As Americans we tend to make things more complex than they need to be. We want to boil most things in life down to a formula. You know… If you do X+Y+Z-A=Success; or M+Q+N+F-S=Healthy Marriage; etc…. We have a list for everything. A to do list, a prayer list, a list of rights and wrongs, a grocery list, a bucket list, a career list, a list of life goals, a list of what we are thankful for, a list of what we are not thankful for, and the list goes on and on and on :).
Part of this can be attributed to our public education system. The American education model puts very little emphasis on creative, abstract, or relational thinking. Everything is boiled down to a “cookie-cutter” mentality. This has created a culture that has difficulty thinking apart from formulas and plans. From the time we are small children we are taught to think like everyone else, and we receive the exact same education as our peers. We want to hold tight to our formulas of success!
I say all this because I believe our relationship with God is not immune to this type of mentality. The habit to try to make our walk with God harder than it has to be. To make it into a complex formula of do’s and don’ts, instructions, and plans. We compile our prayer lists, our lists of how we are struggling, how we need to change, what we need to do, what we do not need to do, and how we need to do it. Then we begin to check it off. There is nothing inherently wrong with these lists, plans, or organizing things. However, more often than not, they become a burden instead of a help.
Consequently, all energy and power is zapped out of our relationship with Christ. We begin treating our walk with God as if we’re running a business, instead of enjoying a life of unity with the Creator of the world. I say all this from first-hand experience. It is so tempting to make our spiritual life another list, another formula, and try to boil it down to a science. Why? Because that is what we are accustomed to. Yet, we are missing something:
Matthew 11: 28-30
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
When Christ uses the word yoke in vs. 29 He is referring to a set of laws a person lives by. He is contrasting the difficult, and burdensome law of the Pharisees with the relationship one might have with Him through salvation.
This is very similar to how Apostle John described a relationship with Christ:
1 John 5: 2-3
2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome
You see, the lists of do’s and don’ts, rituals, ceremonies, and systems were Old Covenant laws. They were the vehicle through which man tried to be holy before God, but God established a New Covenant. One in which the yoke of Christ is not burdensome, but freeing. Man accepts the grace imparted to us through Christ, and immediately we are declared righteous because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. From there, our lives are transformed into likeness of Christ, obedience to God, and a constant movement towards a holy life.
Nowhere in the New Testament are we encouraged to uphold systematic rituals, a list of do’s and don’ts, or instructed to boil our walk with Him down to a formula. In fact, most we often see our walk with Christ described pretty simply:
Matthew 22: 34-40
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Now we all know that being a Christian isn’t always “simple” or easy in the sense of commitment, it is hard. And He does require that we pursue holiness. But, in terms of how to walk with Christ, I think that it is a lot simpler than we make it out to be.
God has reminded me lately to abandon my formula that I am so relentlessly tied to, and to keep it simple. You want to know how we can keep it simple?
Well, much of our relationship with God can be boiled down to one word. Love.
Now, I’m not going to go all 1960’s on you. I’m not talking about superstitious love, or how the world describes love. I’m talking about Godly love.
You see, God is love. Everything from His justness, His wrath, His holiness, His power, His majesty, to His grace, His kindness, His mercy, and compassion makes up who He is. And, who He is can be described by one word. Love.
1 John 4: 16
16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
It is through His love that He reached out to humanity, gave up His rights, and suffered and died the death we each should have died.
John 3: 16
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
You see, He did it through His love. He offered His righteousness to us by acting in grace. We didn’t deserve it, nor can we earn it.
As I said above, I’ve been convinced to try my hardest to break this habit of treating God like He is a school project, or a business to be run. He isn’t. He is a person. He is the one who loved me so much to reach out and save me. He can’t be boiled down to a complex formula.
Now, I’m still doing many of the same things I once was. I’m still having a quiet time, still trying to seek Him in prayer (more often because prayer is how we talk to Him), still trying to do what He has asked of me.
You know what is different? The motive. See, if we make it a formula, quickly our walk with Him becomes void of power, emotion, passion, and energy. We just begin to check things off of a list. Yet, this is not what we are taught in scripture. We are taught to be in a relationship with God. To walk with Him, to talk with Him.
So, now, my motives are not to check off a box. They are to constantly be reminded of God’s great love for me. In return, How can I show Him love in return? I have been reminded to consistently ask myself, “is what I am doing (or could do) showing love to God, in return for the love He has shown for me? In what way can I glorify Him in my life?”
In this way, much of the Christian life (not all) can be boiled down to something very simple. Love. We must be reminded regularly of His love for us, which will motivate us to love Him more each day. This will transform us. This will fill us with power. Lastly, we begin to show the love that Christ showed us to those around us. We begin to serve, to sacrifice, to commit, and to offer grace unmerited.