1. I used to think that if I "did" for God, that would make Him smile (at me).
2. I used to think that if I can "get" God to "smile" at me, THEN I am in fellowship with Him.
3. I used to think that I should spend time "in the Word" everyday or else I run the risk of disappointing God.
4. A lot of times I would devour the Word in an effort to know how to respond to someone who was "in the wrong."
5. I used to pride myself on being so "black and white" about everything.
6. I used to think I had a vat of wisdom and therefore was a great resource for friends struggling with sin.
7. I most always had a "to do" list I'd offer to anyone that came to me saying they weren't feeling that close to God.
8. I had a lot of standards I placed on everyone, even though I wrapped them nicely in "convictions that could be backed up with Scripture."
I wish I could say there were only 8 points. Lots more. But I think you get the picture. All of this is why I say I am a recovering "legalist." While I had no problem identifying God's mercy in my life, I had no idea of His grace. I mean, yes, Grace in salvation: but grace beyond that? Not a clue. I had no idea of his affections toward me, and how silly it was to actually think there was anything I could do to secure them. So let me share a little bit of what God has taught me.
1. I used to think that if I "did" for God, that would make Him smile (at me). Let me say that my motivation was the problem. I was motivated by the wrong thing. For some reason, I thought that I could woo the Lord. When the truth is that I am his beloved at.all.times. I am a beloved daughter of a king and that position and affection stands regardless of what I do or don't do.
2. I used to think that if I can "get" God to "smile" at me, THEN I am in fellowship with Him. My fellowship with the Lord has nothing to do with "getting" God to be happy with me. Because of the response of #1, the only time I am not in fellowship with God is my own issue. If there is unconfessed sin, well that can keep me from fellowship, but only in as much as I am in the circle of "guilt --> shame --> isolation." But that isn't the Lord doing that cycle. It's me. I am the one choosing to live in that cycle. But once I can confess that sin.. the cycle can be broken, If I accept that I am forgiven. But the affection of my Father never changed. Not through any part of that process.
3. I used to think that I should spend time "in the Word" everyday or else I run the risk of disappointing God. While drawing near to God involves hearing Him, it is not out of guilt or shame that allows that intimacy to flourish. I would see other moms (the comparing dance again) who seems to be as busy as me constantly reminding me that "if you do nothing else, get in the Word." Well the reality was, that my kids are my alarm clock in this season of life and they hit the ground running all.day.long. And then by the time night time hits, my head hits the pillows like a brick before the lights are out. Granted, not every day is like that, but it feels like it. But again, the motivation was way off. God does not have a secret quota for me to meet when it comes to "time in His Word." Let me remind you of John 1:1- He is the Word. Intimacy with him isn't measured in how long I sit reading the Bible. I can hear a praise song (full of scripture, BTW) or call out a prayer while standing at the sink loading the dishwasher, and be in closer intimacy with my Father with my heart fully His then three hours with my Bible open and distracted the entire time. My point is this: God's heart is for us to draw near to Him. Tell Him whats in our hearts. Ask to know His. Wait for His answer and listen to where you know He is leading. That creates intimacy. So many times I used to tell people: "well building intimacy with God is a lot like building intimacy with your husband. You spend time with each other. You block off time with each other. That is what God wants." Well lets follow that through. Have you ever hired a babysitter, made the plans and had a big fight before your date night out? Then go ahead with the date because you've already set it up. Sat right next to each other for three hours but felt worlds apart? Why? Why isn't time "with them" making a difference? The same is true if you think the only answer to an intimacy problem with God involves "doing" the disciplines of the Christian faith. The truth is: intimacy involves drawing near to God. Telling Him whats in our hearts. Asking to know His. Waiting for His answer and listening to where you know He is leading.
4. A lot of times I would devour the Word in an effort to know how to respond to someone who was "in the wrong." After years of doing this, and then the breaking point and then on to legalistic "recovery" I had a season of dreading going near the Word. Not because I didn't believe its power, or because of anything lacking in it. But rather, because of my own heart. I had to beg God for a fresh perspective on His Word. Not that there isn't a place for apologetics. But sadly, in my little world, everything had become apologetics. I had taken up a burden that wasn't my own: change everyone around me. You see, that is born out of a need for control. And a huge inability to trust the heart of the Father in the lives of his own children. Did I believe it was enough to pray for someone that I saw "struggling?" No. I needed to confront. Or worse, lecture them when they came to me for a listening ear. My point is twofold: I am not the Holy Spirit for others. They have their own. And my time in the God's Word should not be about proving someone wrong. I can encourage someone to reconciliation with God, without the motivation of "proving them wrong."
5. I used to pride myself on being so "black and white" about everything. Again, to go with #4, the need to have all the answers. I felt I did. How prideful. I also failed to see my own sins. Or my own shortcomings in the way I loved those around me. How I knew so little about Grace.
6. I used to think I had a vat of wisdom and therefore was a great resource for friends struggling with sin. I think this is becoming self explanatory. You see the pattern of thinking, right? I was the older brother in the story of the prodigal. I did not understand why God would throw a party of my younger brother, lost and returned again, when I never left. But as my good friend Melody points out, notice it never said that the older brother entered the feast with his brother and Father? We won't know if he actually did until we can ask God face to face.. but imagine the symbolism in that. So caught up in my own "doing" "being" "right living" that I can't even enjoy the grace extended to another. Mainly because of my own resistance and not accepting that grace in my life.
7. I most always had a "to do" list I'd offer to anyone that came to me saying they weren't feeling that close to God. Refer to #4 for this one, too. The burden that comes from having to follow a list to get close to God. Let me give you an example of this (but it was in my recovery..so I have the right answer this time). I was visiting a friend. She was beaten down, burdened and not feeling beloved at the moment. Why? Because she had not been "spending time with God" and she felt she was doing nothing good for her family. There was so much to do in a day and not only did she not finish it all, that just made her want to sit on the couch even more (sound a lot like hopelessness?). After talking to one friend that told her, "Listen, you just need to get off the couch and do it. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and just do what you can and move on." (because this used to be my mantra advice, I understood it's core- BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION). It can also be worded in spiritual terms: "Just be thankful. You only have this time for a season. God wants you to rejoice." ((cringe)). After she told me the advice she had been given, I looked right in her eyes and said, "Amy (name change) God adores you. Right where you sit. You are a beloved daughter of the king. There is nothing you could do to make Him love you more and nothing you could not do to make Him love you less. Amy, His affections toward you-at this very moment- are strong. Unending. And faithful. His passionate pursuit of you is constant and there is nothing but a pure record before you. RIGHT NOW... EVEN as you sit on the couch in your despair... He loves you, Amy. YOU." Now as tears entered Amy's eyes, what do you suppose she was feeling? Maybe a little hope. NOTHING motivates getting out a pit like RESTING in the LOVE of the Father. NOT your bootstraps peptalk. NOPE.. that brings "guilt -->shame--> isolation." Ah, but Grace. That feels different. That is motivation, but not for motivations sake. For a change of heart. NOT behavior modification. HUGE difference.
8. I had a lot of standards I placed on everyone, even though I wrapped them nicely in "convictions that could be backed up with Scripture." Once again, using Scripture to change others. Rather than to keep the focus on me. It is very hard to keep the focus on ourselves isn't it? I think that is a great tool used by our enemy. If he can keep us all busy trying to do the work that can only be done by the Father, then that is a great distraction from our own sanctification.
Let me sum this up for those that are actually still reading this insanely long post. A sermon I heard yesterday made so much sense to me. He gave a great illustration: imagine God holding onto your wrist. You can either have your hand grasping his or have let it go. Either way, God has his grip tight on you. Not letting you go. And then He will give a gentle squeeze and remind you that you have let go.. thus allowing you to grab tight again. I love that illustration. Here is the point: God never lets go. His affections remain constant. And those of you still uncomfortable that you have nothing to do at all to earn those affections will send me emails and messages about all the Scripture that says we are to live a certain way. And in that moment I can only ask, "what do you think the heart of the Father is toward you if you didn't "do" your list today?" And nothing draws me closer, gives me the longing to sit at the feet of my Father in His presence (Word or prayer) like understanding my position and His affection.
Thanks for reading. I hope it encourages you.