Tuesday, June 07, 2005

When You Don't Really Want to Live for God

[Here's my latest column for the Community Press newspapers, a chain of weeklies in suburban Cincinnati.]

Bob was a big-hearted thirty-something, a professional who had joined our congregation maybe ten years before. One day, as the post-worship fellowship time was dying down to its last few participants, I sat in a corner with him. We'd talked about a lot of things--our families, college basketball, work. The conversation drifted into faith issues and Bob became serious.

"Mark, I believe. I really do. Always have. But sometimes, I just don't feel it."

"Welcome to the club," I told him. "I don't always feel my faith either. But we can't hold valuable relationships, whether they're with our families or with Christ, hostage to our feelings. Sometimes I don't have the most wonderful feelings for my wife or kids or friends, but hopefully I keep loving them and remain committed to the relationships. Relationships depend on commitments, not emotions."

"I get that," he said. "But that's not exactly what I'm talking about. I mean that I don't always want to live for God or please God. I don't always want to express thanks to Him for what He's done for me. Deep down, I'd rather tell my boss to go to hell. Or, sometimes, just leave the responsibilities of wife and family behind."

Bob winced as he said these words. I think he expected me to start preaching fire-and-brimstone at him.

I smiled. "You're a lot closer to God and a lot healthier than you think you are, Bob."

"I am?"

"Absolutely! The Bible says that God knows all of our thoughts and that He never disdains people who are honest and forthright about their struggles with the temptations to do wrong."

"Well, how do I deal with it? Because--and this is going to sound hokey--I really do want to be close to God. I really am grateful for Christ and the cross and the resurrection and I know that life is better with God."

"Start out by telling God what you just told me. Tell God that you want to be close to Him and that you struggle with the impulse to do things that could ruin your closeness, things that could put up walls between you and Him. Then, every time you confront these impulses, just breathe out a little prayer or say it in your mind, 'There it is, God. Help!'"
Poor Bob, I was on a roll now. "Look," I said. "We say that coming to faith in Christ is being born again. Well, birth is a painful, sometimes ugly process, although it always results in a new life. It's even uglier, messier, and more painful when it comes to being born again to the new life Christ gives. Because, the Bible says, every new birth is preceded by a dying. The old self, with its sinful inclinations and selfish, greedy impulses, must die. But our old selves like those old sins and like Freddy Krueger, the old self sticks around, like a body stuffed in the cellars of our psyches our whole lives. The normal human being may spend years nursing selfish fantasies. It's a hard habit to break."

"Can it be broken?"

"It can if we ask God to help us. But we're like recovering alcoholics, Bob." At this, I stood up and extended my hand to him, "My name is Mark and I am a recovering sinner. As I make myself transparent before God and I ask his help--through regular prayer, worship, fellowship with other believers, and regularly receiving Holy Communion--God gives me the power day-by-day to live the new life He makes for me. There are hiccups and down times along the way, times when I do things I regret. But as I keep asking God for help in these ways, day by day, I grow closer to God. It's happening in your life too. This conversation proves that!"

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