“Who” Before “Do” – John Stumbo Video Blog No. 89

December 12, 2020


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Please take a few minutes to receive a meditation of encouragement.


Hello, Alliance family. It’s my privilege to get to come to you today with a Christmas devotional thought—something that’s been stirring in my heart from the Word of God for a year and a half now, and this is the first time that I get to share it with you. May God encourage you with these words.

While hiking together down one of Colorado’s many mountains, a fellow staff member commented to me that he had read through the Psalms four times that year. It was an especially trying time in his life, and he felt comforted by the divine poetry.

You and I have been comforted by the Psalms as well, haven’t we? David, and the other song writers and poets, engage us emotionally with all the variations and extremes that a heart can soar or plummet. They also steadily point us to God, who we come to discover has emotions too. The Bible’s hymnal gives permission and opportunity—the privilege and the pathway—to engage with the Almighty on a heart level. We’ve all read and sung the Psalms, and we know that they give us permission to cry, to wrestle. We shout and sing, we celebrate and curse. We despair, and we declare our hope. As we do, our own experiences and very selves are more fully and mysteriously engaging the heart of God. That’s what the Psalms do. The Psalms go to great length to help us know ourselves and our God—to live a self-aware, God-aware life.

In his four-time reading, my Scripture-meditating friend found it interesting that the Psalms precede the Proverbs and greatly surpass them in length. He suggests that perhaps there’s a subtle message hidden in the placement of these two much-loved texts. The “who” of the Psalms—who is God and who are we?—before the “do,” the practical wisdom of the Proverbs. Our heart before behavior, the experience within before the expression without: the who before the do.

David’s heir, the next-generation leader, was a master of “do.” No author in history before or since so succinctly and comprehensively captures human behavior and moral guiding principles—the practical behaviors that lead to a life of blessing or a life of destruction, to prosperity or ruin. If you want to know how to do or not do life, read Solomon.

Sadly, however, Solomon’s own life appears marked by the emptiness of those who gain everything only to discover that they have nothing. David’s life was full. Solomon’s life feels hollow. David was by no means perfect, but he does receive one of the highest commendations of the Bible, “‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart’” . . . [Acts 13:22]. Solomon knew what to do with greater clarity and insight and a more profound wisdom than any other person, but he seemed to miss the key to his own father’s greatness. David knew who it was that he served. David wasn’t just wise; he walked with the Source of wisdom. Solomon wrote a guidebook, and its principles are to be heeded. We ignore the Proverbs to our own ruin, but not before we’ve sung the hymns. May we not make the mistake of singing the songbook as mere preliminaries.

Until we know the “Who,” the “do” is little more than heartless, artificial human effort. Now make no mistake: behavior matters. What we choose to do impacts others for good or ill. What we choose to do reflects Christ well or poorly. What we choose to do leads us to places of health or self-destruction. We need the Proverbs. We need more lessons of personal guidance, correcting the fool that is within all of us. Left to our own wisdom or the influence of the world, our lives will not honor God, bless others, or even serve ourselves well. “There is a way that seems right to each one of us but in the end, it leads to death,” Solomon warns [see Proverbs 14:12]. But behavioral adaptation alone is hollow, shallow, lifeless, rarely sustainable, and a poor imitation of the life Jesus offers.

I’m convinced that many who have derailed in their Christian journey never really understood this fundamental lesson: the “Who” before the “do.” One such individual I once knew commented to me one day. “I’m so tired of moral modification,” he said. He was saying he felt like his Christian experience was one of just trying to tell himself to not do certain things and do certain other things. I neither had the insight nor courage at that time to delve into his comment. I failed him at that moment. He eventually walked away from the path of faith. He and many others, it seems, joined Solomon’s great failure, learning to do, but failing to really get to know, love, worship, cherish, and walk with the Who, the God of relationship, the source of wisdom: the way, the truth, and the life.

Now I know life isn’t so simple as to being distinctly sequential. The “Who” and the “do” are often simultaneous lessons and experiences for the God-follower. Yet we make decisions of emphasis and priority, value in pursuit. We pursue norms and models and expectations and cultures. We create routines in our own lives; we have mindsets. And if the “do” comes before the “Who”—or the Who we never get to—we’re not going to have a full and free and life-giving spiritual journey.

Getting to know our God, learning the lessons of the Psalms, entering into the soul of worship that the Psalms give us, is the foundation for entering into what the Proverbs tell us to do. I hope that you receive these instructions inspired by my soul-diving friend as a call to intimacy, a welcome to authenticity, an invitation to a decisive and dedicated pursuit of God—to know Him and be known by Him, to live aware of Him, determined not to live without Him, to understand our own heart more fully with all of its depravity and divine design. As we enter into God’s heart, into His passion, as we encounter and experience the “Who” of our faith, the “do” supernaturally arises.

The Proverbs are lived as the Psalms are sung. Our behavior is transformed not by teeth-gritted human effort, try-harder Christianity, but by abiding in the transforming one. John 15. We become like Him as His life indwells us. This is the deeper-life message of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. More significantly, this is the provision of Christ our Sanctifier. This is the promise: “. . . Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1. And this is the appeal: “. . . until Christ is formed in you.” Galatians 4. This is the invitation: “‘. . . If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’” Jesus. John 7.

A promise, an appeal, an invitation for Christ’s life to be lived out from within us. Who produces the “do”—you? No. The Scripture suggests a better way. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, becoming like Him.” [see Philippians 3:10] . . . Becoming like Him.

Maybe a Stumbo family illustration will give a different vantage point on what I’m trying to say. When our daughter was in her late high school years, she was discovered as a long-distance runner. We would jog together on the weekends. I knew that she was fast, but we weren’t following this sport of long- distance running and had no idea just how good she was. When the local cross-country coach realized her potential, she recruited our daughter, who was immediately a state-level contender in cross-country and the long-distance races in track and field. Soon it was time to consider college, and we realized that her athleticism could be a scholarship opportunity. Meanwhile, she was feeling the pressure of going from high-school to college-level competition. What’s more, while she loved to run, she really didn’t love to race. She was feeling the weight of all of this, and an apprehension was obvious, especially as she met with college coaches. But one coach seemed to read into her storyline and into her psyche, which good coaches have the ability to do. Sitting on a college park bench one beautiful spring afternoon, he looked at my daughter and all her weightiness and said, “Anna, what would it be like if you never had to run any faster than you do now?” He’d already seen her race times so he knew that she would already be one of the number one or number two runners on his team. He also knew in his savvy way that he’d get better times out of her, but he was releasing all the pressure from her at that moment. “Anna, what would it be like if you never had to run any faster than you do now?” I watched my daughter’s disposition change in one second. Her shoulders relaxed; her spirit freed. And, yes, she ran four years for that coach. And, yes, her race times continued to improve.

My point isn’t about our daughter. The point is about you and me. What would it be like if we never had to do any better than we are right now? What if it’s not about us trying harder to be better? What if the Christian journey is really all about Christ, the Holy One in us? The hope of glory is Christ in us. The anticipation is that Christ is formed in us. Are we thirsty? Come to the Christ, and out of us will flow streams of living water, the Holy Spirit. So, my friend—layperson or official worker, stateside or in some distant city—as we enter this Christmas season, can I remind us that the Christmas story is about the Who?

Christianity doesn’t start with behavioral modification, trying to be a good person—the “do.” It starts with God coming to us in the form of his Son, Jesus, Immanuel—God with us—who becomes God in us. That’s hope giving, that’s a message of peace. That’s a gift from heaven. That’s a promise of Christmas. 2020 has been a difficult year for many: fears, confusion, stress and threats, dissension, and discouragement. The Psalms are still to be sung, the Proverbs are still to be lived, but the Who has come to do His life through you. You don’t have to try harder, run faster, or be better. Just keep coming to the One who came for you.


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