I spent much of my growing years wondering how to stay on God’s good side. From the time my mom taught me and the other kids in our Sunday school class about God, heaven, and hell, I became fixated on making sure God knew I was one of the good kids. In my particular church tradition, there was a fabulous marketing campaign about the horrors and tortures of hell. Since I grew up long before children’s church was the norm, kids like me sat through adult sermons, but without the maturity or spiritual context. The result for me … a lot of religious anxiety and nightmares.
I loved God, but I grew up really afraid of Him too.
While it’s almost in fashion these days for people to trash their Christian upbringing, please know that I’m doing nothing of the sort. My childhood, black Baptist church was where I learned about Jesus dying for me. I still remember getting baptized on Sunday, April 9, 1981. I stood in line with six or seven other kids wearing long white cotton robes and really ugly, tight white swim caps to keep our hair as dry as possible before we were baptized by the pastor in the full immersion pool. (Little girl black hair is a WHOLE thing, and I’m not sure why our mothers wanted to spend actual hours doing our hair only for us to get dunked the next day. Okay, back to the story. …)
Even though I grew up with a fear of hell that ended up making me afraid of upsetting God, I still learned a lot about God, Jesus and the Bible. And for that, I am grateful.
However, my mindset about God was far from okay. In His sovereign mercy, God didn’t leave me to live from that spiritually anxious place. But, I’ll be the first to admit that for a long time, I thought if I wasn’t on pins-and-needles with God, then I wasn’t a serious Christian. I mistook anxiety for intentionality. Can you relate?
The fear of disappointing God stayed with me. It haunted me. God didn’t keep a chart measuring how often I read the Bible, but I did. He didn’t track of the number of minutes I prayed, but I did. He never compared me to the other Christian women in my Bible study, but I did.
The life-changing spiritual breakthrough began as I looked back through my journals. I saw that most situations didn’t change because of anything I’d done, it was because either God changed my circumstances, or more often than not, He changed me. My journals recorded a-ha! moments when I had a new thought about God or a lightbulb moment when I understood a passage of scripture in a new way. There were line-in-the-sand moments, where I finally let go of control in a situation, ready to REALLY fully surrender.
As I could see and label how God sovereignly and powerfully worked in my imperfect and flawed life, I realized that my spiritual to-do list wasn’t keeping me on God’s good list. It was just keeping me anxious. My anxiety lessened when I grew confident in seeing where God was working in my life. Does that mean I stopped reading my Bible and praying? Nope. In fact, I began enjoying Bible study and prayer on a level that I’d never experienced before because the anxiety of keeping up with my spiritual to-do list was finally gone!
There’s a precious freedom I now have in my faith because I’m free from being afraid of God. As a result, I feel more connected to Him – and more grateful! Now, I thank God throughout the day whenever I see His Spirit at work in me. Sometimes, it’s when I notice I’m patient in a situation that I’d normally push through. Other times, it’s when I follow a leading by the Holy Spirit to pray for someone or surrender. Afterward, I say, “Whew, thank you God for helping me do that!” or “God, I would have handled this differently before. Thank you for what You’ve done in me.”
My friend, this is the freedom and confidence that I want for you. God is always at work in your life (Philippians 1:6). Do you know how to identify how He’s working? Do you NEED to learn how to identify how He’s working? My prayer today is that my story will jumpstart a desire in you to let go of your spiritual to-do list and discover the joy of seeing and receiving all that God wants to do in you.
COMMENT: In what ways could you relate to my story today? As you reflect on your relationship with God, are you growing closer to Him? Do you need to back off of any anxiety-motivated items on your spiritual to-do list?
Let go of feeling like you are not a “good enough” Christian!
Have you ever felt that being a good Christian means you’ve got to follow a bunch of rules and measure up?
If so, you aren’t alone! In my Breakthrough: Finding Freedom in Christ six-week Bible study of Galatians, you’ll see that even the believers in the early church struggled to let go of rule-keeping and performance in order to embrace God’s free gift of grace. Together, we’ll learn to see God-powered spiritual breakthroughs and break free from legalism!
If you’ve ever struggled with feeling like God is disappointed with you or felt trapped by rules or religion, this study will provide a path to discover your freedom in Christ.