Faith in a rear-view mirror

If you’ve been reading me for long, you know I’m not ashamed to admit all of the many ways I do things wrong, right? In that spirit, let me tell you about what I was thinking the other day when I passed a cop going the other direction, slammed on my brakes, saw his brake lights, and THEN proceeded to drive below the speed limit for the next five miles as I watched my rearview mirror for flashing lights, heart pounding, chanting, “Sh&%” under my breath.

We all break the law in one way or another, no matter how careful and/or good we might think we are. Sometimes we even get away with it, like I did. (Thank goodness.)

From there, though, my mind wandered, and I started thinking about how this applies to God’s laws, His standards, His holiness.

I am not legalistic at all. I believe God’s defining characteristics are love, grace, and forgiveness. That was the whole point of Jesus’ crucifixion: that we couldn’t—and don’t have to—pay the penalty for our lack of perfection. I think I have a healthy view of my faults, but I don’t dwell a lot on how lowly I am or beat myself up for my inherent failings and wrong behavior.

Because wouldn’t it stink if someone followed us around all the time, watching for the chance to say “GOTCHA!”? If every time we turned around, someone was waiting to throw a penalty at us? What kind of life would that be?

You know, I think that is possibly part of the reason why God did what He did. Conventional teaching says it was because of His great love for us, that no man should perish. It explains that God is holy and perfect and therefore it is greatly offensive for Him to be confronted with anything less than perfectly holy, and there had to be a sacrifice to bridge that gap.

I’m not disagreeing. I know all of that.

But have you ever considered that maybe it was also a way of God giving us a life we could enjoy (the abundant life discussed in the Bible)? I think it was partly about creating an environment in which we’re welcomed with open arms, not afraid to come to Him—because even though God knows all about us, and is clear about who He is, he doesn’t want a barrier between us. He designed us to have relationships with Him and with each other.

And how amazing is that?

A friend recently said that if your idea of sin is small, your God is small. If you don’t see how lost you were and how much you are in need of a savior, you can’t truly celebrate the enormity of being found. So I started praying about it—do I lean too far towards the concept of grace? Am I shortchanging God or living in denial about all that I’ve done wrong? Have I truly turned away from my sins and been changed? Am I full of pride or ego, or am I realistic about how badly I need God?

The next day, I was practicing the talk I was to give at a prayer workshop the following day, just checking the timing and smoothness of it. It was all about grace. About how God doesn’t beat us up, but just wants us to turn to Him. About how I’m flawed and not more holy than someone else, and how ironic it is that someone who fails as often as I do could write not one but two books about prayer. About how I think that’s why I got to write those books—to tell people it’s okay to not be perfect. The only thing that sets me apart in even the slightest way is that when I fall short, I try again. I don’t let shame keep me away; I want God more than I want to dwell on what I’ve done wrong. And I believe that God wants me to come to Him. So I return to Him, again and again and again and again.

And as my words came out, so did the tears. I kept practicing anyway. By the end, I was sobbing—tears of thankfulness because of how deeply I believe it all to be true. Because I don’t deserve God’s magnanimous grace. I didn’t earn it. I can’t, on my own, be truly good. I can try, and I do. I get some things right, but I seriously mess up others. I sometimes deceive myself, and sometimes I have profound insights into who I am.

Sometimes I may think about it more than other times, but I do recognize what a gift it is. Because always, always, I try to remember who God is. 

And to me, He is a God of second (and third and 482nd) chances. His face lights up when I turn back to Him. His arms are open to welcome me. His head is inclined towards me, eager to listen, interested in what I have to say. Am I the center of the universe? Of course not. But God is big enough to be this personally invested in each and every one of us. He loves each of us enough to delight in us. When we turn to Him, we’re not keeping Him from doing bigger and better things. We’re being who He created us to be.

He’s not following us around looking for reasons to penalize us. He doesn’t rejoice when we mess up. But when we come to Him because we just want to be with Him, I believe He celebrates.

He’s not hiding behind a barricade, waiting to pounce. We can relax, let down our guard. And open our hearts to the knowledge that He’s not trying to trip us up. He’s not setting us up for failure.

When we live life as though He is the God of “gotcha!”, we’re belittling the fulfilling life that He has given us and we’re shortchanging ourselves.

We can’t pretend the law isn’t there. We shouldn’t overlook our transgressions and missteps. But we don’t have to live in that place of remorse and regret and shame. Once we’ve acknowledged what is in our rearview mirrors, we need to put our eyes back on the road ahead—the one He’s on with us.

And floor it.

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