There's something I need to get off my chest. Something that's been bothering me for a couple of weeks. I've been trying to put this thing to words, but I haven't been able to. I feel like Neo, in the Matrix, when Morpheus tells him, "it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad".
Ok, maybe a splinter in the mind is a bit overly dramatic. How about, a mild itch that I've been trying to scratch, or a deep breath I've been trying to catch but can't quite fill my lungs.
So I decided to sit down and work it out of my brain through my fingertips, here on the computer. I apologize in advance if I offend anyone with my thoughts.
What's been bothering me is this: Why do Christians, friends of mine and others, who purport to put their faith in Jesus, our Lord and Savior, and the giver of Life, seem to be so morose when it comes to their faith? Why are Christians so racked with guilt and shame whenever we pray to God? Where is the Joy Of The Lord (Nehemiah 8:10), our Trust in Him (Psalm 37:5 & Phillipians 1:6), and our faith in God's sovereignty (Matthew 5:45), and why do we cling to tightly to THINGS that aren't important?
This past Sunday my pastor preached a very good sermon on the Passover (Exodus 12), and how the Passover links to what we celebrate as The Lords Supper, or as some churches call it, Communion.
Pastor began with the Passover in Exodus 12, and just how joyful and glad those Israelites who lived through the actual passing over (where God killed the firstborn of Egypt and spared those Israelite firstborn who's family put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts) were with regard to their being saved.
They'd been freed from Egypt by the very hand of God! What a wonderful thing to celebrate! Jews celebrate this Passover to this day.
By the same token, Jesus, at the Passover just before his death, took the wine and bread and asked his disciples to drink and eat as a remembrance of Jesus and what He was going to do for them. Jesus was going to be a sacrificed lamb whose blood Christians can take on the door posts of our lives, which cleanses us from sin and justifies us before God.
So, Christians have been freed from death by the very hand of God, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus!! What a wonderful thing to celebrate!
Pastor then asked us to join in small groups of three or four and pray before we took the Lord's Supper, to celebrate and remember what Jesus did for us.
I was thinking to myself, Jesus has saved me from death! He's given me new life, a new heart, and a new spirit! He's invited me to eternal life with God! Wow!! I'm jazzed and pumped, ya know?
So as we prayed, what did I hear?
Sadness and guilt. People asking forgiveness because they'd sinned, or stumbled, or didn't feel right, or whatnot. I heard heavy souls, prayers lamenting our shortcomings, and our unworthiness, and our burdened hearts, heavy with worry. People begging to be right with God again, as if being right with God is something we can do or not do.
Now, here's the splinter in my mind thing. Why are my Christian friends holding onto ANY guilt or ANY shame at all, when they come before God?
Do they think God doesn't know what we all do, each and every day, every moment and every breath we take? When we lament our unworthiness, doesn't God already know this? Doesn't God already know how sick and sad we are, how twisted our lives are, and how truly degraded we are in our hearts?
I can imagine God kind of tapping his fingers as we pray, saying, "Yes, guys... I know all this. You are unworthy worms, I know. You said that last week, and the week before that, etc etc. Can you please get to your point?"
And despite all this, does He not still love us? Doesn't Jesus' sacrifice still mean salvation for those who confess Jesus as Lord, and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead, even though we stumble?
Come on people, God knows about us! He knows how we are, and it's not news to Him! He knows our hearts, and our minds, and just how much we stumble around trying to do good, but fail miserably. Paul talked about it in Romans, so it's nothing new. We try to do good, we fail miserably, but thank God for Jesus who frees us from bondage! Freedom, by the way, not from ever sinning again, but from the law of sin, and from the guilt that comes with being a human being.
WE ARE GOING TO SCREW UP SO DEAL WITH IT. GOD ALREADY HAS.
I feel almost like telling some people: Get off your cross. Someone else needs the wood.
Jesus didn't tell us to take up our cross daily and follow him, only to hear us gripe about how hard the cross is!! Of course it's hard! He knows this, and He knows everything about us, and HE STILL LOVES US!
Instead, where's the celebration? Where's the joy? Where's the "Lord, I THANK you for what you've done. You saved me, you gave me life, and I love you for that! I sinned today, and I confess it and leave it at your feet, and thank you for making me clean in your eyes!"
See, I'm convinced that, although God does want to hear the burdens of our hearts, He also wants us to leave the burdens at His feet once we bring them there. Remember, God already knows what's on your heart. He knows what you need. The act of "bringing your burdens to God" isn't about informing God of our needs (puh-lease, He already knows better than we do), but it's more about us putting voice to something and then, hopefully, letting it go.
I'm convinced God wants to hear how we feel about Him. He wants to hear how we love Him, and how glorious we think He is. It's not a narcissistic thing, its a Creator of the Universe thing.
And we, rightly, should not be begging God to make our lives right or better or easy, but instead we should be praising God for saving us from death and promising to bring us into his Kingdom!
Homes and cars and families come and go. Look at Haiti. We worry in the USA about how we're gonna pay for the things we have, when many people in Haiti have nothing. Many Christian people in Haiti have nothing. Did God forsake them? Are they praising God?
Should they praise God? After all, their situation is really, really bad by our standards.
Folks, it's hard for me to put into words, and I don't think I've even done well with this post, but here's the bottom line for me.
Put away your Christian guilt and shame. You should only be ashamed before God if you think you have something to hide. But since you can't hide anything from God to begin with, and God has already forgiven your every sin, what do you think you are hiding from Him? You have nothing to hide, because you can't hide anything from God! Confess, get back up, move on, and praise God as you go. Don't stop trying to live well, but don't beat yourself up when you don't, because if you do beat yourself up, you're the only one doing it. God isn't.
In John 5:24, Jesus says, "I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life."
Do you hear that?
"Already passed from death into life"!!!!!
God disciplines and corrects his children, yes, but folks, get off the shame and guilt wagon, because if your on it, your riding your wagon alone. God is not on that wagon with you. Get off the wagon and go your way, praising God for saving you and giving you a new life!
I think we also need to stop putting our hands out to God, begging God to fill them with our material needs. Mortgages, car payments, medical bills, groceries. We pray constantly in our churches for God to make a miracle and fulfill some financial need. People are out of work, get downsized, or have some financial tragedy, and we ask God to fix it.
Yes, financial hardships suck. But, what ever happened to, "give us this day our daily bread"? How much bread do we need each day? Is financial security essential to joyful Christian living?
How do poor people praise God? Should they?
We pray constantly for Aunt Broomhilda's big toe, or Uncle Buck's gout, or Grandma Rockefeller's apendix, asking for.... I don't know what. Healing?
People die all the time, even Christians. Is God no longer in the miracle healing business? Does God change his mind on who lives and who dies depending on how much and how hard we pray for them? I don't want that kind of burden, and I don't think God wants us to HAVE that kind of burden. That's not the point of prayer.
Again.... God knows what we need before we even voice the concern. But, are we to go around with our hands out to God, hoping for a miracle to keep, fix, or heal something that's at best a vaporous, temporary thing?
Will making the mortgage payment bring glory to God? Or will it alleviate a momentary stress in my life? Would losing my car to the bank because I can no longer make the payments really be that big of a deal? Or if I lost my house, would it really be that bad? Is homeownership essential to Christian joy? Are renters ever happy?
Think long term here, folks. Think in "God's Time" terms. Are these things really that important?
Or is it our job to praise God for what we have, and learn to be content in whatever situation God places us, whether rising or falling, in plenty or in poverty, in sickness and health and loss?
I think we should be asking God to give people who are going through tough times, the wisdom and strength to withstand the devil and this world as they go through the "valley of the shadow of death" without fearing evil, because God is with them. We should be begin to remember that ALL we have is God's, and it's His to give, and His to take away.
The Joy Of The Lord, to me, is in understanding that God is All. I have no control, and indeed, I've ceded control of my life to God. It's His now (and, really, it always has been), to do with as He pleases. I will be content to go where He leads, live how He directs, and accept what He gives to me or takes from me. Yes, there will be sadness and happiness both along the way (and there already has been quite a bit of both), but I will not let my Joy be diminished by my circumstances.
Don't let your circumstances define your joy.
I'm sure the Christians who faced death in the Roman Colosseum at the hands of lions prayed really hard to be delivered. I'm sure they looked to the story of Daniel in the Lion's Den and hoped for a similar miracle. I'm sure it sucked and they were probably quite sad when it became clear that God wasn't going to save them from death. But the stories say that many of them faced death with dignity and with honor, because of the joy set before them at the promise of Heaven. God was with them, and supplied their needs, to the end.
I'm sure it sucks to be eaten by a lion.
It sucks to lose a home.
It sucks to have a car repossessed.
It sucks to have wayward children who don't stay to the path their parents laid out for them, and one who is mired in the world of drug abuse.
It sucks to have a loved one die.
Life sucks, often.
But God is good always. God's promise of eternal life is good, always. His joy, His peace, is with us always, if we will just accept it.
My friends, let's find our Joy in the Lord, in whatever place He's put us. THAT is the faith that people want to know about. That's the Christianity that people admire and indeed envy.
That's what God wants for all of us. His Joy.
Natalie Grant's song "I Will Not Be Moved" says it well:
"I will stumble, I will fall down,
But I will not be moved,
I will make mistakes, I will face heartache
But I will not be moved.
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand,
I will not be moved!"