I’ve lived life on the hamster wheel, constantly running, running, running and going nowhere. I was convinced that by doing and performing, even when my heart wasn’t in it and it was done completely out of obligation, that I would be rewarded. I knew that God had to be pleased with me because the pastoral staff and church leaders were always pleased with me. I was the good boy. I was the one always there when no one else was. If the church was giving out award certificates such as those awarded by the public school system, I would certainly earn not only the Good Citizenship award for any church I was in, but I was striving closely for the Perfect Attendance certificate as well. (If it weren’t for the occasional stomach virus, I would have had it too! It would take more than a lousy old migraine headache to keep this boy out of church). I had to please people so I could make sure God was pleased and no one was going to outdo me and get my reward.
In 2008, Jimmy Needham released his album Not Without Love. It would be another five years, in 2013, before I would discover the album and be introduced to Jimmy’s music. Jimmy played a free acoustic show in town and after that night I could not get my hands on enough of his music. This particular album ends with a spoken word benediction that hit right to the center of the crossroads I had reached at that time as the concert occurred only a year after we had left our church home of ten years and we still weren’t totally convinced of all we were now walking through. Here’s the words Jimmy ends the album with:
I tried Lord
I tried Lord
I tried hard to be Your good little boy
Chin up, head high
All zeal and no joy
Thinking all my good deeds could please Jesus
Boy, was I wrong
Though I knew the right songs, all my cymbals and gongs played the melodies wrong
And it wasn’t long ’til I saw my disease
A life spent wanting to please
On hands and knees
To make right, to appease
God help me please
This can’t be Christianity, it can’t be
The whole thing’s like insanity
Where’s the rest of eternal security?
Where’s the hope of a God big enough to cope with all my hang-ups and insecurities?
Certainly this isn’t breathing
My chest burning and heaving
It’s like my pulse is ceasing
Like my heart quits beating
These words sum up the Christian life I had lived up to that point: I tried hard to be Your good little boy . . . all zeal no joy . . . thinking all my good deeds could please Jesus . . . a life spent wanting to please . . . to make right, to appease . . .this can’t be Christianity, IT CAN’T BE . . .
Yet this I recall to mind and therefore I have hope:
You died, Lord
You died, Lord
Assuredly, like the coming of the dawn, the Father’s love song goes on
Drowning out my bitter songs
And breaking through walls and barriers
Christ swoops in, removes sin, picks up His bride and carries her
So I can sing in agreement with the King this thing:
There’s only one thing that pleases the Father
The God-man on the tree in the midst of the scoffers
Now I finally see that Christ is what Christ offers
And I’m finally free in the love of the Father
There’s only one thing that pleases the Father . . . and that one thing is Jesus. That’s the answer. We work, strive, toil, and constantly push ourselves to make sure we’ve done enough be accepted by God when there is nothing we can humanly do to ever accomplish and earn that acceptance. If we could earn that acceptance through our own efforts, Christ died for nothing. Galatians 2:21 states that “For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.”
I really like the way The Message states Galatians 2:19-21:
What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
Good enough just doesn’t exist. Realizing that is freedom.
(Here’s a link to a lyric video for Jimmy Needham’s benediction from Not Without Love. I own no rights to either the audio or video but could not resist the opportunity to pass it on. All credits and thanks go to Jimmy Needham and oneChurch in Conway, AR for the lyric video.)
“Not Without Love” Written by Jimmy Needham / © 2008 Needhim Music / First Company Publishing / ASCAP / Admin. by First Company Publishing.