Studying the first chapter of Isaiah in BSF this week, we learn that the nation of Judah was at a pivotal time in history. Formal worship to God continued, but without heart. With wealth and prosperity, the nation’s morality continued to plummet, with superficial attention to spiritual matters or abandonment of faith and God altogether. Sound familiar?
People—including me—often point to their “righteous” actions and religious rituals to justify their faith. But there is little meaning to it—even if it’s sacrificial—when it is done heartlessly and without any real love for God. The children’s lesson put it best: “Stop pretending!” I know God is working on me in this area. I have spent a lifetime pretending. Because I know intellectually the “right” answer or the truths to stand on, I would not accept any of my own emotions or actions that contradicted them. Instead, I worked to hide them or change them on my own willpower. Yeah, that doesn’t work. Now is my opportunity to learn from my mistakes and be more intentional about being honest … with myself, my spouse, my friends and God.
That honesty is the key to intimacy. If we want truly intimate relationships with people, we have to start with honesty. The same is true with God.
I have recently had to evaluate my friendships, where they are or where they are going. It’s made me realize that I haven’t truly trusted those I call friends, even Christ-centered relationships, with my heart. And even more importantly, I wasn’t wholly trusting God. I was holding back. But we all need someone with whom we can share our hearts’ desires and fears. If we pretend they don’t exist and stuff them down deep inside, we are giving Satan a foothold–through anger, in my case. Those feelings affected my everyday decisions over the years, and I don’t think I even realized it.
As much as I was trying to be perfect–the perfect writer, the perfect mom, the perfect Christian, I would only end up beating myself up for my failure. My efforts were self-reliant and my heart wasn’t in the right place. God doesn’t want our good intentions or a to do list of items checked off the list. He wants your heart.
Our small group is reading the book Good News for Those Trying Harder. The author, Alan Kraft, writes: “My relationship with God was wooden and mechanical as I earnestly focused on one objective: trying very hard to please God by doing the things Christians are supposed to do. The approach can look quite spiritual to those around us; however, it’s often rooted in a soul deficiency, a deeply held inner conviction that our worth as Christians is dependent upon our ability to perform and succeed.”
He explains how the gospel is not just a moment of conversion but a way of life and should impact our day to day experiences. He likens it to music. He says we know the gospel or understand the content of it … We are familiar with the “lyrics” but are not really hearing the music in our soul. The more time that goes by, we “forget.”
He writes: “The cadence of this drumbeat begins to drive our spiritual lives. ‘You were broken, but now you are getting better. If you do these things Christians are supposed to do, you will continue to grow spiritually–becoming more holy, sinning less and less. God will be more and more pleased with you because of how Christlike you are becoming.’ Without even realizing it, the melody of brokenness gets replaced by the march of self-effort; the melody of faith gets overtaken by the relentless drumbeat of performance. Just try harder. Just try harder. We stop hearing the music of the gospel and begin pursuing a spiritual growth path that is actually removed from the gospel. This subtle shift is devastating spiritually.”
David’s Psalm 51 hits this pretty hard. In verses 16-17: “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it … The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.” David recognized his sin and pleaded to God for mercy. He admitted his sinful nature and asked God to renew his heart/spirit. He’s laying down his life, his earthly desires and seeking instead God’s will. He is looking now to please God by offering himself as a living sacrifice, because no other action on it’s own will please God.
I don’t know about you, but my life is pretty much a mess. My sin is “ever before me” and I have done evil in God’s sight. But God wants me to be restored to Him in true worship, which consists of a broken spirit and contrite heart. It is only then that I can please God, by giving him my heart. With a sacrifice of spirit, I replace my will with His. Anything else puts me before God and forsakes the gospel message. And as I’ve learned—and will continue to learn—self-reliance leads to suffering. Instead, I need to love God and, therefore, trust Him with my life. Only He can offer a reliable, eternal truth that brings hope to the hopeless like me.