“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Matthew 23:24
In striving to live the kind of life God wants us to have, it seems there are two dangers:
One of them is legalism. Some denominations – and some personality types – like to have a list of “rules” to follow. In seeking the divine life, they draw boundaries where God didn’t necessarily place them. Then, whether or not they’re having a “good day” is determined by their success in keeping within those boundaries, doing all the rituals, and not crossing the predetermined lines. If they’ve had a “good day,” the danger is being self-righteous and judgmental toward people around them who haven’t complied with their standards. If they’ve had what they consider a “bad day,” (Maybe their morning rituals were interrupted and they never got back to them.) they might spend the rest of the day listening to “the accuser” and beating themselves up. This state of mind doesn’t leave God much to work with as far as telling others about His grace.
There’s nothing wrong with avoiding sin and wanting to do good, – we should! – but the obsessive person can fall into the trap of adding to God’s rules, as the Pharisees did in Jesus’ time. If we have that kind of personality and aren’t careful, even our daily devotions can have a certain routine that we follow either with a sense of compulsion or with our minds and hearts “on automatic.” (You can possibly recall a prayer you learned as a child that you can still rattle off without a thought about what it says.) If we’re set enough in the routine, we could even end up living a type of Christian superstition. (“A chapter a day keeps the devil away.”)
The other danger is getting into the opposite extreme: “cheap grace,” a. k. a. “sloppy agape.” Since Jesus died to save us from our sins, and since His death makes forgiveness possible, is sin really that big a deal? God knows I’m not perfect. He’ll forgive me. Since routine devotions can become an obsession and just going through the motions, maybe I shouldn’t have a daily quiet time at all. Devotions are so “religious.”
First of all, if we know that Someone loved us enough to die for us, how could we say we love Him and then have such a cavalier attitude toward the sin that breaks His heart? Knowing how much Jesus did for us, we should cringe at the very thought of grieving Him.
As for devotions, God doesn’t need rituals structured in exactly the same way every day. Still, regularly practicing certain ways of connecting with the Lord – reading Scripture (His love letter to us), adoration, worship, intercession – gives us a chance to connect with God in ways that we need. Repetition of certain vital prayers, such as asking for wisdom, is a way of following Jesus’ admonition to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is a consistent and much-needed reminder to us of our constant dependency upon Him. (On Him, not on our recitations!)
You might be asking yourself, Am I being consistent or in a rut? Am I being spontaneous or careless? You might find yourself fluctuating between obsession and apathy, along with the accompanying self-righteousness and guilt. I know I’ve been through all of the above.
I had a bit of a revelation a couple of years ago, after debating whether or not making a “New Year’s resolution” was something a Christian should even do.
January 1, 2016
My goal for this year is finding balance between sloppy and obsessive (regarding health, work, relationships, etc.). The biggie is in the spiritual area, finding the balance between “cheap grace” and legalism.
This morning I woke up early, inspired to WRITE!
“Cheap grace” would have said, “I’m tired, I’m going back to sleep. God understands. I’ll get to it later.” (I usually don’t.)
Legalism would have said, “Get up and write, but not until after you’ve had your regular devotions, prayed, read the Bible, put on your spiritual armor, etc.”
I did neither of those, but got up and immediately wrote what I believe God was inspiring me to write, and I’m glad I did.
Today’s lesson: there’s more than one kind of devotion, and God didn’t fall off His throne just because today was more spontaneous. I don’t necessarily have to start with 15 minutes of “putting on my spiritual armor.” (Especially when I don’t remember taking it off.)
I think I found the balance for that day, but since every day is different, I make no assumptions about any other day.