Tuesday, March 30, 2010

When Obedience Isn't Enough

Lately I find myself saying things like, "I've done everything I can... I'm trying my best... I don't know what else to do... nothing I do seems to be good enough... why can't I make this work?..."

I know I can't work for my salvation, but it seems I still operate under the assumption that if I work hard enough and do my best that the rest of my life should work out in the way I want it to. When it doesn't, I assume I haven't worked hard enough, or done well enough, or been obedient enough. But as my brother reminded me this weekend, this is further evidence of my utter need of the gospel. That no matter what I do, my best efforts cannot redeem situations or people. Yes, God calls us all to obedience, and the choices I make and the effort I put forth will have consequences. But I should never put my trust in my good effort as the ultimate determining factor of positive outcomes. There is no formula to a happy or blessed life. If I do A and B, there is no guarantee that it will lead to C, even if I really, really want it to, and even if conventional Christian advice tells me it will. I often hear the gospel preached as, "Trust in Jesus to save you from your sins... and now that you've done that, get your act together." Of course, willful sinning will have consequences, and the obedient Christian will avoid certain types of consequences. But some of the most devout Christians have endured some of the worst circumstances, in spite of, and even because of, their obedience. Jesus said we will have trouble in this life. Why am I surprised by it when it comes?

I am and remain a sinful person. I am no longer dead in my sins, but until this world is made new, my sin and other people's sin will continue to mar and scar my life. I need the gospel, even when I'm at my most obedient and faithful. Because even then, my efforts aren't enough, and my life may not turn out the way I had hoped and planned.

Not the labor of my hands

Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;

Could my zeal no respite know,

Could my tears forever flow,

All for sin could not atone;

Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to the cross I cling;

Naked, come to Thee for dress;

Helpless look to Thee for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Savior, or I die.

~Augustus Toplady, "Rock of Ages"

Friday, March 5, 2010

Is It God... or Indigestion?

"I feel the Lord is leading me to..."

"God spoke to me..."

"I feel this stirring in my heart to..."

"I really felt like God was telling me to..."

I used to talk this way. It was a dressed-up way to describe how I "felt" after a certain time of searching the scriptures and prayer. But after making some choices based on what I thought "God would want" that turned out to be poor decisions, I stopped pretending that it was really God calling the shots. Now I cringe when I hear other Christians talk like this, as if they had audible conversations with God all the time and could discern His "will for their lives" with ease.

But how do we know when God is really "speaking" to us or "leading" us in a certain direction? Surely not on feeling alone. There is something to be said for the peace the Spirit is supposed to give us. But sometimes we have to make decisions with unease in our hearts, because none of the options available to us are pleasant ones.

Surely we should rely on godly counsel from close friends, family, and advisors. But even they are not infallible and can give bad counsel, especially if they dispense judgment preceded with one of the above statements.

Let's face it, sometimes we're just not going to know what to do, and it's pointless to sit around waiting until we "feel the Lord leading us" in a certain direction. It may never happen-- because He never promises it will. He promises to never leave us nor forsake us, but He never promises a beam of light from heaven pointing out the road up ahead or a big celestial sign saying, "Turn here. Do this."

The next time someone says to me, "I feel the Lord is leading me to do xyz," I'm sorely tempted to say, "Are you sure it's not just indigestion?"

***P.S. I just finished reading this post and thought I should add that I don't think we should discredit feelings entirely. I've made that mistake as well. Feelings can be fickle, but God created us to have feelings for a reason. Even though they can be tainted, twisted, and inaccurate, they can also be pointing us in the right direction. There is something to be said for a "gut feeling." More on this another time...