I came came across an article the other day written by Wayne Jacobsen back in 2003. It really blessed me.. So....., with a little licence, I have set out below the points that impacted the most.
The box that imprisons God's people is not religious institutions per se, but the system of religious obligation that many of them use to preserve the institution or to advance its program.
No matter how we gather with other believers, God wants all of us liberated from the box of religious obligation, because it is mostly based on human effort for spiritual growth and community life. This box is lined with guilt that you're never doing enough to earn God's favor and it is laced with the fear that your spiritual security lies in conforming to the doctrine and program of the group. It often focuses on an institutional program or someone's personal vision, rewarding those who conform while abusing those who do not.
Many of us who gave ourselves wholeheartedly to that system were shocked to find out that it could only deliver an illusion of God's life but never the reality. It exploited our most noble intentions and imprisoned us with our basest desires. It offered temporal security, spoon-fed nourishment and even some emotionally satisfying moments, but it could not let us soar to the heights. This system only wore us out with its programs, exhausting our efforts while bearing little fruit. While it could conform our external behavior, it could not transform our inner thoughts and motives. So sin still undermined, guilt consumed and emptiness hounded us. We were often left with the inescapable conclusion that it wasn't working because we weren't trying hard enough.
To thrive in freedom outside of the box we'll need to learn a new way of living. Here are some of the lessons I see God teaching people who are learning to live free:
Learn to Relax - Religious obligation says that it is all up to you. If God isn't doing the things you want, you have to work harder, stand firmer and pray longer. The focus is on your performance, your obedience, your righteousness. Outside that box, you will quickly recognize that your best efforts will not accomplish God's work, it depends on him not you. Instead of trying to manipulate God he will teach you rest in his work through you. You will find yourself making better decisions when you trust his love for you than when you're anxiety-ridden about trying to earn it.
You will learn to rely on him alone and recognize that any time you give up responsibility for your spiritual nourishment to another person - whether friend, pastor or author, you've already traded away a bit of your freedom, for life in a box.
Give Up Your Illusion of Control - You can only try to give up control if you're still under the illusion that you have it. Our actions and decisions have profound consequences in our journey, but ultimately God is in control. Has any amount of scheming or manipulation ever truly produced the results you seek? When God shows you that you are not in control, then you will truly be free to live in his purposes instead of your own.
Live for His Approval - The craving for approval devours our spiritual passions by putting our focus on what people think of us rather than what God does. As you get free from the box, expect others to play this approval card for all its worth. Even close friends may suddenly hold you at arm's length or say unkind things about you, all in the hope of drawing you back into the box they think holds the keys to life..... It does not.
Let Guilt Die - Guilt is that deep, nagging drumbeat in your gut trying to convince you that you're a really bad person and God is upset with you. Even when you rationally know you made the right decision, guilt can be relentless. Guilt is the easiest way to motivate people who do not know who they are in Christ.
How do you deal with it? Let it die. Though you can't stop its drumbeat you can refuse to dance to it. In time it will fade away. You will also discover that those who help you most grow in God will never pile on the condemnation when you disappoint them, but they will always help peel it away. Like Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, they know that guilt rather than freeing people from sin only drives it into darker closets where it only becomes more destructive.
Savor the Story - In his amazing grace God gave us the story of how he made himself known to men and women just like us. He wanted us to know exactly what he is like and how he thinks so that we could know him as he is. The Bible is not an owner's manual with rules to be followed, it is the story of God making his reality known in the brokenness of our world. If you're used to others spoon-feeding it to you, now is the time to take it on yourself. Start with the Gospels. As you savor God's story, you will find yourself better able to see and appreciate how he continues to write that story into your own life. You will see Jesus more clearly and recognize his voice more simply.
Cultivate Relationships - You never know how God might use you to touch someone who works near you, lives near you or just passes by you during the day. You'll be surprised at the people he will put you in touch with and how his presence in you will be a blessing to them. As you find yourself blessing others near you, you will also come across others who are on a similar journey.
Live Life - Real community is a gift God gives out of growing friendships, not what we produce by any methods or programs. Instead of creating it, we have only to recognize it as God builds it around us. The best gatherings of body life emerge out of relationships where people are learning to share the Jesus journey together. If you know people who want to be intentional about sharing this kind of community, by all means join them. But if you don't, don't give into the lie that God has forgotten you. There are many ways God can relate you to people who are also living the journey, even if it is just a conversation here and there for a time. I suspect that when people have a hard time finding fellowship with others its because God wants to draw them closer to himself first.
Don't Despise the Struggle - it isn't easy learning to live outside the false security of religious obligation, but the freedom is so worth it. Scientists say if you help a butterfly escape its chrysalis, you actually kill it. God designed the process so that the struggle itself actually strengthens the butterfly so she will be able to fly away when she is finally free. It can be scary when all the props that made you comfortable are no longer there, and it is easy to coast through life and miss out on the incredible friendship God wants with you and to soar in the life of Jesus. Our struggles accomplish the same thing. They are part of what God uses to invite us deeper into him.
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