As I wrote on Matthew 23, I was reminded of a favorite section of the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. It doesn’t entirely fit the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees of Matthew 23, so it didn’t fit in with that post, but I wanted to share it.
His struggle with hypocrisy wasn’t a self-righteous boasting, but did have the flavor of not practicing what he preached, as seen in Matthew 23:3. He writes this as he was confronted with something like a crisis of faith:
“I don’t have any doubts about God or anything; it’s just me. I feel like I am constantly saying things I don’t mean. I tell people they should share their faith, but I don’t feel like sharing my faith. I tell people they should be in the Word, but I am only in the Word because I have to teach the Word. I said to a guy the other day, ‘God bless you.’ What does that mean? Then I started thinking about all the crap I say. All the clichés, all the parroted slogans. I have become an informercial for God, and I don’t even use the product.“
As much as we can keep ourselves busy, busyness can hide time from honest, personal reflection. This is true within the church as well as it can provide plenty to occupy your time. These things can all be very good. But make sure that you slow down and make sure you are seeking out God himself, and not just the good things of God. Ritual and habit are not bad in and of themselves, but take time to think through our actions and the meaning behind them. As you approach the Bible, seek God in his Word for the joy of knowing him, not only to finish this reading plan.
I will say that there is a place for obedience, even when we “don’t feel like it.” God can use us regardless of our initial willingness (see Moses and all sorts of other characters from the Bible). That may be a critique of this book. Christianity is not always going to be some authentic expression of our deepest desires. Our deep desires are often sinful, and a life following Christ is hard as he warned us that we’ll have to pick up our cross to follow him.
But there is wisdom in this quote. We shouldn’t mistake learning about God with knowing God or giving instruction for others with personal discipleship.* For example, taking children to church is not the same thing as bringing them up in the faith. Writing a check for some ministry is not the same as serving people face-to-face. Researching the Bible for a class is not all that reading the Bible is about. These are not bad things, but we must make sure we do not let them become everything. We are invited not only to live a certain way or to know certain things, but to know God in Jesus Christ–to have a relationship.
Informercials can be really informative, but God wants disciples who follow him, and they can be transformative in this world.
*A problem it seemed the scribes and Pharisees had. Matthew 23