I was raised in the church, my family attended services twice on Sundays, every Wednesday night and any other time that stuff was happening. Our church was like a wonderful extended family and I loved the way it became a warm and comfortable social circle for me.
The center of that circle was the shared desire to serve God in all areas of our lives. We were taught to read our Bibles everyday, attend church as much as possible and spend time in prayer everyday. As a teen I can remember starting one Bible-reading system after another, marking my calendar with my self-assigned Bible passage to read that day. I would open my highlighted pink Bible and some days it seemed alive as the words on the page fit exactly what I needed that day. But I also had many days when the words meant nothing to me and made no sense or were just so boring I had to literally force myself to finish so I could mark the section off on my calendar. This manner of “serving God” came with me into my adult life.
Though this training was well-intentioned, it planted the idea that I needed to earn my way into God’s heart. If I missed a day of reading or praying I felt guilty and was constantly feeling that I did not, and could not measure up as a real Christian. An illustration that was often used, compared our relationship with God to a lover’s relationship and asked us why we can’t wait to spend time with or read letters from our lover yet we put off spending time with God. The inference was that if we really, truly loved God it would be easy and natural to read our Bibles and spend time in prayer everyday. That thought brings heavy-ness to me even now as I write this.
Haven’t we all heard Christians around us talking about how they don’t read the Bible enough? How often do we hear Christians complain about not spending enough time in prayer? But what would we call a lovers relationship if the partner kept track of all your days of not spending time with him and held it against you? If you walked around with guilt and fear due to your lack of reading his letters or calling him on the phone often enough? Wouldn’t we call that an abusive relationship?
Playing golf on Sunday, going fishing or staying home to watch the game on TV were all evidence of falling away from God or “backsliding”. Can’t you just picture God up there checking the Sunday morning roll sheet? I am intentionally not mentioning the specific denomination because I believe this mindset of earning God’s love is seen in a general way in almost all types of organized religion.
For the last few years God has been showing me a brand new way of looking at him and the relationship between the two of us. For me the “Good News” is not just about Jesus dying on the cross for my sins. The Good News is that when He said “It is finished” it was FINISHED! Any kind of striving or working to dutifully “serve” Him because I owe it to Him is not a love relationship. Striving and working fall under the “should” category and God does not “should” on me.
To make myself read the Bible everyday to gain points with Him is silly because He has already awarded me all the points available. It is finished! I don’t need to grovel or do penance for my mess-ups, I am forgiven. All I do is get up, brush myself off and bask in how much He already loves me. This new picture of God is more fun and freeing in everything I do. He loves creativity and adventure and exploration and variety. Can you imagine how a God like that must get pretty bored in some of our church services? Do you ever get bored there? Be honest now.
The God-relationship I enjoy now includes us doing chores together, driving together and watching movies in one another’s company. He even did a Val Kilmer impression for me once! Really! We had a guest teacher in our Ministry School who told everyone to close their eyes and ask God for a picture of who He is for them in that moment. I immediately worried that I wouldn’t “see” anything and dreaded the time when all would talk about what they saw. From past experience I knew it would be pictures of beautiful fields and bowing at His throne and other scenes like that.
I closed my eyes and did not see anything, but I did very distinctly and clearly hear Him say, “You’re my chuckleberry.” Exactly how Val Kilmer in Tombstone as Doc Holiday always says, “I’m your huckleberry.” My goal in this blog is to be as honest as I know how to be and I am not making this up. What would you do if you heard that and you knew it was God? Yah that’s what I did, I laughed out loud and couldn’t wait to tell the others what I had heard!
There are many stories like this but another one that comes to mind right now happened to someone I know who was enjoying a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while watching the Flintstones on TV. He suddenly felt the presence of God in the living room with Him so he leaned forward to turn off the show so he could give God his full attention. But before he touched the off button he heard God say to him, “Don’t turn it off, I like peanut butter and jelly and the Flintstones too.”
This is not the same god who “shoulds” on people! Whenever I hear myself saying the “should” word to myself or others it becomes high-lighted like the spell-check on my laptop. I stop and re-examine what I am saying or thinking. Am I agreeing to be on that committee because I want to or because I should? God may not be impressed with or even affected by my service to Him that is done dutifully because “someone” had to do it. I have been surprised at how the world did not come to a sudden halt when I “failed” to do what I “should”. What freedom that brings!
I believe the church leaders of the past had good intentions. They insisted we do our Christian disciplines because that’s how they were trained and how they lived. But that is also why so many Christians in the past looked and sounded burnt out and angry when they preached. That is not the life I live. Mine is joyful, surprised and full of pleasure and delight most of the time. The God I love is full of goodness and kindness! I could tell many of stories about both giving and receiving “shoulds” after being in vocational ministry for over 20 years! But I will end with this: Should happens, but not to me if I can help it!