Thursday, July 03, 2008

What's the rush?

This post is kind of a follow-up to Quit Jammin' Me. My own personal experience in my church life has involved listening to sermons every week that have been based largely upon principles for Christian living. There's generally been a new 'topic' every week, or sometimes a sermon series spanning several weeks, usually based upon some aspect of "how to live the Christian life." Each week several principles have been laid out in regards to that subject, with various subpoints to go along with each principle. With the continuous, ongoing cycle of topics, principles and subpoints, week after week - all having to do with doin' the stuff (one of the mottos of a particular large association of churches) - I've often felt jammed, or overwhelmed, in trying to keep up with it all.

I'm not trying to make myself out to be a victim here! On the contrary, I've simply had many questions and many observances that in the long run have helped me to overcome the principles-based (and performance-based) Christian lifestyle, and I'd like to share some of it.

One of the questions I've asked is, "What's the rush?" Many times on this blog I've brought up the whole idea of slow growth in the Christian life [1], as we rest in Christ and dig our roots deep into Him [2], drawing up nourishment from Him, allowing Him to grow us at our own individual paces. What I've found to be a problem with the constant bombardment of Christian principles week after week is that instead of digging our roots into Jesus, and into a deep, intimate relationship with Him, we find ourselves digging our roots and trying to grow in "how to perform the Christian life." In other words, we end up with a constant focus on our performance of Christian principles and we really don't get to know Jesus.

The result has been that while these principles are perhaps meant to be a lovely part of the overall landscape arrangement in a healthy, vibrant garden, they have instead become weeds that stifle true growth in the garden. There are many weeds that look like flowers, and through the pleasant appearance of the performance-based principles being lived out by some, I think it often goes unnoticed that true life is being choked out. I see this on a first-hand basis all the time.

I've said often, and I'll continue to say it as long as I see this problem in the church: I think there are far too many people who know the do's and don'ts of the Christian life - "the principles of Christian living" - but who really don't have a clue who God is or who they are in Him. Some of these people may have a pretty good appearance. They may really appear to be successful in peforming the principles of the Christian life. Others may come across in the opposite way, struggling to make the principles work. The point is... either way, do they know Jesus or do they just know the principles?

And so more questions: Is it possible for us to slow down... perhaps waaaay down... and get to know Christ apart from our performance? What's the rush in getting people to "do?" Can we let go of trying to get everybody to live the Christian life, and instead help them to know Jesus? Will not the fruit of that be a natural desire to bear good fruit, along with the fruit being produced naturally and not forcibly?

Why do we not take the time - as much time as is needed- to get people established in grace? Why do we only touch on grace now and then? Do we not think we have the time (or do we simply not want to take the time) to help individuals heal and become whole, apart from telling them what they need to be doing? Again, this is just my experience and it may or may not be yours as well, but it seems to me that the church today is far more interested in getting people "do" than to teach people who God is, and who they are in Him. And I've also found that the more I know who God is and who I am in Him, the less I need someone teaching me what to do! Is it just me or can I get a witness up in here? ;)


[1] For some examples, see:
Slow-cooking together
Microwave Christianity
The Fertile Soil of Grace
The Right Place (a personal favorite)

[2] Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him, so you will grow in faith, strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught. Let your lives overflow with thanksgiving for all he has done. (Col 2:7 NLT)


  1. I may be chewing an old cabbage leaf but I think it is restating:

    We need to focus on our relationship with Jesus; it is so easy to get the headsmarts and learn a doctrine from a church body or establish one from the Bible. (Go to E-Manuel - Jesus over the Manual - Bible)

    I think Hillsong hit on something huge - in its worship and relationship with Christ. See oncofee's post or mine that points to it (July 3rd - 'healer'.

    At this point if I can be frank: screw doctrine, even Grace doctrine if it is at the expense of worship and relationship of Christ.

    Theology can be an idol.

    I believe our biggest role is not to develop another's theology; but rather point them to Christ who will develop it.

  2. Joel,
    Have you heard of 'arranged marriages'? It is quite common in India, where in some cultures the man and woman get to see each other only on the day of their wedding! But before the wedding ceremony, their relatives give them descriptions of how their spouse would look like. They also tell them what are the things to 'do' during the marriage ceremony and life after marriage. They explain to them the rituals, steps, style etc (E.G: They tell the woman to keep looking down in a shy face during the ceremonies).
    Most of such marriages follow a very strict set of 'steps' during the ceremony. Everything will look good, but the sad truth is the husband and wife will get to know each other only after the marriage. Before that they have only a vague idea. Here is the thing: After marriage, once they start loving, they don't need ANY instructions. They KNOW what to do. All they need is some privacy. Because love drives them, not their relatives' instructions. More likely they will be irritated by any instructions.

    The instructions are for the 'unmarried'. The question is, are we married?

    It is when we enter into a RELATIONSHIP with God (biblically, a marriage relationship), the union (God and I) know what to 'do'. Don't spoil our relationship by giving us 'instructions'. It is love what motivates us, it is the knowledge of each other what drives us and NOTHING else. Now I don't need LAW, which in the past gave me some descriptions of how my bridegroom (a Holy God) looked like. Now I am His. I know Him and He knows me. Why would I need Law (principles/instructions)?

  3. Joel, you're hitting on one of the hugest laments that I have when I look at the modern-day church: As soon as they have a "new convert" all they can think of is how to put him or her to work before they even know Him or His lovely ways of grace! It's crazy, isn't it?!

  4. I believe a large part of the problem is that a person can't teach what they don't know.

    The ones who should be teaching the others to know Father don't do it because they don't know him themselves nor do they understand grace. I believe if they did, they would be like the apostles and could help themselves. It would just come out.

  5. Again, I say, we are so caught up in thinking of ourselves, at all. Who's measuring our growth anyway? Is He? What if He just wants to enjoy us? Just like we are?

    For me it's a focus thing. I'm just worn out from focusing an entire lifetime on me. It's just NOT ABOUT me at all. The fact that we spend all this time thinking about ourselves (and our growth in Him) is such a waste of a life. Sorry, I know that's strong; it's just where I am now. I just want to let go, and fall into Him, like falling into an ocean, until I am consumed with His goodness. The rest will take of itself. I'm done with trying to figure it out.

  6. Alvin,

    I think a lot of stuff is worth restating and repeating and saying again and reiterating and echoing over and over and over again. :)

    Doctrine and theology can truly be an idol. I don't get tired of hearing 'Jesus over the Manual.'

    Now, often through the (grace) doctrine and theology of others, and from my Bible reading, I've gotten to know Jesus, but you're right, we can't replace Jesus the Person with head knowledge.

  7. Bino,

    Yep indeed I've heard of arranged marriages. One of my friends has a Muslim friend who was married through such an arrangement.

    I think your picture here of marriage is a wonderful analogy. It's all about relationship, not rules. I could in fact follow all the "rules" of marriage and yet still not have a relationship with my wife. It's through interacting with each other that we get to know each other and learn how to treat each other.

    In our marriage with Jesus, it's not about rules. It's about relationship, and it's about love, just as in any marriage. In our relationship with Jesus, we learn of Him and grow in His love for us, and as a result we love more and more. A focus on rules and principles will never help us to love Him more.

  8. Tracy,

    Yep indeed it's crazy! And it helps absolutely no one! The church has somehow gotten the idea that the reason Christ saved us was to make us into His little workers.

    Sure, we want to learn of Him and respond to Him and bear fruit like He said we would, but you're right - the church tries to get people to get right to work without even knowing Jesus. It's sad. All they really know is "Christianity," but they don't know Christ.

  9. Aida,

    That's so true. If people don't know Christ themselves, how can they help people to know Him, and how can they teach what they don't know.

    In my case I've seen too much of the 'subtle legalism' that I mentioned, in which grace is taught, but yet it's mainly taught as a means of getting people to do what they're supposed to do. "Here are the things we're supposed to do, the principles we're supposed to follow, and here's God's grace that will enable us to do all this." What I get out of that is the whole idea that I mentioned to Tracy - that God saved us to make us His workers, and to have us constantly working on doing all the things the Bible says to do. That's not the Jesus I've come to know. What's left out of the equation, as I've seen it, is the wonderful truth that God saved us so that we could know Him and be known by Him, period, no strings attached.

  10. Free Spirit,

    While I do think that 'growth' is a natural result of knowing God, I'm with you 100% on the whole idea of 'Who's measuring our growth anyway.'

    As I mentioned to Aida, I believe God saved us so that we could know Him and be known by Him. That's a huge thing! Instead, the church today has put the focus on growth and works and performance, and as you said in another comment, all that does is it puts the focus on "us," when it's really not about us, it's about relationship.

  11. Hi Joel;

    Well just like usual you cut to the heart of the matter. I agree with everything you said.

    It seems that often people want to do things instead of living a life of transformation gifted by God thru relationship with Him.

    With a nickname like Livingsword you have to have a bit of an edge (ok in person I am more of a gentle soul) so I call what you are talking about “self-help-checklist-take-home-truth-rules-and-religion-churchianity”

    All of this is part of the reason I far prefer expository preaching, the preacher has to “wrestle” with every word of the text.

  12. LS,

    Well put. I really don't think our lives in Christ were meant to be a matter of trying to change-into-good-Christian-boys-and-girls-through-following-principles, or as you put it, "self-help-checklist-take-home-truth-rules-and-religion-churchianity." :) Rather, as you and other have said here, we focus on a relationship with a Person. A natural result of that - our lives are transformed naturally and not forcibly, by His grace and by His own gentle care of us.

  13. Joel…

    Relationship can seem rather nebulous to some people so they tend to “flesh it out” (intentional allusion) with rules/principles.

    Another factor can be Church leadership that tries to apply modern western corporate governance systems upon Church structure. (No I am not saying it is all bad but it is at times a dangerous tendency for some)

  14. LS,

    That's a really great point. I've seen it 'fleshed out' that way too many times. I personally don't think the hierarchical systems that have been set up in churches today, that are somewhat similar to governmental systems, are the way it was meant to be... not by a long stretch.