I grew up in what many would call an ultra-conservative church. For us there was one definition of disciple: Bible-Learner. So, to be a good disciple we had to study. "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). From the first grade, I was convinced that when Jesus returned, the safest place would be in my room studying the Bible.
For most of us, the Bible was a textbook to be studied and quoted, even if it felt like punishment to do so. Before I graduated high school, I could prove where everyone else was wrong about doctrine and details.
I think that's where I developed my addiction to legalism. I knew all the "right" answers to the "right" questions. I could quote all the passages, but didn't buy into the spirit of condemnation and judgment that I heard from the pulpit. Somehow, I learned how to separate the teaching from the attitude. I was a good boy, I obeyed the rules, most of the time, but I couldn't shake that lingering fear of God and the Judgment Day.
I was a functioning legalism addict. I had to have the rules to feel normal. Church attendance became a burden, but at least I could see my friends. My body was there, but my heart was far, far away.
Then out of the blue, a friend introduced me to the "Good News." Grace was life-altering. For the first time I understood the significance of faith — transformational faith. And, discovered a more correct translation of 2 Timothy 2:15.
The Christian life is not meant to be lived in the pages of a book; it is meant to write a new book, the Book of Life, outside the walls of church. Church was not intended as a retreat, it was intended as an unquenchable source of energy — the spiritual place where we spur one another on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:25).
Grace forced me to re-think what I thought was already set in stone. I had to unlearn what I had spent a lifetime learning. I had to give up legalism. It was easy to say the words, but much more difficult to put into practice. Even then, it was only accomplished through the undeserved and unexpected power of the Holy Spirit.
I had always been aware of the power resident in the church — gathered, but now I have experienced the unlimited power in the church — scattered. Remember, Jesus went to the mountains to pray, but he didn't stay there. He never stayed inside the walls. His ministry was always outside the walls.
Now, I know what it's like to be a follower of Jesus. I still study, but I study to know Jesus, to learn to live like HIM. As I follow him, he transforms me; I find myself helping the blind to see, the left-out to belong, the broken to be mended, the rejected to acceptance in spite of the past, and the legalistic to find grace. After all, I am a follower of the Giver of Life.
How about you?
A number of years ago I was part of a small group of men we called an A-team (short for Accountability Team). We closed each of our meetings by sharing prayer requests. It was during one of those prayer times that God rocked my world.
David was praying for God to provide $200 by the end of the day for an out-of-work neighbor. In mid-sentence Tom interrupted, "Stop!" It was the first time I had ever heard an adult interrupt someone else talking to God. I wondered if lightning was about to strike.
For the rest of day I couldn't get this incident out of my mind. How many times do we think we are doing the "spiritual thing" by praying for God to do something for us or someone else, when really a follower of Jesus would just take care of it?
When should we quit praying and start acting?
Time for some re-think.
Call this the "Unlimited Commission." Grab a partner and spend this week following Jesus outside the walls. Be the story in your world. Let God open your eyes to a world of adventure outside the walls of church. Just follow HIS lead. At just the right time, HE will tell you when to act.
Stop praying for God to intervene in your life and become HIS hand of intervention for others. That's what followers do. That's what Jesus did and still does.