This is the third in a series of exploring our own spiritual growth and health. I’m calling it “Restoring Vitality” because there are many of us who feel like life is missing from our own spiritual journey. We may feel stuck or oppressed. Overall, it just doesn’t seem like I should be where I am. The question is, how do we experience the life God designed for us?
The first blog described the problem of being stuck in spiritual infancy. There is a problem of not moving forward in our faith toward greater intimacy with Christ. The second blog identified some of the important questions we can ask which will help us honestly assess where we are. In this blog, I’d like to explore our own strategies for producing a sense of movement when in fact they may be doing the opposite.
If you remember, the first question I thought we should ask was the same question God asked Adam in the garden. “Where are you?” It’s a question I don’t particularly like. It is easier for me to move on with my plans, march through the days and years of my life, hoping and wishing and hiding. Let’s consider some ways we hide from the intimacy God desires for us. These are in no particular order.
We trade Jesus for moral rules. Moral rules make us feel good. When we obey them, we compare ourselves with those who don’t and then we can feel a little better about hiding in the bushes. Rules soothe our consciences. I once knew of two fundamentalist churches who wanted to have a combined church picnic. But they got stuck on whether the women would be allowed to wear pants! One church felt good about their stricter rules because more rules equals more holiness. The other church felt good about their freedom! Needless to say, no picnic happened. I imagine Jesus sitting at the park with unbelievers wishing his kids were there with him.
We trade Jesus for conquests. Maybe you’re not a rule person. But what drives you is getting things done for God. Just like rules, we can hide from God in mission statements and in the efforts to accomplish great things for God. Planting a new church, growing a ministry, mission trips, fighting for justice can all make us feel better about being distant from God. Even if God doesn’t seem especially close, I speculate he will surely like what I do for him. That is a wrong thought. Do you remember the condemnation of Matthew 7:22-23? Jesus said, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and do many might works in your name? And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” God needs nothing we can do for him. Doing something for God without God must be abhorrent to the One who wants to be known.
We trade Jesus for our theology. I love theology and theological discussions. From the earliest days of the church, leaders and learners have been trying to summarize, contextualize and categorize what the Scriptures say about God. It has a real benefit to the church. But it can become like researching and writing a historical biography. It’s great to know about Abraham Lincoln. But I have no way of knowing him. We rehearse traits, movements and mission of God, while missing the living God. We easily speak of him out there, or back there, but we hide from him right here. Instead of humbly seeking him, we find significance in our own knowledge and understanding of the truth. We become more sure while God remains distant.
We trade Jesus for religious practices. All our religious activities can easily become a Jesus substitute. I have been in church services where Christ was never mentioned. And I’ve been to some that didn’t even include a real prayerful conversation with him – as if He wasn’t there. Church becomes about church. We judge our activity by how we felt about it, rather than if we actually interacted with the God who was in the room. We fast at Lent, give our tithes and offerings, hold prayer meetings, teach the Word, all without Jesus being involved. These things can lull us into a false sense of spiritual vitality all while missing the One who gives life.
Let me stop here and reassure you, there is nothing wrong with these things in principle. Just like there was nothing wrong with the bushes in the garden. Adam and Eve misused them to keep God at a comfortable distance. And that’s what we can do. Morality, mission, theology and even religion can add depth, guidance, comfort and strength to our relationship with God in Christ. Our temptation is that we forget they are means to an end. Even our own spiritual maturity is a means to an end. And that end is intimacy with the God who created us for oneness with him. He created us and redeemed us to live face to face with him. Any replacement of that hope keeps us hiding from the One who faithfully pursues us.
I hope the Spirit of Christ is nudging you to think that there might be more for you. There is. It is LIFE in and with HIM. Hiding from him robs us of the life he gives. Consider what stepping out from behind your bush might look like.
In the next blog, we’ll take a look at the kind of relationship God actually wants for us and with us.
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