Sometimes I like to say that things are particular to our generation simply to explain away something that I like or do or think. This is perhaps one of those times, but my experience suggests otherwise. In my circles of relationships, I am surrounded by a number of people who have grown up in Christian homes. Some of the homes have been nominally Christian, while others have been one step past devout. What is so common, however, is that while growing up, many of these friends of mine came to view Christianity as a burden or as irrelevant to their lives. I have to admit that there have certainly been times when I would definitely fall into this camp.
The image that comes to mind is the pink offering envelope. I don’t know what color yours was, but maybe it still invokes the feeling of works righteousness in you as it does me. This envelope had a place for “read Bible everyday” or “prayed everyday,” and it asked how many times we witnessed. I am sure that this envelope was meant for good, but for me it was serious hindrance to my faith. I came to see church as a set of motions and rules. Do this and this and do not do this and you will find favor with God. This could not be anything further from the truth.
The truth is that God is full of grace and mercy, and no matter how many times we go to church in a week, we will not be able to earn it. Not understanding this led me to have some difficult views of God. It also effected how I worshiped, how I prayed, and how I approached the Bible. It also, unfortunately, made me suspicious and loathing of really religious people. My response was to avoid, not to rebel, but to avoid. If only reading the Bible or praying on a semi-daily basis was not good enough, what was the point?
Though I have come to understand the grace and mercy of God, the spiritual habits that developed in my past have caused me great difficulty in how I have come to practice better habits. Part of me hoped that seminary would repair these practices, but there I read the Bible differently. I had to read, and I had to read so that I could pass a test. It was not often worshipful or spiritual. Sometimes it was, but in the end I would be more upset for forgetting the outline of Romans on a test than for praising God for the message that is presented in that outline.
It got better though. It got better once I left the world of seminary and the Christian university. It got better when I was not surrounded by praying and reading and worshiping. I realized how much I missed it, how much I needed it. I have prayed for some time that God instill in me the desire to read his word and to speak with him. Gradually it became stronger and stronger. Quite honestly, it took one of the lowest points of my life where I had to sit in the moment and decide if I truly believed in God’s love and grace or if I would turn away. I am thankful for the fact that I could not leave God, and He has drawn near to me in a way that to understand it, you would have to experience it yourself. He has given me a desire to talk to him all day long. He has made my heart yearn for the Bible and its teachings. I honestly cannot wait to get a chance to read more of his word. I praise God that this is my experience and my joy. These tests of faith are painful, but they also contain so much healing and renewal for our souls. They make us realize that our faith is not about rules but about grace and love. I thank God for answering my prayer to give me these desires, not for my righteousness but for my joy.