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November 8, 2012

How I Freed Myself from Biblical Limits

What I do when I get trapped in the pharisaical maze of having to do everything right.

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It was nearing eight o’clock, and my sinful flesh was screaming for me to catch up on Grey’s Anatomy before drifting off to dreamland. On this particular evening, I nearly skipped my Beth Moore Bible study lesson, but something, or more accurately, someone, kept nagging at me.

I knew I’d feel guilty if I chose McDreamy over McSavior, so my Bible study won by default, and I proceeded to take part in a lesson on the meaning of diligently seeking God.

Citing Hebrews 11:6 and Revelation 4:11, the study concluded that our chief purpose in life is to please God, and the primary means to that end is having faith. With my heart and spirit truly refreshed by this truth, I was ready to tackle the “Faith Journal” at the end of the lesson, where the following fill-in-the-blank was posed:

“Lord, I want to please you, but . . . ”

There they were—seven words that stirred my soul and subsequently kept me up all night. The Sunday school answers of “sin” and “pride” could have both answered the question, but those weren’t good enough for me. Sure, there are all sorts of sins that hinder my ability to please my perfect, sin-hating Savior, but I wanted to be more specific. And of course, so many things fall under the umbrella of pride—laziness, selfish desires, and skewed priorities, to name a few.

There they were—seven words that stirred my soul and subsequently kept me up all night. The Sunday school answers of “sin” and “pride” could have both answered the question, but those weren’t good enough for me. Sure, there are all sorts of sins that hinder my ability to please my perfect, sin-hating Savior, but I wanted to be more specific. And of course, so many things fall under the umbrella of pride—laziness, selfish desires, and skewed priorities, to name a few.

Then it came to me: “Lord, I want to please you, but . . . I often get caught up in ‘biblical limits.’ I feel restricted in the freedom of my faith because I so badly want to do right—to follow the rules as an act of obedience.”

Wow, I thought, that was a deep reflection—even for me!

Part of me feels like a well-intentioned Pharisee. As someone with a pretty clear understanding of right and wrong, obedience to biblical principles often ranks at the top of my to-do list. However, with my desire to do the right thing comes a monster dose of guilt at the slightest violation of any rule—I was the young child who simply needed a disappointed look from my mom or dad to make my eyes well up with crocodile tears.

What’s so ironic, however, is that my uncanny desire to please others and do right is actually restricting me in pleasing God. While my intention to follow rules is motivated by a godly desire to be obedient, the outcome is, more often than not, a decrease in my faith.

How often have I held back in worship because I believe in reverence? Yes, corporate worship is to be orderly and edifying for all, but how is it wrong to celebrate a joyful spirit in the moment of genuine worship? I’ve taken God’s command to maintain order to such an extreme that I’ve ignored his call to lift my hands (Psalm 134:2), shout and sing (Isaiah 12:6), and praise him in the highest (1 Chronicles 16:25).

How often have I doubted his willingness to answer a prayer because I’ve gotten so caught up in trying to pray the right way or determine his will? In my fear to pray the right way without offending God, I’ve often decided not even to ask. Other times I ask and then second-guess myself, concerned about whether I’m asking the right way.

While I know he’s capable of doing anything, I often doubt he’s willing. In an instant, my hope has diminished, my brain begins to overanalyze, and doubt overshadows my faith. If he’s not willing, he’ll let me know, I think, but I need to let him decide that—not me!

If I’d stop overanalyzing long enough to understand the freedom and confidence he’s given me in approaching him (Ephesians 3:12), I’d take hold of the promise Paul reminds us of in Ephesians 3:20: that he is “able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”

There can be no freedom of my faith if it’s handcuffed to doubt and mistrust.

So I guess it’s that old “too much of a good thing” concept. Is too much obedience a bad thing? I can’t help but think the answer to that is “quite possibly,” especially if I’ve become so focused on following the rules that I’ve forgotten the freedom that comes with knowing and experiencing grace.

Although we never want to use God’s grace and mercy as a crutch to condone our sin, we also never want to miss feeling his gracious arms hold us instead of being held in the clutches of guilt. I don’t know about you, but I seriously doubt God’s intent in creating biblical limits was to restrict our freedom—and that’s a McDreamy worth holding onto.

Holly Mickler is a teacher, writer, and humorist who lives in Florida.

Related Tags: bible study, grace, guilt, prayer, priorities

Comments

Thanks for this article! If I had your talent for writing, these could have been my exact words.

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