|this is a photo I took for a friend of my mother|
Then I went through a really tough couple of years.
Life knocked me down and ran over me, backed up and ran over me again. There were about four years of hard, then two years of awful and then two more years of really awful. I was living in a soul-crushing pit.
I was fighting God.
I was grieving.
It was bad.
As I began to crawl out of that pit I started calling myself a road-kill Christian. I felt like I walked around with tractor-trailer tire marks on the forehead of my soul. I was a once-committed Christian.
I struggled. I struggled hard. And I struggled pretty much alone. I wouldn't let anyone get close enough to see what a mess I was. The most honest thing I'd say was "it's been hard" and then I'd change subject. My life was falling apart at the seams but all I remember thinking is "this shouldn't be so hard!" I was suicidally depressed but I was thinking "I shouldn't be struggling like this" and "I ought to be over this by now". That makes it really hard to receive grace.
God finally pulled me out of that pit, and then I sat there, on the storm-wrecked beach of my life, surveying the damage and still I felt like I had to hide it. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty. Trying to pray, but feeling like after all of the fighting God and I had been doing lately there was really no way he'd listen to me. Yet I watched as He gently washed the shore, clearing away the wreck of my life with God and gaving me a fresh start. I was storm-tossed but he was redeeming.
As I got to step across the line of "us" and "them" I got to experience the grace of being one of "them". I was one of the sporadically attending non-tithing (or serving) pew-warmers. God's grace was huge in that place. I discovered that while there is blessing in being an active, involved member of a local body of believers I also got a peek into the heart of God and I got to see that to him there is no distinction.
I was clinging to a distinction in the mind of man that didn't exist in the mind of God. There is no "us" committed and "them" un-committed. I got hung up on the wrong set of prioroties. I naturally tend to think in terms of performance and measure myself against a socially-determined performance-oriented list of priorities hoping I can grade myself as above-average. Like average is bad or like less-than average is double-bad and you might as well not even call yourself a Christian. What a lie.
God delights in the humble (and resists the proud) he rejoices in the prodigals, his grace works mightily through the weak. He draws near to the broken-hearted. But superiority feels good, like a comfy, well-worn bath-robe. It covers those nagging feelings of insecurity and conceals my thoughts of inadequacy. Meanwhile I ignore the wedding gown of grace I've left hanging in my closet.
God has been really consistent about telling his people what gets his approval. Abraham believed God and it was his faith, not his performance, that pleased God. Through Isaiah God told us that our righteous acts piled up like garbage. Jesus let us know what he thought about that mentality in his parable about the Pharasee and the tax collector.
Here is my confession, I mentioned it recently in a previous post but I feel like I ought to say it again here: I struggle with Quiet Times. Not like, I miss a day here and there. I really struggle to be consistent. I have from Day 1 of my walk with God. Sometimes I am just lazy. Sometimes I have unrealistic expectations that lead to massive disappointment. I have come to accept it as my grace of weakness. I think if it was easy for me I might view my relationship with God more in terms of something I can do. My reality is that this is something I can't do. I need him to constantly return my focus, I need him to constantly renew my passion. I need him to constantly remind me to rest. If it was just me I'd be a million miles away from the heart of God.
I tend to make a distinction based on performance and that is self- righteousness. Self-righteousness is striving, always trying to get everything checked off my self-imposed list of expectations. God just doesn't consider his children in those categories. Resting in Christ's righteousness is the way of salvation and we are hurting ourselves and distancing ourselves from God when we define our relationship with him in terms of performance.
Olympic athletes are never judged by how well they bake. That has nothing to do with their identity as an athlete. In the same way our Christian performance has nothing to do with our acceptance in Christ. His love for us is not determined by the number of minutes we spend in Bible Study and prayer, the percentage of income tithed, the amount we volunteer at church. It is tempting to wrap our identity up in our performance. We are mixing up the categories of identity and intimacy.
Intimacy is only found on the path of obedience. Identity is found in the unearned, lavish love and grace of God to call us his own. It took me a really long time to learn what that meant. It took crossing my imaginary line and walking around with tire-treads on my forehead for awhile before it really started to sink in. To rest in grace and cease my performance-driven striving. To rest in Christ's righteousness is about shifting categories. When God looks at me he sees the beginning and the end. He sees me as I am today but he also sees me as I will one day be - perfect and without any spot of sin. He sees that now. That type of perfection can't hold a candle to my attempts at ideal. I can't see the perfect-me that God sees but I accept that it exists and I accept that my day to day up and down Christian life is not affecting God's opinion if me. If I'm desperately seeking God's approval and His acceptance all I have to do is turn around. He's right there. Always right there.