Over the years, I have had the difficult privilege of sitting down with many people—leaders, husbands, wives, coworkers, and friends—who are in a mess. Adultery. Addiction. Abuse. And the list goes on. Their unresolved brokenness has produced harmful behavior, which has bombed their connections and created a painful debris field of disconnection, conflict, and betrayal.
In every case, I know that cleaning up the mess will not be quick or easy. Recovery will be a journey of months and years. However, I also know that they can’t even begin that journey without finding the real problem.
This is why much of my work with them centers around the question, “What is the problem?” The real problem is not their behavior or the mess it has caused—it’s the false beliefs, disordered desires, shameful thoughts, and unaddressed emotions of the heart that produced that behavior. And it takes time, surgical questions, vulnerability, wisdom, and the work of the Holy Spirit to bring those things to the surface.
The process of helping people discover the problem behind their sinful behavior is sobering. Nearly all the people I help to clean up their mess have a relationship with Jesus and know about sin, repentance, and forgiveness. Some are Christian leaders with far more Bible training than I’ve received myself, who know exactly by chapter and verse how their actions violate God’s standards. Yet when it comes to understanding what’s been going on in their own hearts for years, they have been living in the dark, unable to see or discern where the fruit of their lives is coming from. It’s humbling to see just how blind we can be to our own brokenness.
This process is also deeply rewarding, however, because every single time the person truly wants to find the problem, God is faithful to reveal it to them. It’s a beautiful moment when the light bulb comes on for the person and they go, “Yes! That’s exactly what I’ve been doing and why!” Incredible hope fills the room just from finally identifying the problem that’s been ruining their life for so long.
But here’s the fascinating thing about this process. Though each person’s revelation of their problem is embedded in the unique narrative of their lives, in its essence it is always the same problem.
The problem is that they don’t trust God, and they are trying to be their own god. They are trying to define reality on their own terms, to get the good things they want by their own means and methods, and to look out for number one. In most cases, this problem is rooted in pain that provoked fear and prodded them down the path of self-preservation.
Guess what? We all have this problem. This is the root of all sin in our lives: We don’t trust God. This is the problem behind all our problems.
And this is why Christmas happened, and why we should celebrate it. Because our loving Father knows our problem better than we do. He knows our ability to trust and build trust connections with Him, ourselves, and others has been compromised and damaged. This is why He enacted a long, painstaking plan to restore us. He made covenants with Abraham and his descendants that revealed His character as a loving and righteous God, demonstrated that when His people trusted Him they thrived and when they mistrusted Him they fell apart, and ultimately proved that no law could fix the heart issue that kept them from trusting Him fully. All of that was prelude to the shocking moment He had planned before the foundation of the world—that the only solution to our trust problem was for Him to become one of us, to fully identify with our human experience of pain, fear, loss, and vulnerability, and with our temptation to take our lives into our own hands, and then to forge a new path of trust back to the Father.
The message of Christmas is that we can trust God.
We can trust Him because He knows everything about us and loves us. There is no corner of our lives that He does not understand intimately. There is no crisis we are facing that He is not standing in with us, no loss He is not grieving with us, and no joy that is not His gift to us. And there is no vestige of sin, sickness, and death in our lives that He is not actively working to restore, heal, and resurrect.
We can trust all this about Him because He “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). From His birth to His resurrection and ascension, Jesus showed us what the Father was like and how He wanted us to know and walk with Him as sons and daughters. He looked nothing like what we expected God or a truly godly human to look like. He wasn’t an angry, punishing judge of sinners. He wasn’t the great and powerful conqueror of political enemies. He wasn’t the important celebrity with no time or interest in the little people. He broke every box we had put God in to reject Him and justify our mistrust. Instead, He came in humility, compassion, and sacrificial love.
One of the things I most love about walking with people in a mess is that they are uniquely positioned not only to finally discover their true problem, but also its solution. The moment they are most in touch with their own broken trust in God is the moment they are poised to experience the reality and power of the gospel. Even if they have known Jesus their whole lives, this is the moment where they finally see that He came as the vulnerable baby and the suffering servant to buy back and heal their trust with His incredible forgiveness and love. He came at Christmas for them, to be the solution to their problem.
If you have experienced that moment, you know. You’ve been forgiven, saved, redeemed. And so Christmas isn’t just the day you celebrate the birth of Christ, but your rebirth in Him as a son or daughter of God. It’s the day to celebrate coming home to the Father.
If you haven’t yet experienced that moment, then my prayer for you this Christmas is that you will. There is no greater joy or freedom than being delivered from the prison of our mistrust and discovering the love of the Father who created us for nothing but to live in that love.