There are certain times in my life when I can recall things that someone said to me that really stuck and changed me forever. Things that completely shift my worldview or provide new understanding to a question I have had for a long time. Recently at church, I had another one of these moments. Our pastor was talking about the "sub-texts" that we hear when we are learning something. Rather than being the direct message the person means to send, a sub-text is the message that is actually received. He gave several examples of sub-texts that can often be received when you are listening to a sermon, listening to someone in casual conversation, or even listening to yourself as you guide yourself through a session of reading the Bible or other "instructive" literature. These three stuck out to me:
-Us vs. Them: Comparing ourselves to others who are "more sinful" while constantly affirming our own "goodness." Example: "Jesus teaches us not to discriminate against others for their ethnicity. There are lots of people out there who do that, but aren't you glad to be a Christian who knows right from wrong? Isn't it great to be among those who do not discriminate?"
-Isn't this Impressive?: This is when the focus of the message shifts from the message itself to the way it is being presented. Example: A pastor focuses on the cool slideshow or video, interesting facts or statistics, or highlights his innovative and thoughtful approach to the message. This one is a little less obvious to detect.
-Discipling and training in righteousness: This is when the focus of the instructor becomes to train diligently those who are listening. To focus more on their performance and the way they "show" understanding through their good behavior and change. This one is a little tricky since discipling and training are both good things. The problem occurs when such training becomes THE focus.
Ultimately, the sub-text that should ideally be conveyed in every message is this:
Trust and Adore Christ.
I remember a time several years ago when I started to reject the "discipline" of having a regular quiet time. I felt like something was wrong with how I was approaching my time spent with God, but I couldn't quite figure out what it was. I just knew something needed to change. It felt so legalistic. And whenever I failed to have a quiet time, I felt so guilty, like I was performing poorly for God. I wanted my desire to spend time with him to be genuine, not forced. So, I just stopped making myself do it, and at the same time, I rejected any guilt associated with that decision. I would still read my Bible on occasion, and I prayed a lot, but I did not make myself sit down every single day and read and journal. Even though I made this change, I still wasn't very sure of it, and didn't know if what I had been doing before was simply the "way it was supposed to be."
Then, I heard this sermon. I instantly realized that the first and third sub-texts had always been my focus as I spent time with God. When you read, you really are your own "teacher," and you send messages to yourself whether or not you realize it. I found myself constantly reading something (a command, for example) and thinking, "Ok, do I do that? Yes, ok I do that. I am good." or " Ok, do I do that? No, I don't. Ok, I really need to get on top of that." My main focus was to correct everything I could find that was wrong, all the while affirming the things I do well as I compared myself to other "sinners." I realize now why it all felt so legalistic! I was using my quiet time with God as though it were a training regimen, a way to perfect myself. Of course, I do think that God means to sanctify us as He encourages us to continually let go of our sinful habits in life, but the only way that change is real and good is if it happens as a result of my complete adoration for Christ and what He did for me, how He loves me, and who He really is.
My focus simply needs to be: Trust and Adore Christ.
It is interesting now as I read my Bible and find myself reverting to my old ways of thinking. I am not sure exactly how to approach my time with God in this new way, but I feel like I have discovered something really exciting. Something that changes the way I live my life. Free from guilt over being a "bad Christian." And free to open His word for the sole purpose of learning more about who He is and why He is worthy to be adored. All the while, trusting that He will be the one to change me instead of relying on myself. Freeing!!!
If you would like to listen to the sermon, you can find it here. I am sure I did a bad job at explaining the "sub-text" idea, but our pastor, Ryan McCoskey, is great!! Check it out!