It was Sunday afternoon. I was in “my” room. The living room. Looking out the window that spans nearly an entire wall, hypnotically watching a baby squirrel chowing down on the suet in the birdfeeder. I call it “my” room because it’s lined with a 12 foot wide by 7 foot high wall of 12×12 cubby shelves filled with books about God. Theology. Spiritual Growth. Prayer. Suffering. blah. blah. blah.
84 square feet. My own personal little library. That’s a lot of books. A lot of words. I’ve learned a lot from those books. With endless more still to learn.
My husband was chilling out in the adjacent room. Even though we’re visually separated by the wall of books, we never have to raise our voice to hear each other.
The clock ticks.
Me, softly: “I miss the old me.”
FirstHusband: “What do you mean?”
Me: “You don’t notice a difference?”
He knows what I’m talking about.
The clock ticks.
Me: “I miss optimism.”
silence. He’s not ignoring me. He’s waiting. He knows me. I’m not done talking. I’m not done thinking.
(I know, I know. I’m NEVER done thinking.)
The clock ticks.
Me: “I hate that the gate is so narrow.”
FirstHusband: “I know.”
A few years ago, when I experienced the deafening silence and pitch black darkness and seeming cavernous distance from all that I had come to recognize and understand and depend on as the presence of God, I couldn’t understand why He was allowing such intense pain. I wondered then if the separation was temporary or permanent. If it was temporary, I wondered if the other side would prove to be a pruning that led to a more fruitful bounce back to what I had come to know as “normal” or if this season was a “refined by fire” step leading to an altogether new and different relationship with God.
I’m still not sure.
I’m not sure I’m completely done with that season, so it very well may be that it’s premature to be contemplating the “lessons learned” of it all.
“that I have great sorrow and
unceasing anguish in my heart.
For I could wish
that I myself were accursed
and cut off from Christ
for the sake of my brothers,
my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Romans 9: 2-3 ESV
Paul is saying, “I genuinely grieve for those who don’t know Christ. I would give up eternity with Him, if it meant that they could know Him.”
And just to be clear, me saying I understand Paul better, does NOT mean I share his sentiments about sacrificing my relationship with God so that somebody else could know Him.
I know me. I’m much. much. too selfish for that.
The pain I experienced during my recent separation from Him here on earth is more than enough to tell me that eternal separation would be…
unbearable doesn’t begin to describe it.
But I do understand what Paul is saying.
And the raw truth of it is suppressing optimism. It’s sabotaging Hope.
Not that I don’t know Satan will be defeated in the end, because I know he will. It’s just that the evidence that the earth is Satan’s domain seems to be everywhere I look.
I can’t not see it.
Back in December of 2013, I wrote about asking God to “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” Here’s an excerpt from that post:
“The next morning, I woke up…brokenhearted. Seriously. It’s the only word that fits. I was literally grieving over how many people HATE God. or even the idea of Him.
Immeasurable grace. Unconditional love the likes of which I will never fully comprehend.
and so often – much too often – the response is arrogant and caustic rejection. vehement acrimonious derision. revulsion. hate.
and then there’s indifference.
God, through the ultimate expression of love, sacrificed Himself on the cross so that ANYone can experience abundant life in Him.
and so many people respond with “meh.” So many people don’t respond at all.
I’m brokenhearted. Not just for people I know and love, but for people I’ve never met.
this is new. and not from me. On my own, I’m incapable of this kind of intuitive compassion.“
Some read those words and thought I was being arrogant. condescending. sanctimonious. I can’t stop them from thinking that. Haters gonna hate.
Some might read them and think I’m an emotionally driven drama queen. Those people obviously don’t know me very well.
The fact is, it’s much easier to live with the knowledge that so many people hate God when you only process the information intellectually. It’s their choice. And the choice has consequences: current and eternal separation from the God who loves them unconditionally. End of story.
But when you genuinely care about someone, and you know they’ve mistaken religion for a restored relationship with God through Jesus, you grieve for their loss.
Again. I can’t stop people from thinking that.
I believe that God, through the ultimate expression of love, sacrificed Himself on the cross so that ANYone can be restored to uninhibited relationship with Him and experience abundant life through Christ, not only for eternity but also now – here on earth. And so. many. people say He doesn’t even exist. So. many people blame Him for Satan’s handiwork. They want Him to intervene and stop “bad” people from hurting “good” people, not thinking through the implications that would have in their own lives if God intervened and stopped them from ever doing anything rebellious.
My acute awareness of how many people live separated from God brings with it the broken heart I prayed for. Not just for people I know and love, but for people I’ve never met.
And I can’t not see it. I can’t not know it.
And so I find myself wrestling with the paradox of personally experiencing the joy of abundant life in Christ and grieving because so many people seem to hate God. And anyone who loves Him.
I wouldn’t change the seeing. or the knowing. It’s good to know.
And a little bit not…
“…faith isn’t the absence of doubt. It’s believing and acting alongside your doubts…
…faith wouldn’t even exist if doubt were not also present, because the essence of faith was the leap taken in the face of uncertainty. Faith wasn’t a set of beliefs, or an ability to hold onto those beliefs without wavering. Faith was action – action taken right in the middle of your doubts.
If there were no uncertainty at all, a leap of faith wouldn’t even be necessary. You could just keep on walking.
from O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling
by Jason Boyett
I used to think that doubt was evidence of a lack of faith.
Not so much anymore.
These days, I’d probably say I’m a bit of a “doubt snob.” By that, I mean that when I hear a Christian say they’ve never doubted God, I would wonder if:
1) they are lying. (let’s just get that one right out of the way)
2) they have forgotten. (kinda like childbirth. The memory of that kinda pain fades with time)
3) they haven’t actually thought things through. (see what I mean? “doubt snob”)
I’ve spent my life trying to figure things out. If God ever gave me a new name, it probably would have been “Madua” (in Hebrew, it means “why”…what is the reason…what is the cause). I’ll pull and follow a “why” thread as far as I possibly can go.
In all the question asking and thread following and reading and learning and studying I’ve done so far in my life, the one fact I know for sure:
Not everything can be known for sure.
What do I do with that?
Do I only take action if I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the action will result in success?
Do I only believe in God if I know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that He exists?
No one can prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God exists. I can’t prove that God answered a prayer. Or led me to a decision. Or provided an opportunity. Or equipped me for one of those opportunities.
So, again. What do I do with that?
In the absence of certainty, I choose to act or not act.
Personally, I choose faith in God. I can have some faith in myself or in “the system” or in other people, but at some point, they’ve all let me down. I can have some faith in reason and science, but when you drill down to their root, neither can be employed to prove their own foundational claims without some core assumptions as their bedrock.
Assumption is a synonym for faith.
We all have faith in something. And we all act on our faith, in spite of our doubt.
“I don’t know that Lucifer’s sin was rebellion in the full sense of the word. He did not seek to replace God or overthrow God. He simply sought to act independent of God…
the root sin of all sins is this desire to act independent of God.” (emphasis added)
by Steve Fry
I don’t use the word “sin” much.
Not that I don’t believe it exists and that I’m prone to it.
I believe it does and I know that I am.
It’s just one of those words that has too many interpretations to be used effectively in casual conversation.
(I don’t use the word “Christian” so much either. Way, WAY too many interpretations of THAT word.)
In certain company, if I were to utter the word sin, I would find myself standing all alone holding my own personal (Jesus) Freak Flag, listening to crickets.
Because not many people want to talk about the word sin. But when you don’t talk about something, meaning begins to take on more and more personal connotations. Definitions aren’t globally understood and accepted when they’re formed and sequestered inside a vacuum of individual history and experience.
“Sin” can mean different things to different people. But my thought is that before the word sin means something to me, it means something.
When I think about the multitude of sins in my life, at the core of each and every one of those sins, I recognize a desire to choose for myself what is right and wrong rather than look to God and submit to His authority. That’s why Steve Fry’s statement: “the root sin of all sins is this desire to act independent of God.” hit home with me.
Regardless of the actual behavior, the choosing to decide for myself – to act independently of God – is rebellion.
Rebellion against God. It’s the heart of the nature of sin.
It’s not my actions alone which constitute sin and separate me from God. My actions are an expression of the state of my heart and my mind. And the state of my heart and mind are a reflection of the state of my relationship with Christ.
I can admit my dependence on God, live under His authority and experience abundant life in Christ.
Or I can act independent of God, choosing to rebel against His authority and separating myself from Him.
“That when he had failed in his duty,
he only confessed his fault,
saying to GOD,
I shall never do otherwise,
if You leave me to myself;
it is You who must hinder my falling,
and mend what is amiss. That after this,
he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.
from The Practice of the Presence of God
by Brother Lawrence
This is one of my all-time FAVORITE quotes. Let me paraphrase and give you an idea of how I process these words.
paraphrase: “I forget, I remember, I repent and I COME BACK.”
(don’t be freaking out about that word “repent.” I’ll get to it in a second.)
“…when he had failed in his duty” means when I forget God.
And I will forget. I do forget. I fail to remember Him. Over and over and over again. When I first read this little book and began practicing the presence of God, my thought was, “I am SO gonna start doing this!” Less than 24 hours into this new way of living in relationship to God and I realized how difficult it was and how often I found myself just flat out forgetting – not only to practice God’s presence – but forgetting God altogether.
I quickly realized that practicing God’s presence wasn’t something I could just decide to do and then do it. I had to PRAY and ask God to “remind me to remember Him.” And I had to pray it multiple times per day. Some days, I had to pray, “Lord, please make me WANT to remember – bless me with a desire for You! I realized:
if my goal was to be aware of God’s presence in the minutiae of my life and
if my plan of action to achieve that goal was to “just do it” that
ON MY OWN, I would never achieve it with any kind of consistency.
My goal had to be prayer –
first, a prayer for a desire to practice God’s presence and
second, the prayer “Lord, please, remind me to remember You. Relentlessly. Any and every way possible.”
The truth of the next part of this quote had hit home:
“I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself”
God had quickly shown me that HE would be the one to “hinder my falling.” I would never be able to remember Him on my own.
And finally, the best part:
“after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”
I’m going to forget God. But when I remember and go back to practicing His presence, I’m not going to waste a minute of the time that could be spent with Him by beating myself up because I forgot Him AGAIN. When I do that, I’m punishing myself for something JESUS ALREADY DIED FOR.
I’ve repented. There’s no room or need for guilt. Guilt is different from repent. Guilt is a noun. Repent is a verb.
guilt: (noun) “a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong”
repent: (verb) “express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.”
I need to remember and relentlessly claim the promise of Romans 8:1:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”
So, to paraphrase this quote from Brother Lawrence? “I forget, I remember, I repent and I COME BACK.”
“One bold message in the Book of Job is that
you can say anything to God.
Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt,
your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment
He can absorb them all.
As often as not,
spiritual giants of the Bible
are shown contending with God.
They prefer to go away limping,
rather than to shut God out.”
from Disappointment With God
by Philip Yancey
When these words first sunk in, they were liberating for me.
I was taught that we should always be reverent toward God because, well…He’s GOD.
We make requests – respectfully.
And we thank Him.
No yelling or complaining or whining or blaming – that would be DISrespectful.
But I’ve realized my holding back in prayer was the equivalent of holding my hands over my face like a little kid playing hide and seek who thinks nobody can see him because his face is covered up.
There’s no authentic relationship when there’s holding back.
Telling God everything – expressing bitterness, revealing and exploring doubt and even angrily listing for Him all the reasons something isn’t fair – was strange at first.
I tell God everything I’m thinking and feeling. He can take it. Because He’s GOD. Besides, He already knows what I’m really thinking anyway. Sometimes even when I don’t. Sometimes I discover what I’m really thinking and feeling when I’m right in the middle of telling Him.
In my previous blog post, practice God’s presence. forget. remember. repent. (repeat, ad infinitum), I talked about practicing the presence of God by pretending Jesus was physically present with me everywhere I went. I confessed that, despite my sincere intentions to be aware of God’s presence with me throughout my days and my moments, I chronically forgot Jesus was with me. I realized I couldn’t remember on my own.
I needed help.
I was striving – and struggling – and failing – to consistently engage in an intimate, living, dependent relationship with Christ.
Change is difficult, but I’m a firm believer in the old adage “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” I knew that this intimate, living dependent relationship I so desperately wanted wasn’t going to just happen because I wished it.
It requires intention.
It requires discipline.
Intellect says you make time in your life for the things you love.
Reason says that if you want your life to change you’ll have to do something different.
So I had tried intention and discipline. With the best and strongest of intention.
No matter how “hard” I tried, consistency was elusive. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement.
And then, God reminded me of something Paul said:
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
Romans 7:15, 18b
My natural inclination is to try harder. But if Paul couldn’t even do it…
My next inclination is to feel guilty about it. Is that What did Paul did? Continuing to read in Romans:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit…
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Romans 8:1, 5, 8-9
Intention is needed, but it is not enough.
Discipline is needed, but it is never going to be enough.
Remembering that Jesus is with me everywhere I go requires a dependence on the Holy Spirit.
I could. not. do. it. on my own.
So instead of trying to remember Jesus was with me all day long, I began to pray that the Holy Spirit would remind me that Jesus was with me all day long.
Sounds like semantics, but oh, what a DIFFERENCE.
I already know the Holy Spirit dwells within me because of my relationship with Christ:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit,whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
I can’t remember on my own. I can’t do anything on my own. But the Spirit who dwells within me CAN.
Therefore he told me, “These signify the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD who rules over all.”
So, I stopped “trying” to remember Jesus was with me everywhere I went and I began praying for the Holy Spirit to remind me, again and again and again, of His presence in my life.
Do I forget to ask the Holy Spirit to help me?
to be continued…
In The Fallacy of a ‘Good Christian Life’ (the previous post in this series) I concluded with the statement:
“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.”
Until October of 2007. That’s when God led me to two books. Sifting through hundreds of books at a rummage sale, I stumbled upon a worn copy of “The Taste of New Wine” by Keith Miller, published in 1965. Around the same time, I discovered the existence of a short, 112 page book called “The Practice of the Presence of God,” which is a compilation of documented conversations and letters written by a 17th century French monk named Brother Lawrence. As I read these two books, God revealed something I had been missing my entire life. I had never noticed I’d missed it because I never knew it even existed.
An intimate, personal relationship with a living God.
As I affirmed in my last post in this series, I had been in a relationship with Christ since I was 15 years old. It’s just that the relationship had boundaries. After reading these two books, I saw those boundaries clearly for the first time.
Keith Miller was a layperson who wrote about how he had decompartmentalized his life and began to live authentically as a follower of Christ. He took down the barriers between his professional life, his church life, his personal life – everywhere he had segmented himself in an effort to appear as the person he was expected to be in each role in his life. Most people would assume that kind of transparency would make others uncomfortable. That he would be ostracized, alienate friends and lose opportunities for career advancement. That people would be offended when he talked about what God was doing and teaching him in his life. Instead, he found that living authentically and transparently opened respectful dialogs and deepened his relationships with the people God placed in his life.
Brother Lawrence worked in the kitchen and, as the title of the book says, he “practiced the presence of God.” All the time. And by doing so, he epitomized 1 Thessalonians 5:17, which tells us to “pray without ceasing.” I had never understood that verse until I read how Brother Lawrence described it:
“The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.”
Keith Miller and Brother Lawrence had a kind of relationship with God that saturated their lives – their days and their moments, regardless of where they went or who they were with. They experienced an acute awareness of the presence of God in their lives, so much so that they felt like they were never alone. They had the kind of faith that fueled a continuous conversation with God as if He was a tangible person in their lives instead of some abstract entity they couldn’t see.
Once I knew that kind of relationship with God was possible, I wanted it.
I wanted it bad.
Since October of 2007, God has been teaching me and molding me into someone who is determined to pursue that kind of intimate, living, dependent relationship with Him. Over the years, I’ve adopted a number of Biblical discipleship practices which help me decompartmentalize my own life and live authentically and transparently, grounded in my intimate relationship with Him.
Through this series, I hope to share those practices with you.
But there’s a risk.
I find myself between a rock and a hard place when trying to describe core discipleship practices in a way people can absorb and carry with them unless I use short descriptors. Which can easily turn into a list. A kind of “Christian to-do list” which could, if we’re not careful, manifest itself into living “a good Christian life.”
Some might even call it a new law. In The Fallacy of a ‘Good Christian Life, the previous post in this series, I said:
“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.”
Helping Satan distract people from a relationship with Jesus is the last thing I want to do. I believe the key to preventing a lapse into a routine of checking off these practices on a to-do list lies in the reasons behind the practices, which have to be put BEFORE the descriptors – in both the explaining and in the striving to live out.
That said, I’m going to introduce the 9 key Biblical discipleship practices I strive to incorporate into my daily life in my pursuit of an intimate, living, dependent relationship with Christ. These 9 discipleship practices are represented by an acrostic using the word “Pragmatic” and in a greater context, they are the foundation of what I call “Pragmatic Communion.”
Pragmatic is my word. I’ve been using it for nearly 20 years, after I read this definition in an old dictionary:
pragmatic adjective \prag-ˈma-tik\
“concerned with causes and effects or with needs and results rather than with ideas or theories.”
Pragmatic. This word fits me like a glove. I don’t want to think about how something works, I want it to work. In this context, I don’t want to think about how to grow closer to Christ, I want to grow closer to Christ.
Communion can be defined as “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings.”
Since October of 2007, I’ve continued to grow in my relationship with Christ through a Pragmatic Communion with Him built on these 9 practices, which I’ll be writing about over the next few months.
Read (& Study)
Do I follow these practices all the time?
I wish I could say yes, but no. I don’t.
Because I’m human. And I forget God. People do it all the time. God’s chosen people forgot him. Again and again and again – and I’m no different. Brother Lawrence forgot God, but here’s what was said of him when that happened.
[When Brother Lawrence] “had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to God,
‘I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself;
’tis You must hinder my falling,and mend what is amiss.’
That after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”
That last line is my favorite. He forgot. He repented. He went back. He forgot, He repented. and he went back.
“And he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”
CLICK HERE to read the next post in this series.
I was recently part of a discussion about a church supported service project. A number of different ideas were on the table, none of them mine. The project itself wasn’t my priority. They were all good ideas. All needed. All would “do good.”
My concern, what I had been thinking and praying about for over a week prior to this meeting was that whatever service project we decided upon, it would track back to Jesus Christ.
Over the years, I’ve observed and/or been a part of a number of church supported service projects, at a number of churches – very, very few of which led to an open door to share the gospel.
All were good. All were needed. All did “good things.”
But serving those in need without tracking back to Christ is just philanthropy, not Christian mission.
I feel a metaphor coming on.
Sunday evening. Easter Sunday. I was sitting at the kitchen table, focused on my laptop. PinkGirl came over and turned my chair sideways so she could curl up on my lap and lay her head on my shoulder.
“Mom? How can I find joy in God?”
13 years old.
Immediately, I prayed.
“Lord, is this moment one of the reasons for everything that’s happened over the last year? Have you been preparing me for this question? Please help. Please speak through me.”
Me: “Well…for me…the way I find joy in God is to grow closer to Him. There are a few things you can do to grow closer to Him. You already know what’s first though, right?”
Me: “Yep. There’s lots of different ways to pray, but I think the way that brings me closest to God is practicing His presence. You remember what I told you about practicing the presence of God? How I first started doing it?”
Me: “I imagined Jesus physically with me everywhere I went – in the passenger seat of my van…”
PinkGirl: “oh yeah.”
Me: “Jesus is right here with us now.”
I pointed to the chair next to us.
“If you imagine Him sitting right here with us – not just sitting here, eavesdropping on our conversation, but actually participating in it, it changes everything. And sometimes not in a way you might expect. It won’t be all rainbows. You won’t be thanking Him and praising Him all the time. If you really do imagine Jesus with you wherever you go, you may find yourself crying and yelling at Him sometimes. Telling Him all the things you don’t think are fair, begging him to help you and heal you and protect you and getting frustrated or mad or even heartbroken when He doesn’t do what you want or expect or if He’s slower than you think He should be. But you have to be honest with God.”
PinkGirl: “He already knows anyway.”
Me: “Yeah, He does.”
We sat there for a while, talking about all the different ways to pray. We talked about honest, wide open prayer, without holding anything back. We talked about how authentic prayer helps us to grow closer to God and how growing closer to God helps us find joy in Him, no matter whether we’re happy or sad about what’s happening in our life. We talked about how happiness is temporal and based on our circumstances, but joy in God is eternal and based on who He is and our relationship with Jesus.
Me: “Prayer is when we tell God everything. But we also need to listen to Him. What’s the best way to hear from God?”
PinkGirl: “Be alone with Him?”
Me: “That’s one way. I call that abiding in Him. But that’s next. Something else comes first. The best way to hear God speak to us is to read His Word.”
PinkGirl: “I try, but I don’t understand a lot of it.”
Me: I get that. There’s a lot I don’t understand either. But here’s the thing. There’s a lot you do understand – way before you even get to the stuff you don’t understand. You understand what you learn in Bible [class], right?
Me: “So, see? You understand more than you think. Outside of Bible [class], what’s the last thing you read on your own?”
PinkGirl: “I don’t remember.”
Me: “You understand the scriptures in your devotion book, right?”
Me: “What was your last devotion about?”
PinkGirl: “I don’t remember.”
Me: “When do you do your devotion, in the morning or at bedtime?”
PinkGirl: “In the morning.”
Me: “After your devotion time is over, how often do you think about the scripture you read later in your day?”
Me: “Just reading the Bible isn’t enough. You won’t grow in your relationship with Christ if you don’t remember what you read. You have to engage in God’s Word. That takes effort. How can you remember the scripture from your morning devotion throughout your day ? And for days after that?”
We talked about how on our own, reading the Bible isn’t something we want to do all the time and that God knows that. We talked about forgetting to read the Bible or not making time for it. We talked about how we make time for the other things we love. We talked about the first and constant thing we should do: pray and ask God to give us a desire to read His Word. We talked about the fact that we can’t just “do better” on our own. We talked about asking God to give us – to bless us – with a hunger for His Word – with a hunger for Him. We talked about setting reminders on her iPod, bands on her wrist, special jewelry, even writing notes to herself on her hand.
Me: “After reading the Bible, another good way to hear from God is to abide in Him. You called it being alone with Him. When are you ever truly alone. Quiet and still?”
PinkGirl: “When I’m in my room.”
Me: “Sleeping doesn’t count.”
Me: “If you want to be closer to God, if you want to find joy in Him, you have to spend time with Him. Think of it this way. When you and PeterPanFan (her BFF) hang out together, you grow closer, don’t you think? You talk to each other, you have inside jokes, you start to think alike, finish each other’s sandwiches…even when you two are at your own houses, when you interact over the internet through text or instagram, you’re still spending time with each other even though you are miles apart. But if you were at your house and she was at her house and you weren’t interacting over the internet, you wouldn’t be able to hear her. What would happen to your friendship if you didn’t spend time together?”
Me: “How connected can you be to God if you don’t spend time alone with Him?”
Me: So. Prayer. Reading God’s Word and Abiding in Him. There’s something else you can do to find joy in God.”
PinkGirl: “Thanking Him?”
Me: “Actually there’s two kinds. Giving thanks for His blessings and praising Him for who He is. When you thank Him for blessings, you begin to recognize those blessings in your life more and more. And when you praise Him for who He is, no matter what your circumstances are, it helps you remember that God is sovereign and nothing happens to you that He doesn’t will or allow.”
We talked about disappointments, God’s providence and the peace that comes from trusting that all circumstances – which lead to both happiness and sadness – are God’s providence. We talked about tapestries. And praising Him, no matter what.
We talked about a lot of things. The things I’ve shared here are the things she gave me permission to share.
Afterwards, I realized.
Prayer. Reading God’s Word. Abiding in Him. Gratitude. P.R.A.G. The first four chapters of the book I was writing about how to experience a more intimate relationship with Christ. Seems so easy, just looking at them here. Not so easy. To do or to write about. If they were easy to do, every Christian would do them. If they were easy to write about…I haven’t been able to write for months. But in these precious moments with my daughter, I was able to articulate a summary in kid language.
He has been preparing me. Not only for that question at that moment.
God is Good. All the time.
The other day, someone asked me if my kids grew up “churched.”
The pause before my reply was noticeably long.
I was thinking.
What does that mean? I realize my personal background and filters contribute to my way of thinking, but no definition I could come up with made it seem like growing up “churched” would be a good thing. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
adjective: “affiliated with a church.”
Well. That’s vague.
The word has connotations. Through my personal filters, adding “ed” after the word church makes it reek of religious knowledge and practices, not relationship with Christ.
So, if growing up churched just means my kids grew up knowing the traditions of church – whatever church or religion that might be, then yes, they grew up churched. They know what a call to worship is, they can sing the doxology, they know what to do with an offering plate, they know the different ways to take communion and what an alter call is. They know what the Apostles’ creed is and they know the Lord’s prayer doesn’t end with the words “with liberty and justice for all.” They can follow the verse order of a hymn and even though they both have searchable Bible apps, they can find a scripture in a Bible with paper pages by it’s reference. In more contemporary churches, they know that a worship service usually begins with what we in our family affectionately term a “giddyup Jesus” song, and they know why this video is funny.
So, if all that means my kids grew up churched, then yes. My kids grew up “churched.”
Some might say, “Well, it’s better than nothing.”
Here’s the deal. If all that stuff is a precursor to a personal decision for Christ or an expression of a growing relationship with Him, then yes. It is better than nothing.
BUT, if all those things are part of their life instead of or apart from a growing relationship with Christ, I don’t necessarily think growing up churched is better.
It might actually be worse.
I’ve personally met so. many. people. who grew up going to church and as an adult, have not only abandoned church, but faith altogether.
A few months ago, I asked God to break my heart for what breaks His. (CLICK HERE to read that post – and if you ever think about praying that, brace yourself.)
One clear and constant answer has been the fact that so many people have turned away from faith in Christ without ever really knowing what it is.
Who He is.
Growing up churched has kept more than a few people from relationship with Christ because they think that all those things I mentioned about church is evidence of a relationship with Christ.
Not always true.
That’s what I was thinking during the extended silence that followed the “Did your kids grow up churched?” question.
But when I broke that silence, what did I say?
“uhhhhh. Well. We took them to church if that’s what you mean.”
I am so articulate sometimes.
The truth is that despite all their knowledge and understanding of religious practices, my kids never heard the gospel explained in kid language at the church we attended. Hell was too scary for kids and Jesus was a role model, not a Savior. Discussions about asking Jesus to come into your heart? The Holy Spirit as a helper after you ask Jesus to come into your heart? No. (By the grace of God and through an extended, painful revelation process, we now understand that we need to be part of a Christ-centered church.)
We went to church on Sunday mornings, did a few summers of VBS, went to some fall costume parties, some Christmas breakfasts with Santa and some Easter egg hunts. Sunday school was mostly Bible stories and crafts. VBS was a rotation of Bible stories, crafting sessions and outdoor games interspersed with music, snacks and cute videos with moral and ethical messages.
They learned that God loved them. They learned they should help people. They learned God wanted them to be “good” like Jesus. They learned that they should give joyfully.
But my kids first learned about having a relationship with Christ from my husband and I. Because we knew that our faith couldn’t be theirs by force or wishes, we prayed that the Holy Spirit would draw them to Christ, and we told them about Jesus. Through our lives – our words and our actions – they saw what faith in Christ really is – a relationship. They knew Jesus loved them – no matter what – just like we loved them. We prayed with them, we did family devotions together, we were authentic with them about the lessons God was teaching us, we listened to their problems, their fears and their joys and we continuously helped them to view and navigate all three through faith in God.
By the grace of God, they both accepted Christ at a very early age. By the grace of God and equipped by the Holy Spirit, we did our best to disciple them as they grew in their faith.
We enrolled them in Christian school because we wanted them to learn as much about the Bible as they did about math, science, history, spelling and English. When they moved onto middle school and began building on that Bible knowledge and learning theology, we actively engaged them in discussions that helped them figure out and ground themselves in their own beliefs, some of those beliefs different from what were being taught at school. As my son has grown older and graduated from high school, he’s come to some beliefs that differ from his mom and/or dad. (No surprise, mom and dad don’t always agree either.)
Regardless of the tangential beliefs we each have, we share faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. All four of us depend on the Holy Spirit to equip us for the life we live, striving to follow the Father’s will.
My husband and I are confident that each of our children have their own faith in and relationship with Christ. We pray for those relationships regularly.
But “Did your kids grow up churched?” is a yes or no question. There wasn’t time to think through all that, much less say it.
Hence the blog post.