I ran into a guy at the gym this morning that I’ve known informally for a few years. He’s about 70 years old, former biker (actually, I’m pretty sure he’d still qualify as a biker), shaved head, more tattoos than bare skin, and could still out-duel me on any of the weight machines in the facility. He could take me. We both know it.
We’ve talked off and on over the years about life, about God, about church, his family, the multitude of tragedies he’s endured. He’s one of the most transparent guys I’ve ever talked to, not afraid to drop an F-bomb even in the “presence of a pastor,” and there’s something very refreshing about that. He’s raw, he’s honest, and he tells me exactly what he thinks regardless of how he imagines I will interpret it. I wish more people were like that with me. I bet God wishes we were more like that with Him, too.
This morning he was fighting some major depression, enough for him to pull me away from my workout and my iPod for a longer, more serious dialog than our usual niceties. Waves of despair have been plaguing my friend, crashing into deserted islands of hopelessness that have led to serious thoughts of ending it all. But honestly, that story isn’t new for him. It wasn’t so much the details he was sharing as the vernacular he was using that really caught my attention:
“I determined a long time ago I was going to hell, but I still cry out to God, I still ask Him to help me. But I know He won’t hear me because I’ve just done too many awful things. I try, and try, and try to please God, but I still screw up so I know He hates me. I know He will never respond to me. I’ve tried, but I just can’t get it right.”
The sad reality is that none of us, myself included, are all that far away from my biker friend from the gym. Whether we grew up in the church pews or in a life of debauchery, all of us struggle with the innate impulse that we must try to appease God. We all fight the lie that God’s approval, His love, His willingness to hear our prayers is somehow tied to our goodness, to our self-rightouesness, to our ability to get it right.
Why? Because that’s likely how we love others and how love was modeled for us…conditionally. Even those of us who grew up in the greatest of family environments likely wrestle on some level with believing that unconditional love exists, from other human beings, let alone a holy, omnipotent, righteous Creator God. It’s unnatural, it’s illogical, it’s counter-intuitive to accept that God loves us and will respond to us right now, as we are, through the person of Jesus Christ if we’ll submit to Him. It does require something of us, it’s just our surrender not our effort. (For the record, neither are easy, but only one is effective).
So I’ll leave you with the verse I left my biker friend with standing over the curl machine early this morning (and a verse I have to remind myself of regularly):
“Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” (Romans 12:1 MSG)
Stop trying. Start embracing.