*Before you read this post, all I ask is that if you have something to say about something you read, please read the post in its entirety, before sharing your opinions. Please read the whole post, and note what I have said, not what I have not said.*
As a 16-year-old, I wanted fire. I wanted to be radical. I wanted to be sold-out for Jesus. I wanted to be righteous and holy with no tolerance for anything of the world.
These were good desires, and God was certainly not disapproving of them. In fact, he loved my passion and zeal, immature as it yet was.
However, as I’ve grown, I realized something that I missed entirely in those early years – something very simple, yet profound:
Enjoying life is a good thing.
See, I was always trying to give up everything for the sake of the gospel. I was always thinking in terms of being “a martyr” in whichever way I could, to prove my devotion to Jesus. I was under the impression that in order to be a true, radical Christian, I had to always subject myself to difficulty – the hard way – and never enjoy anything. I thought there was something noble about saying no to a night at the movies in place of a night at church.
I believe these mindsets had a lot to do with books I read, sermons I heard, and just the overall vibe I got from a lot of Christians I was around during these years.
Certainly, I am not blaming anyone or saying that everything I believed was put in my mind by someone else.
I am also not saying that real Christianity is just a lighthearted, life-is-good, no-surrender package.
Saying yes to Jesus requires one to give their whole heart, their whole life. It is a sacrifice. It is difficult. It does require righteousness and devotion.
Yet, that’s not all there is to it.
I was missing the balance between legalism and grace.
To be fair, that balance is difficult to find. Most everyone I know tends to swing to one extreme or the other, sometimes going back and forth between the two.
Here’s a kicker: I used to feel guilty that I liked secular music*. I used to feel “slimed” if I happened to enjoy a night out with friends while also drinking a cocktail of some sort.
I used to feel bad for enjoying life.
Do you see how unhealthy this perspective is?
Friends, I think many people in the church get this wrong. I have seen a great many people who, while out in “worldly” settings, feel that God is pleased with them only if they are going there to “witness” or “evangelize”. They cannot simply enjoy things with a crowd.
God is so much better than we think. He is not like that. God is not religious. We can’t put him in a box. He will not be confined to a certain set of circumstances, or a certain set of places. His ways are not legalism.
I have learned much of what I now know, by watching my dad.
My dad is a very interesting man. I have never known him to not have a heart of gold. He truly walks with Jesus. His heart is always good.
But he does not attach himself to ridiculous, religious ideologies.
He enjoys an occasional cold beer after a long, tiring day, or a glass of wine at dinner.**
He likes going to a Nascar race, attending football and baseball and basketball games, and smoking a cigar.
He doesn’t enjoy most “Christian” music (and, frankly, neither do I.)
He likes going to car shows and hanging around with “secular” people.
And you know something? He enjoys life. He appreciates good music, talent, and fine cigars with “notes of oak” or whatever. He loves talking with people who don’t fit the church mold. (He also loves talking with church friends) He loves listening to them and hearing their stories.
He doesn’t let Christianity put God in a box.
And do you know something? I believe people who live their lives in this way may actually be closer to God than those who strive for performance and obeying all the rules and trying to be good enough.
Something happens when you realize that sacred and secular are not worth so much analyzing.
In fact, the line between the sacred and secular is a lot more blurred than many Christians think.
We get so caught up on what is right and wrong without ever realizing that the Holy Spirit is our friend, our guide, and the voice in our hearts leading us.
If you have the Holy Spirit inside of you, then you are set for life. You don’t have to worry about what you can and can’t do. Why? Because he will lead you. If something’s not right, you’ll feel it. If there’s a certain thing you need to do or say, you’ll know it in your spirit.
That’s why I so trust my dad and his lifestyle. He hears from the Lord. I have seen him get up early every morning to sit in his chair and read his Bible and journal his prayers. He does it even when he doesn’t feel like it. If the Holy Spirit gives him a word for someone else, he tells them. He has wisdom and discernment.
And because I know he is in tune with the Spirit, I know that what he does is led by the Spirit.
So is God condemning my dad for cranking up old rock hits in his truck all the time? Absolutely not.
“But that music doesn’t glorify God.”
Maybe it actually does. Maybe good sound and quality music was created by God for humans to enjoy. Maybe simply appreciating a good sound is what brings my dad closer to God. Maybe God actually speaks to my dad through a “secular” song. *Gasp.*
Is God condemning me when I sip a moscow mule or a Sam Adams? No.
“But alcohol dulls your spirit.” But does it actually? Maybe appreciating a quality cocktail is actually making me appreciate the good gift of life. Maybe it’s causing me to be thankful for the rich life God has given me. Maybe?
To be honest, I am weary of legalism. I am tired of nit-picking every little thing and calling it right or wrong.
Yes, there are very clear biblical standards for our life if we are going to follow Jesus. There are non-negotiables. There are black and white standards. The big issues.
But the little things? The things that aren’t causing anyone’s life to unravel and go off the deep end? The things that aren’t clearly outlined in Scripture as non-negotiable for salvation? Those are not so black and white.
I believe the little things are where your personal relationship with the Holy Spirit comes in. That’s where you communicate with him and he communicates with you. You hear his voice and follow his lead. And on the little things, he may tell you something different from what he’s told your friend. He may lead you in a different way than he’s lead your sister or brother, or even your parents. We are all different, with different struggles and temptations and personalities. And when we are in a relationship with him, he knows how to lead us, specifically and individually.
As long as you yourself (not a preacher or a person you look up to) are hearing from the Holy Spirit about your life, and letting his Word guide your path, you really do not need to bother with any rule book.
I believe with all my heart that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift, and he loves it when his children walk in freedom and liberty – not as a license to live in sin, but to be alive. To truly live life and enjoy it.
I was 21 when I had just gotten back from a life-changing 3 months in Mozambique, Africa. Naturally, I questioned what was next for me. There were so many different directions I could go.
I actually applied for a year-long mission program that would take me to many different countries.
After applying and waiting for a phone interview, I began to rethink going. Because as I read the rules, something in my heart felt…tired of it all.
“We ask that our missionaries give themselves fully to the Lord and not enter a romantic relationship during their time in the program.”
Why? Why is this necessary? I get it that we want to be focused on our work. Yet, I had attended things like this in the past, and honestly, I was done. Worn out by it all. Frankly, sick of it.
If I meet someone I like, I just want to date them.
What is so terrifyingly bad about dating? What is it about dating that causes us to not be devoted to the Lord?
Friends, I realized something at that moment. All the years I spent in programs designed to keep me devoted to the Lord using rigorous rules and strict guidelines actually just made me feel more condemned if I ever happened to so much as not think about the Lord for a split second.
This is not what being a disciple is about.
I can’t help but think, what if all those rules hadn’t been in place? Would it have actually been more beneficial to me? If the option to date someone or have a beer every now and then were available, would it have actually made me more focused on my work?
I do know that not everyone is affected in the way I was. I also know that guidelines and rules are put into place for a reason, most likely because of the behavior of previous individuals.
Yet, for me specifically, these rules and regulations were actually hindering me. They may benefit others. They may hedge others in where they need to be dialed down. But for me, they would not be a good thing.
Can I be honest with you? Beautiful worship songs have made me weep. But so have amazing stories portrayed in movies. The presence of God I feel in a church has made me full of hope and joy. But so has driving down a beach with all the windows down, the wind in my face, and the Chainsmokers blasting through the speakers. Reading the word has made me feel alive. But so has sitting around a table laughing with friends and drinking *gasp* a beer. A good ole wheat beer, cause I love the wheaty taste.
And honestly? I truly believe that God is happy about all of it in my life.
Friends, he is the author of faith, hope, joy. He is the giver of life and all good things. He is kind, so much kinder than we know. He has a good heart. Don’t you think his heart swells with joy to see us experiencing all that life has to offer, no matter if it’s in a church or a bar on the beach watching the sunset? I don’t know about you, but I plan to soak up all of it. Because it’s a gift from him.
I want to speak freedom over you right now.
If you have the Holy Spirit inside of you, and are listening to his voice and letting him lead you, then you are free.
If you love makeup or fashion, that is a gift from God. You take that and run with it. Make yourself and others look beautiful.
If you love how movies tell amazing stories, and how they make you love others, you go and be a filmmaker or actor, or just go to the movie theater and appreciate the art.
If you want to visit a brewery and appreciate fine craft beer, you go and enjoy yourself.
If you genuinely enjoy the people you work with, who have vastly different beliefs, and you just enjoy their company, you go out and have fun with your friends.
If you are tired of living with a “poverty for the kingdom” mentality, go out there and make money at a secular job, and stop feeling bad about “abandoning the ministry”. That is absolute nonsense.
The key in all of this, is to hear his voice for yourself. Not all of the above will apply to you. If you struggle with alcoholism, the Holy Spirit would lead you away from a brewery. If your friends with vastly different beliefs are causing you to go further away from God, the Holy Spirit would lead you to lay down the fun nights out with them. That little voice in your heart is the Holy Spirit. Only you know what he is saying to you, and you have to choose whether you will to listen to him, or not.
If you genuinely love God and have given your life to follow him, then you have the holy spirit inside of you, and you are free.
Friend, enjoying life could be arguably one of the best ways we draw near to God.
Because when we let go and appreciate God’s good gifts, we find a part of his heart that we miss when we’re caught up in religion.
We find the happy, joyful heart of a father that loves to have fun with his kids. Who is interested in the things they are interested in. Who loves their talents and gifts and will use them for his kingdom.
He is nothing like I thought.
He is so much better than I ever dreamed.
*I used to feel guilty that I liked secular music. There is definitely a line between simply good music, and music with degrading, damaging, destructive lyrics and tones. This kind of music, I will never tolerate in my life.
**Nowhere close to being obsessed with alcohol. These occasional drinks happen once in a blue moon. (See what I did there?) He appreciates it, but it in no way consumes him.