Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Why do I serve God?
My parents got back to God when I was almost 12 after being away from God and church for several years. The only church I knew was Sunday School, and we'd leave immediately after it concluded. I went from only attending Sunday School to attending Sunday morning and evening church, Wednesday night prayer service, revival services, camp meetings, and anything else that the church opened the doors for.
I was an impressionable and very vulnerable kid. I remember many services, especially revival and camp meeting services; where the preacher would try to scare people into the altar. They'd hold long altar calls, tell scary stories of people who stood in altar calls just like we were in and said "no" to God; only to be run over by a semi the next week and go into eternity without God (almost that bad). Some would even make ominous statements such as "God has spoken to me and told me there is someone in this service that if you don't come to this altar tonight, you will never get another chance to come to God." (no exaggeration)
It is no misstatement or lie to say that I was scared or cajoled into going to the altar over the years most of the times that I went. It is also true to state that I went many times that I didn't need to go, as a result of the preacher preaching in such a way that he preached my confidence away and made me doubt I truly was a Christian.
I cannot remember any altar calls where a preacher tried to get people to the altar by talking about how much God loved us. Maybe there were some, but the other ones stick out more to me.
If you could sum up the ideas and beliefs that became a big part of my belief system and affected me for years it would be this:
1) Become a Christian so you can go to Heaven instead of hell.
2) God is very vengeful and impatient and is just waiting for me to mess up so He can toss me aside.
3) It is next to impossible to make it to Heaven, and it is possible to serve God all of your life and still miss Heaven.
I also grew up believing God didn't love me, but that was only compounded by the hell and brimstone messages I heard, and not necessarily a direct result. There were other things that factored in.
My Christian experience has been quite erratic for most of my life. Having the idea that God didn't love me or like me and that He was displeased with me in general, left me with confusion that had me wondering some days if I was a Christian or not. It was complicated by the fact that I went on feelings a lot, and that I struggled with a sin and desires that many Christians would automatically consign me to hell for. I was up and down more than the weather, repenting often so that I could go to Heaven; and frequently repenting for no other reason than a feeling of guilt that never left.
I find myself envying Calvinists some times. Once they become Christians, they have no fear of missing Heaven; for they believe their eternity is secure and nothing can change that. I don't envy the part where God picks and chooses which people He will offer salvation to and which He will drop into hell without a chance at redemption... but that first part is attractive; though I believe wrong.
I asked a Calvinist once who has the same struggles I have: "If you're going to Heaven no matter what you do, then why not give into these temptations? Why fight it, if you're going to Heaven anyway?" His reply was "Because I love God and don't want to hurt Him." That was an interesting answer to me who had always tried not to sin so I could avoid hell.
Two years ago, I finally had a breakthrough. At the age of 44, I finally came to a belief that God does indeed love me. Since then, I have spent a lot of time thinking and praying about these things; and have come to some truths and new beliefs. I still battle the old ideas some, but God has been helping me a lot. I still don't have all of the answers, and most likely I never will; but I am trusting God that He will lead me and help me sort out the most important issues.
1) God loves me. I can do nothing to change that. I can nothing to cause Him to not love me. He just loves me, period..... or maybe exclamation point would be better.
2) Serving God isn't just a "get out of hell free" card. It isn't about going to Heaven when I die. That is a "perk", a mighty big perk; but not the reason to serve God.
3) Serving God is a relationship. We should serve Him because He loves us and died for us. We should strive to lead sinless lives not because we might miss Heaven, but because we don't want o hurt or displease Him. We should serve Him out of love, not fear.
4) I believe you can walk away from God, that you can live in sin after becoming a Christian and miss Heaven if you never repent and change; yet I don't believe it is as easy to miss Heaven as many have made it.
5) Whether we are Calvinist or Armenian, we should all strive to live sinless lives; and not call things a sin that are not......nor do the opposite and call things OK that are sinful. It wouldn't hurt any of us to ask God on a daily basis to forgive us of anything me may have done to displease Him.
6) Whether right or not, I have come to realize I don't have to be at church every time the doors are open. I have come to believe I am better off not sitting under preachers who may undermine my confidence, or try to scare me into going to the altar when I do not need to go......so I avoid camp meetings and don't feel in bondage that I have to go to every service of revival.
7) God is far more patient and merciful than I could ever imagine.
8) God wants me to make it to Heaven even more than I want to make it there.
9) It is better to read a few verses in the Bible and get something out of it, than to read a few chapters or more and get nothing out of it.
10) Christianity is so much more than a bunch of do's and don'ts. Jesus didn't abolish the law, and we still need to obey the commands in the Bible..... but that isn't what it is all about.
11) No church has it 100% right.
12) Worship and church is all about God, not about how it makes us feel.
As I look over what I have been so slow to learn and grasp over the years of my life that are fleeting by so soon, I realize how wrong I have gotten it all of these years. Even if Heaven were not the final awesome perk of being a Christian, serving a God who loves me so much to not just send His Son to die for me; but to be so patient and merciful with this blockhead over the years...... that should be enough reason to serve Him.
We love Him because He first loved us. This God who became one of us and let the very human race He came to save kill Him.
Serving God is a relationship. It isn't a means to an end, with Heaven being the goal. It is getting so close to God here on earth that He is the goal. He is what we look forward to seeing when we leave this earth. Heaven and all it contains will pale in comparison to setting eyes on Him, and hearing those wonderful words "Well done, good and faithful servant."