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Are You Tired of Being a Christian?

How to turn your exhausting religion into an enjoyable relationship

“If my activism, however well-motivated, drives out love, I am stuck with law, not the gospel of grace. then I have misunderstood Jesus’ gospel.” 

Phillip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Depleted Yet Applauded

Have you ever met someone who is more interested in complaining about being exhausted than they are in receiving help? Burnout is the red badge of courage for some Christians. They would rather live depleted yet applauded than refreshed and balanced. A balanced life is not as attractive to them because it often goes unnoticed.  

What is the draw of exhaustion? It is where you find your justification to complain, compare, and criticize when you are stuck in a religious performance trap. It causes you to feel protected from criticism when you fall short. “How could I have done anything wrong? Look at how hard I work!” 

It also re-enforces your offense when you do not get what you think you deserve. “Why are they being promoted instead of me? I have cooked and cleaned while they have wasted time instead of working!”

Martha, Did You Know?

What did Mary know in Luke 10:38-42 that Martha did not?

A “Martha” measures her prayers, Bible reading, and serving. Her spiritual speedometer makes it easier to determine what she deserves and what others do not. The problem with this practice is you never really know what is going on with others behind closed doors. That is God’s business and not yours.

A “Mary” may seem to neglect some things, but she does not lose sight of the most important thing. Her reward is not in getting recognized, but rather in experiencing the pleasure of God’s presence. She usually ends up getting both.

It can be hard to see someone receive more for doing less, but that is not what this is all about. If things really were fair none of us would like what we got. 

I used to be a Martha myself. I took pride in having a hard time resting. I always felt I needed to be doing something. “I must be more committed than others,” I thought, “because I do not even enjoy taking a break.” 

This line of thinking should be a red alert on the dashboard of your spiritual life. It is not a medal of accomplishment you hang proudly around your neck. It reveals a restless soul that is not at peace.

The Performance Trap

As I have said before, you should value your position in Christ over your performance for Christ. When you over-emphasize performance, you end up getting less of it. Eventually, this leads to religious burnout. 

The Christian performance trap wants you to believe it is unspiritual to ever say no to spiritual things. The reality is, it is not spiritual to always say yes to more. It is more spiritual to say, “yes” to your priorities, the things God has asked you to do, and “no” to good things that take you away from those things.

Religious Formulas

Your good works should be motivated by your love relationship with Jesus and not a spiritual reward system. You make God your debtor when you work hard because you think He will bless you with what you want at the end of your labors (position, recognition, etc.).

Religious formulas like this can also influence how you pray and navigate problems. For example, “If I pray or do this, and have enough faith, then God will do that.” This mindset boxes God in to only what you can understand. It offers a easy fix to your problems that resembles a “get rich quick” scheme. The problem is, you inevitably become discouraged in your relationship with God when things do not work out the way you thought they would. 

All of this adds an unnecessary weight to your spiritual journey. 

It can be hard to follow the Holy Spirit day-to-day instead of trusting in things that bring immediate comfort. Checking off a box seems easier than checking-in with God. The box does not challenge us or require waiting. Even so, we should always choose a relationship with a living God over dead religious formulas. 

A Labor of Love

Exhaustion often begins with passion, zeal, and good intentions. You may be able to lift something you were never meant to carry, but you will drop it before you reach your destination. Lay down your heavy burden of burnout Christianity and take up the yoke of Christ. It is easy and light. It is a labor of love.

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Pursuit Instead of Perfection

“I used to think you had to be special for God to use you, but now I know you simply need to say yes.”

Bob Goff, Love Does

Pursuing the Perfect One

There is a difference between seeking the Perfect One and pursuing perfection. Christians should strive to be like Christ, but also have the humility to know Jesus is the only one who will ever be perfect. 

The path to religious burnout says you are on an uphill climb that leads to the peak of perfection. In actuality, it is a hamster wheel that never ends. 

The Imperfect Obsession

Perfection Christianity is centered on you instead of Christ. You can know if you are stuck in perfection instead of pursuit by asking, “Would I do the same good works if God were the only one who knew about them?” When receiving credit for what you do becomes more important than God getting the glory for giving you the strength to do those good works, then you have slipped into perfectionism. 

This mindset believes you deserve recognition for what you do, but there is always a good “spiritual” reason why others do not. “I don’t want them to get prideful if I praise them too much! Then they will stop growing. By the way, why haven’t they told me how awesome I am lately?”

This imperfect obsession will not allow you to rest and enjoy God. It causes you to do things that will get noticed and ignore the things He values that do not. You must continue to perform and reach for perfection to find meaning in your faith.

Missing the Point

Championing pursuit over perfection is key to sustaining a meaningful Christianity. Jesus simplified faith, but perfection complicates it. 

Discipline and rituals are good until they become substitutes for what they intend to protect. I like to think of my convictions as those bumps on the side of the road that let you know when you begin to drift out of your lane. They are great at reminding you to realign your steering but would make a terrible GPS system. If your standards turn your warm, loving relationship with God into cold hard religion, then they are missing the point.

You do not have to get rid of your spiritual guidelines or moral code to overcome burnout. The rules of the road keep us safe, but they are not the reason why we drive. The solution is neither becoming more disciplined nor abandoning rules altogether. It is returning to your first love and pursuing God heart.  

The Work of Love

Look at what Jesus said to the church of Ephesus about their attempt to be perfect without love.

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first…”

Revelation 2:2-5a

What are the works they did at first? It is the work of love. It is loving God and letting what you do for others overflow from that instead of maintaining a religious standard. Pursuit brings freedom. Jesus’ pursuit of us brought us freedom from sin (Romans 5:8). Our pursuit of Him will keep us free from religious bondage (Galatians 5:1). He wants you to pursue Him in response, not perfection. Who or what are you pursuing?

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You Might Be A Pharisee If…

Six Signs of Imitation Christianity

No Soup For You

This morning I was reading about Saul. The story reminded me of how even with the best intentions we can slip into legalism. During a battle, he made a rash vow. The soldiers were pursuing victory. Honey was dripping all around to refresh them along the way. The only problem was Saul refused to let anyone eat until their enemies were defeated.

It may sound radical and inspirational at first. Maybe Saul thought this would rally the troops’ commitment. Instead, it left a mess. People were confused and discouraged. This is often the case with immitation Christianity.

So how do we know when this type of thinking creeps into our spiritual life? Here are six signs you might be a Pharisee and don’t even know it.

You do not think you are a Pharisee

Did you hear about the latest Pharisee convention? Me neither. That’s because no one went. No one put it on. Because no one thinks they are a Pharisee. Pharisees are too busy pointing out other people’s fault to take the time to deal with their own.

You subscribe to radical Christianity

I used to be a radical Christian. I took pride in that. Now I realize “radical”  was just a code word for legalism. Radical Christians go to the extreme and believe everyone else is not “really” serving God with all of their heart until they are making the same sacrifices as they are.

You believe you are an elite Christian

If you think there are classes of Christians, then you may subscribe to the false brand of Christianity called legalism. Do you look down on others who do not share your same convictions? Then you misunderstand that convictions are for you and the gospel is for everyone.

You misunderstand holiness

If your priority is outside appearance, then you misunderstand holiness and may be stuck in a Christina performance trap. Jesus called people like this whitewashed tombs. They look good on the outside but are dead on the inside. True holiness begins with grace, is maintained by grace, and works its way from the inside out.

You question other people’s salvation

Do you take snapshots of where people are in the exact moment you see them or do you view yourself and others in a process? Have you ever wondered out loud, “How can they love Jesus and do _________.” Or “If they loved God they would do ________ more.” A Pharisee always questions those who sin differently then they do instead of patiently helping them address the root of the problem.

You serve under a Saul

The thing that made David “David” was he saw Saul as someone worthy of grace and honor.  Instead of focusing on Saul’s faults, he saw himself as the one who needed to become more godly. A Saul sees a Saul in everyone else, while a David is continually looking for the “David” in others, and is aware of the “Saul” in himself.

Only One Good News

In the Book of Galatians Paul warns sternly that anyone twisting the good news would be in danger of judgment. It is one of the harshest warnings in the New Testament. He says, “It pretends to be good news, but is not good news at all.”   

Still, High-Performance Christianity has a way of slipping into the lives of the most well-meaning people. We must keep our eyes, hopes, and security in a love relationship with Jesus and continue to humbly extend the same grace that was given to us to others if we are to avoid this trap.