Being "saved" came with a checklist (to me). I would constantly worry and fret over that ridiculously long list of things that I could do and things that I couldn't do. I'd worry that the slightest mistep would lead me straight to hell and tried desperately to earn my way into heaven. Since the list was so long and impossible, I'd focus more energy on finding shortcuts and pushing the limits than I did actually knowing God. Honestly, I don't think that I wanted to know Him. That long list of rules and regulations made Him seem kind of mean, and instead of seeing His grace and mercy, all I could see was that huge inflated list. Romans 3:23 (NIV) "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." That's a relief! Everybody sins! James 3:2 (NIV) "We all stumble in many ways..."
Trying to live up to this long list of rules and regulations for "being saved" came with a cost.
- I became judgemental. Instead of looking at my own heart and putting my focus on straigtening out my own issues, I found great joy in pointing my finger at others. I can remember thinking, or even saying, "Well So-N-So does ____________." Or "I saw So-N-So at such-n-such." Much easier to look outside of yourself at others downfalls than taking a look within...
- I lived life on the edge. I would do whatever I could get away with and still stay inside that little box of regulations. I didn't know God at all, but I knew a lot about "the rules" (or LAWS as Jesus put it). Matthew 3:7 (NKJV) "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers..." That's pretty hard-core, Jesus calling someone a viper! The Pharisees and Sadducees knew the law. They were hard-core on the rules (more than I was). They knew how to look good and speak well and on the outside they looked holier-than-thou (and so did I). Oh but on the inside... Well, let's just say that's where I hid my "junk" (and I'm guessing that they had some "junk" hidden there too). Now it's important to remember that we can't just throw the rules, or laws, away. Matthew 5:17 (KJV) "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." However if we are so busy worrying ourselves with rules of serving God, we can totally miss God, just like the Pharisees and the Sadducees did.
- This is how I made God an abusive Father. I worried that if I fell, if I messed up on one of those rules, He'd "spank" me. I worried that if I stubbed my toe and a bad word slipped out then a bus ran me over before I could slip out a quick, "God, forgive me", I'd go straight to hell. "Serving Him" seemed so hard! And I guess it was. Romans 3:23 already lets us know that everybody falls short. Everybody messes up. But in my mind, since I couldn't put nice little neat checks by all of those rules, then I'd just rather duck out all together and not have to worry with putting checks by any of them. I was totally missing what it's all about...
- So sadly, the final price of my checklist was burn out. And who wouldn't burn out? That list of can's and can't's was so long that I couldn't even see the end of it. Constantly worrying if I could do this or that was exhausting. And justifying why I could get away with some things or pouting when I didn't feel like I could get away with others just wore me out. And so I dropped out.
Thankfully, the story doesn't stop there! Once that religion was out of my system, God introduced Himself to me and initiated something that I had never know before - a real true relationship. Like any relationship, ours has taken some hard work. Sometimes, it hurts. He wants me to be as open to Him as He desires to be with me. I'll be honest, that's a little scary. Being totally raw and vulnerable takes me casting off my covering of pride. He doesn't care how well I look on the outside. He's not fooled by what I say. He sees inside of me at all the "junk" and you know what? He loves me still! Isn't that mind boggeling?
Did you know that there are more than 350 scriptures in the Bible that speak of God walking or talking with people? Did you know that there are more than 500 mentions of Him hearing cries and prayers? Wow... So when your tears fall silently on your pillow and you think you're crying yourself to sleep all alone, He sees. When your heart cries out in confusion or hurt or whatever, He's listening.
So something odd happened when I chunked that list of rules out the window and just focused on getting to know Him. Things started changing. Not because I wanted a ticket to heaven; not because I feared a spanking from God; not because I wanted to have those nice little check marks. Things in my life started changing because I started falling in love with Him. The more I fell in love with Him, the better I wanted to be.
It's like a relationship in the natural. I'm in love with my husband. There are things that make him happy. He's happy when dishes don't pile up in the sink. He's happy when I don't scream or nag. He's happy when I don't max out every credit card we have on new shoes. And I want to make him happy because that's what makes me happy. My desire to leave dirty dishes piled in the sink, or act like a maniac, or put us in debt because of a shoe fetish pales in comparison to my desire to see him happy.
So it is with God. I love Him. I can't bear the thought of Him looking at me with disappointment. I don't want to make Him sad. And the closer I draw to Him, the more He shares things in my life that we can tackle together. I no longer worry about getting a ticket to heaven; or getting a spanking from God; or having check marks next to an invisible list. Instead I just want to walk as close to Him as I can. I want to sit at His feet and listen to His voice soothe over me. I want to hold His hand and smile knowing that He's always with me.
And so I have joyfully tossed religion aside and built the most beautiful relationship with God. And that relationship has brought some "religious" aspects along. Remember, He didn't come to do away with the law. He came to fulfill it. And by getting to know Him, those laws are not only fulfilled, but they finally make sense. I no longer do things because I have to. I do them because I want to. And that is awesome.