I never have any idea where this weekly experiment known as the iPod Devotional will take me. I fire up the aforementioned device, hit shuffle play and write about the first song that hits my heart. Today is admittedly an odd choice. The song was written in 1997 by Toby Keith and Chuck Cannon. I had forgotten that my iPod music list had a version of the tune by the iconic Willie Nelson. Today the lyrics of “Tired” caused a lot of reflection, sadness and prayer.
The narrative tells about the life of a factory worker who is, sadly, merely going through the motions of life.
Married Rebecca back in seventy-seven
I still love her and I guess she loves me too
We go to church on Sundays `cause we want to go to heaven
Me and my family, ain`t that how you`re supposed to do
That describes so many people that I know. Tired of their job. Treading water in their relationship. Going to church because they don’t know what else to do. It is particularly sad that so many Christians settle for a faith that leaves them discouraged and prone to sing the chorus of this song.
But I`m tired, Lord I`m tired
Life is wearin` me smooth down to the bone
No rest for the weary, ya just move on
Tired, Lord I`m tired
This song penetrated my heart because that was me just about four years ago. After four decades of uneven striving I was simply tired. I was resigned to stubbornly stumbling toward the finish line so I could finally find joy in glory. The following excerpt is from the revised version of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and it reflects the change in my heart.
My fear of cheap grace and being soft on sin had led me into a dead end path of moralism and legalism. Legalism takes the sweet Gospel of Jesus Christ and mixes in some “churchified” version of the law. Church by-laws occupy equal footing with God’s Word. Righteousness is no longer about Christ but about right behavior as only they define it. Legalism cherry picks verses that support behavioral control while conveniently ignoring dozens of verses about grace, forgiveness, kindness, love, gentleness and forbearance.
Focusing on right behavior can make you moral and perhaps a good person. It does not make you righteous. Such focus is not much different (if at all) from an agnostic or sporadic church-goer who really tries hard to do right and moral things. Tim Keller wrote this provocative thought about legalism in his wonderful book The Reason for God.
The devil, if anything, prefers Pharisees—men and women who try to save themselves. They are more unhappy than either mature Christians or irreligious people, and they do a lot more spiritual damage. (Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Dutton Adult, 2007)
Without a doubt. I have been damaged. I have seen loved ones damaged. I have damaged others. I hate legalism but I don’t hate legalists. I hurt for them. I suspect they are as tired, miserable and wondering what happened to their once joyous message of the Gospel as I was.
Righteousness is entirely because of Christ. Nothing I have done or will do will make me righteous. I spent three decades trying to be “righteous”. When I hit a dry spell I would try harder, read more books, buck up and beat myself up because I felt so distant from God. Lots of helpful Christian friends would faithfully remind me that God hadn’t moved so it had to be me. So I disliked myself more and tried harder and God seemed even more distant. I wrote a book about what to do with lambs that are wounded by the church and THEN I got wounded again by the church. It was like God was mocking me. I had reached the end of my spiritual rope. I cried out to Jesus something deep and insightful along these lines.
“I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!”
God does not get insulted by all-caps. In fact, I picture Jesus smiling at that point because I was finally ready to trust Him and not myself. I had reached the point of brokenness that allowed me to really let Him into my heart. I reached the point where I no longer had to be right. I had reached the point where I didn’t want to wear a phony mask of holiness. I had reached the point where I was willing to trust God completely with everything about me. I had reached the point where I was ready for grace. I had reached the point where I was willing to believe what God says is true about me. That I am completely forgiven. I am completely loved. I am completely changed because of Christ. I am completely empowered with the Holy Spirit to mature into all of those things that are already true about me. I am righteous not because of anything I have done but entirely because of Christ.
If you are tired enough, discouraged enough, wounded enough and ready to scream you can’t do this anymore then I have good news. You are ready for grace. I am not the same guy who wrote the first edition of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People. Writing that manuscript was part of a refining process that God used to bring me to the Throne of Grace and then to begin to create a room of grace around me.
God is waiting for you to experience His grace. Legalism is a dead end street to misery. There is a better road. What have you got to lose?
Meditate on the familiar passage from Matthew 11 as translated in The Message.
Come to me, all of you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.