Faith is not about training and performing. Faith is not about being scored, judged, or evaluated. <Tweet this.>
Despite this, many Christians seem to train extensively; almost as if they are wannabe faith Olympians. I speak from personal experience. When I was in the Olympic training phase of my spiritual journey, I thought everything was binary (right/wrong, black/white, up/down, heaven/hell).
I thought I could read, research, plan, and pray my way to the gold medal platform, aka heaven. The gold medal was God’s love, bestowed on me because I had run “The Race” with perseverance. (Hebrews 12:1)
If you knew me when I was in this phase, please accept my apology.
I was chasing knowledge instead of opening myself to transformation. I was focused on personal piety instead of an authentic relationship with God.
I wanted to be certain I had the right views about God (because those are the only views God would abide, what with God being perfect and all). I also wanted to be certain I understood how God was evaluating me so I could meet, or exceed, God’s standards.
I was so focused on winning God’s love, I forgot faith wasn’t about keeping score.
Pete Enns in his book, The Sin of Certainty, describes the problem this way: there is an “unspoken need for our thinking about God to be right in order to have a joyful, freeing, healing, and meaningful faith.”
Yes, exactly! How will I get to the gold medal platform (i.e., meaningful faith and, eventually, heaven) if my thinking about God isn’t right?
Pete (we aren’t technically on a first-name basis, but I’m taking liberties) says “[b]elieving that we are right about God helps give us a sense of order in an otherwise messy world.” The problem is that belief and trust are two different things. “Believing is easy. It gives us wiggle room to think our way out of a tight spot. But trust doesn’t have any wiggle room. It explodes it. Trust is about being all in.”
The curious thing is that the same steps—prayer, Bible reading, worship attendance, small group participation—can lead people to transformation or can leave them sequestered in a stifled pattern of trying to perform for God.
In my own life, those steps have produced both results! There have been times when these were only to-do list items. I completed them because I wanted to get credit on the scoreboard. But other times, they have deepened my relationship with God and transformed my thinking.
That tells me the steps aren’t the problem; I am.
Being all in with God means I have to stop treating God like a detached judge. I can celebrate that God is with me in this race. God didn’t see me off at the starting line just to clock my performance as I cross the finish line. God is with me in my everyday decisions, ordinary celebrations, and recurring sadnesses.
If faith is about earning a performance-based medal, God can only be a detached judge and I am left alone on the track. If, however, faith is about a relationship, I can run my race with perseverance knowing God is with me every step.
“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:12-13, NRSVue)
Do you tend to think/live/pray as if God is keeping score? What if God is running with you instead of judging you as you run? In your life, how is personal piety different from an authentic relationship with God? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.
More like this from Beth:
- Why Faith & Belief Are Not The Same Thing
- The Hardest Lesson in Parenting is Perseverance
- Sometimes Faith Requires Perseverance