You know what I think the whole point on being a Christian is? Here’s what I believe: It’s about having genuine, loving relationships. That’s it. It’s so simple I completely missed it my whole Christian life. I fell into this crazy trap of replacing God’s desire for me, into pursuing my own religiously inspired desires for God. Let me explain.
God wanted me to have time, space and confidence to have loving relationships with others in my world, but, instead of taking this great opportunity, I spent all my time trying to save the world for God. That made me busy, really busy; so busy the last thing I had time for was building genuine, loving relationships. The irony of the whole thing is the only way people actually do come to know God is through interacting with genuine love. But I had no time for genuine love. What I had was polished and professional programs to offer. Whatever someone’s need, my church had a program to slot them right into.
Upon reflection, I realize most people felt like a hot potato when they came to my church. None of the leaders had any time to invest in a genuine relationship, but they knew where to send them. And so like cattle, people were moved into the right program.
Programs . . . what was I thinking? My hope was in programs!
What I’ve come to believe is God’s hope is not in programs, his hope is in love. Again, so simple. So simple I missed it. But I didn’t just miss it because it was simple. I missed it because I didn’t even know how to do it. You see, I had grown up in church programs. I understood how life worked in accordance with everything being programmed. I thought you made friends by being in the same programs. I thought loving relationships happened before and after programs. My life was programmed. Basically, I was programmed. Like a robot.
Jesus said he came to set us free, and when he sets us free, we’ll be free indeed. Free to love. Free to learn the value of love. Free to enjoy genuine, loving relationships. This was basically impossible for me to understand while I was a full time pastor, for my life was full of people, full of action, full of one program after the next. But all this ‘full’ revolved around making sure the programs keep on rolling. We were all busy together. Our bodies were close, but our hearts miles apart. It wasn’t until I left the professional pastoral life that I slowly came to understand love. And here is how it came to be.
God refused to re-program my life.
You see, when I left the programmed way of church life, I honestly expected God to bring new Christian brothers and sisters into my life. I expected a new form of Sunday meetings to flourish. I expected my Christian faith to function. I thought losing all the church programs would cause a great revival in my own spiritual life, and things would kick of in some new and wonderful way. So I waited.
Weeks passed . . . Nothing.
Months passed . . . Nothing.
A year passed . . . Nothing!
At this point, I wondered what was taking God so long to organize things for me. One evening, completely frustrated I decided to talk with God about it. And his response to me shocked me. Here is what I feel he spoke into my heart.
“I’m not going to program your life. You have to desire your life. You have to desire to love.”
This was so bizarre it took me days to even figure out what God meant. Then it struck me. It wasn’t the church programs that was the problem, it was my mindset. My mind was programmed. My mind was waiting for someone to program things for it. Even though I had left the institutional church, I still had an institutional mindset. I desired for my Christian life to work. I was still thinking in regards to ticking boxes. I wanted to tick the box that said I had a good worship life. I wanted to tick the box that said I had a weekly ‘fellowship’ time. I wanted to tick the box that said I was doing things right, like a Christian should be living. What God showed me was my Christian faith wasn’t about ticking boxes, it was about living a life of love.
But did I desire to love? Man o man, that was a hard question to answer honestly.
What I realized after this whole experience was I didn’t even know how to love others. I knew how to build programs with others. I knew how to stand next to someone, but focus on something else. But I never really learned the value in just enjoying other individuals simply for who they were. No agendas. Nothing to build. Nothing to keep them accountable to. Nothing to ask of them. Nothing to challenge them with. Nothing but friendship. Nothing but a genuine, loving relationship. This I found not only hard, but impossible to do. I literally had to become like a little child and take baby steps to learn this basic human function.
This to me is the greatest tragedy of building church communities around programs. The community themselves get so used to everything being set up for them, they never learn the basic human function of seeking out and enjoying genuine friendships. When I left church, nobody wanted to still spend time with me. Why? Because they couldn’t do it before or after a church program. They knew I had no interest in returning, and so I was a lost cause. Is this what genuine friendships look like? Is this how they function?
But you know what, I’m not a lost cause. Far from it. I know this. And I know it about others too. I no longer think in programs. No more in or out. No more hidden agendas. No more superior attitudes. I see everyone as an equal. I seek to learn from others all the time. I’m still learning how to have genuine, loving relationships. Although I was frustrated for a long time, I’m now so glad God didn’t re-program my life. I’m glad he let me discover the real value of life is to value and actively pursue and enjoy genuine, loving friendships.
I no longer spend my life pursuing my religious desires for God. I now spend my time pursuing God’s desire for me. To love. To have genuine, loving relationships. To be free.
Yes, I’ve come to believe that to love freely, without an agenda or conditions, is to be free indeed.