As I stated in the previous post, my prior understanding of what it meant to be a Christian left a lot of my questions unanswered. Whenever I got into a situation where I struggled with what was happening in my life, I just kept telling myself to hang in and have faith. It's not that that is not good advice, but I think it caused me a lot of pain and suffering not having a better understanding of why things were going like they were.
One of the prevalent thoughts in most Christians today is that when things are going badly, I just need to try harder and when things are going well, God is pleased with me. But that is not what the Bible teaches. Take a look at many of the Bible greats, and you will see that they suffered, even when they were trying hard. John the Baptist took a Nazarite vow, and lived a life of unparalleled devotion to God. Jesus called him great (Matt 11:11), and what did it get him? He was imprisoned and beheaded. Ouch! Peter, according to tradition, was crucified up-side-down. Stephen was stoned. Paul was beaten, ship-wrecked, snake bitten and more. Are we really going to say that they just needed to try harder?
I had it backwards. I thought that my behavior was wrong and that if I could correct it, I would merit more grace. The reality was, I needed more grace so I could grow from my circumstances. As Tullian Tchividjian says in his book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, "Christian growth, in other words, doesn't happen by first behaving better, but by believing better-believing in bigger, deeper, brighter ways what Christ has already secured for sinners." Wow! That is so different from what I have been taught, and have heard preached, and continue to hear being preached.
Today, many call themselves Christ-Followers because the label Christian has a negative connotation to many. But the problem is not in what we call ourselves as much as it is in what we really are. For many of us it is not about following Christ as much as it is about gaining heaven. So we do the things we think Christians should do. We go to church, tithe, abstain from certain behaviors. While these can all be good things, they are nothing in themselves! (1 Cor. 13:1-3) The real question must be, Do we see God as revealed in Jesus Christ as beautiful? Do we see Him as the Pearl of Great Price or as a Great Treasure? Is our teaching and preaching about the beauty of Christ, seeking to draw us into a relationship that will change us, or is it about the changes that we must make so He will find us acceptable? If it is about the latter, then does not the Gospel lose its beauty? I am not saying that our behavior does not matter, I am saying that real change comes from an internal love for God rather than my desire to please Him and somehow gain His favor.
As much as I hate to admit it, this is a fairly new way of thinking for me, but the more I live in it, the more I see the freedom that is promised in the Bible. Our Youth Pastor touched on this idea in his sermon the first Sunday in January, when he talked about how he struggled to keep up with a reading plan. He would begin one, only to look back later and see that many of the dates had no entries. I am not trying to slam him here or slam Bible Reading plans for that matter. But there is no one size fits all for Christian growth. Reading plans are great for some, and a struggle for others. No one gets into heaven because of the number of Bible chapters read in a lifetime. We should promote reading the Bible, but not out of guilt or necessity, but out of the passion that burns within us to know more about the God we love. Look at the picture that David paints in Psalm 42:1, "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God." This is not a pretty picture of a doe taking a drink from a pond, but rather a deer that is panting because of a lack of water, and so the only thing on its mind is to find water and satisfy its thirst. And until it finds that water, it has no other thought but to obtain that water. Are we thirsty for God's word, or are we more like the shopper who is walking down the grocery aisle after a full meal, when the stock-piled shelves have little appeal?