God Called Me a Pharisee

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I've talked a lot about transition on here over the past several months. This season has been a strange one so far, and to be honest I still don't really know where I'm headed. I go to work and I come home from work; I see friends and spend time with family. I'm not good at routine, and I still spend a lot of time suspiciously waiting for something to go wrong. But this season has also been wonderful in so many ways and I've learned a lot about creating new habits and consciously stepping into joy. I've had to carve out new ways of doing and learn why I do the things that I do, why I want the things that my heart craves.

You see, the thing about trying to create new life rhythms is that if you don't dig down to the root cause of the thing you want to change, it's hard to make the change stick. I'm not going to sugarcoat it and say that it is a fun or easy process, but it is necessary and that's what I'm clinging to. And I'm not going to pretend this hard conversation with God did not happen, because it's an important part of my story of learning how to rest, and someone has to draw the short straw and lead the way in vulnerability.

I have mentioned before that I struggle to find rest, to say no to things that sound like noble causes. I am notorious for overscheduling myself and then falling apart at the seams when my mind and body catch up with me. It's a hard cycle to find yourself in, and a hard one to break. But as I slowed down this fall, God and I had more time to have some of those difficult conversations that I had been avoiding (consciously or unconsciously). It has been beautiful and painful and challenging all at once, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

It happened one morning over breakfast, as I was eating my daily bowl of oatmeal and reading my Bible. I'd been journaling through the book of Psalms for a while on and off, writing out the verses and praying through them. On so many mornings, God had presented things that were incredibly relevant. I shouldn't be surprised, but it still catches me off-guard almost every time.

This particular psalm (Psalm 50) was a conversation with God, a reminder that He doesn't want mindless sacrifices from us, that He wants our hearts and our intentions. It talks about how God would rather have us just follow Him than to have us constantly bringing Him offerings to try and appease His wrath. It's a powerful piece that I'd read several times before, but something about it struck me that morning.

I have always been an enthusiastic volunteer wherever I go. I was part of student leadership in high school, served a handful of summers in camp ministry, played on worship teams, worked with the campus ministry at my university, helped lead the young adults group at my church. Volunteerism is very important to me, and I think it's a vital part of living in community.

But I had been struggling to find where I fit this fall, without all of the things that had kept me busy and serving for so long. After graduating from my degree program, I was no longer involved in the campus ministry I had worked with for four years, and the young adults ministry at my church had gone on a semi-permanent hiatus. I was still playing on a worship team, but that was only every third Sunday. And with working a 9 to 5 job with no homework, I didn't really know what to do with all my time. It felt a bit like I had lost my purpose because I didn't have those things which had come to define the way my life was organized.

And as I was forced to slow down a bit and take account of what my life was going to look like, as I prayed about what I was supposed to do post-schooling, some things came up. One of them was tied to reading that particular Psalm over breakfast. As I read it, I thought about the sacrifices I had made to serve over the past few years and something hit me. I felt God tugging at my heart to drill down into the motivations I had for taking on so much, why I am such a sucker for a good cause. And I realized that somewhere along the line, my motive for serving developed a bit of an 'if I work harder and sacrifice more I'll be a better Christian and God will be more proud of me' complex. It wasn't only an act of loving service to others or God anymore, but took on shades of 'if I just pack my schedule with spiritual activities, there won't be room for anything sinful to creep in.'

And that's where the wheels fall off, every time. That's where the wheels fell off for me in this conversation with God, mid-sip of coffee. God's word stared me in the face and said, "You know who else thought they could overschedule their way into the kingdom? You know who thought they could pack their lives full of spiritual activities so there was no room for sinful distractions? Pharisees."

Oh.

The Pharisees were the most religious members of their society, and they were the champions of packing their lives full to the brim with what they believed to be God's work. But they ended up running in conflict with Jesus because rather than simply trusting God and loving the people they had been tasked with leading, they attempted to merit their way into the kingdom of God by doing all the right things and look great while doing it. In pursuit of their religious lifestyle they completely missed the point - God did not want them to sacrifice everything just for the sake of sacrificing it to look more spiritual than everyone else. He wanted them to sacrifice everything and chase after Him with abandon.

And I had completely missed the point by not stopping to consider why I was actually taking on more and more responsibilities. Because sure, I was doing good things and working hard to create community and putting the needs of others above my own, but I was going so overboard that it was killing me slowly and meaning that I wasn't actually able to serve well.

To hear the word 'Pharisee' tossed in my direction stung a bit, because they're the ones you're not supposed to be like. And yet they're the ones that I found myself identifying with most that morning. But then God reminded me of the one thing I needed to know, the one thing I need to be reminded again and again and again. He told me that there was nothing I could do to earn his love – He just gives it freely. He told me that I could slow down and live in freedom from having to work so hard, from having to earn my place with God. He doesn't need your offering of legalism or crippling burnout to let you in. This was the message Christ died to bring to us all, Pharisees included.

I sat at my table and cried because I hadn't realized how the lie that I needed to work harder to be a better Christian had actually been creeping into my heart. Because the thing about lies is that they creep in when you're not looking, when you're not taking stock of what's really going on beneath the surface. And it takes slowing down to have the capacity to consider things of depth, to actually root out the hard things. Busyness is a terrible coping mechanism.

God doesn’t need your offering of legalism or crippling burnout to let you in. This was the message Christ died to bring to us all, Pharisees included.

The enemy wants to feed you lies that distract you from your purpose in following God. Satan will feed them to you slowly over time in bites so small that you don't even realize you're ingesting them until they've taken up residence in your guts and are slowly poisoning you from the inside out. If we're not on guard, constantly in prayer and scripture, constantly checking in with God to see what He has for us, it's easy enough to have happen. And it takes consciously, intentionally replacing the lies with truth to cast the out.

I still believe that volunteerism is one of the most important parts of community, but as I've taken a step back in this season of life to rest, my perspective has fundamentally changed. I've learned a lot about the steps I need to take to preserve my physical, mental, and spiritual health in the process. And when opportunities arise to serve in areas that fit well with my life and mission, I will happily take them.

So I will leave you with the message that God impressed on my heart that morning several months ago, which continues to remind me of what is really important on a regular basis: You are a beloved child of God, and there is nothing you can do to make Him love you less. There is also nothing you can do to make Him love you more. When Christ died for you, that was the maximum amount of love anyone has ever shown for another being and nothing can ever change that. If you are choosing to follow Him daily, He is pleased with you. You don't have to outwork everyone else to make it into God's good books. It's that simple, and that beautiful.

Let's banish the lies today. Let's remember whose we are. Let's walk forward with purpose and in freedom.

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Joyfully,

Alice