Have you ever had one of those moments when you feel impressed to reach out to someone? You dream about them, although you haven’t seen them in years. They come to mind at the oddest times throughout the day or, in today’s world, they continue to appear in your Facebook feed.
This recently happened to me, so I decided to reach out. After a few text messages back and forth, we ended up on the phone for several hours. Little did I know this gal was facing complex and trying life issues that I had also faced at one time. The most painful aspect of her difficulty was the sting of hurt from other Christians dealing with her harshly and unfairly. Having their denominational or personal stances on complex issues, they didn’t care to hear her nor did they have enough concern to first come along side and love this hurting sister.
My husband knows when I’ve had a call like this. I tend make dinner and clean up the dishes with a little extra emphasis, and sometimes there seems to be steam coming from the top of my head! I get angry when I see Pharisees hurting well-meaning Christians at the moment they are at their lowest. I know this is a sensitive area for me because my own life has been filled with great difficulty and complexities for years when Christianity was used as a weapon of manipulation by those who were supposed to counsel and guide.
Full of grace, my husband is quick to remind me that these people are often well meaning, but typically uneducated or inexperienced when it comes to complex situations, even if they have a degree from a Bible college. On this occasion, his words helped me cool down a bit and begin to redirect my energy to praying for my friend, while also remembering my own experiences. You see, what I have learned over the past decade is the gospel is simple and sin is complex. But somewhere along the way, we began making the gospel increasingly burdensome while making light of sin.
If you’re scratching your head wondering what I’m talking about, let me give a few examples of how we’ve made the Christian life hard and how we can get back to the simplicity of the gospel.
This can often be denominational or connected to the traditions of the church, but when the need for conformity to certain guidelines or rules becomes the focus, it’s time to step back and ask questions. The gospel message is Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection for the atonement of our sins. It requires us to acknowledge and repent. When we add to this message the weight of expectations, we slowly begin to oppress the believer while pushing out the beauty of a relationship with our Lord.
It is true that becoming a Christian is the first step in living out a life pleasing to God, but the Lord desires us to develop an intimate relationship with Him and through this relationship follow His leading as He graciously begins the work of moving us in a direction of being like Him. If you feel a continually building pressure to conform, coupled with stress above normal levels, you may want to re-evaluate. Perhaps take time to write down where the pressure is coming from and what expectations you are trying to live up to. What should your priority be? What has God whispered to you in your quiet time with Him? If there are voices drowning out the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, it’s good to remember Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Holding Interpretations Above Individuals
There are times when complicated problems arise and hard decisions need to be made. There are so many Christian “issues” in which different denominations hold differing opinions, each with a list of Scriptures to back their arguments. These can range from trivial matters to more significant issues. Regardless, when the matter goes from a theological point to a life-changing situation, the gospel is made more difficult when a person’s interpretation is held above the struggling and hurting sister or brother in Christ.
It is our duty to study the Scriptures and discover the nature and character of God, but we also need to humbly acknowledge our limitations. We are not, nor can we ever be, the final authority on these secondary issues. We do, however, have a final answer from the Lord when it comes to the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:36-40:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
There are systems in the church set up for its protection, its reputation, and its members’ benefit. Each denomination has varying degrees of how involved the church is with an individual or family. Often the level of involvement isn’t necessarily tied to the denominational guidelines but rather the personality and desires of the leadership. It’s a blessing to have good leadership to turn to when making difficult decisions about hardships, extended family issues, parenting problems, or marital conflict. But when the advice turns into demands and your autonomy is removed, it’s time to step back.
Becoming a Christian is not the abdication of our individualism or our brains. We have the Holy Spirit of God to guide through the Scriptures, nudge our gut instinct, and provide counsel. When demands are made from those who should be patiently and gently walking through hardship with us, it only adds weight to the gospel instead of bringing relief. Instead, we should remind those demanding of us of the wisdom of Proverbs 15:22:
Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.
Simplifying the Complex
Not only do we tend to add complexity to the gospel, but when sin is disregarded, we also add hardship to those who are going through difficulties. When a Christian is dealing with an issue the church or its leadership does not understand or have experience in, instead of humbly acknowledging their limitations, they tend to focus on what they can understand.
For example, if a parent is dealing with a child who is exhibiting out-of-the-ordinary behavior, she is advised to be more consistent in discipline. A wife struggles with a husband who is unreasonable and hiding things; she is told be more submissive. When approached with complex issues that are not easily defined in Scripture, instead of acknowledging our own inabilities and seeking the wisdom of others in some of these areas, we simply disregard the sin. We make light of it and instead try to focus on simple solutions from our limited understanding.
If you ever feel you’re not being understood or the focus of the situation is shifted in a manner that does not address the real issue, step back. Don’t be afraid of looking for help outside the Christian realm! Perhaps that child was dealing with a reaction to food. Maybe there is wisdom within the medical community that can help a wife understand the sin she is dealing with in her spouse.
All truth is God’s truth. When we limit our problem solving to only what’s in the Bible, we indeed are in error. The Bible informs us of the great gospel message, not the cure for cancer.
Making Much of Small Things
When conflicts arises, especially if it’s an issue that continues to rise to the surface without ever being resolved, the party that has been injured can display emotions and sentiments of frustration. When someone is seeking help and the person counseling focuses on the reaction instead of the perpetrator, we make the gospel heavy!
I’ve seen people in desperate situations told they needed more faith. They need to pray more, be more submissive, try harder. If exasperation surfaces, they are reprimanded and scolded.
In some cases, the counselor is simply ignorant, uneducated, or inexperienced. Other times, this is a dangerous situation because it’s an intentional method of control and manipulation.
If you feel the issue of your reactions are the only item being discussed, it’s time to step back! In these cases, I’ve found journaling has been the best help in organizing the confusion that follows such madness.
When Christians shame someone for losing his or her temper while disregarding the person who did a great injustice causing pain and long-term effects, we make less of the gospel.
I will continue to pray for my hurting friend, knowing that even when Christians add to her burden, it is then the Lord comes closer and brings grace. And I hope and pray I never jump to simple solutions for complex issues and make life harder for those who confide in me.