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Religion is So Tiresome

11:26 AMHeather

For most of my life, to be perfectly frank, God has exhausted me. The rule following and the striving to earn the gold stars on the charts in my childhood Sunday School room. It's tiresome. I am a perfectionist rule follower. Growing up in the church became a hot bed for creating rituals and traditions and expectations that bound me up in the endless seeking to do all the right things.


I've grown up "religious." Likely more by my own interpretations and misunderstandings than by direct teaching, it has been a tiresome religion with an occasional fleeting emotional high that I equated to a spiritual high. This led to an endless and rather frenzied search to recreate that emotional response because it became the elusive marker of successful religious living.

My season of carefree childhood came to a crashing halt as I entered my 20's and devastating losses left me reeling. Would this religion of striving hold me up? Could it possibly be all that I supposed it would be? The refining fire and time of testing would prove it, one way or another.

There, I began to shed the faith that I had been handed and began to form my own faith. In the darkest of days, I still ran to God, maybe more out of habit than anything. But the roots of my childhood religion, while shallow, became my holding place. Rote prayers became heart wrenching letters to God, like the honest cries of King David on the hillside, with only his sheep as an audience. I kept my gaze on the God of my upbringing and began to rewrite this thing called faith, carefully considering the traditions handed down from my grandparents and parents and examining them in light of new Biblical understanding.

In the angst of those trying years, I chose to run to the Father God and pound on his chest with my questions and emotions. It was honest and authentic and revolutionary. So, I was quite shocked when an epiphany hit me about eighteen months ago.

I don't really know God. 

Just as I learn new things about my husband after 26 years together, I faced the fact that I don't really know this God that I have served for my entire life. 

Because I have followed him with an obedience that was more for my own benefit than for a genuine motivation for God's glory. I have built my house of faith on shifting sand. I've mixed up my foundation to partly stand on the Rock of Ages and to partly stand on the sand of my own performance and self-righteousness. I've propped up this religion with my own sense of "not being that bad" and convinced myself that it is perfectly reasonable to make demands of God. Doesn't he owe me for being such a good girl? 

It's a bit earth shattering to realize after more than forty years that I've known God on about an inch-deep level because I have been hampered by such great unbelief. I have boxed him in as I've put my trust in self-righteousness. I have given lip service to being saved by faith alone and not works, while mentally applauding all my efforts and contributions.

All my striving ... all my performance based love ... all my pats on the back have blinded me from a true awe of God. My working toward "goodness" instead of holiness has stalled me from exploring the true depths of God.  

I've been exhausted by God and found my "religion" to be so tiresome because I've been missing a true understanding of one key component.

That is the reality of grace.

To experience true freedom in the gospel story and to explore God fully, one must be untethered from striving and earning to led by the light of grace into the depths of who God actually is. 

D.L. Moody undoubtedly experienced this miracle that is grace when he said:

I can only say that God revealed himself to me
and I had such an experience of his love that I had to 
ask him to stay his hand.

Likewise, Paul, a zealous defender of the religion which with he was raised, was swayed and transformed by his encounter on the Damascus Road. He was blinded by the Light of Grace that said religion is tiresome. He went from persecuting the followers of the new Way of Jesus to becoming a radical follower of it. Paul's life is evidence that the grace of Jesus captures our attention and changes everything.
Slowly and steadily, I've been having my own Damascus Road experience. 

 
I have come face-to-face with the hard truth that I box God in through unbelief and it leaves me ruled by emotions. Self-righteousness is exhausting because it is never enough. And these false beliefs have killed my ability to actually enjoy God and feel great love or deep affection for him. 

I could say that I had lost my sense of wonder for the cross. But to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I've ever had a sense of awe. 

Jesus has been a felt-board Jesus to me. A one dimensional Jesus that is a cartoon character with a big smile from the board books of my childhood. I have no story of being delivered from a life of drugs, rebellion or harrowing bad choices, which led me to convince myself that I'm not that bad on my own. The end result, I must confess, is that I have devalued the cross and dummed down the gospel story.

This Great Awakening to grace started with the realization that we are all drowning on the same big sinking ship, without a hope or a right to be saved. It's a word picture revealed through Jennie Allen's writing and it has resonated with my soul. 

There is no "us" and "them" -- the religious who sit in the pew smugly and the damned who don't. Instead, the perfectly divine Jesus became one of us in order to become the life boat for all of our sorry, sinful selves. None of us have a right to claim a seat.

In this brutal awareness of my wretched sinful state, the layers are pulled back and I am being unraveled in order to reveal the grandeur of grace. It's a hard and emotional and beautiful season for me.

The tiresome religion is being put to death and I am experiencing a sense of wonder at the person of Jesus and the truth and miracle of the gospel. This wonder is beginning to inform my thoughts, which changes my actions and reshapes my life. 

If you are not affected by the story of the cross and the grace of God that led to Jesus' crucifixion, then you might be bogged down in a tiresome religion. If you feel embittered to Jesus and a contempt and familiarity with the gospel, then you might be exhausted by God.

If you experience no delight in Jesus and the most "real" things in your life are your feelings and people and circumstances, then you are missing out on being enraptured by God as the ultimate reality.

This is the question I want to ask of you today. 

Does God exhaust you? Or does he enrapture you? 

Does the thought of following and obeying him make you feel tired? Or does it delight you to go wherever your Good Father might lead?

The answers reveal if your love for God has grown cold or maybe never been ignited in the first place. The response explains whether you have a proper affection for Jesus.

Do you seek what you can get from God? Do you attend church with the idea of how it might benefit you? Does consumerism drive your response to church and people, concerned with what it might offer you? Do you pray with a demand and request list? 

Or do you pray with a heart seeking to know God more and approaching him with a humble gratitude?

Do you feel that God and religion limit you? Or does God and faith in him bring freedom to you? 

Is God the Judge and the Kill Joy who harshly enforces rules? Or is he the Teacher and Guide to walking on the unforced rhythms of grace (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)? 

Does God and church and the Bible make you feel burden upon burden? Or does it give you a sense of lightness because burdens are removed from you?

Grace is the key that unlocks a true sense of affection for Jesus. Grace is the doorway to walk through to become delighted in the Triune God. Grace is the missing component if you find religion to be tiresome.

A proper response to a Holy God is to be in awe. To be bowed down in wonder. To be wrecked by his goodness and fully aware of your own sinfulness. Grace allows us to have an experiential relationship with the loving person of God, and it leaves us feeling humbled and moved. We are affected by him. It causes affections to stir in our soul.

When you begin to grasp the more of God and his infinite grace and goodness, religious chains are broken. There, in that freedom, relationship breaks out and our hearts are stirred. 

There, we can begin to experience a delight in Jesus that will embolden us as it did Paul. On these unforced rhythms of grace, we are transformed. We can go from a religious zealot who enforces and lives by cumbersome rules to becoming a loving and brave and courageous follower who experiences all the wonder of going where our Good Father leads us.

Exhausted or enraptured?

I'm chasing the latter.  


Photo credit: Jeff Sheldon from Unsplash.com and personal photos

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