This is a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a protestant during the time of Hitler. He was arrested and executed by the Gestapo when he was 39 years old.
He wrote a book I am reading called "The Cost of Discipleship," that gets to the heart of what it means to truly follow Christ. I came across the following excerpt and it helped me wrap my mind around something I had personally experienced for years but never understood:
"Are you worried because you find it so hard to believe? No one should be surprised at the difficulty of faith, if there is some part of his life where he is consciously resisting or disobeying the commandments of Jesus. Is there some part of your life which you are refusing to surrender at his behest, some sinful passion, maybe, or some animosity, some hope, perhaps your ambition or your reason? If so, you must not be surprised that you have not received the Holy Spirit, that prayer is difficult, or that your request for faith remains unanswered. Go rather and be reconciled with your brother, renounce the sin which holds you fast - and then you will recover your faith! If you dismiss the word of God's command, you will not receive his word of grace. How can you hope to enter into communion with him when at some point in your life you are running away from him? The man who disobeys cannot believe, for only he who obeys can believe."
When I was a young teenager I had an encounter with God that sealed my belief in him and in things of a spiritual nature. This world was not all there was. And I was in church enough and read my Bible enough to know what the life of a christian should look like. But from that point on I kept wondering and wondering why I couldn't experience God the way Christians around me did. My attention span for prayer was less than 5 minutes and I never "felt" whatever everyone else was feeling on a daily basis. My faith was very small.
In college I was in christian groups on campus and had christian friends (Pam!) that kept me pretty sheltered but I still managed to date people that I knew I should not be dating and in the end married someone I knew I should not be marrying. So, there we are. Just one example of where I was in direct disobedience to what I knew God would want for me. And that was just college. Grad school was worse. I knew that God could heal my marriage with Dave if I would let him. Instead, I chose to ignore that and leave. But all that time I was still yearning to sense God in my life and never felt a thing. After years of this I had pretty much given up on trying to feel God in my life. I knew he was there, but for some reason it wasn't in my cards to have the close relationship with him that friends and family around me had.
I know in this day and age people don't like the word "obey." I hear brides freaking out about the word "obey" being in their wedding vows. We feel like we alone can decide what's right for us. We won't submit to our husbands or God. But therein lies the issue. We have to submit to God, to obey him, in order to relate to him. He is perfect, we are not, and He cannot get to know us, and vice versa, while we carry our selfishness (sinfulness) around with us. Of course we all fall short, everyone does, but we have the ability to choose to submit and do right and as long as that's the intention of our heart that's all that matters. We do not have the ability to be perfect, but we can desire to be perfect and do our best work toward that. When we do this He, in turn, gives us faith.
So, what are Jesus' commandments?
He says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All of the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:37-40
How do we love God?
"For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not harsh." 1 John 5:3.
"Whoever has my commandments and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." John 14:21
The example to us of how to keep his commandmenst is the life of Christ. Ultimately he gave up his life. That is why, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, when Christ calls you he bids you come and die.
"If anyone would come after me he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose or forfeit his very self?" Luke 9: 23-25
Whenever I look at a situation in my life and question if I am acting in a way that pleases God I look for what the Bible calls the "fruit of the spirit." The fruit is the product of my life. As a tree bears fruit I bear the fruit of God in my life.
The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against these things there is no law. Galatians 5:22,23
If your life reflects these things then the love and spirit of God are in you. And let me tell you, I can FEEL it! Woohoo! God is gracious and when my heart changed from myself to Him I could finally sense his presence in my life. It is truly the best thing I have ever experienced and I consider it a privelege to be able to lay down my life daily. That usually manifests itself in my relationship with Geoff, my kids, my friends and those that I work with. For me it's about not being easily offended and angry. It's about holding my tongue. It's about not judging what other people do and say. And mostly, it's about doing what's best for someone else when I know that they neither recognize it nor appreciate it. God recognizes it and he is my defender. Amen.