Earlier this week my wife, Laura, and I read from Jesus' sermon on the mount: Matthew 5-7. The opening paragraph of chapter 6 from Eugene Peterson's The Message goes like this:
“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding."
This isn't news: I'm a recovering Pharisee. That is, I'm a long-time "wrapped-in-religion people-pleaser." If you don't quite understand me yet, that means that too often in my life my motivation for most anything has come from trying to make others happy with me. Approval. Acceptance. Smiles. "Isn't he awesome?" kind of stuff.
Sick, I know. I lived that way for more years than I want to admit. So I won't. But I did.
For years I dismissed myself from Jesus' audience of Pharisees. After all I wasn't putting on a show. I wasn't making a big production out of my serving or leading or caring for people. But if I'm waiting for accolades or bothered by the lack of them, well... welcome to my stage.
Truth is, I am still tempted to live out of that paradigm... that identity.
It's an identity that wants to define me as "enough." An approach to life that practically disregards all that Jesus has done as "enough." A paradigm that dismisses the grace of God as sufficient, as though the acceptance of people is somehow better or preferred to His acceptance. Which all in all, makes me arrogant and other people my false idols.
Sick, I know. But, I'm recovering.
Now, if you're reading this and you're disheartened by the notion that I've faked concern for you, or that I've lied about praying for you, I haven't. I do care, I serve because I love people, and I pray out of deep trust that people matter to me... and certainly to God.
I want God's applause, even though my old tapes scream otherwise. I want God happy with me, and apparently He already is. I want to be good enough, and God says I am through Jesus.
There's one place to go when we leave our self-absorbed stage, and that's into the welcome arms of Jesus who calls us to simply rest.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Recovering Pharisees are called to rest. Join me.