The preacher looked right at me, stuck a dagger through my forehead, and asked, “When was the last time you really prayed?”
I’ve probably heard preachers say this sort of phrase hundreds of times.
When was the last time you shared Jesus with your neighbor?
When was the last time you dusted off your Bible?
When was the last time you felt sorry about your sin?
When was the last time you genuinely sincerely worshiped God from the very bottom of your heart?
When was the last time you were really on fire for Him?
These questions always catch me off guard. I can probably name thousands of times I’ve felt closer to God than today. Or times when I was praying more. Or reading the Bible more. Or worshiping harder. Or doing the whole church-thing better.
I understand the intentions here: for conviction, to get us moving out of a spiritual funk. But all this pointing backwards feels like a cheap manipulative trick to provoke my flesh into action. It’s a lazy preacher tactic that hail-marys a guilt bomb over the fence and hopes the shrapnel will stick someone.
I’m just not sure that comparing myself to myself is the best motivation to get me into gear. It only stresses me out. I start worrying about technique and method and knowledge instead of actually relating to God on a personal intimate level, and then I forget why I’m even here. Sometimes I think that the guiltier I feel at church, the more I’m doing religion correctly, so I beat myself up into a moral panic until I end up further than where I began.
I don’t blame the preacher. Most likely he doesn’t know better, because he learned how to preach from someone else who guilt-tripped him, and so did the other guy, and so on. The devil has been at this for a long time; he knows exactly what drives a wedge between our faith and duty; he knows how to steal the joy right out of obedience.
Really though, the grace of God is much harder to preach. It takes longer to internalize in the heart. Only a serious preacher can dig into the intricacies of God’s grace to preach as a remedy for the fallen. Most preachers will fall back to the same bag of boogeymen.
We are not patient for grace to take hold. We’ve adapted a church culture that forces quick results from other Christians by using all these catchy Christianese catchphrases — whether shame-driven or sugarcoated — to lock down the deal. We’re afraid that just preaching the Gospel by itself won’t work, or that God isn’t attractive enough, or that His love will be rejected out of hand. So we do a lot of throat-shoving.
I wish we would have more patience on this one. Revealing God’s Glory is like unraveling endless layers of an infinite onion, and it doesn’t always jump people into action. But faith is always birthed and not coerced. It is not the laying down of rigid bricks, but the planting of a living seed as it pushes through the dirt into the sun. The brick-laid life of church-activity will certainly have shape, but only the seed of grace rooted deeply will have soul.
Faith happens when we peer into the Glory of the Gospel of God and know, I am loved, I am loved, I am loved. Faith is the journey of knowing this more and more for eternity.
So I want to trust God’s grace to change us. I want to trust that we’re growing more than we think. I want to trust in a better future, not in comparing to my past. I want to trust the power of the Gospel, that the message spoken into the wind has a life of its own. I want to trust the seed in the dirt, that only the breath of the Holy Spirit can grow it into a fruitful flourishing garden.
I want to trust that Jesus died for me and said, It is done, and he meant the old has gone and the new has come — and that by his life and death, I am a new creation.
When was the last time you were really passionate for God?
I don’t know. I just know that God is passionate for me.
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
— 1 Corinthians 2:1-5