I have this problem with religion. I know that’s a funny thing for a minister to say, seeing as I draw my salary from religion and all. But there’s a basic problem with the structures and activities that are derived from religion: they tend to become rote and lose meaning.
There are times when the prayer and fasting and study draw me so close to the heart of God. But there are way too many times when they are activity for their own sake. I go through the motions. I feel like the Teacher in Ecclesiastes proclaiming all as meaningless. The giving of myself becomes an end rather than a means.
Last week I spent quite a bit of time focused on this beautiful poem that Paul writes in Philippians 2:
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
How many times have I read that and felt guilt rather than motivation? My attitude rarely matches up to that selfless standard. But this isn’t here to shame us, but to show us the point. Jesus didn’t humble himself to the Father (and even further to death) just to show us that he was better. Notice that when he humbled himself & exalted God, the Father lifted him right back up.
Instead of clinging to his status and position, he chose relationship; and the beauty in that choice is the key to everything.
Because there’s a point to all of this, you know. All of the commands, the submission of our will, the so-called rules and structure of religious life are all trying to get us to see something bigger. When we really follow the example of Christ we can begin to see it.
Life really becomes beautiful when we give ourselves for the sake of one another.
We can see it in the beautiful picture of the early church in Acts 2:
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
Those people didn’t meet together and share meals and take care of one another out of some religious obligation. They did so because when we do, the beauty of life becomes apparent. It is when we do likewise that we are truly successful.
And that’s why we study and pray and fast. That is why we read Scripture and pray together each week. It reminds us that success is found when we pour into others and they pour into us. Just like Jesus and the Father did with each other.
That’s what success really looks like.