One of my favorite memories in college happened at about 2 am. But before your brain gets off track, I was at the library with my senior design team working on the last minute rush to finish. We were all just weeks away from graduating with degrees in Aerospace Engineering with our final, monumental hurdle being to design a mission to land a probe on a near-Earth asteroid. As we were polishing off the final product, two of my teammates were struggling with some cost estimations. Exacerbated, one yelled, “Well, it isn’t rocket science” to which the other seriously replied, “If it was rocket science, it would be easy!” There was a pause as the whole team looked up and collectively burst out laughing hysterically. Have you ever felt like that with your faith? Part of you thinks, “Well, it isn’t rocket science,” while the other half thinks that rocket science would actually be easier?
Here’s the secret. Following Jesus isn’t supposed to be complicated. Difficult? At times. Jesus doesn’t sugar coat it when he says, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33) or that you must, “take up your cross” (Matthew 16:24) But not complicated. So why do we seem to sometimes get bogged down? Unfortunately, when religion overcomes relationship, the result is a complicated faith….and a complicated faith is a burdensome faith.
"Unfortunately, when religion overcomes relationship, the result is a complicated faith"
A few years back, there was a song on Christian radio that resonated with me. In Jason Gray’s “More Like Falling in Love,” he sings about falling in love with Jesus, “Cause all religion ever made of me was just a sinner with a stone tied to my feet.” Has your faith ever felt like that? If religion has ever felt like a burden, you’re in luck because Jesus discussed it directly; it was as big of a deal then as it is today. During His time, the Jewish religious leaders set a long list of rules that the people were required to follow that dictated many aspects of their life. The result was it was complicated. The result was a burden. Jesus’s response:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” ~Matthew 11:28-30 MSG
Have you felt crushed by the weight of rules instead of feeling true freedom in Christ? Have you been burned out on religion? I have. You see, I grew up in with religion with lots and lots of rules. There were rules governing what you could wear to church (FYI Pastor Jason would not be allowed in), what to eat on certain days, and even how to pray. Growing up it was honestly hard to remember what all the rules were and even what counted as a sin. It was complicated. It was burdensome. What followed when you inevitably messed up? I never felt God's grace, but instead often felt man's guilt.
So how do we uncomplicate this mess called religion? Unlike many people, I love equations. And some days I wish there was a magic equation so I knew I was doing this whole Christian thing right. Just have to add (x minutes of daily prayer) * (# of sins before breakfast) + (y minutes of bible reading) / (z verses memorized) + (weekly church attendance) *(Percentage Tithed) = 1 Ticket to Heaven! All those things are great, but it’s even easier than that. What does Jesus say in the verse above? “Come to me.” In other passages, Jesus simply says, “Follow me.” That’s it. Done. I love how the Message version calls us to, “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” which is almost the opposite of a checklist. When we follow Jesus, it should be natural and freeing because He promises that He, “won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.” After a life living under the burden of religion, an uncomplicated faith is simply refreshing.
When we follow Jesus and have a relationship with Him, the rest of those very good things simply follow. When you fall in love with Jesus, you will want to love your neighbor, spend time reading His Word, spend time with Him and giving back to Him. When you follow Jesus, the “rules” that previously were a burden, now set you free. Your life changes in the instant you accept Him as Lord. From that moment, you can continue to grow closer to God through many of those “good things” especially prayer and spending time in God’s Word. True followers are made in an instant but developed over a lifetime.
The key is relationship over religion. Whenever I have slipped from a relationship to simply a religious to do list, all aspects of my life suffer as I slowly return to the “sinner with a stone tied to my feet.” Honestly, it sucks. And what’s worse, I know better. Why? Because it isn’t rocket science. Love Jesus and follow Him. He’s big enough to sort out the rest.
Written by Jillian Apa Goodhew,
Well Kids Lead at Wellspring Church