1000 + 1
I don't have it all together. I'm exhausted trying to keep it all together.
Something tells me I'm not alone.
Maybe you can relate...
In my years of walking and limping with Jesus, I've learned some valuable lessons about walking the Narrow Road. I used to think that I had to get my life together to somehow qualify to walk on that path. I always thought the Narrow Road was for the people who had it all together. For me it went something like this:
Pray "the prayer".
Get it together.
Keep it together.
Qualify for the journey.
Can't keep it together.
Try harder to be better.
Getting tired instead of better.
Disqualified from the journey.
Try harder than last time.
More exhausted than last time.
But wait, I prayed "the prayer", so I can't give up.
I prayed the prayer so why am I struggling?
I'll pray another prayer.
I'll make another promise.
Try harder to keep the promise.
Crap. Can't keep the promise.
I need to get better.
I'll try harder to be better, harder than last time.
Not getting better.
Now I'm really exhausted.
Wish I would have given up when I wanted to last time.
I felt like I was always going to God to apologize for all the ways I couldn't keep it together. It's like I was trying to give God reasons why He should give up on me. (Sobering what our prayers reveal about our theology.) I left those moments beat down. I found myself before God one night lamenting over my inability to keep it all together. I felt like Paul in Romans 7:15-20...
15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
It seemed like I had been there a thousand times before. Surely God was tired of seeing my face. Seems like every time I come my face is still caked with mud from last night's dinner in the prodigal's pig pen. If I'm honest, there are times I'm just tired of carrying my junk to God. Seems like each load weighs a little more than last time. Then God dropped a bomb; "So, you've been here a thousand times huh? Then by your count this makes 1,001. At least you knew where to come. I'm glad you're here." It was in that moment that I realized that well-worn path of confession and repentance is really the Narrow Road we've been invited to walk. The problem was that I was going for the wrong reasons. I was chasing something I already possessed. Heartache and grace have carved a familiar path. Grace-driven hindsight.
I remembered Peter's words in John 6. Do you remember that story? Jesus just got done describing (in very vivid detail) who He really was. In doing so He also continued to unravel the religious fabric that held all their traditions together. Jesus was pulling the rug out from underneath their feet. Biblical commentators suggest there were thousands of Jesus' followers that turned away and stopped following him that day. Can you imagine the conversations that took place as that crowd left?
Why would He say such things?
I don't have time for that.
Who does that guy think He is?
Has He lost His mind?
Then Jesus looks at His twelve and said "Do you want to leave too?"
But listen to how Peter responds. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life..."
Did you catch it? Go read what Peter said again.
Notice, Peter doesn't say "Jesus, where else are we going to go?" "To whom shall we go?" (John 6:68)
The hope I need and the hope you need isn't found in a destination, but in a person.
As I look back, it seems like I was going to God for pep talks. I'd take my laundry list of failures, and then Coach would yell at me and tell me to get back out there and try harder to get better. When we mess up, we don't need to remind God of all our junk, we need to be reminded of who God is. I'm grateful that when God gave us Jesus, He didn't give us a coach. He gave us a Savior. He gave us a Shepherd.
Our hope isn't found in our ability to get it together. Our hope isn't found in the prayer we prayed when we were 7. When the reality of your life sets in, it's not a prayer that will sustain you, it's Jesus. That's easy to type. Easy to preach. Incredibly difficult to get into the cracks of your soul.
I heard someone say recently "Prayer is the constant practice of not being God."
The Gospel invites us all to get out of the religious hamster wheels that we've been running in. We've been invited to follow Jesus on the Narrow Road. We've been invited to taste and see for ourselves. We're not on the Narrow Road chasing something elusive. We don't just follow to get life, we follow because we have life. We follow because a Life has been given in our place. We don't follow because we're playing some twisted game of hide and seek where we're trying to find a Jesus who has run and hid from us. We follow because Grace has pursued us.
Jesus doesn't just lead to life, He is life. I thought that if I performed well enough on the Narrow Road, then at the end of the journey life would be waiting. What I've learned is that I already have life. Colossians 1:27 tells us that we have the resurrected Christ living inside of us. "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Not, Christ and me... Christ in me. Jesus didn't die to make me a more well-behaved version of my old self.
The people that get better spiritually are those that realize their relationship with God isn't dependent upon them getting better. I'm convinced that far too many in American Christianity have reduced holiness to this narcissistic obsession with our own performance. Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth that the change we all crave doesn't happen by us trying harder to be better, but by beholding. We change as we get our eyes off of us and fix them on Jesus.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Nobody ever promised that the Narrow Road would be well-paved, well-lit, and free from potholes. But we have been promised that Jesus will journey with us.
The Gospel is the liberating declaration that Jesus died for those who didn't have it together. Jesus keeps it together for those of us who know we can't keep it together. Oh how we need to be reminded of this today!