If there is one word that could best describe the spiritual life of most people, I think that word would be frustrated or inadequate. When it comes to our relationship with God, most of us feel we don’t measure up. We feel we don’t live well enough, know enough, and aren’t doing enough. I feel the same way much of the time. There are people I should see, contacts I should be making, leaders I should be developing, programs I should be starting and study I should be doing. It doesn’t seem like it matters how much I am currently doing; it’s never enough.
The irony is that we are constantly proclaiming that our faith is the thing that helps us keep our sanity in a crazy world. It is hard for our faith to help us with the overload of our lives when it is actually part of the problem.
This morning we are going to look at a large chunk of Scripture in the book of Colossians. The text is very rich with meaning and we can only give a broad overview of the text this morning. It’s my hope that this overview will help us to derail some of our sense of spiritual frustration.
Before diving into the text we need to make sure we are clear on our terminology. When the Bible describes a follower of Christ it means someone who,
Recognizes that God is Holy and perfect
Acknowledges that Jesus was God in human form
Believes in the literal, actual and historical resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Admits their own rebellion against God in subtle and blatant ways
Recognizes that they have no resources to make themselves right with God
Believes that when Jesus died He died as a willing substitute for the sin of mankind. His death was sufficient (because He is God) to trade or pay for the wrongdoing of all who would receive His gift.
Embraces Christ as the only hope of salvation and as the One who can lead us to new and eternal life.
This is a true believer according to the Bible. Because of this faith in Christ, the person now has a new heart, a new outlook, a new destiny and a new relationship with God. No longer are we God’s enemies; we are now His children. As a result we should be living lives filled with gratitude, joy, and love. The reality is that more often than not, we are frustrated. Why?
SOME OF THE CAUSES OF SPIRITUAL FRUSTRATION
Trying to Live by the Rules of Others
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ [Colossians 2:16]
There will always be people who want to tell you how to live your life. There will always be those who want to prescribe appropriate Christian conduct. In Paul’s day there were people who believed you couldn’t be a Christian unless you observed Jewish dietary laws, observed certain holidays, and refrained from work on Saturday.
Today, well-meaning people do the same thing. We are told that we can’t be a true Christian unless: we dress the right way, sing the right kinds of music, read the right kind of Bible, belong to the right brand of church, abstain from a carefully selected list of vices, become baptized in a certain fashion, read our Bible for a certain length of time, pray in a certain posture, and be willing to castigate others who don’t believe such things.
Paul says an emphasis on “rule keeping” is bad because it puts the focus on the things that are only a shadow of the things to come. It would be like going up to a person who plays a Doctor on television and asking them for medical advice. In a very real sense that person is merely a shadow of a Doctor, they are not the real thing.
Think about how foolish it would be to fall in love with a picture. The picture may be an accurate reflection of a person but it has no personality, and you cannot interact with it. If you want a real love relationship your focus needs to be on the person, not their picture.
This is the point that Paul is making. When we put our focus on trying to live by the rules of others we are focusing on the shadow. We are devoting ourselves to a picture. This will lead to frustration because the shadow cannot possibly give us what we are looking for. To find the life we crave we must turn to the real thing: the Lord Himself.
Trying to Copy the Experience of Others.
A second practice that leads to spiritual frustration is when we seek after the spiritual experience of others. Paul writes,
Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19 He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
We get spiritually frustrated when we spend our time comparing our experience to the experience of others. Just like the people who want to get you to keep a list of rules, there are those who will imply that your relationship with Christ is deficient unless you have had the same experiences that they have had. They are arrogant enough to think that their experience should be the true measure of spiritual maturity.
These people want us to think that we are not a good believer if we aren’t emotional, or don’t speak in tongues, or have never had a vision, or don’t experience God speaking to us in our dreams. There are those who feel we aren’t true believers if we don’t share our faith in the same way as they do or aren’t as passionate about the things they are passionate about.
The problem with experiences is that they are unreliable. I can be moved by a ballgame or a beautiful piece of music but that doesn’t mean that I have connected with God. I can have visions because of the medicine I’m taking. I can feel “moved by a worship experience” and never really worship God.
People have different experiences because they have different personalities. To say that everyone should have the same kind of experience with God is just as silly as saying everyone should have the same kind of laugh or sneeze the same way.
Paul says when our focus is on experience we have become disconnected from the head. In other words we are no longer under the control of God; we are being controlled by the things and people around us.
Why Are these things Bad?
Paul gives us several reasons why the focus on rules and experiences is bad. First (v. 20) he reminds us that we no longer belong to this world. We are no longer measured or evaluated by the world’s standards. We belong to Jesus. We should seek His approval not that of the world around us.
A soldier who travels to a foreign country knows they are not just subject to the laws of that country, they are governed by a higher law. They follow military protocol even in non-military environments. They are always conscious of the fact that they represent the United States of American whenever they wear the uniform of our Country. In the same way, as believers we are not governed by the laws of the crowd. We are fellow-citizens of the King of Heaven and should thereby act like it.
Second, these rules and experiences are destined to perish because they are based on human wisdom (22). The standard will constantly be changing according to the whims of men.
Third, these things cannot achieve their desired end (v.23). We could work really hard and try to live by all the expectations and rules that others set. We could pursue the experiences of others until our experience matched those around us. However, none of these things would make us closer to the Lord. None of these things would deal with the heart problems of our lives.
We need to understand that when we govern our spiritual lives by the rules and experiences of others,
We are perverting the gospel. We imply we can earn salvation by what we do when it can only be received by grace.
We give the power to direct our lives to others rather than to Christ
We focus in the wrong place. We put our focus on external behavior rather than the heart. It is much easier to not play cards than it is to deal with bitterness in the heart. It is easier to give money than to have a servant heart. It is easier to have an experience than it is to be submissive before the Lord.
We are in danger of a false sense of security. We may feel secure because we have attained to the expectations of others and might not truly be a follower of Christ.
THE REMEDY FOR SPIRITUAL FRUSTRATION
In the first 17 verses of Colossians chapter three Paul points us in a better direction. He gives us some general principles for life.
Remember that we no longer take our cues from the world. (Colossians 3:1-4) We operate by a different system of values than the world around us. In the world around us people are primarily concerned with the here and now. Paul is calling us to see the “Big Picture”.
Isn’t this the very thing we try to teach our children? We want them to see the “Big Picture”. We want them to consider the implications of their actions. We want them to see that a person who drinks and drives may kill someone; the person who is mean to others may leave a person wounded for life; the person who cheats in school is going to miss learning what will be a building block in the future, the person who “just wanted to have fun” may end up pregnant, have a criminal record, be saddled with financial obligations, and haunted by painful memories.
We need to see the big picture. We are living for the Lord. We are investing in eternity. Our direction comes from the Word of God, not the preferences of men.
Pursue inner holiness (Colossians 3:5-11) Everyone around us tells us we have gotten fat as a nation. We are told that to be healthy we need to eliminate some things. If my list if complete we are now to eliminate carbohydrates, fat, calories, sugar, salt, taste, quantity and enjoyment!
Paul tells us that there are certain things we should work at eliminating from our lives: immorality, idolatry, anger, malice, slander, filthy language and Lying. These things suck the spiritual life out of us like a malicious cancer.
These are serious enemies and we should put our energy in defending against these things. The lustful thought, the suggestive comment, the reactive response, and the lie of convenience seem to be ever-present. The world around us will try to get us to focus on superficial behaviors. God is concerned about the heart.
Cultivate God-motivated compassion (Colossians 3:12-14) Paul tells us there are also some things we should “put on” .We should be trying to cultivate: Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Each of these things deals with our relationships with the people around us. Instead of being so worried about ourselves and what others are saying about us, God wants us to begin caring for others.
He wants us to give others the benefit of the doubt
He wants us to give them time to grow and develop
He wants us to enter into their world and realize that most people are carrying a hurt around inside of them
He wants us to extend to others the same grace that changed us. He wants us to remember that no matter how “messed up” a person is, God can make them new.
Live in joyful relationship with the Lord (Colossians 3:15-17) Finally Paul seems to tell us that we should enjoy our relationship with the Lord. Too many of us are enduring that walk. Our relationship with Christ is often motivated by guilt, not joy. It is characterized by frustration rather than confidence.
As you observe marriages you see different kinds of relationships: there are those who can’t stand each other and show it with open hostility. There are those who are just going through the motions and growing increasingly apart. There are those who love each other but are struggling. And there are those who love each other and are having the time of their life. If you were to describe your relationship with Christ as a marriage (as the Bible does) what kind of marriage would you have?
A hostile relationship
Indifferent and moving apart
Loving but struggling
Loving and having the time of your life
I’m concerned that many have a bad relationship with God. Once again we need to stop looking at the rules and regulations and begin developing our relationship with God. A marriage struggles without communication; so does our relationship with God. Our challenge should be to enjoy Him for who He is and not for what we want Him to do for us. He is the great, mighty, and wise God. He is our Father, our rescuer, and our truest friend. He is not interested in making us miserable. He wants to set us free. We should follow Him joyfully.
So, how do we get to this point? First, we need to make sure we are really trusting Jesus for our salvation rather than trusting our own efforts. We need to ask ourselves: ”Am I a true believer as defined by the Bible? Have I admitted my rebellion, recognized Christ’s sufficiency, and put my confidence and hope in Him?” If you have not done so your spiritual frustration may be coming from the fact that you don’t really understand what God wants from you. Turn to Christ and find the new life He has to offer.
Second, we need to stop measuring people by our preferences and experiences. When a person is in the hospital or in a Nursing Home for over a certain period of time the hospital develops a formal plan of care. In other words the medical team gets together to determine how they are going to treat this particular person. These plans are unique to the person and the problems that they have.
God has a unique plan of care for each of us. We all have different needs, different struggles, and a different set of priorities in the way we are treated. God has a strategy for helping us get free from the sin that weighs us down. We must let God do His job. His plan for us is not the same as His plan for someone else. The goal, spiritual health and Christlikeness, is the same, the process is unique.
Third, we need to look past the rules, systems and experiences of this world and focus on the Lord. Instead of constantly asking, “What will others think?” We need to ask, “What does the Lord want me to do?” You’ll be surprised at how different those answers will be.
Our discipleship was not meant to be another burden in our already overloaded lives. It is not God’s desire that we be weighted down by the rules, regulations and expectations of others. These demands from others are like weeds in the woods that overgrow a path. These things actually keep us from finding our way. God wants to clear the path by His Word and the guidance of His Spirit. He wants to do this so we can find our way home.