Losing Our Religion
Praying Them Prayers
Ever notice how often we lose things?
Our sunglasses (to later find them on our heads).
Remote controls. (Usually it's right before an important game and the wrath of the most devoted fan is felt throughout the house as you scramble to look under all the pillows and cushions before kickoff.)
Phone chargers (sad day).
Okay, just me? Well, so let me explain...
I keep (or you know kept) a pair of tweezers in my purse so I could tweeze my eyebrows in the car. Strange, maybe, but it works! The sunlight is wayyyy better than the bathroom. Ladies, you've got to try it.
But then, one day I realized my tweezers were no longer in my purse. They weren't in my cupholder or my door compartment either. (...You know all the obvious places for tweezers to be found.) I had no idea where they went.
Out of sight, out of mind. Until... the other day I was vacuuming out my car and what did I find?! Tweezers! In the passenger seat, pokey side out!
So this is an official apology for anyone who has sat in my passenger seat within the last six months... I really did not mean to hurt you. You are safe to return to the passenger seat!
But I'd rather lose my tweezers than lose my marbles.
But you know, there's one thing I think we actually NEED to lose.
Are you sitting down?
This might be disruptive to what we've known, so let's take a seat (on a non-tweezer impaired chair) together.
I think it's time we lose something else. Something that builds our pride but demolishes our ability to embrace relationship and be fully known.
I think it's time we lose...
I know. That's a big statement.
...You might have been thinking it, so I went ahead and said it for you.
We'll get back to this.
If there's one thing I know, them prayers...
I read that somewhere once and it made me laugh.
It's so casual.
So grammatically incorrect.
Which is exactly why it's powerful.
All too often, we feel intimidated to pray. We don't know what to say or how to say it. We may question where to say it.
A sweet friend once shared how growing up she had "a confused faith."
Her father practiced one denomination while her mother another.
And I get it. There would be some confusion. You wouldn't know whether to kneel down or repeat a benediction in prayer.
I want to be clear. Many of these practices are helpful in leading our hearts towards God. However, religious practices alone will not save us. I'm also not claiming that all believers in these congregations believe that either.
Many of us understand it goes deeper. It's a matter of the heart.
Growing up, I was often reminded, "A pink bow doesn't make a pig a poodle any more than going to church makes a sinner saved."
Although there is power in regular congregational worship, it alone cannot save us. We can go and do and be involved in all of the religious activities, but if our hearts are far from God, we are merely going through the motions.
This was true thousands of years ago, too. There were these people who knew of Jesus. They went to church and knew not just the ten commandments but all the scriptures of the Old Testament.
Whoa. That's a lot to memorize. These were some dedicated folks. They were the OG, the original Awana badge winners.
They were known as Pharisees. One of them was named Nicodemus. We'll call him Nick.
So here's Nick, a ruler of the Jews. He knew the Jewish law from the Old Testament, and he comes to Jesus at night. (Maybe he doesn't want to be seen, or maybe he chooses this time because he wants more time with Jesus, we don't know.)
I also wonder, based on his opening remark to Jesus, if he just couldn't shake it. In the same way a perplexing thought can keep you and I up at night, maybe Nick has tried to think through all the ways Jesus could be doing these miracles apart from God and he's coming up empty.
He's got nothin'. No counter-arguments or natural explanations.
I recognize this train of thought, because I've experienced it. Sometimes it takes coming to the "end of my rope" before I look for God and see He was there all along. Truth is suddenly so evident, so clear.
And maybe it's the same with Nick. I wonder if he's at the end of his rope with this and he's now able to see truth so clearly. The truth propels him to go to Jesus, regardless of the time of night.
Either way, we don't really know why Nick chooses to go at night, but the point is, he goes. He tells Jesus, "We know God sent you to teach us...
"'...for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.'" - John 3:2
Jesus tells him seeing the kingdom of God requires us to be born again and goes on to turn everything Nick knows completely...
Like being on a rollercoaster and everything you once knew now looks completely different and your stomach is in your chest and your head is swirling, this perspective changes our physical experience.
Same is true for Jesus' response.
I'll bet many of us are familiar with this verse, but I for one do not often regard this as the upside down kingdom that it is. I need this reminder. I need to realize this is more than a verse I hear or repeat.
This is an invitation to crazy love and radical redemption.
"'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.'" - John 3:16-17
It's not whoever follows the law perfectly has eternal life, it's whoever believes in God's Son, Jesus.
It's completely radical. A direct 180 from what Nick knew. Yep, perspective that changes our physical experience - not just for a moment, but our eternity. That's Jesus.
This is sweeping stuff Nick is hearing. His life has been consumed with following the law. The law condemns those who do not follow it to a T. He's lived his whole life believing following the law will save your soul.
Y'all, there were 613 laws. Can you imagine trying to keep all of those? Even half? Even for a day?!
In short, Jesus is saying, it's time you lose your religion and find Me. I am the way. I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.
Why is this important? Why lose our religion?
Religion and keeping all the laws (or today it would be doing all the religious things) looks good on the outside. It makes me believe I am good enough.
Accepting the gift of Christ says I am not good enough but He is. We are changed from the inside out and inspired to pursue righteousness and obedience not out of religious demands but because of love.
The law reveals our need for God. Not one of us can be good enough or religious enough to earn our way to heaven. Even on our very best days.
Them prayers. They work.
I like these four words paired together because they highlight how God is not after our wordy, grammatically correct prayers. He wants our imperfect words - long or short - with stutters and our unexpected pauses.
He wants our hearts.
Sometimes we need to lament. We need to lay it all out there to God. He welcomes this.
Sometimes we need to get specific. We need to list all the ways we see His goodness here, and there, and that too, and even in that. He welcomes this.
And sometimes, a “Hallelujah” encompasses it all. He welcomes this, too.
A friend recently reminded me of this. She's a mom of five. Y'all. FIVE. And she does it with grace. Sticky fingers and busy bodies and questions galore. She welcomes it as a joy of motherhood.
Sitting down in a booth, everyone is looking at their food, ready to dive in. She hesitates, “Are we going to pray?” No response so she looks up and laughs, “We used to say ‘Hallelujah’ growing up as our prayer when we ate out...”
Another chimed in with a prayer and we all laughingly sang out "Hallelujah!" afterwards.
And ya know, I love this. God doesn’t need us to bring forth lengthy prayers every time we come to Him. One word counts. He just wants to be FIRST.
Before our meal. Before we start our day. Before we try to fix X on our own. Before, before, before. Before we dive into whatever it is.
Let's find strength to lose our religion and find Jesus. Let's find joy in the promise He gives and peace in the grace He extends. Let's find rest in knowing He wants our hearts, not our accomplishments or cleaned up, spiffy selves.
He wants us just as we are with whatever words are on our hearts.
So let's pray them prayers. If it's one word or a few more, the length of the prayer doesn't matter. Put your heart into it. And let's embrace being a loser of self and a winner of mercy.
Thanks be to God for inviting us into His upside down kingdom!
May we, like Nick, come to the end of our ropes, to the end of our selves, and run to Jesus just as we are with all of our questions. Right here, right now.
The good life, well it starts with a good day. Then another. Then another. Let's choose to live #TheGoodDay one day at a time.
I love hearing from you, so go ahead. Leave a comment. Be brave. Maybe your comment will speak life into someone else!