As I read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis this past weekend, I came across a sentence that stopped me dead in my tracks. This short book is an allegory about heaven and hell and the choices we make–that it matters how we live now.
In this fantastical story the narrator encounters people who want to go upward to heaven but are not willing to lay down the things of earth. In a conversation he overhears with an artist, he finds that the artist wants to paint the beautiful landscape but is told not to bother about that at present.
The painter becomes agitated that he can’t paint, but the spirit guiding them tells the artist he is focused on the beauty he sees only for the sake of painting it rather than delighting in it.
“Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, for love of the telling, till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.”The Great Divorce, 85
Wow. Do we love the telling about God more than God Himself? Have we become so good at all the religious workings of faith that we have lost sight of the Author of it?
I love my quiet time with Jesus. I love church. I love Bible study. But I had to do some soul searching this past weekend. Why do I love them?
Do I love the quiet, the books, the coffee, the friends, and the music, or do I love Jesus? Do I love the seeking or do I love the One being sought?
Jesus didn’t come for us to have a religious experience. After all, the Pharisees were very religious and were pretty content with it. That’s why they didn’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God–they weren’t really seeking Him. But Jesus came so that we could be set free from sin and truly know Him.
“Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”John 17:1-3, NIV84
Jesus said that real, lasting life is found in knowing God. But many of us settle for knowing all about the things of God. Paul was a man well-acquainted with the traditions of his faith. Look at what Paul said about his pursuit of Judaism:
“The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee.”Acts 26:4-5
Paul was zealous for what he believed was the pursuit of God because he had been blinded to truth. He was actually pursuing religious status, legalistic self-righteousness, and was, in fact, working against the Lord.
“For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”Galatians 1:13-14
What about us? Are we working really hard, pursuing religious status in the church, trying to obtain a legalistic self-righteousness, secretly proud of how well we are serving God, and yet not even spending meaningful time with Him, truly connecting with Him in worship, or hungering and thirsting for His Word?
Do we enjoy our quiet times and small groups for the sake of fellowship and coffee or for the Spirit and His truth? Are we really seeking God in His Word or are we just looking for a word to make us feel better?
O beloved, God wants so much more for us.
Once Paul encountered the Lord in all of His glory on the road to Damascus, he was forever ruined. He could never go back and be the same. He was changed from the inside out. He no longer cared about the religious life he had previously pursued. He only wanted to know God more.
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ….”Philippians 3:7-10a
Can you imagine taking all of our hard “work” for the Lord and throwing it away? If we’ve done it for attention, status, approval, self-gratification, or to earn God’s favor, that’s exactly what we can do with it. None of that impresses God.
The Greek word translated as rubbish is skybalon. It literally means “rubbish, refuse, dung; this can refer to any of a number of rotten, decaying things, all that is worth getting rid of” (The NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance). You do realize that dung is “the excrement of animals.”
In other words, Paul said all the religious things he had done for God were a waste compared to really knowing God. Think about that: all that he had accomplished up until that time had been an utter waste of his time.
I confess that I have spent many hours doing religious things that had no eternal value whatsoever. I have enjoyed my Christian social club without really seeking the face of God. I have “served” out of guilt, out of a desire for recognition or to please a person rather than God. That’s time I can never get back.
But now I would rather spend my time seeking God Himself. Jesus said He came so that we could know Him.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep.”John 10:14-15
Can you imagine how well the Father knows the Son? Jesus said that’s the same way He knows us. He laid down His life so we could know Him, too. We will never know Him completely, but He does tell us that when we seek Him, we will find Him.
“I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”Proverbs 8:17
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”Jeremiah 29:13
The more we get to know Him through His Word, the more we will love Him.
“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”Psalm 116:1-2
“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.”Psalm 63:3-4
God wants us to come to Him through His Son, seek His face, hunger and thirst for Him in worship, surrender to His Spirit, and live a life of faith in community with other believers. As we do that, we will serve out of our reverence for Him and gratitude for His work in our lives.
When we truly seek the Lord, we will put our faith into action, but not for the sake of religious status or acceptance. Our actions will flow from a heart in love with Jesus. That’s the kind of service that pleases the Lord.
Be encouraged today to let the Lord set you free from religious striving and lead you to His table. Come and sit at His feet, drink from His hand, feed on His Word, and rest in His presence.
We can stop striving to be perfect, to do better, to perform more, or to act religious. We can stop wasting time with the religious talk and knowledge about God. Instead, let’s make the most of our time by truly getting to know God.
And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with loving quietness, books, coffee, friends, or music, as long as our pursuit of Christ Himself comes first.
So don’t settle for just painting the landscape when you can delight in the One who made it. Let grace draw you beyond the telling to the One who is worthy of the art. That’s how to make the most of your time.
Need encouragement in your pursuit of God? Read Seek Him First: How to Hear from God, Walk in His Will, and Change Your World.