When you grow up hearing the same lie over and over, you believe it. Not every lie we believe are lies we’re told. We make our most basic assumptions about the world and our faith during a period of our lives where we are still trying to figure out ourselves. As a result, at least for me, we sometimes learn things that are a misrepresentation of truth. It is only through the process of deeper self-discovery that I now can look back and begin to uncover some of these misbeliefs.
Let’s start with something that I never really had words for, this feeling that I didn’t measure up. This is for sure not something I was taught, but it is certainly what I thought. I may never have thought about it in those terms, but looking back it is easy to see how that idea shaped my approach to pursuing God. I prayed, I worshiped, I sought the Lord as if everything depended upon me.
I very vividly remember hearing a couple of key phrases from the pulpit.
“You never arrive as a Christian”
“Don’t be satisfied with where you are.”
“You just need to press in tonight.”
I was constantly challenged to pursue the “more”, to press in and pursue the depths of the presence of God. Some of those phrases might hold an element if truth. I mean in the right context “you never arrive” is a powerful motivator to keep us pursuing a deeper understanding of scripture and the character of God. There is a deeper level of knowledge to attain, but that isn’t specific to our faith. That is specific to being human. We should, hopefully, continue to grow until we enter into eternity.
However, I felt if I didn’t “press in” I wasn’t going to be accepted. I now realize that when preachers would say this they were speaking to the attendee who was disengaged. They were in the room physically, but not actually engaged spiritually or mentally. They were present, but not considering what God was desiring to do in their lives. When I was at church I was usually engaged. Yet, I still kept hearing the instruction to press in. I assumed I must not be doing enough and I must work harder. Do more. If I wasn’t encountering the presence of the Lord I assumed I hadn’t done enough, that I was missing the mark.
Beneath the surface, I was convinced that I hadn’t arrived unto salvation. Again, I never thought those words, but the idea was evident in my actions and emotions. My constant need to do more stemmed from the idea that I hadn’t earned my place as a child of God and that is a flat out lie. When it comes to our belonging in the family of Christ we arrived fully and completely the moment we first accepted Jesus in our hearts and made Him our Lord and Savior. You will never be more a Christian than you were at that moment.
In the same vein, you can never be more loved than you are right now.
God doesn’t withhold the fullness of His salvation. God never withholds His love. He always offers it completely and without reserve. Our experience with His love might shift, some days we may feel incredibly loved, some days we may feel very distant. I find it wonderful that God’s love is not relegated to the smallness of our experience. Our sometimes limited perspective does not negate the fullness of his love.
We are always completely loved. No matter what I may feel from one moment to the next I have the full confidence that I am enough. I do not need to do a thing more to earn acceptance from my God. He has already accepted me fully and loved me beyond my level of experience or understanding.
In front of me was this constant need to have a greater encounter with God. I was taught to never be satisfied with yesterday’s encounter and when the days came that I didn’t have what I believed to be an encounter I felt like a failure.
I listened and received it every time I was told “Don’t be satisfied with where you are.” or “As long as your satisfied with what you have, you’ll never be motivated to pursue more.” I took this to mean I should not be content with the amount of God I have. I didn’t understand that I have Him completely. I didn’t understand that as surely as I was working to surrender my life to the Lord, God had withheld nothing from me.
We have to be careful with our talk because if we aren’t, we can make it seem as if our entire goal is to “experience something” beyond ourselves. We can unintentionally make it seem like if we just do everything right; if we can find the right formula then God will do this amazing thing. God has already done the MOST amazing thing by bringing me to salvation and filling me with His Holy Spirit. It is almost as if we think we deserve a reward for fulfilling our religious duty. We can get so caught up in the pursuit of encounter that we become dissatisfied with what we have. We forget that we have everything.
And we earned none of it.
That’s not to say we should become spiritually lazy. Yes, we should pray, read God’s Word and worship the Lord. Yes, we should fully surrender our lives to God, living not for ourselves but for Him. Hopefully, we understand that we do not “pursue God” to “earn” greater spiritual privilege. We desire to more fully surrender, to live pure, to honor God because we love Him. However, I spent my whole life believing that my faith journey depended upon my outward effort. Now I am learning that spiritual growth is not based upon the outward work of pursuit, but the inward work of recognition.
Spiritual growth is not based upon the outward work of pursuit, but the inward work of recognition.
When people would proclaim, “There’s more!” They were trying to instill a holy dissatisfaction, to prod people to delve deeper into their faith. To avoid becoming complacent or apathetic. I get that, but it caused me to have a misunderstanding of the completed work of Christ. What have I to be unsatisfied about? I am convinced that we should be wholly satisfied in the work of the cross. What God has given me is amazing and complete, yet I felt like it wasn’t good enough. Like I always had to be better, to pray harder. As if I could earn something that was given freely.
The truth is there isn’t more to attain in outward pursuit.
I am simply saved and that’s beautiful.
Jesus did it all. He conquered death and defeated the grave. He paid the price for me to be adopted as a child of God. I constantly felt like I needed to push through to the next level of salvation or God couldn’t use me. How silly, for my salvation never depended upon my work, but His Work on the cross. As if I could ever do anything to improve upon what God has already made perfect. All I needed to do was to simply recognize that God is present. Recognize that the fullness of the Holy Spirit lives within me.
This inward recognition is the greatest pursuit. It is not a one-time event, but a process to continually acknowledge Jesus in everything I do. I don’t belong to Him less on the days when I struggle to be engaged. I am not loved by Him less on the days when life prevents me from prayer time. Do I continue to improve and strive to remain consistent? Yes! But should I feel guilty or ashamed if I fall short? No!
If I can challenge you in this one aspect, don’t seek more.
Yes, consistently seek understanding. Seek wisdom. Seek to learn more about the nature of Christ. Who He was. How He is revealed through scripture. Most importantly, how He loved. Can I even begin to express the incredible love God has for us? I spent years thinking I needed to pursue God, to live out my religious duty, to ascribe to a higher standard of moral living in order to be accepted and all this time my God has been pursuing me.
In that same way, He is pursuing the world. Where I should find a holy dissatisfaction is not for myself, but for those who have yet to receive this wonderful gift God has given to humanity. If I be dissatisfied it should be because of my neighbors, family members, and friends who don’t know Jesus. God forbid that I would keep the incredible news of Christ to myself!
To be sure, the inward work of recognition will impact how I live outwardly. The more I come to understand God, the more I long to live according to the standards of His Word. The more I recognize how complete the work of Christ is in me, the greater joy I feel. The greater freedom I can taste. The more confidence I find with Christ as my source of life the more ludicrous it seems not to share this truth with the world.
I can’t help but wonder. If I spent so much time without truly recognizing the completeness of the forgiveness God offers us, how was I to effectively share it with others? If I spent so much time not being fully convinced I was completely loved by God, how I was I extend that love to those who do not yet know Jesus?