Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV UK)
5 ‘And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
I attended church today and a woman shared her testimony about coming back to Christ and working through that journey by joining an Alpha course…
She grew up in a Christian home but eventually she stopped going to church for very familiar reasons and then years later she started going again (She attended a service because her mother was going and she asked her if she wanted to go with her. She only went because she was up at the time.) She began attending the church but she felt out of place, because she didn’t feel like she fit in with the people in the church because of their outward relationship with Christ.
She said that one day the pastor was speaking and he saw a vision of the people in the room, everyone was dancing and singing and enjoying themselves but there was one person who was on the sidelines. The pastor then said Jesus was holding his hand out inviting this person to join in. And from that day on she felt like she belonged again.
She then spoke about how joining an alpha course helped her to understand God for herself, she had many questions and going on that course opened her eyes to see that she wasn’t the only one who had questions about their walk with God.
I saw myself in a lot of her testimony because that was me, I stopped going to church for similar reasons but then the distance between me and God grew even bigger because of sins. And when I had the opportunity to start my journey with Christ again I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t feel like I could do it “safely.” I thought that I would be overtaken by my lack of knowledge and support. Eventually I went back to my sinful way of life and my sins became ten times worse. (When you kick a demon out it comes back with some friends of that are worse than it is. Matthew 12:43-45)
When God gave me another chance to restart my relationship with Him the relationship was so authentic. It was about me and God not about me God and anyone else. The conversations I had through prayer and writing in my notebooks were the most authentic I have ever had. They were honest, down to earth and very simple in nature. They did more for my relationship with God than any other prayers that I have said since my walk became less authentic. I was genuinely seeking a relationship with God, I wasn’t seeking a relationship with a church or people (I refused to go to church for a long time after my salvation.) I had a passion for God to the point of getting upset if I didn’t make time to read my bible or pray. But today I was sat in church thinking;
Have I become a performative Christian?
Is my relationship with God authentic?
Do I still have that hunger for Christ?
And truthfully I have become somewhat performative. I can encourage others; write blog posts, listen to the music, watch the sermons but is my relationship with Christ any better than it was before I started this journey? NO! My relationship with Christ has stopped in its tracks, I don’t have that hunger for God that I had at the start of my journey.
At one point I asked myself how could anyone ever stop longing for God? How could pastors still lead churches when God or His guidance had departed from them? But now that I am in this almost wilderness environment I can see how easy it is to fall away from God and not realise that you are only getting a sip of God each day when you can have litres.
The area of my walk with God that has changed the most and I can feel it each week is my conversation with God. My conversations with God as simple as they were became marred by my own ideas about prayer. I was looking at other people and seeing how they prayed and I wanted what they had because I thought that my prayers were wrong because they were too short or too simple. BUT since my prayer life has become a little bit like what I envied I have found that those prayers lack everything that made them mine. My prayers have stopped being a conversation with God, they have become routine. I have lost the most important aspect of my relationship with Christ because I chased outward appearances and wasn’t satisfied with what God had blessed me with.
I chased performance and lost authenticity.
It is easy to look at the people who pray to the point of tears, longer and louder than us or to look at people crying in church and we envy that experience they have with God. But we don’t know if it is authentic, we don’t know if those tears are genuine, we don’t know if they truly live their lives the way that reflects Christ.
When you go to church always go in seeking God, seeking the message that He has for you.
Like the young lady who shared her testimony the first step towards being accepted by Christ is being honest, start by opening up your heart so that He can respond to you. If she hadn’t opened her heart and let out those feelings of being an outsider would God have sent her that message through the pastors vision?
If you are considering Christianity or are at the start of you walk with Christ. Keep moving forward. Don’t look at other people; don’t worry about what other people are doing, how loud they pray, praise or sing. The only way you’re going to have an authentic relationship with God is if you open your heart to Him. Let Him lead you. Let Him teach you how to pray, how to praise and worship. Allow God to lead you and guide you.
We are all on this journey back to God, none of us know everything there is to know about this walk with God. Seek the people, the books, sermons etc. that are going to make that walk easier. Seek God first, ask Him for the help you need and let Him lead you. Let God guide you towards the answers that you need.