Â Dear Andrea,
Since leaving a church some months ago, I have stopped praying and reading the bible. I feel slightly guilty about this, but the feeling of freedom is much greater! For years I forced myself to do these things, because that’s just what Christians do. In fact I’m pretty sure I have read the whole bible about 15 times through in my life. Recently though, I can’t handle pressure of any kind. I have not abandoned faith – on the inside it’s as real as ever and I have this sense of sharing my life with God as it moves along – but these external things have vanished. Maybe they will come back someday. I sure don’t want to push it. Most of my Christian friends are very concerned about this development, as if doing these things were some kind of proof that one is saved. I thought that way myself for many years. But now it seems astonishingly obvious to me that i AM saved even without fulfilling this stuff. I was just wondering what you have to say on the matter?
Thank you for a thoughtful letter. Let me tell you a few stories. Give them some thought, maybe one will stand out to you with the answers you’re looking for. If so, thank the Spirit that inspired them.
A father once had a very close relationship with his daughter, but then his little girl grew up and went away to a college three time zones away and due to financial difficulties, was unable to come home even on breaks and her school didn’t have a phone line. For the first six months, the father wrote his daughter daily and likewise, his daughter called every day. While the father continued to faithfully write everyday, over the next few months, her daughter’s calls became more distant, and the father discerned his daughter no longer called out of the joy of talking to her father, but out of a sense of duty and obligation.
At the beginning of her daughter’s second year, the father received a notice his daughter would no longer call him and to not bother to write, because she also had no time, nor desire to read his letters. After that, the father continued to faithfully write his daughter, until a letter came back stamped recipient moved, no forwarding address. The father never heard from his daughter again.
Does he still have a daughter?
A man’s wife, out of love for her country, joined the US army and went to Iraq. At first, they wrote each other daily and she called her husband at every opportunity. Over time, her phone calls came less and less frequently, and more and more hurried. Suddenly, her letters and phone calls stopped. A friend of hers wrote her husband to advise him to stop sending her letters, because she’d stopped reading them, saying, among other things, she knew what her husband had to say before she opened it and had heard it all before. The friend also told her husband she didn’t know why he didn’t divorce his wife, since his wife never contacted him nor read anything he wrote to her.
The man did not divorce his wife, in fact he continued to write every day, but his wife met another man in Iraq and ran off with him. If she told you she was happily married to her first husband, would you believe her?
A soldier went into battle to retake territory occupied by the enemy, and fought with all his strength. Eventually, he grew weary, so he left his station and returned to camp. He removed his boots and his belt, while also throwing away both his gun and the radio he used to stay in communication with his commanding officer. What’s his CO going to think when he finds this private AWOL?
Let’s say he doesn’t return to camp first. Let’s say he just sat down in the midst of the fray. What are the odds he’ll live long barefoot, with no belt to keep his fatigues from falling around his knees, or to anchor his shield, or hold in place his bullet proof vest; with no gun; and no means to receive instruction and guidance from his CO?
One more story: There once was a fruitful vine with many branches growing in the desert with an oasis on the horizon. Because its roots went deep enough and far enough to suck up the water in the oasis, it thrived in conditions other vines had whithered under. But a branch got tired of the desert, so she cut herself off from the vine and began making her way towards the oasis alone. Long before she got there, cut off from the source of her sustenance, she whithered and died.
Another branch had begun to follow, but upon realizing the danger, turned back and awaited the vine to bring her out to the oasis.
Yet another branch had a berry she much loved and prized, but a raven came and snatched her berry away. The branch blamed the vine, and to punish the vine, cut herself off from the vine and marched deeper into the desert, lest her remaining berries also be taken. She too whithered away, and her remaining berries with her.
Yet another branch, from one of the whithered vines, asked to be grafted into the flourishing vine, and the vine consented, but the branch, while outwardly behaving as the other branches did, never allowed, or ceased to allow, the vine’s life blood to flow in her and take away the disease she was helpless to cure. The vine faithfully kept working on her, but she was unwilling to change, and, burdened by the urgings of the vine, hardened against the pressure of the flood trying to get in and put on ear muffs so she didn’t have to hear the vine’s pounding requests. At first, she felt relief. But eventually, the disease ran it’s course, as, while professing with her mouth she wished to live in the vine, and going through the motions, she allowed the vine no access to her inward parts, where the disease yet grew.
Again, I cannot tell you which branch you are, or whether you are like the wayward daughter, wife, or soldier I told you about. That is between you and God. But, we must abide in him to bear fruit, and prayer and the bible are both vital to growing in the Lord, without them, while still our father’s daughters, we’re more vulnerable to deception. As well, Christ warns us in John 15:6, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
If none of these speak to you, we all go through dry spells, and let me just say plainly one killer that is guaranteed to turn staying in touch with our Heavenly Father into a chore and painful drudgery is turning it into a legal requirement and adding all kinds of rules of how, when, where, and so forth. The same goes for the bible, the best place to keep the word of God is in your heart, how you go about getting it in there is your business. But if you find a way to abide in Him without ever speaking to Him–and that’s all prayer is–I will be very surprised. Pray because you love Him–not because you have to.
Love in Christ,