A few years ago, I was writing a book. The working title was “Pragmatic Practices of an Intentional Christian.” I say “was writing” because about halfway through the first draft, I had a conversation with Charlie, a long time client and friend, about my concept and my title. His immediate response?
“That’s a terrible title. Nobody’s gonna want to read that.”
Charlie does not blow rainbows. But more impactful than that little truth bomb, he said something else a few minutes later that instantly stopped me in my writing tracks.
“I live a good Christian life.”
Such a simple statement. But it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Holy epiphany, Batman! I was writing the wrong book. I had absolutely no business writing a book about my best practices for Christian living before writing about my faith in and relationship with Christ and how that relationship equips me for Christian living.
Every single pragmatic practice I’ve adopted in my life is an extension of my relationship with Christ. HE is the source and strength I depend on to help me with all the Christian living. I don’t do any of these things on my own power. Christ works through me.
This is a crucial distinction.
Christian living in and of itself is a fallacy. It’s one of Satan’s most effective lies: that we can be “good Christians.” Satan is the master of distraction, getting us to focus on to-do lists and never-do lists instead of on discipleship and relationship with Christ. When we allow and follow those distractions, Christian living becomes simultaneously more and less than what a Christ-centered life should be.
More, in the sense that Christian living has a tendency to pile so much superfluous “stuff” on top of a relationship with Christ that you’d be hard-pressed to find Christ in there anywhere.
If I’m not careful, my moments and my days can start to fill up with good moral choices, religious practices, and social service. Add a weekly Bible study and semi-regular prayer and the results can look pious from the outside, but hidden from everyone is my internal two year old, clenching my fists, stubbornly declaring my independence and staking my territory as I determinedly whisper the mantra “I can do it MYSELF!”
In the midst of all that, along with the demands of life, building a relationship with Christ can seem like one more thing I have to do – and don’t have time for. Consider the pie chart below. Each slice of pie represents something in life many of us have to attend to, with “Me” smack in the middle.
But consider this instead:
When I live my days – and my moments – with an awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life, it changes everything. I see things differently, from a greater – less selfish – perspective. Amazingly, I can experience peace in the middle of chaos because I’m confident that I’m not alone. When I let go of the death grip I have on the handlebars of my life and ask the Holy Spirit to guide me in my choices and equip me for all I need to do, somehow, organizing and prioritizing my responsibilities becomes…easier. Less stressful. When I have an awareness of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life, I have more patience. Not only with others, but with myself. I find myself giving people grace – and the benefit of doubt – much more easily and more often. I’m more compassionate. More empathetic.
I don’t approach life like this because I’m striving to live as a “good Christian.” I wish I could say that I approach life like this all the time, but I can’t. I can say that when I’m overwhelmingly, undeniably aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life, it transforms me. The doing becomes intuitive, stemming from the Holy Spirit indwelling in me, not from me. Left to myself, I’d still be heard muttering “I can do it myself!”
My problem (and I’m betting I’m not alone) is that I forget He’s with me everywhere I go.
That’s where Christian living is less. It’s not enough. Nowhere near enough.
More and less. It’s a paradox.
I spent so many years settling for living a “good Christian life” because I had never experienced – or even imagined – ABUNDANT life in Christ.
Early in my life, I believed I was a Christian, when in truth, I was deluded by the trappings of a “good Christian life” – a religious, moral, service oriented, social-minded and culturally acceptable life.
I believed Jesus is God incarnate, never really making the connection that Satan also believes it – and his awareness of this fact doesn’t mean he’s going to be hanging around in Heaven for eternity.
I believed Jesus took on all our sins, died and rose again to save us from eternal separation from God, but I didn’t realize that belief was not enough. An intentional decision needed to be made. Call it what you want; being born again, getting saved, or asking Jesus into your heart. I needed to accept this free gift of salvation.
I thought that kind of language was reserved for Jesus freaks, religious zealots and televangelists with helmet hair.
I saw Christianity more as a lifestyle and an affiliation, never as an intimate, living, dependent relationship with Jesus Christ.
At the age of 15, when I actually did make a decision to accept Christ as my Savior, I didn’t ask him to be the Lord of my life. I didn’t enter into an intimate relationship with Him.
I never even knew it was possible to experience abundant life within a never ceasing, no holds barred companionship and surrender, but instead settled for “imitating” Jesus. I saw Him as an example of how I should live, making WWJD the foundation of my decision making process and following the Bible as if it were an instruction manual.
I had a relationship with Christ, but it had boundaries.
I dedicated time, effort and money to serving others in the name of Jesus, but I didn’t understand that everything I do, can be “as unto the Lord” if I depend wholly on Christ to equip me – even when the work at hand wasn’t directly related to Christian service or ministry.
I didn’t understand what it meant to ask the Holy Spirit to equip me or what that looked like in “real” life.
I thought “pray without ceasing” was a lofty and unattainable goal. and would be mind-numbingly tedious and boring.
I thought people who talked about being led by the Holy Spirit were either emotional whackadoodles rationalizing self-gratifying decisions or Christian leaders to be respected and never questioned because they were more spiritually mature and devout than I could ever hope to be.
All in all, I spent over 40 years striving to live a good Christian life. Some of that time was before I became a Christian. Sadly, some of that time was after I became a Christian.
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