Our acceptance by others in society is often based upon our performance towards them. We learn that if we jump through the right hoops; be witty, smart and intriguing to others, we'll win friends and influence people. If we do things right, we'll be rewarded. If we make the right decisions, life will go well with us. For some of us, as children, the praise we got for getting an "A" on our report cards, or the punishment that was meted out to us for failing to live up to our caregivers' expectations, taught us early on that, "If you do well, you will be loved. If you mess up, you'll be rejected."
God's love isn't like that. Yet we often have to walk with Him for years before we can scratch the surface of the reality that He loves and accepts us for who we are, and what we do or don't do.
We drag our performance-based mental patterns into relationship with Him, and begin to "do" for Him, in order to receive from Him. We praise Him, because we are told it brings blessing. We feed the poor, because we think we will garner His favor if we do. We read the Bible, because that's what we're supposed to do if we want to grow in Him-right?
The Church encourages us in our endeavors with a long list of "shoulds" and "oughts" and sermons that proclaim, "If you do this...then you will get this..."
Our belief is this: Get on God's good side, and follow His commandments, and He'll meet your every need.
But then we screw up. We curse our friends. We gossip about our spouses. We complain, bicker, lie and manipulate. We fail to read God's Word. We get too tired to pray. Distractions keep us from spending time in the presence of the Lord.T hen our bills mount. Our health fails. Loved ones leave us, and we logically conclude: "Uh oh. I must be screwing up too much". And then we think, "...Maybe if I prayed more...maybe if I stopped speaking so many negative words...God would bless me."
We then resolve to do better. We devise a routine that will help us to get into God's Word. We come up with strategies for remaining in His presence, and determine to do so-come hell or high water. We promise God we'll try harder, in the hopes that our promises will move Him to take away our debt, heal our broken bodies, or restore our relationships.
Yes, praising God brings us closer to Him. Serving our neighbor, instead of cursing him, attracts God's favor and blessing. Remaining in His Word transforms us. And there is a heck of a lot of truth to, "If you do X, you will get Y..." The Bible is full of admonitions to do this in order to get that. Kind of like the way the world works, right?
Well...not exactly. In God's realm, obedience and the blessings that result, come as a byproduct of experiencing God's presence. They are the end that results from the means, rather than being a means to an end. In the world, we "do" because we want to get. In relationship with God, we do because we have already received.
Obedience in the former scenario is based on performance, while in the latter, it is the natural outcome of being a vessel through whom God operates.
Don't think I get this. I don't. If I did, I wouldn't still subconsciously wonder at times what I still need to do in order for God to heal me. Thoughts of, "If I just had the right thoughts, God could bless me. If I just spoke positive words of affirmation more, the law of God's healing would take effect and I would be free."
These are tortuous thoughts for a soul that battles severe symptoms on a regular basis. Really? God expects me to be happy and positive when I hurt like heck most of the time? I don't think so.
And when well-meaning souls inside the church foist that sometimes harmful belief, "Happiness is a choice" upon the afflicted, it brings the afflicted into deeper bondage because the despondent response of their souls is, "I have tried to be happy...but I just can't. I hurt too much. But maybe this is why God can't heal me...I'm not positive enough."
I'm not condoning laziness or an attitude of victimization. God gave us an assignment and the power to bind the devil and obey His Word, but sanctification isn't achieved overnight. Also, it's nothing we can bring about by our own free will. Because we have to know who we are in Him first, and more importantly, who He is for us, if we are to be the vessels of love and power that He has created us to be. And only He can bring that revelation to us. For if it's up to us in the end, then He isn't really our Savior. He is at best, an advocate who admonishes us to pull ourselves up by our own frayed little bootstraps- something that not even the most self-determined of the wounded can do.
At the 2011 Voice of the Apostles conference, Pastor Rodney Hogue described what he called "The Three Stages of Christian Growth." He said that in the first stage, the newborn Christian is like a baby; self-focused, with only an ability to receive from God. Their only thought is, "Me, me, me." Because that's how babies are. They can't give. They can only receive from their caregivers, but as they do, they grow into maturity. No wise parent would expect their baby to give anything back to them, for the baby is helpless, ignorant and innocent. And as newborn Christians, God is the same with us.
As we mature in our walk with the Lord, and grow up into young adults, we move into the second stage of Christian growth. In this stage, we begin to focus on others, and give to them as well as receive from them-and God.
In the third stage of our growth, we become mature adults, who not only serve others, but also see life from God's perspective. When others see us in this stage, they see Jesus.
According to Rodney, if we try to bypass being a baby before God, and neglect to receive from Him, and instead start out our walk as newborn Christians by "doing" for Him, then our works for God will be borne out of performance, instead of being a natural outflow of our relationship with Him.
We can't give away to others what we haven't received from God. And until we are children before Him, and He grows us up into Him, we will be giving to others out of our own strength, rather than His. We will operate for Him instead of through Him.
Some of us have never learned to receive from God, because society has taught us that we must earn His favor and approval, in order to receive from Him. But it is He who first gives to us, so that we can give back to Him and the world. His Word says: "We love because He has first loved us" (1 John 4:19).
The fastest way to kill a performance-based relationship with God is to become like a little child (or a baby!) before Him. If you started your Christian walk at Stage Two instead of Stage One, it's okay to go backwards and become that little baby that you never were before Him. God is okay with it-no, He delights in it!- because He knows that true progress forward in our walk with Him can't happen until He has fed, nurtured and grown us up into Him.
Let Him give to you-extravagantly and abundantly-, as you just lie there and cry out to Him, expecting Him to meet your every need. Be the innocent, ignorant, whiny, whimpering, noise-making baby that you never got to be. And most importantly, drop the silly notion that babies are supposed to serve their Daddies. Let Daddy nurture and love you, so that as you mature, His love will start to flow naturally from you. Because then, and only then, will your service to Him be from the heart, and not from a place of performance. And only then will you have true peace.