Much of our life with the Lord is a struggle, a tension, a question of how to live by His grace. “Pray like everything depends on God and work like everything depends on you” is a neat little saying that encapsulates the mindset, but there are questions. How do I know the will of God? What does it feel like if I am following the will of God? Is success the goal? And how does one measure it? What does self-effort look like as opposed to faithfulness? What if success feels like failure? Worse yet, what if failure feels like success? Whew! It is no wonder that religion with its rules, check boxes and prescriptions is so attractive! At least you have tangible measurements for your ‘spirituality’ – much easier on the flesh than walking by faith.
Religion tempts us to replace dependence on an unseen God, Who at times seems distant and unavailable, with an accessible set of rules. Feelings toss us to and fro like a soccer ball at a youth league practice. Circumstances seem to slip through the net of God’s care and protection and we feel on our own against life’s tragedy and trial. Accustomed to instant gratification, we seek immediate relief, throwing up a quick prayer and then looking for solutions in friends, distractions, church activity, seclusion, or _______________ (you fill in the blank). We don’t have to belong to a church to practice religion.
This is nothing new. History is littered with thousands who started well on their faith journey and were turned aside. In Jesus’ sower parable only 25% of the hearts provided good ground for gospel fruitfulness. After all, there are so many pitfalls, as John Bunyan so brilliantly illustrates in his book Pilgrim’s Progress. Here is Pilgrim imprisoned in the dungeon of doubting castle, captive to giant despair. Elsewhere he is mired in the quicksand of despondency. The law almost kills him with guilt, and religion lures him to replace faith with works, the net of error ensnares him. Many other diversions are skillfully woven into this narrative of the perilous journey that Pilgrim undertakes to the celestial city.
Jesus Himself never promised an easy life. He warned the way is hard and the gate narrow, but He also promises His yoke is easy and His burden light. He is so full of seeming contradictions and puzzling statements! Who can blame the first disciples for being constantly confused? Yet His power over nature, disease, and demons convinces us to trust Him with the unknown and misunderstood. He beckons us to walk beside Him as did our predecessors, taking the time and thought, with an open mind free of cultural preconceptions, to allow Him to persuade us of His character. The naturally unattainable perfection He calls for in the Sermon on the Mount is kingdom normal, beginning now. Confident connection to the Eternal is the only life source for such a lifestyle, wrapping the truths He teaches in faith despite a seemingly conflicting reality. Climbing a mountain unprepared invites disaster, as does trifling with the narrow way without the inclination to wholeheartedly embrace a counterintuitive perspective, not to mention trusting Another’s preferences.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. The call is to keep paying attention so we don’t drift away from the truth and hope of the Gospel, remembering our connection to Him is by faith – the kind that turns us from our way to His. He calls us to come and die to our self-addiction, to live a life spent for others as His was. It is easy to replace that trust with morality – a goodness of our own devising – or devotion to the cause rather than the King. Jesus lived it, demonstrating that kinship with God requires spiritual discipline and manna in our wilderness – daily doses of heavenly perspective. Our inner compass longs for Him but is thrown off by our willfulness and needs to be constantly reset.
When Jesus left thirty years of seclusion and finally began to publicly reveal the heart of His Father to a resistant audience, He attracted those who desired a better world. We, like the first followers, are wrong about many kingdom realities. The disciples’ perspectives were off on God’s purposes and intentions for their generation, and He patiently redirected them. What a wonderful hope for us! We can rest assured that the willing soul will be guided and forgiven. This not only humbles us, but reminds us to have an open heart to our brethren who also err. He is working with all of us to chip away at our world-shaped mold so as to release our true selves. As we appreciate His patience with us, we make room for our kingdom companions – unless we forget the gospel of grace.
So let us pay attention to the good news that Jesus paid it all to break our addiction to self. Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, not monitor how others are running theirs. Let us love extravagantly those God has put in our path. And “since we are receiving our rights to an unshakable kingdom we should be extremely thankful and offer God the purest worship that delights his heart as we lay down our lives in absolute surrender, filled with awe.” He 12:28 TPT We are each writing our own version of Pilgrim’s Progress as temporary residents of this world. May our stories bring glory to the Savior Who bought us with the price of His own blood!
“Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; ’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far And grace will lead me home. John Newton