Have you ever wondered if what Christianity “sells” is just another way to improve your self? To stop doing bad things and start doing good things?
After all the sermons and rhetoric, is it still just about me, me, me?
What if it were more than that? What if Christianity has nothing to do with that at all? What if it were more about entering a new reality, becoming a NEW person (not just a better version of yourself), and what if you could become part of a story – God’s story – that has been woven from the beginning of time. It’s a story that you’re invited into and one in which you have a role to play.
Have I piqued your interest yet?
I was sitting in a service at a local church not too long ago. Everything was normal and I was sitting there listening to the message. All of a sudden, it dawned on me. What I was hearing was almost the exact same thing that I had heard elsewhere – only, it wasn’t from a preacher, Bible study leader, or anything coming out of Christianity. The lesson and application from the sermon were almost identical to something I had either read or heard coming from a non-Christian, self-improvement guru. (I won’t share names because that’s not the important thing.)
It’s More than Principles
Something about living by principles, especially when we’re talking about the Church, has bugged me for a while. I’ve never jived with that train of thought because it all seems so trite and is still very much me-centered. You can try to use principles to get what you want out of both life and God, and you might even see some success (and that’s where the real danger comes in); however, in the end, it’s still about what you can get out of it.
Only, God didn’t create us to live by principle. He created us to live inside of a relationship. When we live by principle, we trust in the principle. We can say we’re trusting in God, have faith, whatever, but we don’t have to rely on God when we’re living by Principle X in order to get Result Y. There’s no need for trust when we live this way.
When we live by relationship, however, the full weight of the outcome rests with God alone. It’s not a principle that we’re trusting in – it’s a Person. You cannot predict the outcome when you trust in a person. That is out of your control. That is faith – following the One who is in charge of the results when all you can see is the next step.
At times, you can only hang on for dear life.
Failure IS An Option
When you’re learning to live by trust rather than principle, you will get it wrong. I know I have. There are many times when I think that there’s a certain direction I need to go in or something that God is telling me to do, only to find out that it was just my own voice I was listening to – not God’s.
So how can you tell the difference? At times, it’s not so easy – other times it is. God typically tells me to do things that are either outside my comfort zone or something I wouldn’t think do on my own. It’s usually requires me laying down at least part (if not all of) my “self.”
When I was a good little Pharisee, I hated to fail. I needed to be right and point out others faults. The truth is, I failed all the time. I just hid my failures. It’s easy to overlook when you’re a Pharisee. That’s how we roll.
I’m still learning to let go of my fear of failure. I don’t like it, but I know my loving Father is with me smiling (not judging) and eager to help and encourage me. There’s no condemnation but a gentle nudging back to His presence where I can try again without fear.
This morning I received an email from a friend of mine who is a missionary in Mexico. I usually hear from him about once a week and we briefly tell each other how we can be praying.
He shared about his interns being too comfortable and needing to come to the end of themselves. He knew he couldn’t be the one to bring them to that point, but wondered at least how he could lead them down that road.
It got me thinking about our expectations for others, and the long journey it’s taken me to come to the end of myself. Every time I think I’m at the end, it seems Jesus is there tugging me forward saying, “That was just a resting place. It’s not the end.” Have you been there?
What Do You Expect?
Unmet expectations are the source of all kinds of conflict, whether in marriages or friendships or the workplace. This is especially true when the expectations are unrealistic. Much of the time, I believe they are.
- We expect others to meet our needs completely, when there is only One that can fulfill us (and it’s not your spouse or significant other).
- We have too high expectations of ourselves and get frustrated when we don’t meet those. (Come on, I’m not the only one am I?)
- We have expectations that others need to be where we are spiritually and if not try to get them there. (Is that really our job? Check out 1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
- We expect other people to behave like us, respond like us, and communicate like us. We forget that we are each fearfully and wonderfully made. We fulfill different roles in the body, and our uniqueness is from the Lord (Sometimes it feels like it’s from the devil, though, right?)
Often we feel that we have a right to lead people down the road to meet our expectations, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. I know from experience. I’ve felt that way before, and I shake my head when I remember some of those moments. (That was before my Phari-sectomy).
God Has a Process
Does God want us to come to the end of ourselves? Absolutely. Can He use my friend as a part of that process? I’m sure He will.
The danger, I believe, is when we try to take on that process ourselves. Very rarely does any good come from trying to short-circuit God’s timing. (Just take a look at Abraham, Joseph, and any number of Bible characters who tried).
When we try to usurp the activity of God in someone’s life, we reveal a lack of trust in God and His work and growth in that person. Yes, he can absolutely use us to be a part of that process. So what role do we play in that?
What is My Part?
According to 1 Corinthians 3, we plant and we water. We are not in charge of growth. That is God’s domain. What does planting and watering look like? There’s not a specific formula for each person, and I’m not trying to set forth principles to live by but ideas to embrace.
When someone doesn’t meet your expectations, forgive them. When you don’t meet your own, forgive yourself. Extend forgiveness frequently and generously.
ANOINT WITH GRACE AND MERCY
Be willing to shower people with God’s grace and mercy. Let go of unrealistic expectations and ask God to show you those when they occur.
Above all else, listen. Listen to Father for the gentle nudges that can help you walk alongside your brothers and sisters. Listen to your fellow believers as they share their struggles and what God is showing them. Help them navigate and nurture their relationships with Father and fellow believers.
May we be rich in mercy and slow in our criticism of those who love Jesus and may not be as far along as we are or as far as we think they ought to be. May we learn to see the beauty in our uniqueness and value our differences.
Do you struggle with imposing expectations on others? How do you respond when others place those on you?
I like compartments. It makes it easier to organize my life. I used to have a lot of them. A compartment for work. One for my family. Another one for church and faith. They were nice and neat until Jesus started mixing them. How dare he!
That’s like someone coming over to your plate while you’re eating and mixing up your peas and mashed potatoes. Some of you might like mixing those two foods. I, however, do not. I like them nicely separated. Much like I like my life separated. My work from home. My faith from work. It makes it nice and neat. Otherwise, life could get messy.
Then again, when is life not messy? The harder I try to control it, the messier it seems to get. But when I give up control, that’s when the real adventure begins.
Lines start to blur as Jesus integrates our lives into a holistic exchange between Him, us, and others. They begin to blur as we start to see church as who we are not merely where we go on the weekend. And they blur even more when we realize that our lives are worship and our work (wherever we are) is to be on God’s mission as we move through our daily lives.
Walls start coming down. Bridges begin to be built. We start seeing simple things we do as an opportunity to worship our Creator. We begin living as the church, not merely attending one for an hour or two a week.
Then Jesus begins to speak to us and the lines get even more blurry and more bridges begin to be erected and we start living (and loving) the Spirit-led life that continually guides and directs us no matter where we find ourselves.
We start doing crazy things like praying for others, believing that God will answer our prayers and quitting jobs to step out on faith without knowing exactly where we’ll land. (For our crazy adventure like that check out my earlier post called “Crossing the Tracks“).
(Before you go out and quit your job make sure it’s God speaking and not you! And please don’t tell your spouse I told you to quit!)
Now I have no compartments. Believe me, I try to make them again every once in a while, but Jesus just looks at me now and I simply throw them away (sometimes even without a tantrum). Life is beautiful and adventurous and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, please, just don’t go messing with my peas and mashed potatoes.