One of the things I’ve noticed during my time in the Evangelical Church is that an underlying belief (sometimes very subtle, sometimes very obvious and loud and outspoken) is that …
In order to please God.
In order to be a better Christian.
In order to grow in your faith.
In order to mature as a believer.
… You need to do MORE.
Like, want your finances to be straightened out? Tithe MORE.
Want to grow closer to God? Read your Bible MORE.
Want to improve your marriage? Pray MORE.
Want your kids to change? Bring them to church MORE.
Want to feel better about yourself? Exercise MORE.
And you need to do MORE of these things because God expects you to do more. Like, the more you do, the more that God will bless you in the various places in which you’re looking for blessing.
For example, the other day I saw a tweet from a pastor (that I have a lot of respect for and love very much) that said something like “supernatural fruit can’t be born without human effort.” I’ve heard other people say it differently, that we need to “pray like it all depends on God and work like it all depends on us.” And still, “you can’t expect God to fill up your life if you’re not putting in the effort to organize your life and make more room for Him and His blessings.”
And I get it.
Like, no doubt there are times when the ball is 100% in our court and we need to step up our game. I’ve gone through seasons of my life where I’ve needed to read my Bible more, be more generous, spend more time in prayer, exercise more, find someone to keep me more accountable in different areas, etc.
Here’s the thing.
Just because that’s what a particular season of my life might call for doesn’t mean that’s what God expects of me.
Like, just because I might be in a season where I need to pray more or read my Bible more or be more generous or whatever doesn’t mean that God is a God who has rigged the universe so that problems are fixed and blessings are poured out when we do more and add more to our plates.
But, so often, we live as if that’s true about Him. We live as if we serve a God who is weighing our deeds on a scale so that the higher the weight goes on our effort, the easier He hands out His blessings and answers our prayers.
“Well it looks like Glenn spent MORE time reading his Bible than last month, MORE time in prayer, gave MORE money to the church, and was MORE kind to bad drivers. Let’s answer that prayer. It looks like he’s finally learned.”
And, if I’m being really honest, so often the church teaches people that this is the way that God operates.
Like, if you do MORE of these things …
You’ll be happier.
You’ll experience more joy.
Your heart will be lighter.
… And God will be more apt to bless you because your life will be more open to His blessings.
If I can be real with you for a moment. I remember back when Dana and I were planting our church, I bought into this lie of “God expecting MORE of us” … like, 1000% BOUGHT. INTO. IT.
Looking back on those years, I was focused like a madman on the goal of growing our church out of our little garage and into a small storefront in town. The goal was to get to a place where we could rent out a local and very popular Italian restaurant and have church there on Sunday mornings before they opened the doors for lunch; and then once the doors opened we’d be ready to buy the first 20 families pizza.
It was a great idea and we were barreling towards it at full speed.
And although there wasn’t anything wrong with the goal (it actually was a super good idea birthed out of all the right motives), I now look back and cringe at the way I was pushing our small team to achieve the goal.
A few examples:
I had a Bible reading plan for our core team to read through together. We had like 6 people on our core team, plus me and Dana. The idea was that the MORE we read our Bible the MORE we would hear from God because God honors those who spend MORE time in the Scriptures.
In fact, I was so adamant about it that I told people that if they didn’t do the reading that was assigned prior to the meeting then they shouldn’t bother showing up.
I said things like, “because I need people here who are hearing from God and if you’re not spending time in the Bible trying to hear from Him, you’re wasting everyone’s time.”
I also told our team that they had to tithe. I expected 10%, but was open to people giving whatever amount they could. I pushed hard on passages from Malachi and various other verses that I (admittingly) ripped out of context to push people to give and give and give because I believed that the MORE people gave the MORE God would see our efforts and the MORE God would bless us for being good stewards.
More Bible reading.
Be more on time to every meeting.
In short, if there was a spiritual discipline that I thought would give us a chance at getting on the right side of God or would help clear out some of the stuff in our lives that often keeps us from hearing His voice.
Then I unashamedly pushed people into it and held their heads under the surface until they were drowning in the discipline, barely able to stay afloat … all in the name of doing MORE for God so that we would show Him how open we were and ready we were for His blessings.
Sometimes I wish I could go back and give Pastor Glenn a stern talking to, but then I remember that Pastor Glenn was doing the best he could with what he had and then I feel a strange amount of grace for myself.
I wasn’t trying to be deceitful.
I wasn’t trying to shame anyone.
I wasn’t trying to burden anyone.
… That kind of theology and understanding of God was really all I knew and the voices that were in my life at the time told me I was doing it right. And so, I kept pushing.
So I wonder, have you experienced this teaching in your life? In your time in church? From pastors? Sunday School teachers? Parents? All of whom meant well, no doubt … but just because they meant well and just because the words and teachings came from a good place, that doesn’t make them true or healthy or any less of a lie, right?
Sure, we can find Bible verse after Bible verse encouraging people to …
Spend MORE time in God’s presence.
Aim to be MORE.
I’m not denying that. And I’m not even denying that giving more, praying more, reading our Bible’s more, etc. are bad things.
Read that again:
I’m not denying that giving more, praying more, reading our Bible’s more, etc. are bad things.
(So don’t email me, I won’t read it. HA! )
What I am challenging, rather, is this idea that God has rigged or set up the universe in such a way that the way to becoming a better follower of Him or a better human being or the way to be filled with more of His Spirit or see more of His blessings in your life or whatever it is you’re hoping for … is to constantly aim to ascend higher and higher and higher in all the various areas of our lives.
In short, we’ve made this thing we call “Christianity” into a religion of ASCENT when (in reality) Jesus came to show us that following Him is not a religion, but a way of life that’s marked by DESCENT.
Again, following Jesus isn’t a religion of ASCENT, but a way of life that is marked by DESCENT.
It’s not a religion of adding more things to your life.
It’s a way of stripping things away.
It’s not a religion of power.
It’s a way of weakness.
It’s not a religion of addition.
It’s a way of subtraction.
It’s not a religion of MORE.
It’s a way of LESS.
It’s not a religion of going higher.
It’s a way of going lower.
I just finished reading Richard Rohr’s new book “The Universal Christ” and he talks about this idea briefly at the end, which is perhaps why it’s been so heavy on my mind these last few days.
Here’s a quote …
“It is not insignificant that Christians chose the cross as their central symbol. At least unconsciously, we recognized that Jesus talked a lot about ‘losing your life.’ Perhaps Ken Wilber’s distinction between climbing religions and descending religions is helpful here. He and I both trust the descending form of religion much more than the climbing, and I think Jesus did too. Here the primary language is unlearning, letting go, surrendering, serving others, and not the language of self-development – which often lurks behind our popular notions of salvation.”
For a lot of Christians and a lot of churches, salvation and the spiritual life have become giant games of self-development. They’ve become these things where the goal is to climb the ladder of success in the various areas of relationships, finances, health, relationship with God, knowledge of the Bible and theology, etc. so that over the course of a lifetime we can ascend higher and higher and become better and better Christians and get our lives more and more together.
Again – nothing wrong with those things.
Healthy relationships are GOOD.
Having a handle on your finances is GOOD.
Giving is GOOD.
Having a grasp on theology is GOOD.
Nothing wrong with those things (and the many other areas of spiritual and self-development that I didn’t mention).
… Nothing wrong with them …
They become the lens through which we look at the message of Jesus causing us to, then, slap God’s name onto our obsession with self-development and growth and do what I essentially did in our church plant – make people believe that climbing higher on these various ladders will somehow create more room and space for God to pour out the blessings we ask for.
This ladder and ascending stuff isn’t the way of Jesus, really. Rather, I think it’s manipulative, I think it’s a false Gospel, and I think it’s Anti-Christ.
Rohr goes on to say that …
“Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit.’ And although Jesus made this quite clear in His life, we still largely turned Christianity into a religion where the operative agenda was some personal, moral perfection or attaining to some kind of salvation, ‘going to heaven,’ converting others rather than ourselves, and acquiring more health, wealth, and success in the world. In that pursuit we ended up aligning with empires, wars, and the colonization of the planet, instead of with Jesus or the powerless. It seems that all the climbing and little descending has finally caught up with us in the 21stcentury.”
So, what am I saying? Why am I pressing this MORE thing so hard? Am I saying that you should just stop trying to grow?
Stop trying to develop yourself?
Delete YouVersion off of your phone and stop with the reading plans?
Stop tithing to your church?
Stop increasing your exercise routine?
Sleep in instead of getting up to pray?
None of it matters?
It’s all stupid?
If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re missing my point. Keep doing those things, IF you feel like they are what you need in this season of your life.
Don’t do them out of guilt. And don’t do them because you think they are somehow making room in your life for God to pour out blessings, blessings that He would be unable to pour out if you weren’t doing these things. Like, stop adding MORE things to your life and stop trying to ascend higher on the ladders of spiritual and personal development because you think that God is at the top of the ladder.
In fact, I would argue that He’s actually at the bottom of the ladder, with the poor in spirit.
In his book “Bitten By A Camel” Kent Dobson talks about the ancient city of Megiddo where there is a narrow gate that literally zig zags towards a small entrance. Legend has it, he says, that this kind of small gate was called the ‘eye of the needle’ because in order for camels (and now semi—trucks!) to pass through the gate they need to be stripped of all of their baggage.
The way through the narrow gate isn’t to add MORE baggage.
The way through the narrow gate is to carry LESS baggage.
Perhaps this is why Jesus once said that its “easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man into enter the Kingdom of God” because perhaps the way of Jesus and the way of the Kingdom isn’t to add more, but to carry less.
And so I wonder, what are you carrying today that needs to be dropped? That needs to be let go? In what areas of life do you need to lower yourself? What places need to be cleaned out? Like the rich man, are there areas in your life that are RICH and are in need of becoming POOR because the places where you’ve worked so hard to climb and reach the top of the ladder have actually served to make you …
Less grace filled?
Less like Christ?
You see, you’ll never enter the life of Jesus by carrying all of your baggage and greasing up the sides of your overloaded camel that’s filled with all of your spiritual and personal successes that you’re immensely proud of and hang on to as if they’re a mark of honor, all in an effort to squeeze it all through the gates.
It doesn’t work that way.
We tend to think of faith as this thing where we load up our camels for the journey. Right? Like, we need to get all of our supplies together because we’re going to need all of the tools we can get as we set out to become more like God and grow closer to Him.
More Bible studies.
More prayer meetings.
More Christian music.
“The more of these things I carry”, we think, “the better off I’ll be because the more things I’ll have in my life to carry the blessings of God that He will surely pour out on me now that I’m doing all of these wonderful and godly things that are sort of like a badge of honor for how much I love Him and how serious I am about following Him.”
Things that start out innocent can quickly become not only badges of shame, but badges of pride where we shame ourselves and others for not doing enough or hold our heads smugly high because we think we do so much more than everyone else.
And so, I wonder:
What spiritual or life disciples are filling you with shame? Or pride? These are the places where you’re RICH like the rich man and are (perhaps) in need of becoming POOR so that you can fit through the narrow gate that leads to the way of Jesus.
What things have you added to your life that were innocent and good at first, but quickly spiraled into things that make you feel ashamed because you think you’re not doing enough or full of pride because you think that you’re doing so much more than everyone else?
Here’s the deal: maybe those things don’t need to be cut out of your life forever (or maybe they do), but maybe you need some space away from those things so that they can be put back into perspective at the bottom of the ladder. Maybe you need to climb back down the ladder you’ve worked so hard to get to the top of and embrace a Christ who loves you just the way you are, but loves you no more than He loves anyone else.
This is episode 47. See you next week.
Much love to you, my friends.