I think we’ve all had those teachers where we’ve over stepped the mark and the once friendly and encouraging teacher turns into a vicious viper waiting to devour you. For me it was the day I somewhat foolishly pinged a recently captured hair band effortlessly across the room and out the window right in front of my history teacher. Before i could boast of my achievements to my classmates the once nice demeanour i was used to of that teacher had left her face and as she marched towards me I swear in that second I understood what it must be like to be Frodo Baggins up against the armies of mordor in middle earth. The rest of my one and a half years of secondary education were spent ensuring that I never made that teacher upset again.
The same can be said about my relationship with God too I think. I so often slip into the trap of basing my relationship with God on my goodness, as if all I’m trying to do is to ensure that I don’t upset God – fearing an angry swipe of his arms in a moment of uncontrolled anger. I effectively become religious, basing my level of spirituality on whether I’ve managed to avoid that thing that I constantly do wrong over and over again or whether I’ve made God happy by leading worship with an extra cheesy smile on my face. Obviously it’s important to note that goodness is not a bad thing. I think we’d all agree it was better that I was loving people and helping the old lady across the road than being a trouble maker or a failure.
And yet so often in my journey of faith, when I stop, pause and consider the path I’ve been walking I find that in my pursuit of being good I’ve actually left God behind or forgotten him altogether. The people who Jesus challenged the most were the people who were the most religious, the professional Jews if you like. They would be the ones who did all the right things in the right way. Yet he challenged them on their religion and reminded them that the journey of life was all about God. What better way to illustrate this than his summary of the law, it’s all about loving God and his people (Matthew 22:37).
I’m pretty sure that what Jesus doesn’t mean is that it’s ok to do whatever we want but that the key goal of life is not just to be really good and keep an angry God happy, but to pursue a relationship with our God. Who before addressed their God as Dad? We see it throughout the Old Testament where the people of God in there religious ways completely forget about God and all that God wants is to know his people. (Malachi is great!)
So what does this look like? Being honest so often if someone said all that to me I’d stand behind them nodding in complete agreement as if I have all my life sorted – when the reality is often that I’ve become comfortable in my reputation, good works or positions of authority. The reality that there really is a God who loves me and wants to journey with me through my life irrespective of my past and failures is mind blowing. It’s alarming how I might have the most amazing Sunday service and commit my whole being to God in sincere worship and yet reach Wednesday not living as if he existed at all. My prayer for this year is that everyday I’m pursuing God and not just goodness and will probably end up becoming less judgemental in the process. Throughout my experience I find that when I pursue God first goodness follows because Im growing in my love for God and I naturally want to do Good things.
C.S Lewis illustrates this perfectly when he said “relying on God has to start all over everyday, as if nothing has yet been done.” It’s about growing a relationship not gaining brownie points within church circles – we cant lie to God, he sees our heart.
So is the thing that I strive for everyday to know and walk with our maker, lover and saviour. Probably not. But I hope when I look back over my life I can say yes for many more days than not and come home to God not as awkward friends but like that of a son who has walked in the strength of his fathers love. For what else can be better than knowing God in his fullness. Walking truly with God has been hard, painful and damn right confusing. I’ve had doubts and fears and considered walking away. Yet I can truly say I’ve never regretted starting that journey…. Why do I not follow him everyday!?
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38, 39 ESV)