I went back to our small group for the first time last night. Jesse leads it, and we always have great discussion. I almost never ever want to go (because lazy introvert), but am always glad that I did (because Jesus).
We've been going through Galatians for a whole year (and it's not a long book) and it seems like my takeaway every time is, "Oh crap, am I maybe not a Christian?"
Not because I stop believing or something, but because we often end up circling back to very foundational truths about Jesus and the Gospel and believers and I end up saying "well it doesn't work like that for me."
Soooooo, I'm either sitting here as the one person of all the times whom God's word and promises just don't work for (actually I guess Pharaoh is on the bench with me; spiritually redshirted by God who hardened his heart so that he literally couldn't repent--which always seemed like a pretty unfair deal to me. I'll be sure to ask Jesus about it)...
Some of my premises about Jesus are wrong*
*I bet to my non Jesus-loving readers you're all like, "I'll say! Yeah they are!" zing. #IllPrayForYou #Heathen #Joking #JesusJuke
Here is what I am working with:
Galatians says (like 28 times in 6 different ways...Paul seems to be fussy about this point) that when you attempt to add anything to the saving power of what Jesus did on the cross, you totally alienate yourself from His Grace. Because His Grace is everything and we need nothing else to be right with God. In the Bible the example was circumcision; Jewish Christians were trying to tell new, non-Jewish Christ followers that after they put their faith in Jesus, they ALSO needed to get circumcised too--for extra holiness. Somehow believing in Jesus wasn't quite enough.
And Paul heard about this and was all, "DROP THE FLINTKNIFE and back away from the foreskin!"
It had been part of religious law that Jews and converts to Judaism be circumcised. There were also a butt-ton of other laws that they had been trying for centuries to follow (really weird-sounding stuff that doesn't make a ton of sense to me: DONT TIE THAT KNOT). Paul said that Christ freed us from the law completely by being the only one who actually ever obeyed it perfectly, and when we try to bring parts of it back (usually the parts the we feel like we've got in the bag already: Lev 18:21 Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek. Well I'm a friggin Saint in that department! Judge me on that category.) we actually put ourselves back under ALL of it and its impossible requirements, and we have instantly failed.
The application for me isn't so much circumcision (probably not at all, actually), but the gold stars I try to pile on top of the cross: "Yes God came to earth and died by torture for my soul, yadda yadda, but ALSO I am not an alcoholic, I don't cheat on my husband, I gave $5 to a homeless person today, I have cute kids, and I have powered up some extra kindness from myself today soooooo, in a way, God is kind of lucky to have me in His club."
NO NO NO. Paul tried to ram this home: there is nothing I can do or that can be outwardly measured: no act, no "try", no inherent awesome, no "well, at least I don't ____," in me that can possibly make me one millimeter closer to being clean and or good enough for God. Jesus is the only thing that covered that distance, and He is adamant that the journey be exclusively His.
All my "look at me I'm a good Christian" trophies are worthless; they add nothing to Christ's gift of grace and any faith I put in them actually puts me back into chains.
PREMISE #1: I need to stop thinking that if I somehow do enough of the right things, I could actually improve upon or add to what Christ has already done for me.
Okay I got that. So I am just letting Jesus be His magic, world-saving self in me. But then Galatians also says that the byproduct of having Jesus in my heart (aka Holy Spirit) is actually something that SHOULD show on the outside. A Christ-filled heart should produce a life marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness goodness, and self-control. (Gal 5:22)
PREMISE #2: When God's Spirit is alive and active in my heart, there should be outward signs/fruit.
I paint myself into a corner sometimes when I feel like the outward signs just aren't pouring forth from my life. I figure, well, if they aren't coming on their own, maybe I can force them out by trying to "man-up" in my own power (aka premise #1) to get the byproducts of premise #2.
This is impossible because the fruit of the Spirit (from how I understand it) should just be a naturally-occurring overflow of the presence of God in me and of my gratitude and devotion to Him. When I try to just summon patience (accio FORBEARANCE! ) because I know it's right or that I "should" have it, I can maybe squirt out ten to twenty minutes of it (and it's never fun or breezy). But surely something is better than nothing when it comes to fruit?!
NO. According to Premise #1 I gotta stop trying to make stuff happen in my own power that is outside of Jesus.
And then I just let the natural overflow of my heart make the outward change in me.
Okaaaaaaay, except...what if nothing happens?
PROBLEM: When I stop using my own efforts to squeak out cruddy little examples of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness goodness, and self-control, ALL semblance of those seems to disappear from my life.
What gives? Where did I go wrong in my theology? Is it me? Am I just terrible?
HYPOTHESIS: I have Holy Spirit antibodies that trigger graft vs. host disease and my donor heart just won't take because my wretched one keeps kicking it out.
But no. I don't really think that outside of the dreary little pity party I throw myself in an attempt to not take responsibility.
"Is this smoothie made from fresh Spirit fruit?" No, fool, it's clearly 100% freak juice.
The problem for me lies in Premise #2. The "alive and active" portion. It's not a puppetmaster situation where as soon as I put my faith in Jesus I instantly became this Bible zombie under the power of the Almighty-pilot and fruity Spirit rays just shoot out of me wherever I may roam.
No, it's fruit. And the roots and the soil have to be tended. I guess I already know how that is done. I know that means praying more, reading my Bible (which I already struggle with), and just spending time with Jesus. I don't think I am looking for shortcuts there, but--aside from that regiment sounding so cliche--I feel like I have done those things in the past and it doesn't always seem to "work" (that sounds so manipulative-y.) Does that mean I wasn't really doing those things with the right heart? Because dang, it felt right.
I want God to draw nearer to me, and I know He promises that very thing if I draw nearer to Him, but what does that really look like? My analytic, not-touchy-feely, ultra-skeptic, cynic brain needs help on getting back there when I am feeling in a rut like this. I need access to that overflowing engine of love and I feel like I am blocking myself. I'm in a port-a-potty at Disneyworld complaining that the place isn't nearly as magical as people said it would be, when I just need help stepping out of the john. (or maybe I just have the secret flu).
QUESTION: What are some practical ways that you've found most fruitful for reigniting your relationship with God? Are there any verses that talk about this stuck-in-between feeling (no longer my power, but not yet feeling His) that you can share? That make YOU overflow?
I'm not just looking for one of those wonderful feelings-full encounters with Jesus (though those ARE awesome). I'm looking for a way back to the kind of life-everlasting and the utterly sufficient grace reservoir that doesn't make me shoot dragon eye daggers at my kids 14 times a day. I know it's a lifetime walk, but I am mature enough in my faith that I need to/should/want to be getting fruitier as time goes by.
I hate feeling like I am just bad at this. Just a stinky worm of a believer (I know, super red-flaggy that I am either considering Jesus lucky to have me or pouting). What gives?!