“Just Give Me Jesus” or “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?”
I prayed to God this morning. I told Him, several times, in fact, that I would not settle, would not be satisfied, with anything less than truly knowing Him, and having Him be real in and through my life. Now, I know that is not the first time that He has heard that petition. Many earnest Christians before me have made the same request, thousands, if not millions, of times. So why has it been so complicated for me to "know" Him in the past?
In my own experience of seeking God, I have found many different versions of Him. To begin with, while I was under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, I had a very clear understanding of God. Or so I thought. Not that I was truly seeking Him at the time. But I did learn that He was Someone that I needed to fear. I knew He punished sin, and that I would have to some day give an account to Him for mine. Of course, Jesus was there, and did die for my sins. But apparently His suffering and death, even though He seemed to be perpetually going through it on a crucifix, and having it replayed again and again during every Mass that I attended, was not quite enough. My salvation depended on some other things as well. There were many rules to follow; rules that were always changing. Going to Sunday Mass was crucial. Skipping that was a mortal sin, and only having your confession heard by a priest would put you in the clear. Provided, of course, that you said your “penance” of however many Hail Marys and Our Fathers the priest calculated were necessary to augment the not quite sufficient sacrifice of Christ’s death on the cross. Lots of other “lesser” sins could be dealt with by simply taking communion. Then there were prayers to the saints, prayers for the dead in purgatory (to get them an early release), special novenas, extra points for saying your rosary and going to other Masses. Still, with all of that, there was no certainty that God would, in the end, accept you.
Then, praise God, I was saved. Now my idea of God changed drastically. I realized there was nothing I could do to atone for my own sin, and that Jesus' death was the only way to satisfy God’s wrath that had been hanging over my head. I went to a Pentecostal church, and was amazed to see so many happy, smiling people. There was lots to learn, and on I went, searching and reading and branching out to other meetings and events, ever longing to “know” this Jesus that I now loved and yearned for. But still, there were certain “conditions” along the way. One must somehow “be led of the Spirit”, and obey that leading, in order to be at the right place and the right time, in order not to “miss a blessing.” It seemed that if you were a “spiritual” person, you heard God’s voice on a regular basis, and lived your life on a slightly higher plane than everyone else. And of course, you were always positive and upbeat, having the “joy of the Lord” visible in every aspect of your countenance and behaviour. Somehow along the way I got the notion that I needed to “feel” that God loved me before I could be confident that He did. Jesus was there for me, but really, to be “greatly used” of Him, I needed to be “on fire” for Him, and richly endowed with many supernatural gifts of the Spirit. Just being a “regular Christian” put me in the back row in terms of making any inroads for God’s Kingdom.
Along with those types of observations, I encountered the idea that God would act on my prayers only if I had enough faith. If I didn’t get answers, then there was sin in my life, or I simply didn’t believe Him. I also ran into another kind of God, Who wanted to make me rich, and successful at everything I did. This somehow necessitated a monetary investment on my part, given to one of His many “anointed” servants who “heard” from Him in dreams, visions, and maybe even tea leaves.
Sometimes a “move of God” would come along. When people encountered this Jesus, they laughed hysterically, fell on the floor as if they were drunk, clucked like chickens and developed bizarre facial ticks. I observed these things from a distance, feeling left out of the “blessing”, as I could never quite “enter in” to whatever it was that God was doing. Again, I missed out. I concluded that I simply was not spiritual enough for God to bless in this way; I must have had a “religious spirit” that was in the way.
Then on to Reformed Theology. Oh the blessedness of knowing there was not one single thing I could do to save myself or keep myself saved. I embraced many wonderful truths about my sin and God’s grace. This was incredibly freeing for a time. I learned of the Puritans, and others throughout history, who had stood up to persecution, were martyred, devoted their lives to studying and expounding the Word of God. Their devotion knew no bounds. I learned. And I learned. And I read. And I listened. To sermons, tapes, quote upon quote. My head filled up, and my heart dried up. I heard many who mourned over their sin, who reminded me of my utter lack of one good thing, and how incredibly far short I fell of giving God all that He deserved. And then God became somehow farther away, so majestic, so high and lifted up. Someone that I could never please, and should just give up and grovel before. And never, in my wildest dreams, would I measure up to those men and women of old in their diligence and mourning over sin.
So here I am, today, away from the walls of church, having removed myself from those constraints. Yet still there are other voices, even here. It seems being “out of church” is a denomination in itself, with plenty of “teachers” willing to show me the way to know the “Real Jesus”. I really don’t want to trade in one avenue of confusion for another. So for now, I’m sticking to what the “Real Jesus” said, in His Word. Like I did when I was first born again. I read it, He spoke to me, I spoke to Him. It really wasn’t complicated. In fact, He promises that it will happen just that way:
"You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13)