“Why are pastors and preachers always bugging me to read my Bible and pray and go to church? I thought salvation was by grace alone through faith alone. But you’re always on my case to do this and that – its like God won’t be happy with me unless I do these, and then you tell me to believe He’s happy with me and I’m accepted in Christ – which is it?”
As a Pastor/preacher, I find myself in that place of urging others (even as I need to remind myself) that such fundamentals are so necessary to the Christian life. And I do fear at times that such exhortations are received or at least heard like my fictional questioner in the first paragraph hears them. As conflicting with the Gospel of grace. That God needs something more to be pleased with us.
The truth is, the issue here isn’t making God happy with us. The constant urging to do the hard work of developing a consistent prayer and Bible study life, of taking pains to be with the saints in worship, challenging sin, serving others and evangelism has more to do with the nature of combating the horrific effects of sin within our own souls. We are so wrecked by the Fall, that we CANNOT find our delight in the Lord – without constant attention to it. And when we fail to be delighted in Him, we will either simply grow discouraged or indifferent – or seek our delight in the sinful and destructive.
The Human being was designed as a totally dependent creature. We do not self-generate spiritual life and vitality. It must be fed, watered, weeded and attended to. If not, our souls will grow emaciated and weak before we know it. We cannot sustain ourselves then in the face of the temptations and trials of this life. We will soon be disillusioned, depressed, resentful, overwhelmed and defeated. God will grow distant. Not because He is far away, but because we have severed true fellowship in our neglect of spiritual matters.
The Psalm paints a graphic picture. When God is our delight, and we pursue that – we WILL get our desire – Him! But when we neglect the things which draw us near to Him, the hearing of His voice in His Word, and the pouring out of our burdens in prayer, and the lifting up of our souls in the thanksgiving of worship – then these things soon become weights. And the deceptiveness of our own hearts will lead us to view them as means to gain God’s love and approval, rather than means to stay enjoying the wonder of His love and approval in the face of hardship.
As J. Vernon MaGee used to say: “where do I find God? wherever I left Him.”