The message in Dan’s chapter is a soft introduction to the idea that maybe God isn’t asking you to perform for His attention. Dan admits to being a performer. He decided that he would be more active in his faith when he was in his twenties and started doing things he thought God was interested in.
“…I decided to get serious about this God and church thing. Once I did, I was fully committed to the mission of the church. I was one of those guys who refused to be out-served. …Serving was important to me because I thought it was important to God” (page 183).
When people use this kind of language, “this God thing”, “the church thing”, “this faith thing”, it immediately reminds me of religious salesmen. I picture middle-aged white guys, trying to dress like college students, standing in a sea of dark skinned faces in some third world country. Americans feel like rockstars when they go to these places. The people are in such need that they treat the average American like royalty. You get to feel like a god, bringing new stuff to them. I think that might be the problem… feeling like a god. Doing so much. You get the accolades, the gratitude, and the photos. It’s all about “I”.
“…I’ve served in the youth group, led small group studies, led the twentysomethings’ ministry, taught in vacation Bible school, served on the board of directors, taught in the school of ministry and organized major (and minor) out reach events. And that’s just for starters” (page 183).
He continues to name the education he’s received, the “half a dozen ministry opportunities that [he’s] involved with at any given time”, and the missions trips he leads every year. He says that this long list doesn’t adequately illuminate all that he’s done.
“I’ve had friends over and over say to me, ‘Dude, I don’t know how you do it all!’ And others would totally validate me by saying things like, ‘You’re an inspiration,’ and, ‘You’re living the Christian life like all of us should be living it!’ (page 184).
He was undoubtedly offering up his religious resume for his readers. I kept waiting for Dan to write about a soul baring realization that he was making his religious practice all about him, that he had set himself up for failure by putting himself on the Throne of Servitude. But, his realization was a lot more of a soft introduction to a thought process.
“And as I learned that our relationship with God the Father is influenced by our relationship with our earthly father I found myself asking, Why do I work so hard when it comes to my relationship with God? (page 185).
He didn’t have a solid father figure in his life, so he’s still searching for that love. The resume posting, accolade collecting, gratitude seeking, religious photo-op grabbing is all an attempt to earn something that cannot be earned. He wants his earthly father and his heavenly Father to take notice. He wants a strong hand to muss his Opie hair as they walk off into the Mayberry sunset. I know how he feels.
“It sucks feeling like you’re invisible” (page 186).
What I wish people in this position would say is that by believing that their actions can get them closer to the heart of God, they’re also saying that their actions have the power to remove them from the heart of God, which isn’t true. Flipping it around reveals its nature. The truth is the same forward and backward. I wish people in this position would talk about Jesus instead of themselves. Jesus is the only way to the Father’s heart. You can’t get there through yourself no matter how much you give away.
Dan writes about the pull between knowing his “salvation isn’t based on [his] works”, but he can’t graft that knowledge with the belief that God doesn’t want him just “sitting around and worshipping our Savior”. And this is where the hair stands up on the back of my neck. Dan doesn’t even mention Jesus. This reader notices the vague mention of a “Savior” preceded by “our”, not “my”.
Jesus is the way to God’s heart. That’s it. It would be so much better to get to know that basic truth more intimately, and spend your free time worshipping from that place than it would be to spend yourself trying to win the Heart that Jesus already won.
Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote the 30th chapter of Soul Bare. She titled it, “The Cup”. I’ll write my thoughts about her chapter next.