When I was a student in the discipleship program of my former church, our campus pastor asked us if there was anything we wanted to experience or be taught while we were in the program. Well, I remembered my first experience shopping at Sam’s Club with my campus pastor. It was the first time I’d ever seen a pastor off church grounds. Up until that point, I had been raised in a church where the pastor disappeared after service and we never saw him again until next Sunday when he magically appeared behind the pulpit. I almost wondered if pastors got whisked away by an angel after services to Pastorville or something. The second my campus pastor drove off the church parking lot, my eyes were glued on him. That afternoon, I received a more powerful sermon than any I had heard behind the pulpit. I saw the Christian life lived out. I saw how he dealt with being cut off in traffic, I saw how he treated the cashiers and I watched him live out the love of Christ in an normal errand run. So when he asked us what we wanted to experience, I knew right away what I wanted. I told him, “I want to spend some time living with each one of the pastors here at church so I can watch them.”
Two weeks later, I arrived in the home of my campus pastor. His seven-year-old daughter immediately ran to welcome me and showed me my room. That evening, we went out to get groceries and then to Panera for supper. Throughout the four days I spent at their house, I saw him discipline his children, lead his family in devotions, and make faces as they sampled the strange ethnic foods I brought. Most of all, I saw how his family enjoyed each other. They loved being together and their time together was filled with laughter and love. Sure, their were moments where his two-year-old son was screaming from a spanking or his daughter was given a serious talking-to for making poor behavior choices, but it was clear that both children loved their parents dearly and knew how much their parents loved them.
After visiting their home, I thought back to my own childhood. My father was also both fun and strict. He had expectations for us but he also played games with us. However, because I constantly felt that I could never measure up to his standards and expectations, I never really enjoyed the game nights. I was always watching my behavior, scared that I would make a wrong move and upset him. I never enjoyed my father because I was always fearing his disapproval.
Last night, my pastor shared something from Romans that really made the light bulb turn on and illuminated something for me that has been shrouded in darkness for years. We have been going through the book of Romans in our Bible Study and my pastor has done an amazing job spelling out what our problem was prior to Christ and why and how he is the solution to our problem. Then in chapter 5, my pastor shared the verse which he calls the climax of the whole plan. Although it didn’t seem quite climactic, I understood immediately why this was such a big deal. Before I get too excited and run away with myself, here’s the verse in Romans 5:11, “Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” This is usually one of the verses I’ve called “smile and nod” verses. You know when you’re listening to a speaker who doesn’t make any sense or one you’re having trouble following and in order to be polite you just simply smile and nod? That’s exactly what my reaction was to this verse until my pastor stopped there and talked about enjoying God.
Verse 11 says that since we have been reconciled to God and have his approval, now we can “rejoice in God” or in other words, enjoy God. I thought back to my experience with my father and the parallel experience with my campus pastor’s family. I realized that my campus pastor’s children were able to enjoy him because they knew that they had his approval and that he delighted in them, whereas I couldn’t enjoy my father because I never knew whether I had his approval or not. That is quite reflective of our relationship with God. In my former church, there were so many expectations laid upon us that I never knew if I had done enough. Because I transferred those expectations to God, I never knew if God was pleased with me at any given moment. Given my track record of letting down many of my church leaders, I felt that God was always disappointed in me. I was never able to enjoy God because I never felt I had his unconditional approval. Furthermore, I resented anyone who wasn’t trying as hard as I was to meet those expectations. If anyone told me they didn’t go to church on Sundays, or they didn’t do daily devotions, or that they didn’t want to serve in church, I considered them a horrible Christian and judged them severely in my heart. If someone told me that they didn’t have time to spend an hour in devotions every day, my response was, “Well, if you got up earlier you would have that time. If you can’t get yourself up earlier then you must not love God very much.” The sad part was that while I boasted about getting up at 5:00 every morning to have my devotional time with the Lord, that time was often dry, dull, and full of dread and condemnation. I would get up from my hour-long devotions and go through my day angry, rebellious, and judgmental and be a horrible representation of Christ’s heart to the world.
When my pastor shared the verse, I suddenly understood. I couldn’t enjoy God because I hadn’t received God’s unconditional approval made possible through the work of Christ on the cross. I resented others who weren’t working as hard just like children resent their siblings if they are the ones doing all the work while their siblings seem to have it easy. If I live each day knowing that I am approved by God and that I am counted righteous regardless of what I do, then instead of worrying about whether I’ve done enough to please him, I can rest in the knowledge that I already please him because when he looks at me, he sees Christ. Then just as a child who knows she is loved and accepted, I can take my Father’s hand and say, “Come on Daddy, let’s play!”