Sunday, September 21, 2008

How did I get here from there?

(Note: I recently wrote this for another venue. But since I pick up new readers occasionally who don't know much about me, I thought I'd cross-post here.)


Hi everybody! I've been a reader here off and on for a while. But I decided to jump into the forums and actually be a part of things. Here's a not-so-short version of my story. I grew up in a church that was very much performance-oriented (even though they wouldn't have ever agreed with that assessment). As a teenager, I felt a call to ministry, and that ramped up the expectations for me. Both the expectations I put on myself, and the expectations I felt God had for me.

I went through college and seminary, all the while working in various church positions. Toward the end of seminary, my wife and I decided that God was calling us to start a church. Our church started out meeting in rented halls and conference rooms.

I should say through all this work I was putting in to glorify God, I rarely felt like He was pleased with me. I had a theological understanding that He and I were at peace. I knew that I was supposed to have fellowship with Him. But He often seemed completely distant. And that just fueled my feeling that He was unhappy with me. I knew that something was wrong, but the only answer I could see was working harder. Of course, that didn't work either, and I would often just spiral into doubt and regret about my life and my faith.

After meeting in rented rooms for a while, I started becoming convinced that what was really wrong with church and my work was that we were meeting the way early Christians used to meet: in homes. So our little church started meeting in homes every week. Our meetings started being more casual and interactive. "House church" really was a good fit for us. But something still wasn't right. I couldn't work hard enough, or regret my mistakes enough, to make God approve of me.

Finally, I just had enough. I had to walk away from ministry. Since what I was doing wasn't creating a better relationship between me and God, what was the point? I sent our people off to good churches where they would be fed and happy, and my family and I kind of drifted. We met up with some house church people, and I really like the style of their meetings. (I still do.)

It's been about 2 years since I left the pro ministry. God is doing something deeper in me. At some point, I realized that God isn't that concerned about where the body gets together on Sunday. And He's not even that excited about what I do in my service for Him. What He wants is me. Not my work. Not my gigantic ministry plans. Just me.

The realization that God loves me just because He loves me is still re-shaping the core of who I am. Do I still get depressed sometimes? Yes. Do I feel like I should be "doing more for the Kingdom?" Sometimes. But what I don't feel as much anymore is the weight, the burden of God's disapproval. Because now I know, and sometimes I even feel, that I am God's beloved child. No matter what I do, say, or think, He won't ever love me more, or less, than He does right now.

I know this is overly long, so thanks for reading...And since you read to the end, here's some musical enlightenment...

6 comments:

Michelle said...

This is a great testimony. I came to the conclusion last week that testimonies are the best thing we can give each other in the body of Christ.....

Joel B. said...

Thanks for sharing this, Richard. I imagine it will inspire a lot of people who are walking that line between the legalistic church and freedom. I like, too, how you shared the different things you tried in order to grow in your relationship with God, but nothing was ever enough. Man, I've been on that rollercoaster ride and it's so very sad, and it's definitely not the Life that Jesus came to give us.

"What He wants is me." I can't hear enough of that... I need that constant reminder.

Heidi W said...

It is great to read your story... thanks for sharing that. Why is it so hard to to keep that one thing in mind... that God wants "me!"

And why is it so difficult to remember that?

But it is something so important.

So simple, yet so difficult to grasp.

I think I come a little closer when I think of my love for my own children. And my love for them is nothing compared to His love for us. Mind-blowing, to be sure. Life-changing if we can get even a small hold on it.

Thanks.
:)

Richard J said...

Michelle--Thanks. Testimonies are powerful. I'm coming out of a mindset where the most important thing was knowing all the facts about God, Jesus, the Bible, etc. Then if you argue your side convincingly, you can get people to come to Christ. I've debated a lot of people, and this approach rarely works.

I think we need to know how to give answers to people who asks questions. But if our lives don't show that Jesus makes a difference, I'm not sure how persuasive our words will be...

Richard J said...

Joel--Thanks for the encouragement. I love roller coasters, but I was glad to jump off the spiritual one I lived on for too long.

The idea that all He wants is me is so simple and easy that it seems like it can't really be true. But it's the truest thing about our relationship to God.

Of course, it's also true that we have to get to the point where all we want is Him. Not the trappings of religion...

Richard J said...

Heidi--You actually hit on something that was incredibly helpful to me: having kids. They gave such a picture of how God loves me that it literally changed how I live.

In fact, I think I might flesh this out a bit in a post...