Jesus wants You Free…in Him!
Do you feel trapped in empty Christianity? You don’t have to be. Jesus does not want you to be. In order make a change, you have to get real with yourself if you want to change things. Authentic Christianity is never fruitless. It is never hollow. Asking some hard questions can help you determine why your life feel like it is.
All spiritual riches in the heavenlies are yours according to the Bible. This is meant to be encouraging to you not as an indictment of you. In the same way, “rejoice in all circumstances” is a call to point you back to your daily abundant condition while under pressure. It is not to condemn you for lack.
You may understand this and know this works for other people. Yet, if you are being honest, your life feels like a long struggle that you are losing? You are worn out. You feel discouraged. The Christian life does not seem like the refreshing refuge from life as it should be. It feels like a series of heavy burdens put in place by an eternal taskmaster. God seems like an unyielding, unforgiving, and relentless boss you fail every day. You may even feel like giving up and walking away from it all. Sadly, you know it should not be this way but feel helpless to change it.
Are you one of these disciples?
Are you treading water in church while your life around you fall apart?
I am sorry you are feeling this way. I have been there and I know how much it hurts. Please don’t give up fighting because Jesus is so much better than this! It can be hard to find Him in the midst of our pain and self will.
If you don’t understand what I mean, meet “Linda”, (not her real name). Linda loves Jesus. She remembers the joy, excitement and peace in the Lord in the past. She knows God’s Word well. Linda is also bitter and tired.
She felt obligated years ago to give back to the church. Linda became the super-volunteer for her church Children’s Ministry. She initially loved it and was good at it. Yet, Linda now wishes she never started. She has been teaching without a break for years now. She struggles with bitterness for no one else working in her place. Every person needs some time off. She resents God for forcing her to do this but feels she has no choice. “The kids and the church need her.”, she tells herself. She also doesn’t want the church to experience problems, the ministry to fail, or to seem immature to her church friends. She feels powerless to speak to her leadership with the problem.
So Linda keeps on going through the motions. She puts on a brave face each weak but her joy is long dead. Her anger with God grows and she can’t seem to shake it. She feels abandoned by God and the church. Linda is trapped in empty Christianity. She doesn’t have to be.
You may know a Linda. I was her at one time. She is not a bad person and she wants to follow Jesus. She is just lost…and doesn’t realize it. The traps she fell into lay hidden behind good intentions and religious trappings. They still lead the sheep away from Jesus.
Is this you now? If it is, I am sorry. I know how painful and helpless it can feel. Really, no judgment here. I have been there. More importantly, Jesus knows how much it hurts. The great news is Jesus does not want you remain there. Bitterness and despair are never the fruit of authentic Christianity. They come when obligation, duty, and ritual take Jesus’ place on the throne of your life. Jesus died so you are free, thriving, and filled with love. He promised abundance…not emptiness.
There is something dreadfully wrong if your fruit in you is bad!
Are you willing to honestly examine why you are not living the life Jesus promised? Jesus asked the church at Laodicea the same question in Revelation.
Is Jesus the Center of Your Christianity?
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. Revelation 3:20
Have you ever thought about picture Jesus painted in this verse in Revelation? He speaks to to a very busy church that thinks it is doing well. They believe they have everything under control. They call themselves a church and think they follow Jesus. Yet, the church of Laodicea was like a donut. Their center point was empty.
The outer portion was a group who called themselves followers of Jesus. They gathered to praise Jesus. The Laodiceans did “churchey” things like pray, give money, feed the poor, and talk about God. They went round in circles among themselves proud of their standing in God. Yet, their middle was empty. Jesus was not in the church with them. The head of the church body was outside the church knocking and asking to come in. They were distracted, busy and full of pride, that they did not even realize it. Their church activities were so focused on their works they excluded the Lord.
This is fundamental to understand as a Christian. It is hugely important. JESUS is not inside the church at Laodicea – yes, a church without Jesus. He is outside church. The door to the church is closed to Jesus. Their appearance does not match their spiritual reality:
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Revelation 3
What does that look like for you?
Think of Linda. She fills an important role in church. Her role is Christian and valuable. Teaching the next generation is hugely important. She looks like she is thriving in the Lord. Service is good. You tend to think of people who work in church as healthy in the Lord. Linda would tell you she serves each week for Jesus. It may have truly started off that way. But, if you examine her heart, why is she doing her job now?
Jesus is certainly in there somewhere. But is He the center? Is Jesus in charge of Linda? She focuses on many things that are not Him. She is concerned with herself, her fear, her church, and expectations of others. Serving all these other things leave her feeling wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. This is what happens when Jesus is not the cause, reason, and constant focus.
Is this you?
Are you feeling exhausted in the faith? Do you feel empty and lost? You need to be willing to be brutally honest with yourself – about you, about your culture, about your church, and about your Lord.
Do you want something better? It starts with a simple question:
Why do you do the religious things you do in your life? Are they for Jesus – really, truly, honestly? Please stop and think about the question. Your answer may surprise you if you drill deep down into you – if you are willing.
Why do you go to church?
Why do you go to your particular church?
Why do you act the way you do in church?
Why do you read the Bible?
Why do you serve?
Why do you want to get better at church related activities?
Remember, I ask you to consider them honestly. There is an easy answer and there is a true answer. They need to be the same answer. Are you really serving Jesus as you appear to serve Jesus or are you stuck in familiar ritual, comfortable rote, or empty religion? I am not condemning you. I love you, friend, and have been there. Jesus is just so much better than the comfortable ritual and routine that it is worth it to push forward.
A Shadow of Past Glory
What did this empty religious life look like in the past?
Think about what took place at the end of the Gospels. Jesus ascended to heaven. The church took off and spread throughout the world. Miracles happened every day. Jesus saved thousands of people. Great things happened in Jerusalem and around the world. Jesus opened the door to eternity and poured out joy and hope through the Holy Spirit.
But what about most of the Jewish people? What happened with them?
They chose a vacant building and a familiar system over their Savior.
The Jewish people loved their Temple. It was part of their identity. They took pride in all of their tradition, rituals, and obligations. The people worked, served, and sacrificed. They craved the comfort of the clear rules they knew since childhood. The Jews thought the Law and the work made them holy. The missed the fact that the Law only highlighted their failures and need for a Savior. So the priests kept on serving in the Temple each day. The people continued to sacrifice, fast, and follow the hundreds of regulations of the Mosaic Law. Their religious attendance and devotion defined them. It all took so much effort. Yet, it was worthless. Jesus was not in the Temple. They entirely missed Him.
Their efforts were actually an affront to the work of Jesus. He came to save them and make them holy. They chose to rely on themselves and their own works.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
It is so easy to get caught up in the same error. You can find yourself with Jesus shut out of your building and no one notices. The Holy Spirit plays no part in your decision and you blame Him for the outcome. God never asks you to do something and you resent Him when you do.
Why are You Doing the Things You Say are for Christ?
If the answer is not very clear and true, you may need to makeover your life. Jesus is the source of all good things in Christian life. He is the only one with authority to tell you to do anything. Jesus is the head of the church. What does that mean?
If you are working for any person in your life, including yourself, you are not working for Jesus. Is it reasonable to expect God to reward you for doing a job He never asked you to do?
So if you are doing something because you think no one else will, who are you working for?
Serving to make your church look good may feel holy, but what are you truly serving?
When you are doing it to follow rules or fit into a culture, who are you not following?
If you are doing it because you think it is the right thing to do, it is expected of you, your pastor told you to, everyone does it, you want to help people, you are afraid of what happens if you don’t, you think Christians do this sort of thing or it makes you feel good, who are you not taking direction from?
God does not pour out His gifts on you to carry out your will.
This does not mean service is not hard. I am not saying you must hear an audible voice of God to work for Him. You will also need to overcome your own flesh when seeking to do God’s will. But so much of the misery we experience in the Christian life as we seek to follow God comes down to this simple issue: listening to everything else but God.
John the Baptist put it this way: Jesus must increase. I must decrease.
Jesus sums it up very simply: Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.
You belong to a Mighty King. All things were made by Him, through Him, and for Him. You are His servant.
Please make sure you are serving Him, not anything or anyone else! Seek the Lord! Take time off if you are like Linda and trust the Lord to fill in the gaps. Boldly rest in Him and trust He will tell you when He wants you to move. Then present your life to Him as a living sacrifice and watch the streams of living water flow….to Him alone.
If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.