Introducing a fruitful concept

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I’d like to introduce you to a term that you likely have not heard before: self-referenced.

This is a term used by Robert Mulholland in The Deeper Journey to describe the human condition as a result of what takes place in Genesis 2 & 3. Although it can be a clunky term that initially feels unfamiliar, it is helpful in describing a way of being that must be pruned if we are to grow into God’s design. In today’s devotional, I’d like to unpack it.

As you know, a reference is “one referred to or consulted.” It is a source of information or wisdom. That’s why the “reference” section of a library houses those materials that are meant to provide immediate and accessible information.

After the Fall, all of us have this deeply entrenched self-referenced being—i.e., when we’re looking for purpose, desire, and wisdom, we use ourselves as a reference.

This is a consequence of having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15-17). We now see ourselves as the source of wisdom and thus, are driven by our own agendas, our own desires, and our own purposes. 

We inadvertently “play God” and in the process, mar the origin design: As Mulholland so beautifully writes, “You are created to experience your true life, your genuine identity, your deepest meaning, your fullest purpose, your ultimate value in an intimate, loving union with God at the core of your being.” (p. 27)

But left to your own devices, you will be self-referenced, which “describes a way of being in the world with others that has grounded its identity, meaning, value, and purpose in a matrix of relationships, activities, and things in which God has no meaningful role.” (23)

It is “a mode of being that determines for itself the nature of its own being.” (29) This is the fundamental error and we make it often. Even those of us that pray often can go long periods of time without consulting God on the fundamentals of existence. We need consistent recentering on God—His will and His ways. In fact, that’s one of the roles of Sunday worship: to recenter us on God. We are often off-kilter, referencing something other than True North:


There really are only two ways of being in the world. The way with God and the way without (See Jer. 17:5-8 or Psalm 1). Today, as with most days, we should pray that the Vine-grower prune us of that original sin: godless self-reference.


TODAY’s REFLECTION: Re-read that first quote from Mulholland (p. 27) and remind yourself of how you were originally created to experience life. Ask God to prune away all that would keep God from the core of your being. Abide in intimate, loving union with God all over again.

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