A few years ago, I talked to a Christian musician who brimmed with an excitement that was unusual for a run-of-the-mill interview. He was purely ecstatic, but it wasn’t about his new album. He’d taken some time off from making music and returned with a fresh attitude. I’ll never forget something he said:
When we remain, abide, rest, and let ourselves be apprehended by God, it’s not about keeping up any longer. It’s not about what everyone else is doing … Your heart is just bursting with beauty and goodness, which Psalm 45 says, and you’re just writing what God is doing inside.
Those words still intrigue me, because he made it sound so easy — as though living vibrantly for Christ was something that just comes naturally. For this type-A skeptic, that was a little hard to believe.
The summation of my Sunday School classes and Christian primary and secondary education left me believing that being a Christian is hard. We are always at odds with the sinful world around us and, worst of all, the sinful nature in ourselves. I can’t blame my teachers, because this teaching is not completely unfounded. The prophet Jeremiah called the heart hopelessly wicked and deceitful. “Who can know it?” he asked in Jeremiah 17:9. Even the nicest of us bow to situational ethics, and our intentions can get a bit sketchy. We pass from the womb into this world and are unwittingly cloaked in sin before we take our first breath.
So while I was growing up, the cynic in me believed that our default setting was to sin, and the logical step was to constantly keep myself from doing just that. My job as a Christian was to guard, plan, work and strive against the forces of evil within. I put an imaginary standard of perfection before myself and compared my shortcomings to its loftiness without a shred of grace. I put on layers and layers of my own homemade defenses in what seemed to be an ongoing battle with myself.
I can tell you that I lost more times than I won. And that distant idea of a heart “bursting with beauty” seemed impossible. I would work so hard, then fall so fast and ask God often, “Why is it so hard to be holy?”
I thought of the answer to this question every which way until I settled on the only idea I hadn’t considered, and it came to me in of all places the grocery store. While standing in between the organic foods and the candy aisle, I knew the healthy food was the better choice, but I felt the pull toward the processed sugar. I began to see the parallels between the way we feed our stomachs and the way we feed our souls. We’ve processed our spiritual life to death — to the point that the right choice seems out of reach. Maybe there’s a better way… a more natural way.
Hungry for Something More
Everywhere you look, people are getting away from preservatives and inching towards organic eating and living. Yet, it’s interesting how difficult this whole organic thing is to live out. If I want vegetables that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, I have to hunt down my local farmer’s market. And let’s not even talk about price. One of my favorite comedians quips, “It’s hard to eat healthy. It’s too expensive. Should I have this salad for $12 or these eight hamburgers for a nickel?”
It’s true that an all-organic lifestyle is costly, while fast food costs less and is easier to find. A hamburger and fries is more than just the meal of choice. It’s the American way.
But it’s not the right way, and we know that. We know that God designed our bodies to consume food in its most natural state, not shot full of hormones or deep-fried in oil. What we have made almost inaccessible and impractical in this super-sized culture is precisely the way it was supposed to be.
Isn’t it interesting that we’ve done the same thing to our faith? We’ve bought into the idea that a life ripe with unshakeable hang-ups is just the way things are. We add our guilt, rituals, self-condemnation and other artificial regulators to make it better, but we’re only making it worse. All the while, the redemption that our souls found at salvation gave us everything we needed — if only we would just live it out. We are hungry for more than another sound-bite sermon or latest theological craze. We want the good stuff, without filler, preservatives or chemicals. And the best thing is, we already have it.
When considering the organic spiritual life, going back to the basics is essential, and it doesn’t get more basic than salvation. Those of us who are strivers really short-change the salvation experience. We know we’re saved. We go to church and own at least one Max Lucado book. But do we truly believe in the world-creating, Christ-resurrecting, mind-boggling power of God and that one touch from Him forever alters our very being?
The Bible puts it eloquently. We were called by God “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). If we’re in Christ, we are a “new creation” with no need to cling to the old ways of doing things (2 Cor. 5:17). And my favorite is in Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
Did you get that? Jesus Christ, humanity’s one and only hope, lives in you. More specifically, His intentions fill your heart, His thoughts are in your mind, and His spirit sustains your soul. He paid the ransom for us, offers redemption and completes the package by setting up shop inside our heart. Upon salvation, Jesus moves in, rearranges the furniture and helps us begin to look more like Him from the inside out. He sets things right again — the way they are supposed to be.
Trusting Jesus Within
If we believe that as Christians Jesus is living His life in ours, then we should trust His ability to do so and not get in the way. To trust the Jesus within, you need to know the Jesus within. We look to Scripture obviously, but much of your relationship with God is similar to our relationships with others. We get to know a person by spending time with him or her. God needs alone time with you without distractions.
Today, prayer has become this formulaic rattling off of a wish list, when, in reality, it’s an internal dialogue with Your Creator. Just talk to Him. Sit in silence and learn how to hear His voice. God is constantly communicating with you. Are you listening?
The more time I spent with God, the more I realize that God is very, very nosey. Like a houseguest who rifles through your medicine cabinet, God searches the heart to bring those secret things to light. He points out those areas of pride or disobedience, because He doesn’t want you for a moment to think that these are part of who He created you to be.
A lot of behaviors that feel natural to us aren’t from Him. Some things you’re genetically predisposed to, and others are knee-jerk reactions based on how you grew up. For example, you might be prone to anger or to give in to depression. This is why we have Scripture and the discernment of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom from His Word and that gentle nudging from within serve as our moral compass to navigate us through the complexities of being human. In Psalm 25:4-5, David said, “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Trust that God will let you know which feelings to feed and which to starve.
Letting God Be God
Once you live as though Christ lives in you, you don’t have to try so hard. Striving and trying to keep up with your super religious roommate will seem so unnecessary, because you’ll begin to see that God is operating within you all the time, often when you least expect it.
I’ve done a lot of obvious things for God: worked in ministry, gone on missions trips, witnessed to friends. However, some of my most remarkable moments as a Christian were the ones I wasn’t aware of, and I bet yours are too. Think about it. How many times have you been prompted to call a friend just to say hello, only to learn that they really needed some encouragement? We are stumbling and fumbling into blessings and being a blessing to others all the time. Coincidence? Not if you’re in Him and He’s in you. God is always working through you to accomplish His will. Let Him do His thing. I assure you that it’s better than anything you could come up with on your own.
Be Still and Know
You might not always feel like Christ dwells within you. A lot of days, I feel like this flesh is just a house for me, myself and I. However, we can’t go by feelings. We have to go by what we know from the Bible, and what we know is that God’s abiding presence isn’t something that’s only real when we think about it. “In Him, we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28b). There is no place you can go to escape God. Author A.W. Tozer says, “He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts.”
With a God that close, I can understand now that the joyful Christian musician I talked to so many years ago was absolutely right. It is about resting and abiding. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10) is one of my favorite verses, because it reminds me that in this world of climbing, striving and dying for more, our best move is simply to be still and let God do what He does best: being Himself through you and as a result making you the most authentic version of yourself.
You don’t have to be trapped in the vicious cycle of sin and striving anymore. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). The Spirit of the Lord resides in you. You have the freedom to do the right thing. You can toss aside the sin and the weights that so easily pull you down and live for God fully and naturally.
Copyright 2010 Jennifer E. Jones. All rights reserved.