Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reason Number Ten

As I work my way through my list of excuses people give for choosing not to give regular time for the care and nurture of their souls in a corporate gathering, I have to look at myself.  I have used Excuse Number Ten, “God will understand” multiple times as a justification for doing something I know I shouldn’t--or for not doing something I know I should.

God will understand.  When I look at that statement just by itself, I become aware of my hubris--how easily I decide for God!  What a quick trip for me into the mind of the Holy and Almighty One where I, limited as I am, can say with such certainty, “this is no big deal to God.”

I have enough insight into my own soul to know that when I start using words like that, I’m about to make a choice that is invariably the least helpful of the possibilities in front of me.

I’ll try a few on for size here:  

  • God will understand if I do not have active compassion for those on the margins (because someone else will?).
  • God will understand if I systematically bully or mistreat others (because maybe they don’t have real feelings like I do--so God made them a little less important than I am?).
  • God will understand if I violate my own conscience to a point where that violation has become so habitual that I can no longer hear that quiet voice (because God really is a heavenly-placed magician who will spread pixie dust over the devastation I offer to myself and others so it will all mysteriously turn out just fine).
  • God will understand if I skate my way through life, cheating and lying (because I’m really just human, after all, and not much can be expected of me, especially the hard work of becoming conformed to the image of the Holy One).
  • God will understand if I sleep in on yet another day of worship (because, after all, I do deserve that day of rest after working so hard all week!)

It gets kind of sick, doesn’t it?  I can excuse anything I want to do with those words, “God will understand.”  I can dismiss the failure to take up any responsibility with those same words.  

Even so, I also find a profound truth in the phrase, “God will understand.”  It touches upon the whole concept of grace, but in a way that leaves the idea empty.  Grace:  the wondrous and mysterious action of God that intentionally invites all us creatures into what I call a state of forgiven intimacy--both with the Holy One and with each other.  By flippantly dismissing this invitation as “God will understand,” we land in the quagmire of what is often called cheap grace. The invitation costs everything.  Our reception of it as “God understands my laziness and is happy with my excuses” tramples this invitation and heaves it into the trash bin.

Understanding and communicating the nature of grace may be the impossible quest.  Grace really is God’s free gift to us.  That gift is the invitation to return joyfully to the heart of God, with complete forgiveness offered.  But too often we think this gift can be simply set aside until it becomes more convenient to receive it.  In other words, we don’t value it, don’t savor it, and don’t take the time to respond with thankfulness.

Participation in worship does not earn one’s way into heaven.  It does prepare us to recognize what Jesus often taught: the kingdom of heaven is all about us.  Worship trains our souls to be more receptive to that joyous grace.  Worship teaches us to live out the image of God stamped upon us as we learn to forgive those around us.  More about this next week, as I explore excuse number nine, “Someone (or several someones) at the church hurt me and never apologized.”


Kurt Neubauer said...

Well stated Christy. Often I've heard 'that's legalism' to dismiss one of God's edicts. Part of what happens, when I allow myself the freedom to do/not do something, which is there 'for others, not me'; is open the door to psychopathic personality disorder features or just good plain old 'searing my conscience with a hot iron' sin nature.

Angie Hammond said...

As I read this post, I am reminded of how I felt this past Sunday morning when I'd worked all day long painting in the hot sun on Saturday painting carport poles. I was tired and sore when Sunday morning arrived and it came time to get up to go to church. There was the part of me that wanted so much to just roll over and go back to sleep and say I needed the rest. But then the part of me that realized that I needed the time with others in worship took over and I pulled myself up out of the bed and on to worship.

I discovered that while I was tired and sore and still wishing that I was in bed asleep that I was also getting something that I needed in worship.

I attended three services and sang in two of them and each touched my soul in a different way. I was blessed to be with others and to hear the word of God for me. I was encouraged and loved and felt loved.

Oh how much better I felt because I actually got up and went to church instead of staying at home because I'd over done it on Saturday.

Yes God would have understood, and I'd still have received his grace. But by not using excuse number ten, I received not only grace, but a message that said to me that God would be faithful to complete his work in me and I need not fear the future.

Thanks Christy for reminding us that worship is more than just another meeting we have to force ourselves to get up for.

Vicki Attaway said...

God will understand that when I say 'He'll understand,' what I really need from Him is vision into my own soul and direction as to where it should go.

I can forget to pray, or not be in the 'mood' for it and say that God will understand, that He knows my heart is good, we've talked before and He knows what I usually pray for. So just let it go for now.

I can say He'll understand if I don't go to church today. I've met my quota for the month. God probably doles out grace one sermon at a time, anyway. I've got enough for now.

I can say, 'God will understand', if I get real critical of those who always say 'He'll understand.' I might get impatient with their lack of finding joy in their lives, by not being actively involved with the church, with God, with fellowship. But as I examine my own heart,as God gives me the grace to do. I find that God understands me enough for me to understand them.

Christy Thomas said...

Great responses here--all filling out my original post. That ever challenging balance: legalism vs. licentiousness; grace vs. law. We will all spend a lifetime working our way through this--but I just don't see how to address it well without being a part of a community that addresses it together.


Christy, I agree about the working through this together. I came to church alone, from my own intensely secluded universe and stepped into a group of people who have helped melt away my loneliness and remind me of my spirituality. God brought that group together, not just for me, but for each other, for the common good, for the common grace that people feel when they experience something that God has intended to happen. And to feel the power, the strength in numbers to be able to reach out to those who aren't there.

I sometimes say the "God will understand," thing and let myself down by calling on him to do it, to let it be okay that I'm slacking off, By not doing what I need to do to be a part of a living, breathing congregation. But more often I remember what blessings I have received when I have said "I myself do understand where it is I need to be.'