January 26 Reflections

There was a time in my life when I obsessively read Scripture, engaged in what I thought was prayer, yet the whole time I was empty, stressed, working hard at being the perfect Christian, the perfect pastor. I was engaged in reading the Bible through in a year, every year till the day I die, because that is what real bonafide Christians do. There came a point when I was thinking that this obsessive reading might kill me, if not physically, at least spiritually. Then there was prayer. I had developed an elaborate system of prayer lists. Every day plowing through the list, like a road grader leveling out a road. No joy. No peace. I mean, really, was I doing enough? Maybe I should read through the Bible twice a year and pray 2 hours a day. Then I will have arrived. But for me it was driving me crazy, and I was not loving people better, I was not preaching better, I was caught in dead spiritual practices, with no life being breathed into me.

I didn’t see the Bible as a love letter from God to me, I saw it as a textbook that I better memorize, or I will be dismissed from the Kingdom. I didn’t see prayer as a conversation of love with Abba, who loved me more than anyone else in the world. I saw it as ritual; going through a shopping list of people and circumstances, that led to me to think that God was pleased with me and I was not going to get stomped on that day.  There was nothing personal in it. Duty, all duty. What I particularly noticed was that I did not love others well because of it. In fact, I became judgmental, why can’t others be like me, they are so lazy. No wonder they are sick or have disease or relational problems. Get your spiritual act together. I was not compassionate. God was stern, and you had better shape up, was my attitude. I walked around like a self-righteous prig, throwing out all my spiritual platitudes which no one found transformative. There came a day when God spoke to me, like Amos the prophet did long ago: “I can’t stand your religious meetings.” (Amos 5:21) God: “Verlyn I can’t stand this anymore. Stop. You are killing our relationship and you are not loving others. I can’t stand your false piety. You need to learn that it is all about love. It is all about relationship. Not some rules you have made up.” So, I stopped. I didn’t stop reading scripture or praying (That would be a bad deal for a religious professional), I stopped obsessing with a rule that was not a relationship. Prayer became a conversation of love. Reading Scripture was reading a love letter.  You can read it over and over and never get tired of it. And I am changed. My heart is changed. When that happens there is great love, compassion and grace for others.

The true test of spirituality is how well you love others. Does your spiritual practice lead you to love God, love others and love your own self? A quote by Bede Griffiths speaks into my heart: “The love of God is not a mild benevolence but a consuming fire.” A love relationship with Abba that heats up my heart and burns away the things that are worthless, leads to loving others. This Sunday we are going to journey together in healthy relationships and how our spirituality must connect us with others, not separate us, disconnect. “I prayed and read the Bible this morning. But I hate you. I am going to gossip about you. I will lie about you or tell half-truths. But I did my devotions. God “hates” this. (Amos 5:21 NIV) God desires a love relationship with you that leads to healthy relationships with others. We are going to think about that on Sunday. Some passages: Isaiah 58:9-11; Amos 5:21-24; Mark 7:6-7.

 

Grace upon Grace,

Pastor Verlyn