I write this as a critique of myself—yet I believe the truth of such critique may be applicable to many.
There are often times where I find myself incredibly frustrated with God. I have been given desires, dreams, vision, and the very word of God itself yet it seems at times it is all very fictional. My dreams are real, my desires, are real, and the word of God is real—it is just that the realization of my dream, desires, and the word of God are seemingly not so much. So I ask why?
Of the things in my list, all of which I am quite certain of, there is one that must remain absolutely certain and this is the word of God. It is also because of the word of God that I have confidence in my dreams and desires. Yet when my dreams and desires are left wanting it makes me question the validity of the word of God.
When my dreams and desires are left wanting I often feel an abandonment from God. I feel unfulfilled. I know true fulfillment comes only through God and knowing Him so in an effort to reach a level of fulfillment I subject myself to a number of righteous tasks. I pray, I read my Bible, I fast, I memorize scripture, I read other books, I meditate, I sit in silence, yet nothing. No fulfillment, no joy, and I am I left wanting.
For far to long it has been taught that if we subject ourselves to a list of disciplines and to the ways of the LORD, fulfillment would not be far off. Many times it is taught that life is better with Christ, and that only real love and real joy and real life can be found in Christ and that life in Christ is found in a list of doings. Doing church, small group, community, prayer, fasting, reading the Bible, memorizing the Bible, sitting in silence, humility, and giving. In this list of doings for God we are taught that our work will not be void of reward and that our reward will be great that it will result in freedom from bondage, life, forgiveness, peace, joy, fellowship and life. Yet what happens when we do all the doings of being in Christ and no reward comes. There is still nothing. We are still in bondage, we are still bitter, there is a lack of peace, we are saddened, and we remain isolated. What then?
At that point as many people have informed me it becomes assumed that that person is truly not in Christ, because if they were the natural result would be freedom, love, life, etc. Yet to this I disagree. I think for so long our understanding of what it means to be in Christ and to serve Christ has been severely misunderstood.
First, if you have accepted Jesus Christ as LORD of your life, confessed your sins and sin nature, and have received the gift of Salvation through Baptism then you are most truly on a cosmic level in Christ. Yet this still focuses much on a bunch of doings. As I read the Bible it seems to do with more of what God is doing than with what we are doing, but since we feel like we ought to be doing something we make it about us having to do x,y, & z so then God can accomplish His purposes—as if he really needs us to do anything for Him to accomplish His goals—get real. So at the most basic being in Christ has more to do with receiving and allowing Him to save you than you doing anything else. What I truly mean by this is that God’s love cannot be earned—rather it can only be received. (And heaven forbid you receive it with joy and gladness, because we all know with Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound is followed up with the message that you killed Christ and that you should feel personally responsible for His death, and you should feel nothing but sadness and shame for the life you once lived—even more realistically continue to struggle in even—though you now find yourself in Christ. So instead of joy, freedom, and peace, we are continually tormented with our guilt, shame, and eternal sorrow for personally killing the son of God.)
Second we have come to believe that although His love can only be received, we then must do everything we can to pay Him back for the love He has shown us and since this is not possible again we find ourselves living in guilt, shame, and sadness.
Third we have been taught that our relationship with God works like and equation—good ole cause and effect. We are told that if we really loved God we would do x, y & z and that if we did x, y, & z then God would naturally bless us with f=favor. Favor then means our prayers would be answered, we would be successful, our kids would not get sick, grandma wouldn’t die, or we wouldn’t lose our job. But again this comes back to my original question what if we have received, and we find ourselves doing the x, y, & z yet it seems like God is really lacking on coming through with the f.
First I think our understanding of our relationship with God working like an equation is misplaced. All to often we enter into the activities of x, y, & z yes because we want to love God, even though were not really sure what that fully means, but we know doing these things are a part of what loving God looks like so we do them, but more importantly we do these things because we have been promised and even bought into the whole Christianity thing because of the favor of Christ that is promised when we do these things. So in reality the reason why we are truly doing x, y, & z is not to serve God necessarily rather it is to serve ourselves. One, we know to be a good Christian we are to love God and since we do not want to admit that we might not love God as much as we should, or as much as other people, we justify our love for Him through doing these things. This way no one can truly question your love for God because anyone seeing you doing x, y, & z would look at your life and be like you must really love God. Two we do these things because at the end of the day we are looking for God’s favor on our own agenda. We feel like if we do the x, y, & z then God will be obligated to come through with the favor in our lives. When this doesn’t work as planned we scratch our heads and proceed to increase time and energy in doing x, y, & z. After time we become very frustrated with God because God is not coming through with His promises, He is not giving you the success you desire, the family you desire, the health you desire, it feels as if He has abandoned you and you begin to question if you were really in Christ to begin with or worse yet you begin to question of Christ truly loved you to begin with. So again let me ask what do we do when we are continually doing x, y, & z and the only f we are receiving is frustration with God?
This is where we need to rethink our relationship with God. God loves you—period. There is nothing you can do to escape this truth. You are forgiven—period. Beyond accepting these things as realities in your life there is nothing more you can do or have to do to ‘make’ or ‘have’ God love you, because He already does. Now once we accept His love and forgiveness there ought to be a form of response—not to apologize to God for your sin, not to lament the death of His Son (He is Alive and with God presently—there is nothing sad about it), and not to gain favor. The response is the work of x, y, & z but instead of being motivated by favor, shame, guilt, or sorrow it ought to be done out of genuine love for the LORD.
To put it plainly let me use a set of analogies.
Scenario one: A man walks into a flower shop and buys his wife flowers. He buys them because he is sorry for the offense he committed against her. She receives the flowers but knows that the gift was made out of shame and guilt there lacks true joy in giver and the wife is confused at the gift made in guilt and shame because she had already forgiven her husband. The gift of the husband, which in his mind was to communicate ‘I’m sorry,’ actually communicates that he has rejected and not yet accepted the love and forgiveness of his wife. This is what we communicate to God when we do x, y, & z out of our own personal shame and guilt.
Scenario two: A man walks into a flower shop and buys his wife flowers. He buys them because he hasn’t gotten any action in a while and would really love to get some tonight. He knows his wife loves it when he buys her flowers and will most likely end in a good night for him. Thus he has found favor with his wife. The gift made with the front of showing affection to his wife is actually driven by his own selfish desires, yet no one would look at him and say that this man does not love his wife. The people at the flower shop even praise him for his ‘spontaneous’ and romantic gift. But the night does not go as planned and she senses his motive. The gift is ruined, and the husband is left frustrated because the equation did not work in his favor. This is what we do when we do x, y, & z for God out of our own selfish interests.
Scenario three: A man walks into a flower shop and buys his wife flowers. He buys them because he wants to show her how much he loves her and how thankful he is to have her as his wife. He does not do it out of shame or guilt, he does not do it hoping or even expecting anything in return from her because in his mind just having her as his wife is more than enough. He gives this gift out of joy because he knows the joy it is going to bring her at the end of her day. As he picks out the flowers his heart races with giddy excitement and he just cannot wait to get home to shower her with his love. This is what doing x, y, & z for God is like when we do it out of a place of genuine love for Him. In this place favor is not expected, there is no sorrow, there is frustration because expectations were not met. There is only joy, love, and life.
All too often our relationship with God looks more or less like scenarios one and two than it does scenario three. For us to move to a relationship like that of scenario three we must begin to rethink our motives and true desires. Just like the husband will be tempted to act out of sorrow, shame, or personal gain at times he must put to death these things inside of Him if he is to truly love his wife with abandon. Therefore we must not use the righteous activities of x, y, & z in an effort to get in bed with God so that he might bless our dreams and desires. No, we do x, y, & z solely because of the love we have for him and if he does bless us with our hopes and dreams then embrace such a blessing, but if this blessing does not come it does not mean that our LORD is not faithful. No matter what, whether blessings or cursing we ought to only do x, y, & z as a show of our affection to the LORD. x, y, & z are not able to save you, x, y, & z does not earn you God’s love, x, y, & z does not earn you God’s favor. x, y, & z are tools in which we are able to come to know and love the LORD at greater and greater depths.
Therefore, as I critique myself, I must go and live x, y, & z not out the desire for my dreams and hopes—no matter how ‘godly’ they might be even—but for the sake of loving and knowing the LORD our God. The very God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. In this I shall no longer have reason to hold bitterness, anger, frustration, or resentment towards my God.