THIS SERIES: HOW TO LIVE IN REST
Probably the biggest reason is that we want to please the Lord. This is our proper and legitimate desire as Christians. And many of us have been taught that the right expression of our passion for Jesus is in our commitment to our local church and its programme. The stronger your fervour, the more ‘involved’ you will be.
The difficulty with this perspective is that there is no biblical support for it. We are encouraged by the Jesus to break bread together, and by the writer to the Hebrews, not to stop meeting together, but neither specifies the group specifics, the form or place. We learn a little about some of the practices of the early church from Luke, and Paul speaks of some of the expected codes of conduct, but there are no instructions which correspond to our modern day church programmes. Which suggests they are less important to the Lord than we might imagine!
There is nothing wrong with our meetings, events and practices – unless they are used as the yardstick to measure spirituality, or get in the way of our relationship with Jesus - or others.
So how do we please God? The bible says it's through developing an intimate love-relationship with Him; by offering Him spiritual worship (which isn’t just about singing); by loving relationships with others – Christian and non-Christian; and by doing the works He wants. This work is to believe in Jesus - really believe – and to start to take hold of the life He paid such a price to give us [John 6:28,29].
The second reason we get overloaded is that we yearn for approval from others, and want to be endorsed and accepted by our Christian family. Christians have become so wedded to the idea that involvement equals spirituality, that withdrawal from programmes or meetings often produces censure or rejection. How many people swapping one local church for another have been cut off from their former friends? How many cutting down their programme involvement have been reprimanded for lack of commitment, and are then described as ‘flaky’, or ‘backsliding’? How many have bought into the idea that the only good Christian is the one with a full diary? Unwittingly we have moved into a performance-based culture, and away from the real stuff of church life, which is fundamentally about relationships – first of all with God, and then with others - in and outside of the church.
And then we need to satisfy ourselves: Despite the gospel, many Christians still don’t feel good about themselves, and carry around a feeling of guilt which is assuaged through a busy life of Christian activity. Some are those who successfully tick boxes on the ‘good Christian’ list, but are afraid to be on their own, because in solitude they have to face up to themselves, and their pervading sense of guilt; or afraid to be on their own to meet with God because they don't know how. Without realising, they get lured into an attempt to gain God’s approval, or His presence, through their works, rather than facing up to, and dealing with the cause of their discontent.
Inadequate understanding of what God requires of us, excessive demands by other Christians, and our own need for approval, coupled with a sense of guilt, is at the heart of much of the stress many Christians feel.
However this is not the end of the story: Jesus came to set us free.
We need to revisit who we are in Christ, and what He expects of us; we need to be set free from the need to perform, and from the weight of a guilty conscience; and we need to turn from institutionalised relationships to those which breathe life into us....
More on how to do this next time…
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