I’m GREAT at Religion [but I’m a struggling Christ follower]

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Here are some facts about me:

I am efficient. I strive to do things better and faster and have no patience for anything else.

I am a rule follower. Give me guidelines and I will operate within them, strictly following each letter of the law.

I am a high achiever. I believe I can always do better, achieve more, and succeed no matter the obstacle in front of me.

I am very independent. If I see something that needs to be done, I do it; I handle it and take responsibility.

These traits naturally lend to being REALLY good at Religion – the rule following especially. Religion, at its very basic level, is a set of rules and guidelines that one must follow in order to go to Heaven. If you follow these rules and do the right things you get to go up when you die. If you don’t, you go down. So, as a rule following, efficient, strive-to-do-your-best, independent person, Religion is my jam.  The 10 Commandments? Yep, I can follow those. Trying to be the best person I can be all the time? I have been trying to do that since I can remember. Doing the right thing because God says I should? I strive to do that too. Tithe 10%? Okay, it’s in the Bible, I can follow that rule. I can see sin in others and I can tell you what the Bible says about it. On and on with the rules. I will try to achieve them all. I will do my best. I will…. I….

Did you notice how many times “I” came up? I am good at Religion, but I am struggling as a Christian. Why? Because ultimately, I am trying to earn God’s grace and acceptance. Instead of going to God first and seeking His will, His grace, and His mercy, I take control and try to make peace with God. That is Religion, when WE try to make peace with God. I naturally fall into the religion category. In fact, go ahead and call me a Pharisee.

The Pharisees were the religious elite of Jesus’ day. They knew the Old Testament books and teachings inside and out. They knew every. single. thing. they should do and say. They could follow all the rules and they challenged Jesus often based on their understanding of the Old Testament. The Pharisees were supposed to be the example of God’s love and covenant with the Jewish people. They were to help Jewish people perform sacrifices and answer their questions so that everyone could be right with the Lord. However, they soon became a ruling class. A group of people so caught up in the rules and regulations of the law that they missed the whole point of the Scriptures and also missed the fact that Jesus is Messiah.

Lately, I have seen myself fitting more into the Pharisee category than the Jesus category. I want to follow a set of rules. I want to clean myself up before I approach the throne. I want my works and my actions to bring me the peace that God offers. I judge others based on outward decisions. And then I feel like a complete failure when I am not enough and I can’t do enough to be where I want to be with Jesus.

Jesus criticized the Pharisees often. In Matthew 23 verses 3 and 4, Jesus says this, “So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”  How often I do this to myself and others. Do I practice what I teach? Do I put into action the teachings of the Bible and the words of Christ? Sadly, I often do not.

The truth is friends, I can NEVER do enough to feel at peace with God. The only way to be at peace with God is through relationship with Him. Changing my behavior will only work for so long before I burn out or make a major mistake. Truthfully. the only thing that can bring me the peace I so desire is communion with Jesus. But because of my innate gifts (which by the way God created in me, why couldn’t he have made this easier?) this is very difficult for me to do.

Are you here, too? Maybe you have been trying to be good your whole life and just can’t measure up. Maybe you DO follow all the rules but STILL don’t have peace. Perhaps you are the good religious person, but find you lack grace for others and yourself.

I think most of us have it backwards. Instead of us striving to be right with God, we should be surrendering to God and allowing His peace to wash over us.  Instead of trying to do good works, we should be asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit so we can participate in the larger plan that God has. Instead of worrying about what to do and say, we should look to the example of Jesus and seek to honor him in our thoughts, words, and actions.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God” (NIV) another translations says “Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God” (GW). Yet another translation says “Cease your striving and know that I am God” (New American Standard).

I want to honor God in all I do, but I need to let go of my need for control and my desire for clearly laid out rules and instead seek to find God first. I need Jesus to be the Lord of my life in order to enjoy the fullness of life that has been offered to me. I am still figuring out how to do this, but I think it all starts with a simple statement:

Cease striving.

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