Soli Deo Gloria.
When I told friends I was getting a tattoo, and that it’d be one of the Solas of the Protestant Reformation, I had lots of questions. Some of my more formally-trained-in-seminary friends made a few jokes about signing my arm with Martin Luther’s Sola. Lots of people asked what it meant. And some people just liked the mountains I had put over it as a starting point.
For me though, it’s something deeply personal… and maybe it will be for you as well (or, just maybe, it already is).
For starters, it stands for “Glory to God Alone.”
Again: to myself, and my family, it’s much more.
You see: we come from a somewhat standard but in someways different background religiously speaking.
I grew up in a Christian home. I was taught to love Jesus and I surely did. I knew the Bible inside and out. But in all that knowing, there was also fear. Something I’ve learned from friends I grew up with is that they also grew up with this fear: fear that our faith wasn’t real… fear that either our homes would burn down at night or the rapture would happen and we’d be left behind. Talking to those outside of our tiny circle, I’ve heard the same: sometimes growing up in a Christian home means growing up in fear that we aren’t legit… that our faith isn’t real… or that we aren’t good enough.
My husband grew up in Christian home as well. He grew up clinging to routines and to the steps necessary to obtain salvation, but, in our conversations I’ve learned that he struggled with deep-rooted questions as well.
Hard stop here: this is not a reflection of our parents who gave us the best gifts ever by pointing us to God. It just meant that we were missing a piece of the puzzle.
As a couple – through several hard experiences – we went through our own ups and downs in our faith, but – because of the teaching we did have, we clung to God. We became a part of a church plant in Asheville North Carolina where John served as an elder. We committed to living missionally. We knew – without a single doubt – that our God was great and that he was real and that our job was to help people find him.
Yet, something was missing. We still struggled with how to worship him… about if the denomination we would chose was “right,” or whether our faith was “heart-deep” instead of just “head-deep.” Something was just off balance.
When we moved back to Pennsylvania from Asheville, we found a new church home with a large concentration of individuals with various degrees of seminary, and with several avid readers. Instead of being told what to believe, we were often given resources to research for ourselves and find answers in Scripture. We unlocked a hunger we didn’t know exist.
Then, one Christmas season, the pastors did a series on the Reformation, each Sunday covering a different Sola: here, we – for the very first time – heard the words Soli Deo Gloria.
It Changed Everything
Suddenly, we realized that our purpose wasn’t to be good enough.
It wasn’t to impress the right people.
It wasn’t to have the correct God answers.
It wasn’t to force ourselves to love God.
Our purpose was to ask God to lead our hearts – to help align them with his – and to do everything we did for his glory.
Taking our kids to the bus stop in the morning? Do it for the glory of God.
Working in an office environment instead of in a third-world mission field? Do it for the glory of God.
Get together and form friendships with those we live in community with? Do it for the glory of God.
See… when we asked God to form our paths and put trust in him to do what he would do for our lives… something amazing happened. We stopped having to be good enough. We stopped having to have it all together.
We. Stopped. Striving.
This had major implications: for me it meant if I put God in the center of my heart – exactly where he belonged – and truly trusted him to do the hard… the impossible at times… my desires started to fall away. They started to be replaced with a longing for more of him.
It meant our relationships with others changed as well. Instead of being overwhelmed. Or tired. Or selfish… we could make ourselves available to others in a new way, knowing each encounter was for the glory of God… not the glory of ourselves.
It changed the way I wrote words that I share with you guys. It changed the frustration I had with my kids on hard days. It changed my self-image issues that were so devastating at times. The world I’d built to be about myself came shattering to a halt and was replaced with the peace that we’re promised if we truly trust in God.
Don’t get me wrong: I mess it up a lot. To be sure. Ask my kids if I ever break down, they won’t hide a bit of it, in fact, they’d probably love to share. But, I no longer feel the need to hide it. I can be confident in my shortcomings because I wasn’t designed to be perfect or in control: I was designed to follow.
So Were You
It’s true for all of us.
We weren’t designed to carve our own paths.
We weren’t designed to have it all together, to created perfect dream homes, to lose sight of everything around us to climb the professional or social ladder, or even to have the right words all the time.
We were designed to love, to trust, and to follow.
When we stop doing this and start putting our own desires – and our own glory – at the center of it all, we start to feel less-than again and start to find ourselves striving for more.
But, when we re-focus, and realize that we were designed by a loving creator to simply follow while doing everything he puts in front of us to do for his glory, our hearts change, which means our attitudes change, which means we look different in the best possible way because we are different.
With God in control, the old can truly pass away, replaced with something so much different, whether it meets our idea of “perfect” or “successful” or not.
Soli Deo Gloria changed everything for us. We keep it on a letter board on our window and – as I mentioned before – I have it tattooed on my arm.
We’re here for more, and we don’t even have to know what that means. We just need to look at each encounter and endeavor as a chance to give glory to the one who deserves it all.
For me, this is a great relief. What about you? Can you stop striving today? Can you let go just a little instead of being the one in control of your life? Can you make room for God’s more instead of your own more? I promise: it’ll be worth it.
Are you in?