Good teacher, what must I do?

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In Matthew 19, we hear the story of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus what he must do to receive eternal life.  It’s an interesting an exchange, and one which we still see replayed over and over today.  First, we want to know what we can do to earn it. (Teacher, what good thing shall I do?)  In this world of ‘every kid gets a trophy’, there is no good that’s good enough.  After Jesus points this out, he tells our rich ruler friend to keep the commandments. How does he respond? “Which ones” (verse 18). The negotiation phase. This is a telltale sign. The writing is on the wall. If you want to go buy a new camel, test out your negotiation skills. If you’re asking the Messiah how to gain eternal life, perhaps just take what he says and go with it!  But not our friend here. He wants a list of dos and don’ts. (Sound familiar, anybody?) Jesus goes down the list, and our friend seems to be ticking off every one.  He might just have it made! Jesus has got one more thing for our friend, though. For all of us. He’s going to perform a heart check now. He tells our fine friend, the one with all the worldly wealth, to walk away from all that, to lay it down and give it away.  Well, now hold on there Jesus! You’re going just a tad too far there, don’t you think?  The rich young ruler did. He was willing to trade away eternity and a life with Jesus for worldly wealth. For stuff.  Stuff that isn’t going to last beyond this life and sure isn’t capable and of taking him on to the next one.

The story of our rich young ruler friend is a good overview of how many of us approach a relationship with God. First, like our friend the young ruler, we think if we are “good enough” by our own standards, we should have access to God. Then we want to just show up and be given a list of rules to follow. Just go through some motions.  Here again it’s clear–our good works and checking off lists whole going through the motions don’t cut it. That’s not what Jesus wants from you and me.

We are still trying to bargain with Jesus. Not just the financial end of things, either. And not always those things that might be first and foremost on your throne. Sometimes they are even more subtle things. Often they are things that seem perhaps not that big a deal on the surface (for example, dressing provocatively) but the underlying issue isn’t if God still loves you if you’re showing a lot of cleavage (He does). The issue is when we start locking heads with Jesus over control, pushing the limits of how our choice of dressing honors or dishonors God, pushing for what we want under the banner of “there aren’t any rules!” See, for the most part, when Jesus established the New Covenant, most of the rules of the old covenant were set aside. So we get into this little game with ourselves called “Do I have to“.  We’ve all played it at some point.

Do I have to:

tithe/give money to the church;

go to a church every Sunday;

stop cursing;

stop dressing a certain way (or start dressing a certain way);

stop going to clubs;

stop having sex if I’m not married;

stop watching R rated movies;

read my Bible every single day;

pray every morning;

serve others; 
I could go on and on and on.  The thing is, if we are looking at things from the perspective of, “do I have to”, there’s already a problem.  Remember that heart check Jesus had for our rich friend? Well, the “do I have to” is usually a good indicator it’s time for us to go to Jesus for a heart check.

Let’s just look at the money issue as our example off that list. It’s a good one for a lot of reasons.  Money is stability to us, isn’t it? So we naturally want to hold on to it. Our first reaction isn’t to give it away. Neither was it the reaction for our friend the rich young ruler. Our reaction is we earned it, we need it, and if we give it away, what happens if we get in a pinch? There are so many good nuggets in there. First and foremost, is trust. Trust God with His money. But I want to get back to the heart check. When we are setting up our relationship with Jesus as a list of what we have to do, we actually just killed the relationship and turned it back into religion.  Jesus wants your heart. I think I’ve said that in almost every post. He didn’t come to redeem us, giving his life in the process, so we could just check off the boxes of what we should do to get that golden ticket to heaven.  Giving of your money is not supposed to be a duty in the new covenant. It’s an act of worship.  It’s a way to honor God.  Just with everything else we try to filter through the “do I have to”, if we have truly met with the unrestrained grace of God, our reaction should be “it is my honor to…”.

If your heart still filters through a sense of obligation, I urge you to seek for God in this.  Ask the Spirit to show you your motivations and re-frame them if they need to be!

Our Great God! How could we respond to all that you have done for us but to give you all of ourselves? How could we not come before you with our hearts open, giving you freely of all that we have? We know that all we have to give you that is not already yours, is our hearts. I lay my heart before you, Jesus.

 

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