John 5: 39 “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,”
Why do so many of us experience a barren faith? This isn’t about being saved or not, this is a common phenomenon reported among many Christians from all walks of life. These are dedicated folk, they attend worship service, read scripture, pray and genuinely ask God for help and as the years tick by they find they’re no closer to God than they were when they first met him.
Sound familiar? Well over the years attending church I got tired of pretending I had something more than I did! My walk in faith was marked by a lot more lows than feelings of communion and intimacy with God. I knew something was out of sorts but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. In fact even today I still experience these “dry spells” as well. I came to find out after living a marginal Christian experience for nearly three and a half decades my life was defined by a specific spiritual cycle that constantly left me defeated, seldom filled with joy (more often remorse) that made my Christian experience hardly worth the effort. In fact I got so tired (I must confess even fed up) with the self help books on how to strengthen and straighten out my faith over the years that I made an agreement with God several years ago I would simply tell it like it is, at least form my experience in my journey with Christ. That was the beginning of a journey that started to finally unravel the layers of everyone’s else’s Christianity I had tried to live by and helped me to come to a place where I was ok, alone in Christ whatever the cost. What took place was simply extraordinary.
The problem (I still grapple with by the way) was my pattern of how I dealt with life was blissfully separated from my awareness of Christ. Oh I knew the right things to believe about Christ, to share about Christ and to say about Christ, but when it came to dealing with the pressures and disappointments in life I responded like most, I felt pushed against my will repeatedly having to deal with the mundane, the absurd, the unplanned and the uncontrollable and it was never enough to “break free” from being driven by life. Maybe that’s just me, but I doubt it.
Going head to head against the demands of life never worked for anyone. It may produce small victories per say were we fool ourselves into believing we’re in control when the reality is we’re not. The next disappointment proves this readily enough and we’re right back setting aside our dreams prevented from anything that produces “inner peace.” The truth is this represents life for most the planet. Inner peace you ask? “Now your talking my language!” It doesn’t matter what faith background your from, Independent, Orthodox, Christian, Atheist, Deist, Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, etc. everyone knows what its like to struggle to find peace. From 7 to 70, life pushes us; it falls short and repeatedly we experience disappointment in things we believed or hoped would produce peace. We discovered relationships, accomplishments and even our faith fell short and let us down.
Regardless of our background we continually get stuck in the same formula for life… Something or some effort (other than God) + resolution = peace. It’s a formula, and the longer I live the more I realize life is not defined or lived through formulas. They may work in a science lab but not in relationships with others or with ourselves.
Jesus didn’t sell formulas when it came to life’s journey. Most of his arguments with the religious folks of his day were destroying their notions of life and refuting their beliefs about how life was to be approached. Consider his words to his disciples in John 16:33. ” I have told you these things so in me you will have peace; in this world you will have trouble but take courage I have overcome the world.” I one short statement Jesus acknowledges the disappointments, the broken dreams and the trials will come, well at least if we give Jesus any credibility they will!
The human response to this absence of peace is the same. We fight back in a host of ways to establish what we think will provide peace. For some “peace” means control over everything or everyone in their path. For others they capitulate as its easier to at least obtain a temporary peace through diversions often pleasured centered that provide a respite from the frustration of life. Some give up completely and use religion in some form to guarantee peace in the future hoping the payoff will be worth the adversity of life. There’s a lot of these folks in the world, comfortably miserable, walking around with a religious facemask on while chaos rules within.
It doesn’t take a counselor, a priest a pastor or an imam to remind us how this prolonged grappling with life turns out… bad. As we continue to react and respond to life with false notions of peace our spiritual emotional health darkens and physically and emotionally we run out of quick fixes for relief from the pressure. This response to life or what we perceive as life.whether demonstrated by attitudes or actions that are outside of Christ is what the Bible calls sin. It’s outside of true life because we believe living is the absence of frustration and a chess match to overcome life’s obstacles. It’s not, life, true life anyway is Jesus Christ and found in Him as well. The knee jerk reaction to overcoming life demonstrated by most of the planet, (and for most of my Christian walk I have to admit) is living in brokenness and while we are meant to experience freedom and peace, we don’t. The worst manifestation is when religion covertly becomes a costume that we substitute for life. Not only does this prevent peace, it prevents the reconciliation, restoration and healing we are meant to experience in Christ which of course continues the dissatisfaction and the attempt to counter it with the “ways of the world,” It’s a true spiritual stalemate and a ruthless cycle.
When we come back next week we will talk more about the “knee jerk reaction” to life that dominates most of our lives. It’s an expression of brokenness in reality and there are some unhealthy spiritual reasons why we pursue remedy with the wrong antidote. Until then, if you’re being prodded on this issue contemplate what true peace is as opposed to what we have been pursuing. We will find it’s quite different than anything Jesus talked about.