Friday, June 14, 2013

"The Weight of Religion"

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Matthew 11: 28-30

I have to be honest here, and confess that for the very longest time, I honestly did not understand that passage of scripture.
Yeah, sure, I heard it and it computed in my brain, but I just did not understand how the Christian life was a place of "rest," or this "yoke" Jesus spoke of was "easy."
It didn't make sense to me.
How can you "rest" when you're supposed to be busy about the Lord's work, all the time?
I was so tired.....all. the. time.
After getting four little active children (8 years old and under) ready for Sunday School, being 8 months pregnant, playing the organ for morning church services, making sure the nursery was covered for all services, and that the Sunday School teachers had everything they needed for class, I had a hard time switching over to worship mode for the morning service.
Then there was the planning, organizing, staffing, purchasing, and training for the upcoming Vacation Bible School.
Oh, and remember, all the planning, organizing, crafting, and playing piano for the Wednesday evening children's programs.
Usually, by the time we were heading home, I was more discouraged than when I walked in the front door.
I remember feeling like I hardly ever had a chance for quiet, meaningful worship because of all the things I was responsible for that were distracting my mind.
There was no "rest" in that.
Never any time for my own private, quiet worship.  Not even at church.
Now, my husband and I were on staff, but some things had changed for us in the 5 years or so since we had taken that position and I had happily and eagerly agreed to help out in those areas of children's ministry.
The dynamics of our family had changed, and it was becoming more and more difficult to manage everything at home as well as preparing for some area of children's ministry every time we walked into church.
In retrospect, I understand the problem wasn't in the fact that no one at that small church ever offered to take over one of those responsibilities or suggest that I need to scale back somewhat to better tend to my own children.
The biggest problem lied in the fact that I thought because I was "originally" the youth pastor's wife, that if I said, "I can't do this anymore," that maybe we would lose some folks from our congregation because there wouldn't be as much available for the children.  I truly felt, that if I didn't do this (even if I was begin to feel burnt out on it), no one else would.
And I just couldn't let all the work we had done in building up the children's ministries dissolve, and the new families that had come to our church have nothing for their children.
Ridiculous, I know.
But never did anyone point out any differently.  In fact, I felt it was expected.
With as difficult it was to find and keep "helpers" and "teachers,"  I knew that if I stepped down there would be no replacement and the program would most likely, eventually...maybe even immediately, fold.
So, that also meant, that there would be no Wednesday evening programs for my own Vacation Bible School, and no one to coordinate the nursery for my youngest children. 
Not that programs are what build a church, but families do look for help with teaching their children and opportunities for them to grow and learn in an atmosphere that is on their age level.
I had started out really enjoying these ministries and getting them off the ground, but as my home life was growing, my time was getting slimmer.
Whenever I would hear these verses, I just couldn't see how this "burden was light."
I thought I was supposed to have the "joy of the Lord" all the time, and if I grumbled that there must be a "spiritual problem."

In their book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, David Johnson and Jeff Vanvonderen put it this way:

"In a works-righteousness system, if you stumble under the load you are carrying, the ministry you will receive will not be mercy and grace.  You will not hear Matthew 5:3:
'Blessed are the poor in spirit' -
that is, 'Blessed are those who recognize they can't carry the load' - 'for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'
Rather, you will be encouraged to 'try a little harder' and 'do a little more.'
In some cases you may be shamed for 'not being committed enough.' "

Performance-based Christianity manifests itself this way:
"After having understood the truth of Ephesians 2:8-9....
"For by grace you have been saved...."
and having a load of sin removed for salvation, we then lay on a load of personal performance for sanctification, service, and to receive further blessings."
"It works something like this.  We are very careful to help people understand that Jesus is their only hope salvation.
'He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy (Titus 3:5)
But for successful Christian living, we give the same message they had to reject in order to get saved.
'Just do it.'
'Try hard.'
'Do more.'
'It's up to you.'
We pile up a load of expectations, regulations, formulas, and rules.  Almost without noticing, we begin to live the same way we did before we met Jesus, hoping that with all our effort we will someday, some way, measure up.  But we never do measure up; we continue to carry the load and we call it 'the abundant life.'
This dynamic is really not that hard to spot. 
In a performance-based system, you will be the bearer of the burden.  
In a grace-based system, you will be constantly directed to Jesus as your only hope,
encouraged to rest in Him as your only source of life and power."

"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
let us lay aside every encumbrance (weight), and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of faith.."
Hebrews 12:1

Could this also apply to the "weight of religion" that He never intended for us to pick up,
and the sins of pride that inevitably arise when entangled in a performance-based religion?
Pondering today.