As John spoke Sunday and encouraged us to stop pretending we have a real, life-giving relationship with God, I smiled. And not because I had invited someone to church that I knew needed to hear that--how often I've missed an opportunity to be challenged myself because of the familiarity of a message. But it was because last week, Iactually stopped pretending. I finally admitted that I often spend more time looking right and saying the right things than actually being transformed. While I may not be living a completely different, secret life, the life I do live is not always truly lived in faith. I live it because it’s what I know to be right. But there is quite a distance between my brain and my heart. Some would call it discipline and applaud me for doing what I should (reading, praying, sharing). But what good is there in doing the right things for the wrong reasons? And even if my motivation is sometimes obedience to Scripture and not necessarily my heart's desire, that means my reasoning is still not the best.
"God is MOST glorified in us when we are MOST satisfied in Him."
He gets glory from a number of things and people whose heart's intent is not on glorifying Him. Is that all I want to strive for? Default, inadvertent glory? Certainly not.
But what do you do when you are discipling people, working at a church, and doing other things for God, yet realize you haven't truly been delighting in Him? Well, you just keep saying the right things and convince yourself that you are happy in God. Until one day, your tears tell a story you can't wipe away. And you realize all that you do for God comes from a theological reckoning, but if asked, "Do you believe God loves you?" your heart skips a beat. Something so simple to affirm based on Scripture, but a truth that hasn't quite overwhelmed and satisfied your soul. And as a result, has left your love tank in need of constant filling--making people big and God small.
I've tried months of prayer, reading scripture, meditating, social media breaks, etc. but nothing has produced lasting change. So, I decided to stop. In my mind, I decided to quit trying to be a Christian. I gave up. I started asking myself why I did certain things in relation to God, and if I couldn't say it was out of love, faith or delight, then I would no longer do them. (Not advising you to do that, but I was running out of options. And I can be dramatic at times.) I said goodbye to willpower and my perfectionist/athletic mentality that was bent on performing well regardless. And I erased 'I' out of the equation of my "faith" walk, which left me with only the founder of my faith to show Himself strong.
And He did, He has and still is.
He's showing He has me. And all I have is need. Apart from Him I can do nothing. I can do a bunch of nothing!
Did I cry every single day because I felt helpless? Yes. Did I doubt my salvation a few times? Yes. Did I feel numb for a few days with a neutral view of sin? Yes. Did I listen to some spiritual songs and hope that my inner groanings counted as prayer? Yes. Did I have the strength to say more to God than, "Help me," each day? No.
I confessed all this to others along the way and asked them to pray for me. And after several days, guess what I found out? God never left me, and He won't. Sure, scripture says that so I could just say it, but I've seen it for myself now. I didn't lose my salvation last week, because I hadn't won it years ago. I couldn't extract the Spirit from within me, because I wasn't the One who sealed me with it. I realized that so many of my works were being done for me and others but not God. I saw that giving up is hard to do when you really love your self-image. Not only have I thought of God seeing me more impressive because of my works, but I've also wanted to feel more impressive within so that I'd feel more valuable. We all want to be great at something, but salvation and sanctification instead reveal our suckiness and God's greatness. We want to be able to say we did this and that to please God, when God is saying I want you to see that your righteousness is like filthy rags. As I sat in a courtroom the other day and listened to a guy try to plead his case despite the prosecutor already deciding to drop the charges, I couldn't help but get frustrated. Sir, you didn't know something was against the law, it has just been shown to you and you have been extended grace and mercy. Why not just receive it, thankfully? Why are you standing here trying to prove your rightness? Take the gift! It's free! (I screamed within.)
And that's what I too have to swallow. That's what's backwards about the Gospel. I can't do enough right to get a free pass, but I feel like I have to do something. I want to feel right in my own ability to do good. I don't want to feel desperate, helpless and needy. I want to feel deserving. I want to do what God says do and be what He says be and not miss a beat. Yet, as John O. shared, "God's primary concern for man is not compliance, it's conversation." And as John Piper adds, "God doesn't just want decisions made for Him, He wants delight in Him."
No, God doesn't want us to not read His word, pray and share our faith with others. But He wants us to do those things out of a true love for Him and others. Being committed to God is not enough. As Piper so brilliantly and terrifyingly puts it, "Satan has more theological knowledge about God than we ever will. His issue isn't doctrine, it's delight." God wants our affections. He wants a personal relationship with us, and He can handle our ups and downs and days off that come along with that. And He won't take His love back when we mess up. He doesn't want rule-keeping; He wants relationship. The most loving, unconditional one we could ever experience.
Why would we settle for less?