“You are unique, just like everyone else”
So goes a popular witty statement which has actually turned out to be a joke. It is amazing just how much human beings will concur about their uniqueness from each other, but are unwilling to appreciate it or even act like it. We are by nature, learning creatures and are aware that we must learn new ‘things’ so as to grow and get ahead. One of the most effective methods of learning is through observation and imitation. But this is precisely one of the things that has stymied our progress in any endeavor as it has often led to the belief that some other method of doing it [probably practiced by someone else] is the best, or worse still, the ONLY way.
COME AS YOU ARE
This thinking has permeated the Christian ranks and many are now enduring the enormous pressure to “be a real Christian”. How to pray, when and how long to fast, which Bible to read and how to read it, how to worship, how to do this and the other; and the list is endless. The casualty? Intimacy and communion with God wears away at the weight of these ‘expectations’, finally getting to the destructive point where we feel we can’t match up. Thanks to the teachings of Christianity, we now know that these ‘matching up’ expectations are not required by God. He doesn’t care!
Most of our evangelism efforts seem to have an overall theme that one should “come to Jesus” but I think it is more of the other way round; “Jesus has come to you” and all that you have to do is to say yes. I am reminded of the words of Jesus to his apostles that, “you have not chosen me, but I have chosen you”. I cannot think of any of God’s greatest servants that “went to God” or even chose Him, and hence the whole idea of one’s “calling”.
Chances are that God has not suddenly hit you with some bright and blinding light or [for those still waiting] a thunderous voice instructing you to take up a certain role in the society, but has instead placed a flame or a passion within you that draws you towards that duty. So powerful that it exhilarates you and almost becomes that air that you breathe and you will NEVER be satisfied with doing anything else. Something that you care about so deeply and you would do it if no one looked or even paid you. Remember, this is still unique to each of us.
God certainly has expectations upon us as His children, I do not however believe that some of the ‘expectations’ that we have placed on ourselves have any relation with what He expects of us. Here are a few common areas:
Contrary to contemporary teachings and counsel, you will be amazed to discover that the most effective and fruitful prayers are also the shortest, most precise, and the most discreet. You know one or two individuals make you feel that they ‘crack the code of heaven’s gates’ whenever they pray, or ‘bring heaven down’ when they as much as open their mouths to pray. Personally, these people are at the top of my list whenever I need people to pray with and for me. Jesus suggested a model of a prayer and indeed spelled it out in perhaps under a minute.
“Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” [Matt 6:9-13 NKJV]. This is not a suggestion that all prayers should take the same duration or that these are the exact words you should ONLY and ALWAYS use. Jesus Himself was perhaps careful not to lead us into the trap of ‘religious expectations’ through His words “in this manner, therefore pray…”.
Some other misconceptions of prayer include that there are certain specified ideal times for prayer, perhaps heaven’s lines are not as busy then or are toll free. The Bible counsels that we are to pray UNCEASSINGLY and about EVERYTHING. While it good to pray together as one body, we must also appreciate that God also hears individual prayers and that each of us now has access. Consider that the words of Paul;
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God”. [Rom 5:1-2 NKJV]
As a Christian, the discipline of fasting is advised and the benefits are all too clear [or some such]. However, the debate about whether or not to fast and how frequently one should do it rages on. Is it dry fast? Should I do it for three day? Or maybe 40 days? How many hours a day? What should I eat? What should I be doing during this time? Such questions continue to fuel the debates and have as a result distracted us from the true fasting. The calibrations or measures of fasts like the durations and how miserable we are do not seem to score any points with God. In fact, they are a major drawback. And if you thought this is a recent phenomenon, consider the words of prophet Isaiah to the Israelites;
“Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the Lord? “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh? [Isa 58:5-7 NKJV]. Through this rebuke, God sets the record straight here by questioning their practices around fasting. Early on in the chapter, God notes that they seem to think their flawed fasting practices should be rewarded [Is 58:3].
Again Jesus counsels that we should try as much possible to avoid any public acts of sacrifice and that you should try as much as possible not to show anyone that you are fasting [Mat 6:16]. This underscores the point that fasting and your relationship with God is personal and unique. There is no need to do it like someone else.
There are several ways of worshiping the Lord and each of them has equal importance. You could do it through songs and meditations or through acts like giving, caring for others or service to humanity. Worship is our connection point with God and those ‘connection points’ differ with each of us. It is like trying to plug a 3-pin plug into a 2-pin socket, it is not difficult, it is impossible!
It does not matter whether or not you are endowed with the huge heart of mother Teresa or the angelic voice of Cece Winans [or whoever it is that you try to emulate], the bottom line is that God ONLY expects that you should connect with Him in your own special way. Don’t cry if you cannot endure an all-night worship service, God knows your heart.
The more you have the more you should give; so goes the common wisdom. However, a story is told about a group of believers that went into the temple and each of them took the time to give offerings. After careful observation of the people, their class and statuses, and the various amounts they gave, the verdict came out as to which of them gave the most. It was a poor widow that threw in only a few cents. But how can that be in a congregation that comprised people from both rich and poor backgrounds? In Jesus’ own words;
“Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” [Mark 12:43-44 NKJV].
A friend of mine recently joked that; Facebook is now the only book that is read every day!
There are many discussions about what version of the Bible we should read, when we should read, how we should read it, the frequency of reading, and sometimes even the size of the Bible one should carry. I have even been reprimanded for using my Kindle instead of a ‘real Bible’. Sadly, these discussions center on everything BUT the words of the Bible, a major distraction. Interpretation of the Bible is a whole matter in itself. In fact, I recently had a friend show me some biblical insights that make drinking not a bad thing to do after all!
Perhaps you don’t like the spooky book of Revelations, or the confusing words of Solomon. Or maybe the ruthlessness of the law of Moses is not appealing and the mysterious nature of the book of Genesis is difficult to grasp. Perhaps the philosophies of Paul seem mystical and confusing and the teachings of Jesus contained in the gospels is too simplistic for your ‘complex’ and ‘huge’ understanding of Christianity. Here is the … news:
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work”. [2 Tim 3:16-17 NKJV]
God wants us to lay up the Bible and all of its teachings in our hearts and to do as it teaches and walk in the ways therein, so that we succeed. He does not expect you to always score 100% in the various know-your-Bible contests or desperately hang on to some annual Bible reading plan as if your ticket to heaven depended on it. Let the powerful words of the Bible impact you in your own way and always consider it as; the voice of God in print.
This is one of the cloudy areas of the Christian walk. We seem to favor a few areas of ministry and service over others. We are sucked into this overall belief that some types of ministries are important and have more impact than others. Preaching, singing, ushering, etc seem more appealing because they seem to have a ‘direct’ and ‘overall’ impact. We even consider some ministries to be cooler than others! We end up even questioning God about He has created us [Rom 9:].
Since only a few of us are endowed with the particular gifts to function in these ministries, the rest of us are frustrated and start to feel inadequate in some way. Because we feel like this about ourselves we end up doing nothing, which is an equally catastrophic situation. There are no menial jobs in the kingdom, only menial minds. Do not despise your unique abilities and gifting and think that they are not useful to God, after all wasn’t He the one that gave them to you in the first place? If it is any consolation, this is only second sharing in nearly 12 weeks! But this should encourage you some more: God’s own unique payment plan for all His workers;
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive. “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” [Matt 20:1-16 NKJV]
Our ‘level’ of faith is one area of our Christian walk that seems to be understood. I have seen Christians who ended up appearing more cocky than confident. The Bible states that each of us ought to think of himself more highly than He ought to, that is, don’t compare yourself to other people with the so called ‘mountain-moving faith’. Instead, it is much easier to think of ourselves according to the measure of faith that God has dealt upon us. Individually.
It is better off to make the humble and true cry of the apostles, “Lord increase our faith”, rather than trying to outdo yourself in a desperate attempt to be a ‘serious’ Christian. In the same text, Jesus in fact reveals just how much faith is required to do the impossible; the size of a mustard seed! [Luke 17:5]. You will be relieved to know that the very people that God used mightily had some of the lowest levels of faith in the initial stages, with some of them even demanding proof and evidence before they could serve the Lord. And here we are, the new generation of believers having not seen with our eyes or heard with our own ears but still having faith in the Lord and His plans.
We each have our own measures of faith, some of us with the walk-on-water kind and others the let-me-touch-your-hand kind. We also now know that faith is not just some kind of latent expectancy or hot-air talk, it is best exuded with action. You could pray, want and expect all the prosperity in this world, but if you don’t get round to action, you might never see those desired results. Faith without works is dead [James 2:14].
It is easy to become overburdened or wear ourselves to a rut whenever we start to consider God’s expectations of us as painted by believers. God is interested in our hearts, connection, communion, and personal commitment. Each of us is a separate entity and God deals with us in such a manner. By no means do I encourage complacency in Christians or that they should be laid back and less fervent. After all, what is the use of a Christian who has lost his ‘flavor’? [Mat 5:13].
Neither do I encourage blunt frowardness and rebellion. It must be done through wisdom, prayer, and revelation. If anything seems to get in the way of fellowship with God, consider its elimination if all else fails. Don’t fall into the trap of obsessively adhering to the rules such that you forget all about the ruler.
Jesus is our compassionate high priest and the only way to heaven. He requires us to come boldly just as we are to the throne of grace that we shall obtain mercy and all the help we need in our times of need. Let us not suffer the tragedy of the woman who over-prepares when she hears the voice of her lover knocking on the door. She dashes to adorn herself with the ‘right’ perfume and attires only to finally open the door and find him gone! She frantically goes out searching for him but is unsuccessful. If only she would promptly open the door then he would have come in [Songs of Solomon 5:2-7].
Christ has already come to YOU and shown YOU the way therefore, there is no need to look outside yourself to find acceptance. If you continue the posturing, put on the masks and the acts when you go to knock on God’s door, you can guess what He will say: Yes stranger, may I help you?