Proverbs 21:3 (the message)
Clean living before God and justice with our neighbors
mean far more to God than religious performance.
Do you have a particular issue or two that you struggle with? Most of us do and those unwilling to admit it may struggle with denial or a little pride! Some struggle with self-worth, some addiction, some the people-pleaser syndrome, some with being pleased or controlling others, some with fear or negative thinking. The list could be endless, really. And the truth is that going to church will not in itself cause magical fairy dust to rain down on your life and take away your “issues.” Trust me! I looked and looked! Smile…
Now, don’t get me wrong. A loving, Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church where Holy Spirit is welcome is essential and a great start. But freedom from the struggle often comes and is worked out in our life depending on what we do Monday through Saturday. This simple verse in Proverbs, which I have read before, touched my heart a bit this morning. Why? Because I understand the weight and pressure of religious performance. And I am beyond thankful for my Heavenly Father and how He reminds me that what He cares about is the heart. See, if our hearts are tender toward Him then our lives become a response to His goodness. A response to Him. Not a pressure-filled weight to perform well enough to please Him.
Religious performance is a two-sided trap. You could perhaps be the person who views church attendance or tithing as a religious duty that makes you “good enough” for Heaven and leave it there. Deceived into thinking your performance is good enough but then leaving God on the back burner the rest of the week. As my Pastor put it yesterday…there are lots of churches filled with attenders and consumers who aren’t doing. Meaning church attendance becomes a duty and an empty religious performance that does not affect their lives in a meaningful way. They aren’t doing, or living out, this life of Jesus-following. The other side of the religious performance coin is the one I still struggle with from time to time. Thankfully, I have come to see the battle and when I begin to lose my peace and experience a pressure and weight it often is a result of getting tangled in this sticky web. The other nasty side is the one where I get caught up in my efforts to produce in myself what only God can produce. My heart is for God. I am not checking Him off my list…I want to be closer to Him…I want to follow whole-heartedly and please Him. And in my desire and eagerness I can drift into striving. Striving in the sense that my responding to His goodness gets usurped by accusation that I must do more, try more, work harder at my faith. It doesn’t take long for this to wear me out! And eventually, God shows me once again, daughter I am looking at your heart. And all that I want of God, all that I long to be, will only come as I simply draw near to Him. I could never really change myself, not for the long run. Only God’s love and this freedom I have been given from this trap of religious performance has produced more than I could have imagined or would have thought to ask for!
Clean living before God and justice with our neighbors. As I ponder that this morning, I think not of perfection but of a heart that wants to know God. A person willing to let God cleanse them, a person with their mind made up to obey. A person that cares about other people. But I believe we can’t sustain that kind of living in our efforts at performing. It’s like will-power. Some people have more than others, but eventually will-power must become God-power for lasting and life-changing results. If you struggle with some area of your life, as we all do, then I challenge you to take an honest assessment of yourself. Do you want to be free? I won’t pretend it’s easy and I’ve already assured you there is no fairy dust, but I can tell you that Jesus already bought your freedom. Creator-God dwelled in a man’s body and climbed up onto a splintered wooden cross. They didn’t put Him there. They couldn’t. God Himself in the flesh of Jesus laid down on that cross and with every ring of hammer and nail the sounds of freedom echoed through eternity. You do not have to live under the accusation and weight of your own efforts at attaining freedom. I invite you, as I go there myself, to drop to your knees onto the dusty ground. Let the tears come over your brokeness and be washed in the blood of the Lamb. He let them break His body for your brokeness. He let them bind His hands and feet so you would no longer be bound. He cried out to God “why have you forsaken me” so you would not be forsaken. And with His last breath on the cross, Jesus declared “it is finished.”
How could you or I ever add to that? We can’t. Freedom comes in our wide-open response and unapologetic embrace of all He is and has already done.