Recently I’ve been reading “The Furious Longing of God” by Brennan Manning. In it, he says this:
…I’ve decided that if I had my life to live over again, I would not only climb more mountains, swim more rivers, and watch more sunsets; I wouldn’t only jettison my hot water bottle, raincoat, umbrella, parachute, and raft; I would not only go barefoot earlier in the spring and stay out later in the fall; but I would devote not one more minute to monitoring my spiritual growth. No, not one.
A funny thing happens when you come to know the freedom that being in touch with Jesus offers: you can potentially be overrun with guilt. There is a checklist that may seem to descend from the sky (though, I now realize this checklist comes from somewhere very different) that outlines each of the many things that you have to do if you are to truly experience and relate to God. You have to pray, and read your Bible, and confess your transgressions, and do a good deed everyday, and study, and sing, and reflect.
Herein lies one of the problems with Christianity as it is expressed in 2009. There is so much to do that we miss the great intention behind it all:
Cease striving and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10 (NASB)
Yes: a life being lived modeled after the way that Jesus lived his will involve self-improvement. It is a good thing to read scripture in order to understand the way that people thought and processed things in and out of connection with God; to take the good, and the bad, and the confusing and incorporate these things into our own lives. It is good to spend time in prayer. Relationships are the means by which real change takes place and a relationship with God is no different. Doing good is good. Confession is good.
But when the redeemer becomes taskmaster, when guilt overpowers freedom, a core component of the whole system is jeopardized. God’s intention has never been “Keep ’em occupied so they don’t have time to bother me.” Instead, God’s intention is that as much as is humanly possible we live in a type of union with Him. Not performing for him. Not doing his bidding and returning to the bell-tower a la Quasimodo. Just being confident in His love, in the security of His relationship with you.
Manning finishes up this thought-process with this:
What would I actually do if I had to do it all over again? Heeding John’s counsel, I would simply do the next thing in love.
As a person of faith, I struggled for a long time with wanting to look the part which involved doing all the things that were expected. I know I’m not alone in this. I saw certain things as bad and (*gasp*) unholy.
We can “do” ourselves in. Don’t misread what I’m saying – I know that “belief” and “action” are as integral to each other as breathing is to life. But preoccupation with the irrelevant minutiae of our spiritual lives is counterproductive to living like Jesus lived.
So, may you live with the confidence that Jesus is in the processing of reinvigorating your soul with life; that during this process, there are people that He wants you to meet and interact with, things that He wants you to do that bring just a little bit of heaven to earth; that he never intended for you to become preoccupied with the endless pursuit of self-improvement; and that He wants you to stop your striving, and know He is God.