“Mummy, you say Yes and you say No”. My three-year-old had just summed up his perception of my parenting. A rule giver!
I quite like rules. It must be my personality-type. Rules give clear boundaries, predictability, a clear way to allocate who does what, and whose fault it was if things don’t get done the right way! “Who broke the rules?!” How helpful and clear-cut!
John certainly had an interesting life… an angel made it to his Dad before he was born that John the Baptist certainly had an interesting life… an angel made it clear to his Dad before he was born that he wasn’t to ever drink wine, and when he was older he lived in the wilderness and ate locusts and honey! I have to say, I’m glad I didn’t have to live like that!
…and then there’s Jesus. He drank wine, he feasted, and look who he hung out with! He also didn’t seem to be concerned with all the religious rules that the Pharisees loved, like what to clean and when, and how to pray and when to fast. In fact, this is what Jesus told a crowd about the generation they were in: Luke 7:33-34 “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at this glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”
Apparently, neither Jesus nor John were going along with the rules that people assumed made a good Godly person… I find it so interesting how many different lifestyles God calls people to! Some he calls to have financial wealth and influence, some are called to live a life of near-destitution in foreign countries, some He asks to refrain from this or that, and others He just plants in one place to faithfully walk with Him day in and day out in a very “normal” (from outward appearances) lifestyle.
When my husband and I were just married, I found out he loved going to the movie theatre! And he found out that I wouldn’t go with him… I explained to him that since I was young I was very sensitive to what I watched and listened to, because I had a mind that liked to run away with things and which I found difficult to keep under control. I’d struggled with nightmares and night terrors, and all kinds of fears… so, not long after I came to Christ, I started becoming convicted about what I was watching, reading, and listening to. Eventually I just boycotted most movies that I wasn’t very familiar with, especially at the movie theatre. However, I couldn’t convince him not to go, I just wasn’t going to go with him! I realised it wasn’t a hard and fast rule that Christians shouldn’t go to movie theatres or watch films, but it was a personal conviction – something God had laid on my heart to refrain from. If I’d gone against that conviction, I felt that for me, it was wrong. Still to this day, if we’re watching a movie at home, I always check the rating, the story plot, the reviews (for content, not opinion!). The few times I haven’t done this, I’ve regretted it… but I’m sure not going to go around telling everyone they’re horrible for going to the movies!
Romans 14:2-6 “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
Romans 14:22-23 “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
Of course, there are quite a few things in scripture that are “rules”… things we certainly aren’t meant to be doing or exposing ourselves to, and we need to know what those things are. The beautiful thing is, God does have rules for us, and they’re meant for our good! They are for our protection and spiritual well-being, not to be used as weapons or whips on ourselves or others. Our church here in Te Atatu focuses on a different spiritual discipline each month, and I love that, because those things are very helpful to our spiritual life. But the funny thing I’m finding out is, apart from the obvious stuff, God might convict us to do totally different things! It might even be different things this year to what it was last year! And it will most likely be different from believer to believer, because He knows our different needs and seasons of life!
This has taken me a while to understand, but then just look at Jesus and John the Baptist… and God told Samson not to cut his hair! He sure hasn’t ever asked me to do that. I remember reading about Hudson Taylor, the great British missionary to China. During his preparation to go to China, he felt God asking him to just live on a simple diet of apples and brown bread, so he did. He was a medical student, and one day he was working on a deceased body that had septicemia… and he contracted it! What a deadly disease… do you know what the doctor said to him when he eventually survived it? “Your diet saved you!” I wonder how many people would think how deprived they were if God asked them to do something like that, and just brush it off… and yet it was the very thing that saved his life that year.
I saw a great quote the other day: “Religion is man trying to get through to God. Christianity is God trying to get through to man”. There’s a lot I don’t know about other religions, and maybe this is an oversimplification, but it seems that they all involve a bunch of rules that need to be obeyed in order to “get through to God” or “be good enough”.
The wonderful thing I love about following Jesus is… it’s not a religion! We aren’t worshiping a bunch of rules! Here are some common ones I’ve been stuck on: “Memorise more scripture, have a bible-reading plan and stick to it, this is how/when/how often you need to do your “quiet time”, if you use these spiritual words you’re a mature Christian, if you don’t do church/worship/communion/theology this way, it’s not correct!” Once we get into this mindset, it’s no longer all about Him… it’s all about us! I often think of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, going to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee had obeyed all the rules… but missed the point! His rule-following had made it all about him. The tax collector, who had probably broken most of the rules, had finally realised who life was really about.
Are you a rule-lover? Are you a “this is what I did and it works so you need to do it too” kind of believer? Or “this person had this lifestyle and did these things every day and look how God used them!” kind-of thinker?
One of the best and biggest questions I’m learning to ask God is, “What do you require of ME?” And then just do that.