As I was having my quiet time this morning, I flipped ahead for a minute to see what was coming next, and I saw that I am less than 20 pages from the beginning of Matthew. I set out to read the whole thing, from start to finish (well, from the start of the New Testament and then through the Old), because I felt like I couldn’t really tell people the good news if I hadn’t read it all.
I look back at the growth I’ve seen in myself in this last year, and I can’t fathom how God managed to do it all, with the majority happening with next to no help from me, and often without me even realizing it was happening. I’m also struck by how much my perspective on the faith has changed. I remember when I first rededicated my life to loving Jesus, I identified so greatly with the sinners, the people who knew that they had nothing to offer and were amazed that Jesus was willing and wanting to love and die for them anyway. I catch myself feeling so much more like a pharisee these days. The messages that convict me and hit me the hardest are usually those that Jesus aimed at the people who had grown comfortable and filled with a sense of mediocre self-righteousness in the Jewish community.
Where I once felt like the prodigal brother, coming home in desperation, I find myself feeling like the older brother more often than not. It’s not that I don’t want people who are lost to come to faith, either again or for the very first time, I just get so wrapped up in me, I forget to feel the joy of the Father.
Last week in my bible study, we discussed Romans 3. (Unlike my Jonah post, I won’t rehash it for you, but if you aren’t familiar with this passage, you can read it here .) In Romans 1 and 2, Paul has stated, several times, that the gentiles have fallen short of God’s glory, and in the end of 2 has started to turn focus to the Jews. I’m sure that the Jews in Rome had to be thinking, “Well of course they do” up until this part of his letter. Then, he shifts focus, and tells the Jews that they have all fallen short of God’s glory too. That not one of them is good or righteous or truly wise. That the same God that has loved and redeemed them time after time is also the God of the Gentiles, and that Jesus’s sacrifice covers it all.
I’ve read this chapter, I’ve read this entire book, more than a dozen times. And yet, every time, I have not made the comparison between myself and the Jews who had been doing all they were supposed to to fulfill the law’s version of righteousness. I’ve definitely heard the “all have fallen short” part of the sermon, and knew it applied to me. But last wednesday, I heard, and really pondered, the part of the sermon meant for those who were trying to quanitify righteousness. Do we, do I, as people who are confident in our salvation, forget that grace is sufficient and try to supplement our own “safety net” with good works? Works are great. I think that the more we love Jesus, the more we have this insatiable desire to live and love like him, but it is all too easy to try to fulfill that desire by doing things that can be measured, both by us and the world around us. We pick up our crosses of “Christian Duty” but forget to remember that Jesus’s yoke is light, not because it isn’t full of hard things, but because he tells us we don’t have to do it alone.
When I first became a Christian again, I had so many things that would pop up every single day that forced me to turn to God and cry out to him in desperation. It wasn’t a matter of laziness or lack of wanting, it was simply that I could not face my mountains alone. There was so much of my life that looked like Mountains, I had no choice but to look to God, to beg him to hold me tightly through the paths that were steep and scary and looked to me like they couldn’t be crossed. But eventually we crossed those paths, and there were less and less mountains in my life. And I had fewer and fewer occasions that forced me to cling to God.
[Side note: It occurred to me the other day, that in my life, the faith required to move mountains often shows itself as the willingness to keep walking on a path God has put me on, regardless of mountains that loom, and trust that God will either move that mountain before I reach it or will move it/deal with it/break it down upon arrival]
I’ve talked about child-like faith before, wondering if child-like faith looks like being in awe of God in all of the little ways that it’s easy for adults to miss, like the trees and the stars and all of the things that can fade into the background. But I think that it has to also be an apt description of the behavior we should show here. Children rely on their parents, whether they admit it or not, to reach things on the top shelf, to drive them to their various commitments, to protect them and keep them safe, to guide them through hard and scary events in their lives. A child (to a certain age anyway) doesn’t ask themselves how their parents are qualified to lead them, or if their parents will lead them into danger. They just trust that their parents are able to keep them from falling, and when they do fall to pick them back up and kiss the pain away. Then we grow up, and we learn that we have to be self sufficient. We have trouble switching between the self-sufficiency that normally comes with age and maturity with our parents, and with our Abba father.
I have recently been having consistent issues with one of my teachers, and I find myself getting more and more frustrated with her. I have used just about every technique I know to keep my mouth shut when I don’t feel like it, and to attempt to fulfill her requests. I come closer to rage with her than with any person in my life right now, and I have run out of ways to remain respectful, let alone show the love of Jesus to her. Yesterday, after a particularly bad interaction, I was nearly in tears and had called my mom to vent and be frustrated, and I finally started to talking to God about it. I have often complained to him about her over the last few weeks, but yesterday, I came to a place where I said “I trust you. I trust you to be who you say you are, and that you’ll love me and still make something beautiful from me, even if I don’t make the A I want in this class. I trust that you’ll help me get through this, and do so with a grace that goes far beyond what I feel like showing. I trust that you are bigger than this, and that I will emerge victorious, even if that victory isn’t what I think it should look like.” The peace that came was instantaneous. I had felt so keyed up and stressed and frustrated for nearly 3 hours, and just the act of telling God I trusted him did away with it in less than a minute.
I have this little “bag of tricks” that I use with most people and situations. And they usually work for me…but it gets really easy for me to want to use these tricks instead of exercise that simple and difficult act of faith that is trusting God in the midst of the storm. It’s easy for me to trust God when I see a storm brewing, and to trust him when he’s brought me out of it, but I find myself leaning on me all too often in the middle of it. And it’s this admittance of behaviors that forces me to recognize just how much I play the part of Pharisee. I, like the ancient Jews, have behaviors and practices that get me through the day to day and leave me feeling righteous. It’s easier for me to carry the burden of “Christian (or just Righteous) duty” than to respond with trust and faith. The prodigal’s trust that the father would welcome him back, even if only as a servant, is far greater an act of faith than my older brother yoke of duty.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude that the God of the gentiles, the God of the sinners is also the God of the self-righteous, the pharisees and the God of the older brothers in the world, and that his gift of grace is still just as sufficient and free now as it’s always been.