Several years ago I heard the song I Then Shall Live by the Gaithers and absolutely fell in love with it – in fact, I actually purchased the sheet music for my choir and it became a staple in our repertoire during my tenure at the church. Last weekend, out of the blue, I happened to stumble across it again on my iPhone while mowing the lawn. I was struck again by the words – a message of commitment to live as God has called us to live, something that’s been on my hearth quite a bit lately.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time you know we’ve invested the last six months in searching for a new church. We’ve visited quite a few churches in this time and, in the last two months or so, are really sensing God answering us in some very specific ways. Two Sundays ago the pastor where we have been attending ended his sermon with a truly profound comment – one I’ve been unable to get out of my head for almost three weeks now! He said, “To discover your god, answer the question, ‘Where did I go/what did I do today in order to get my nourishment?'”
Now, to be honest, when I heard him say the first four words I expected him to follow it up with the traditional “Look at your checkbook and calendar to see how you spend your money and time.” But this was different, very different than I expected – and it caught me off guard. I started to think of the things I “have to do” before I go to bed each night – because that’s a pretty good indicator of what I do/where I go to “get nourishment”. Some are great things (tuck the girls in, clean up the kitchen, take out the garbage) and others, while they may be “good” probably aren’t “best” (like checking my work email so to minimize surprises that may await me in the morning, or logging onto an online class to check up on the discussion forums or making sure I’ve done my discussion forum posts). But, ashamedly, I’m not sure “spending time with God” ever makes it onto the list; I can’t even say that “prayer” or “studying my Bible” makes it high enough on the list every night because “I’m just too tired for that tonight, Lord” – but you better believe the email gets checked, Chloe gets taken to the bathroom, or the dishes get loaded into the dish washer (okay, so that dishes thing is more like a 9 nights out of 10…).
Now to be fair I’m not saying I never pray, read my Bible, or spend time with the Lord; what I’m saying is that I just don’t do it enough. And that hit me as I reflected on the sermon and then heard this song again last week – particularly these words:
I then shall live as one who’s been forgiven. I’ll walk with joy to know my debts are paid….
So, greatly pardoned, I’ll forgive my brother; the law of love I gladly will obey.
I then shall live as one who’s learned compassion. I’ve been so loved, that I’ll risk loving too….
And here’s what I realized: you can’t sing these words until you realize how much you’ve “been forgiven”, how much you’ve been “pardoned”, and how much you “are loved”. I’ll be honest, I’m a pretty decent person – I have lived a very moral and ethical life, I’ve been praised by many people for my high ethical standards and I’m honest (apparently humility doesn’t make it high on the list tonight….). I guess I’m what many would call a “good guy” (or at least a decent one!) I was raised in a Christian home from when I was a young child, I attended Christian school not only K-12 but also for my undergraduate education; I’ve served churches, lead Bible studies, and all the things that good Christian men do. I’ve never struggled with addiction like many of my friends and family – be it alcohol, drugs, or pornography – and, while I sometimes get frustrated, I’m not the first person people think of when they identify someone with an “anger problem”.
But the older I get (and I’m not old by any stretch, so don’t even go there), I realize more and more just how rotten I would be without Jesus. I see how my heart betrays the words I speak: I recognize the tendency to judge others, I see the prejudices I have, I see the natural inclination to do all those things in the previous paragraph I’ve said I’ve never done, and I know the selfish motives that are present when I do “good things”. The older I get I realize more fully just how much I’ve truly been pardoned of, of how much I’ve been forgiven, and how deeply I am loved; I also see just how much turmoil and evil I’ve escaped because God had kept it from me. And the more I see the rotten part of me that is slowly dying I realize more and more that it’s through no work that I do but it really is “Christ who lives in me”.
One of the things that has kept us going back to the church we’ve been visiting for the past two months is a statement made by the senior pastor one of the first weeks we visited: “We exist to help you become someone who looks more like Jesus.” Isn’t that what this song is all about – “Looking more like Jesus”? Jesus said that the one who has been forgiven much loves much, and it is a wonderful thing to realize more deeply every day just how much he has forgiven me, how unworthy I am of his love and forgiveness, and how blessed I am to receive it. God has been so gracious to me – truly giving me more than I could ever “ask or imagine” in this life, so I know I can’t even imagine what the next life will entail!
This is one of those posts that, unless you’ve reached this point in your Christian walk probably doesn’t make much sense to you…. So perhaps you need to start by answering the question I shared at the beginning of this post or reflecting on the words of the song linked above…. All I can say is that if you truly let Jesus show you what he’s done in your life, and ask him to rekindle the passion for him that you once had, he will answer that prayer.