Not sure where this thinking came from, but in my Christian life, it seems like I tend to think that there is some magic formula that will make me acceptable to God so He can bless me. For a long time, kind of like I’d be in a Geometry or Physics class, that formula was so evasive to me … and I kept hoping, working, trying to figure it all out. If I did x-y-z, then God might finally be pleased with me and bless me (meaning, give me what I wanted!). In the end, it was all about ME.
Godliness seemed evasive. I tried the pretending: I said the right and expected words, dressed according to the rules, and tried to smile continuously. This is really ridiculous if you know me in real life because I am definitely NOT known for my sunny disposition. But I tried, tried until my strength was pretty much used up … until the dam broke and exploded. The explosions were usually not pretty.
I often blamed myself for not having more blessings (by which I mean material blessings) and for things not working out (the way I thought they should). I will be honest and confess that I blamed my husband too. In doing this, I completely disregarded what I know to be true, and I also allowed people – who did not know or believe my motives – define me.
A recent sermon by our associate pastor put the matter into a little better perspective for me. He compared the Old Testament (the Law) to the New Testament (Grace).
In the Old Testament, there almost was actually a kind of formula. If the people of Israel did right, obeyed God, and followed His commands, He promised to bless them, keep them safe from their enemies, and lead them. If the people of Israel did not do what was right, strayed from God to idols, and disregarded everything God said, He allowed them to experience plagues, wars, and captivities. This was manifested over and over in Judges, with the Kings, and throughout the prophets’ times. The only way to appease God was to make continual animal sacrifices – and even throughout the warnings, God reminded them of His mercy and love. The Law showed man how sinful He was, unable to continually be righteous on our own.
Then Jesus came! He fulfilled the Law by dying on the cross, the ultimate and final sacrifice, enough to cover all of our sin. The age of grace began. Grace offers forgiveness – if we are humble enough to repent – and mercy and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The New Testament teaches the way to live under grace. The crux of this new life in Christ seems to be LOVE. He loved us first; He loved us and sent His son; He requires that we love Him and our neighbor as ourselves. We don’t work to attain His favor, we do our work because we love Him.
I recently watched a film version of Pilgrim’s Progress, and if you ever have heard the story, then you know about the character, Mr. Law. He could not free Christian of his burden. Obeying the law isn’t the formula for godliness.
C. G. Finney (a key preacher in the Second Great Awakening of the mid-1820s and 30s) said, “Few things are a greater curse than a legal state of mind. It is often as bad as open wickedness, if not worse. Often it is such a misrepresentation of religion as makes the little children more afraid of such a religious man than of a fiend.”
I don’t want to be that joyless person any more. I want to be a good testimony, a conduit of God’s grace. My blessings ARE abundant … I do nothing to DESERVE anything I have. God gives and He takes away; no matter what, I want to bless His name. It isn’t the easiest lesson I – the ultimate control freak – have had to learn, and I am definitely one who learns the hard way! But I am determined to accept grace, to see the blessings I have, and to trust my uncertain future to a God who has planned it all out.
I am quite weary and wounded from things that have happened in the past … and I’ve felt very out of control over circumstances for a long time now … but I want to trust God’s plan, HIS formula! He is the One working out all the math (so to speak!). And He even already knows the final answer!