Keep it simple!
Many Christians tie themselves in all sorts of knots when thinking about their faith, writes Colin Sedgwick. But certain Bible verses can come to the rescue
Are you a person who tends to over-complicate things?
I had a friend who suffered with severe depression. He was a Christian, and I could only admire the way he was determined to stay loyal to his faith even in his darkest times.
But there was one thing I used to find enormously frustrating in trying to help him: he could never see things in a simple, plain way. Whatever you said, it was always “Yes, but...” followed by a catalogue of reasons why what I was saying couldn’t possibly apply to him.
I’m not criticising him, of course - depression can be a terrible blight, and my understanding of it is virtually nil. But there were times I felt like shouting at him “Why do you make everything so complicated! Why can’t you keep it simple?”
It’s not only people with depression who can get into this mentality. I have learned over my years as a minister that many Christians tie themselves in all sorts of knots when thinking about their faith. (In fact, to be completely honest I’m afraid I’m rather guilty of it myself - if guilty is the right word.)
Do I pray enough...? Why don’t I have the same passion for mission as Joe...? Do I give enough financially to God’s work...? Is tithing obligatory...? Have I been baptised in the Holy Spirit...? What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit anyway...? Why don’t I speak in tongues...? Why don’t I speak in tongues as much as Mary...? Why don’t I always feel like going to church...? Am I being a hypocrite when I smile and greet someone I don’t really like that much...? Is there something wrong with me that I don’t like them that much...? Should I be a pre-millennialist, a post-millennialist or an a-milleniallist...? Should I be offering myself for missionary service...? How come I find it impossible to read the whole Bible every year, like Terry...? Why do I find witnessing for Christ at work so difficult...? When I prayed last night about Geoff’s operation, did I pray hard enough...? Did I pray with enough faith...? Jackie always seems so joyful in worship: why don’t I ever feel like that...?
Stop! Enough! I could go on. In fact I could go on and on and on... Oh my, how complicated this Christian life is! Will I ever get it sorted out in my mind?
Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not denying that there are times we need to do some pretty serious soul-searching, some brain-pummelling, even some real agonising. Our faith as Christians does indeed throw up very complex questions.
I mean - dear oh dear! - I’ve been a Christian now for half a century, and I still can’t really explain the trinity. And I once even earned a little master’s degree for a study of free will and predestination - but I’m not sure I finished any wiser than I started. More seriously, I still find the whole topic of prayer - why does it so often seem unanswered? - a mystery.
Yes, the ways of God often baffle our minds.
But that’s when various Bible verses can come galloping to our rescue, especially when it’s the ordinary everyday living of life that we’re concerned about. How’s this for starters, a few words from the psalmist (37:3)? “Trust in the Lord and do good...” How simple is that!
“Trust in the Lord...” Remember God is your loving Father, so simply put your hand in his and let him lead you step by step.
“And do good...” Jesus said of his followers: “By their fruits you will know them.” Simply look for every opportunity to act in a loving, forgiving, gracious, Christlike way.
And what about those wonderful words of Micah (6:8): “What does the Lord require of you?” (What indeed?) “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
In the light of words like those, does it really matter how many mega-watts of faith I need to crank up in order to make my worship real, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or how I can both choose to love God, and also be chosen by him?
The great 20th century theologian Karl Barth was once asked how he would sum up the essence of the Christian faith. His reply was: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Yes! Keep it simple!
Here’s a prayer you might like to join me in: Loving Father, thank you that even though knowing you stretches our capacities to the very limit, what you want most from us is simple, loving, trusting obedience. Help me to make that my daily aim, walking humbly with you, my God. Amen.
Picture: Bible study/Freely Photos
Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister, with many years’ experience in the ministry.
He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com