense that space in me that desires true belonging opening further. At New Room, I felt a spiritual kinship with 2000 people, almost all of whom I have never met, because together we claimed our identity in Jesus. As we corporately allowed the work of the Spirit to disentangle our messiness, holiness burst forth and we knew — we know! — that we belong to Jesus. Having our identity thus established, our souls basked in the glory we found in the presence of King Jesus. Bowed low, we could look up. Hands opened, our hearts widened. Minds freed, we could breathe in all truth. 

Remembering our givenness — from God to Jesus — mingled with this renewal, a response has been brewing inside me. I think it boils down to this simple yet profound truth: my belonging to Jesus means I also belong to a family of believers who yearn for the same things I do — to belong, to have purpose, to be loved, to love. And as I worshiped with every fiber of my being the last night of New Room, the Spirit spoke. I understood the discontent I’d been carrying, but I also saw with a convicting clarity that I have a responsibility and a role because I’m part of something bigger than myself.

And that’s when I saw the man two rows in front of us — a man whose body language at once bespoke brokenness and resistance. In my spirit, I knew he was being called by Jesus to go forward, to the stage where all were invited to step through an open door to receive whatever new word Jesus had for us. The longer I prayed and worshiped, the stronger the feeling grew, like an electric current flowing from my heart to my fingers. I prayed he’d give in and go. But when I realized he was losing the battle in his mind, the Spirit pounded my heart — my response was to invite him. A stranger. Yet a brother. So, finally, I obeyed. In my love of Jesus, for the body of Christ, and for this man I’d never met, I wove my way to him and looked him in the eye, explaining that I thought he should go — that Jesus was waiting for him. Puzzled, and perhaps amused, he asked, you’re telling me you think I need to go up there? I nodded. And with a weepy grin, I said I’d been feeling it for twenty minutes. I left him then only to continue to pray for him. The wrestling match finally ended, and he made his way to the front. I cheered aloud when I caught sight of him on the stage, stepping through the door of this holy, surrendered moment.

After that incredible service, this man made his way to my husband and me. Our new friend, Bruce, shared his story and we prayed. His words blessed us as we felt the thickness of the Spirit hovering with us. I pray I’ll never forget the relationship between knowing my givenness — my belonging to Christ — and the responses asked of me. As a daughter of the Most High King, I receive His blessings and favor and love. I also receive responsibility — to act when called to do so. No matter how I feel or what I think. Because I belong, I am held by hands of strength and grace, and within those hands I can step forward full of faith into whatever God asks. Even encouraging a stranger to be brave.

The irony isn’t lost on me that I also had to be brave in order to encourage Bruce’s bravery. But because we’d both responded, our night ended with feeling the full force of our belonging. We sensed God’s presence and purpose. We knew we were seen by our Father in heaven. We have been able to step back into the world embraced and encouraged to continue moving forward in faith — because we know who we are and whose we are.

Crosses and Pomegranates

This sense of being part of something bigger than myself made me think of symbols that we humans create to show the world to whom we belong. In college I wore Greek letters of a specific sorority to indicate where I belonged. On any given weekend, hordes wear colors and shirts of their favorite teams to show the world where their loyalty lies, high-fiving total strangers after a touchdown because their jerseys match.

Christians wear crosses on clothing and jewelry as a symbol of our belonging — to show the world that our faith is in Jesus. I remember being in Israel, a place where people from all over the world mingle and mesh together. And even when we couldn’t speak to one another because of our differing languages, we could nod and smile with one another because our crosses spoke all that was needed. We belonged to Jesus. Which also meant, we belonged to one another.

Believe it or not, pomegranates have historically held a similar, though less recently obvious, place of such identification. The Temple that Solomon built, the very place where God’s presence resided, was decorated with images of the pomegranate (1 Kings 7:20), and along the hems of robes worn by priests in the Temple, elaborately created pomegranates hung (Exodus 28:33–35). Tradition holds that these pomegranates represented all the people of Israel, the seeds of God. The skin around those seeds, like God, held them all together — each seed belonging to the whole.  

If you cut open a pomegranate, you’d see 600-1000 arils (pockets of juice covering the seeds) packed into non symmetrical “ovaries,” all of which are wrapped in a tough outer skin. Alone each seed is nothing. But inside a ripened pomegranate, all the seeds together anchor the fruit inside. Likewise, we believers are nothing without the covering of the Spirit. On our own, without Jesus, we’re just dead seeds. Yet, once we are planted in Christ, our one seed becomes many. 

On the chance you might think I’m stretching this idea a little too far, I offer you Exhibit A, an 1847 painting by Sandro Botticelli called “Madonna of the Pomegranate:”

If we zoom in to look more closely at the pomegranate in Mary’s and Jesus’ hands, we see the details of seeds:

Depending on whose description you read, this pomegranate either symbolizes Jesus’ passion — the death He faces — or Jesus’ rebirth through resurrection. Either way, the pomegranate and its seeds remind us of Jesus’ greater purpose: to die for all, then to come back to life in order to offer life to all who will believe. Like a seed, which dies only to give more life.

Friends, we belong to Jesus. Just as a seed is part of the whole pomegranate, we too are part of the whole Church of believers of Jesus Christ. And as those who belong, we can receive the blessings of Jesus and respond in faith, trusting the hands that hold us will also lead us well. My prayer is that as we awaken to the truths of who we are in Jesus, we’ll also recognize those feelings of holy discontent — then find ways to either spread the awakening or seek it out. My guess is that feeding holy discontent requires a bit of both, so may our deep, spiritual longing for more and better awaken in us a desire to respond to all Jesus calls us toward. And we can do this in full faith because we are one among many in Christ Jesus!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bits-and-pieces-1-e1630621292882.png
  • This week Journal about this idea of holy discontent. When have you felt discouraged, spiritually? What response could Jesus be asking of you?
  • I hope you’ve been making it a practice to say and pray the words, I belong to Jesus. I do pray that as you speak these words, their truth will lodge in your heart and become your reality. May you fully claim your identity in Christ.
  • Then as you worship, in person or with others, seek a deeper understanding of what it means to belong to the Body of Christ. Some of the songs on the Belonging playlist offer words to our searching (ie: “Belong to You” by Here Be Lions). We are daughters of God! We unite with all the saints! We belong to Jesus! Even if we worship in solitary spaces, let our revelation be that we are never alone because we sing with one another in the Spirit — because He calls us sons and daughters.

Featured photo by Refik Mollabeqiri on Unsplash

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: