Grace fueled connectedness.
I’ve often heard from seriously spiritual people that things like spiritual “disciplines” such as prayer, service, Bible reading, and worship should be hard work. These folks sometimes like to set themselves up as more “spiritual” than the rest by laying out requirements such as praying for multiple hours daily as a standard that they of course hold to, but in the end isn’t realistic for the vast majority of Christ-followers.
Is this sort of requirement unrealistic for most because they are simply not as spiritual or “serious” about their relationship with Jesus as the few elite? Do most people fail to meet these standards because they won’t do the “hard work” of prayer, worship, or whatever other duty is presented to them? Do regular people love Jesus less?
I have a sobering bit of truth which will undoubtedly be a revelation for some and an irritant to others…
A relationship with Jesus should never be hard work.
Once it becomes hard work it becomes…well…work. We are not saved by works but by grace. Grace doesn’t force me to work, it enables me to connect with my Savior and it does so in a very organic, easy way.
It’s important to understand that our relationships with each other mirror our relationship with God. Aside from understanding that God is higher than us, the relationship He desires with us is described in Scripture in very similar terms as our relationships with one another. Take prayer for example. What is prayer? Is it a discipline? Or is it communication made possible by grace? When the temple veil was torn in two, it demonstrated God’s grace poured out making it possible for us to easily approach Him. This understanding is key when we read passages such as 1 Thes 5:16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. If we view that passage as a discipline, then we miss the whole point. It turns into a standard we will likely never feel we can live up to. However, if we understand that passage through the lens of grace, we realize that prayer is as simple as the daily communication we have with our spouse, family members, or friends. Let me ask you a question. Is your daily communication with loved ones difficult? Does it take work? Does every conversation have time requirements and formality associated with it? When I speak to my wife, it’s easy. Not that the substance of every conversation is easy, but it takes absolutely no work to have daily conversations with my wife. Some conversations are very short, some are long. Some are deep and meaningful and some are trite. I have spent a lifetime learning to communicate with my fellow humans, yet instead of using these skills when speaking to God, I have been taught to overcomplicate prayer with a completely different set of conversational ground rules. The principles of prayer most are taught are neither natural nor conducive to unceasing communication with God. Where do we see these different conversational concepts in scripture? Nowhere. Simply put, not every conversation we have with God needs to be long, formal, scheduled, or deep.
Think about the benefits of grace centered communication with Jesus. It is my experience that when we rid ourselves of this idea that prayer is hard work, we begin to have more honest and regular communication with Him. We begin to speak to Him like a Father, friend, and spouse. Have you ever wondered why God told us He is our husband. Is 54:5 For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. Why do you think He revealed Himself to us in that way? Think about the implications of that idea. There are times when we can and should just talk to God as we would talk to our spouse. Another example is when Jesus called us His friends. John 15:15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. There are times to speak to Him as a friend. This whole idea of formality of prayer (scheduled, lengthy, formal) has its roots in legalism which does more to complicate and obscure prayer than help us have easy, moment-by-moment conversation that fills every corner of our daily lives. Easy, constant conversation with God brings us into a closeness with Him that formality and hard work can never accomplish.
The same logic applies to worship. While corporate worship is deeply fulfilling, if our worship is limited to what we do corporately instead of allowing our hearts to worship God throughout our day as we experience His goodness in the little things, our worship can become work; especially if we aren’t “feeling it” on Sunday. (Or if we don’t like the music!) To make any expression work ends up inhibiting us more than helping us. Connection with Jesus should be easy. Prayer, worship, and living with Joy should be much easier than most of us have been taught.
However if you ask most people they will say they’re unhappy with the amount of prayer, worship, service, etc. in their daily lives. They have unrealistic expectations that have been falsely placed upon them. They believe they should work harder. This is why most people are frustrated with their apparent lack of spiritual disciplines. Wouldn’t it be better to teach people that daily connection with God can be as easy, regular, and intuitive as connecting with their loved ones?
Don’t be a Pharisee
What concerns me even more about those who attempt to burden others with these things is the motivation that is often behind it. It’s the old ‘haves and have nots’ thing all over again. Those who pray 6 hours a day, well they are the “real Christians”. They are the ones who operate in power and who really have it all together. You know…the ones God really likes. They love to place themselves above everyone else and gain attention as the real spiritual ones who operate on a higher level. What better way is there to rise above everyone else than by creating a climate in which they are able to excel while most others struggle. This framework keeps the “spiritual ones” on top.
I mentioned at the start of this article that my comments will be a revelation to some and an irritant to others. Some will be irritated (probably much worse) because this idea of grace fueled communication will threaten their position in the eyes of others. And sadly, rather than repent of their arrogance, they will likely dig in their heels to defend their legalistic lifestyle. I would say to those folks, that you are not living in true freedom.
If this is you, you may be living in a false, unbiblical, legalistic, and ultimately self-defeating framework. Your prayer, worship, or service is admirable and I don’t question it’s sincerity although I might question it’s maturity. If you pray for hours a day because you just love it and it comes easily to you, awesome. However if the reasons for your disciplines are grounded in expectations more than grounded in grace, then I fear you are missing out on much that God has for you. You have been fooled into believing that you are actually doing better than most yet unfortunately in all your hard work, you are missing out on an even greater level of connectedness with Jesus. And if the reasons for your hard work are based in pride, then you are in even greater peril for God will always humble the prideful.
Live with Joy
God created us to live with Joy. In my experience, those whose eyes have been darkened by works based disciplines aren’t generally the most joyful Christians I have ever met. They are often the most sullen and over-spiritual Christians. They tend to hyper-spiritualize everything thereby harshly judging everything. They live in constant frustration because the world around them is so bad. They often spend more time cursing the bad than being the good the world needs. They are perhaps even more frustrated with the church because the church is “giving in” and “making the things of God too easy” when of course, it should all be hard work and discipline. Discipline is good but when it becomes our main focus, it can negatively consume us. The Apostle Paul likened discipline to physical training. Physical training has value. It’s good to get in shape and take care of our bodies. But our reason for doing so is that we can live longer, happier lives. Yet even physical training if taken too far can become an obsession robbing us the ability to enjoy life because enjoyment will often conflict with our training. I believe Paul would tell such people to enjoy some Ice Cream once in a while. Spiritual disciplines are not ends unto themselves. They ought to enable us to live joy-filled lives. And I would argue that disciplines should be born out of joy in the first place. I would agree there are times when you need to do the disciplines even when you aren’t “feeling it”, but if disciplines are always work, they will usually end up being devoid of joy.
There are two things I want for my life. I want to live with Passion and I want to die with a smile on my face meaning that life is meant to be enjoyed. Both are important and not mutually exclusive. My passion comes from my constant connectedness to my Savior. That connectedness is as easy as waking up and saying good morning to my wife, sitting down for coffee with her, and chatting about our day. Knowing Jesus in this way takes away many of the frustrations of life. It puts me on a level playing field with every other Christian where I don’t feel as though I need to do more or measure up. It brings me joy.
Keep it Real
Another aspect of this sort of communication is that it promotes honesty and reduces guilt. Those who view prayer for instance as a formal thing, often struggle with guilt for having feelings of anger or frustration toward God. Their views on prayer don’t allow for honesty because they have been taught it would be wrong to even be frustrated or angry with God in the first place. Yet grace reminds us that God understands our weakness. He can handle our anger and can deal with the fact that in our humanness we may get confused or frustrated with Him. When we get past programmatic prayers and allow ourselves to just chat with God, His grace takes us to a place where we can speak to Him with greater honesty without feeling guilty for being human.
I have crossed over from once feeling frustrated with myself for not being as spiritual as the really hard workers, to knowing that my relationship with God is so much simpler than all that. And in this case, simple is good. Do I want to know Him more? Of course I do. For example, like every other Christian I’m sure I could stand to read the Bible a little more, but I will never again allow it to become a reason to be disappointed in myself. Instead I will keep talking to Jesus day by day and in the process ask Him to help me read it more. And I know He will…because He’s my friend. Besides, I have discovered that when I read the Bible because I’m hungry for the Word of God, I find it way more meaningful than when I read it out of discipline. This is what constant connectedness causes.
Grace fueled connectedness takes me to deeper places and higher heights than any hard work could ever do. Just like time spent with my wife, the more time I spend with Jesus in this way, the more I fall in love with Him, the more I want to spend time with Him, the more I want to talk to Him, the more I appreciate Him. It’s natural. It’s easy. It’s awesome.
Put it into Practice
In closing, perhaps this all sounds like I’m trying to get you to pray, serve, worship, or read less. Or worse, make excuses for not having the discipline to engage spiritually. Quite the opposite. When I was a young Christian, I disciplined myself to read through the Bible in a year, spend a designated amount of time daily in prayer, and worshipped in church on Sundays and Wednesdays. Grace fueled connectedness has caused me to have more constant, fulfilling, and honest communication with God throughout my day. In the quietness of my heart, or even verbally when I’m alone, I speak to God at every turn of my daily events. It’s a constant thing. I find myself asking Him about everything I deal with as I go. As I study the Bible, I often find myself so hungry to know more that I choose to delve in deeper. Sometimes I get sidetracked, so I gladly follow the Bible bunny trail. As I drive, as I work, as I relax, there is a song in my heart and worship on my mind whenever I am reminded of His goodness. It’s as though these things fill every part of my day.
I would encourage you today to rid yourself of any guilt or sense of responsibility when it comes to spiritual things and allow God to invite you on a journey through the veil. Open your heart and just begin to talk to Him. Stop worrying about how much or little time it takes. Don’t worry about your words. Just talk to Him like you would talk to anyone. Look around and recognize on a moment by moment basis, His goodness in the Earth. Thank Him whenever you recognize it. Take a little time to read. If you don’t get excited by the book of Numbers, it’s ok. Take a little time the next day and the next day and eventually something’s gonna jump out at you and set you on fire to know more. Not every day has to be the same. Don’t feel like you have to get through the Bible in a year. There are no rules for reading the Bible aside from keeping your heart open to the Holy Spirit. Find out what excites and motivates you and serve there. You can’t earn Brownie points with God, so quit trying to and find that thing you enjoy doing for Him and do it with all your heart. Let it bring you joy. There may be times when the Holy Spirit will call certain people to suffer or even be martyred for the cause of Christ. But if God hasn’t placed you in that position, there is nothing wrong with enjoying your life.
We aren’t all called to be Paul or Peter or John. Most of us are called to be like all those other people in the Bible who followed Jesus but whose names were never mentioned. Regular people who knew Him, loved Him, and followed Him. It’s easier than you probably realize.