Why do we always try to make things so complicated? Life. Love. Faith. Our walk with God. Churchy terms like salvation and righteousness sometimes give us the impression that our day to day life requires special activity to achieve a harmonious existence: one where we’re living in reality in the here and now, at peace with our fellow human beings, and in touch with our God. But it’s really all very simple. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. Effortless. If you’re struggling with it, here’s a little message from God for you: Relax. You’re trying too hard.
When God called Abraham about 5000 years ago, he didn’t give him a set of detailed instructions to live by. He didn’t hand him road map or a rule book. Abraham (actually he was called Abram then) was minding his own business, probably looking into the starry sky, reaching out with his heart, seeking the Creator of All, when God spoke to him. “Just go to the place I will show you.” No lengthy list of directions. Just a vague, pointing in a general direction: head that-away and I’ll show you where to go. It was a walk, plain and simple. And that’s a model for us.
In the very early days of Christianity, when Jesus’ original disciples were building the faith community, working out the details of it all, they ran into a sticky situation. They were mostly all Jews. They all got along; they knew the rules of social etiquette. But it started getting messy when a bunch of non-Jews wanted to connect to their God. They had to rethink things. God was the God of Israel. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. So did these non-Jews have to convert to Judaism in order to join the group, to enter the Kingdom of God? After some lengthy (and I’m sure heated) discussion, they arrived at a conclusion. A really simple one. These non-Jews (us!) would enter relationship with God (“be saved”) by grace, just like the Jewish disciples were. Peter put it succinctly: “Why do we try to test God by putting on their necks a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:10). So, no. No new rules for the new-comers. No converting to Judaism, no circumcision, no enforced observing the Sabbath, no tithes. Just grace.
Let’s translate that into present day language: if you’re wanting a better relationship with God, you don’t need to “convert” to all kinds of churchy ways. You don’t need to adopt a “religious” lifestyle. You don’t need to clean up your act, or stop drinking, or dancing; you don’t need to take out those extra ear rings or hide your tattoos. You don’t have to cut your hair or change your clothes. You don’t have to stop going to clubs Saturday night or even start going to church Sunday mornings. No rules. Just seek, and there will be grace. That’s because the hard work is already done. Jesus did all that was necessary to make that connection for us on the cross. We just gotta accept it and go.
This is a big deal. This is important. Because we’re all wearing ourselves out trying to get in good with God …. We live frustrated lives because other people try to hand us the old rule book. We can become depressed, even suicidal, because of these impossible “requirements.” But they are all wrong!
And it’s not like those early apostles just made that up. This new simple relationship was foretold prophetically by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and probably others. There’d be a “new covenant”, a new way of God interacting with humanity. And it would NOT be like the old way, with its tablets coming down from a mountain, it wouldn’t be made of 613 commandments, a list of do’s and don’ts. “It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers … THIS is the covenant I will make with them: I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will someone have to teach them “This is how to know God” because they will all know me…” (Jer 31:31-34). Ezekiel says it similarly, “I will cleanse you from all your impurities; I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; … And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezk 36:24-27).
God himself would change our hearts because his Spirit would be in us. Our job is just to cooperate with those changes, to grow with the relationship.
It wouldn’t be some radical thing. We wouldn’t become saints overnight, perfect in all our ways. But little by little, day by day, as we go, we’ll grow. And in the meantime, in those rough patches and in messy times when we screw up, it’s all just a simple thing: love and grace. No rules, no worries. No guilt, no beating ourselves up — and no one else being able to judge us or point fingers at us. It’s none of anybody else’s business. Like with Abraham, it’s just a daily walk thing, a “go, and I’ll show you as we go” kind of thing.
Throw out the rule book
If anybody, and I mean ANYBODY, on TV, on the radio, in a church, behind a pulpit, or even just over a beer, tries to hand you a set of rules in order to “please God”, throw it back at them. “It will NOT be like the covenant I made with their forefathers.” No laws. Just a day to day walk. If your best Christian buddies, if some saintly woman of God, if your dad or your mom tell you gotta give up the gay thing because God hates that, you just tell yourself (and them): “MY relationship with God, my covenant, is NOT like those old rules.”
This is a big deal. This is important. Because we’re all wearing ourselves out trying to get in good with God. Trying to hear him better. Trying to “live right.” Or stressing over the fact that we really want God in our lives but have been told by everybody for so long that God rejects us because we’re gay or lesbian or transgender, or … whatever else we may be. We live frustrated lives because other people try to hand us the old rule book. We can become depressed, even suicidal, because of these impossible “requirements.” But they are all wrong! It’s really just a simple thing. The hard stuff has already been done — by Jesus.
Our job is simple: to seek God. God promised this very simple reciprocal relationship: “If you seek me, you will find me.” And the rest is just the day to day working out of the details, as our hearts respond naturally to that relationship. No rule book. No laws. It’s all grace — a state of freedom and acceptance, of simple living.
So if you’re wrestling with trying to get your life in order to connect better with God, if you think you need to stop doing certain things, or even to start doing certain things in an effort to reach out, this is his message to you right now: Just stop. It’s so much easier than you’re trying to make it. All you have to do is seek. How ever that translates in your life — whatever it is you gotta do to clear your mind a bit and connect. Just seek. He’ll be found. In the day to day whispering relationship between you and him. That’s his promise. So stop worrying about it so much. Stop struggling. Relax. You’re trying too hard.
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.