The other day, I thought about going to seminary for about 14 seconds. I don’t want to become a minister or go back to school or even have my knowledge of God sharpened in a great learning environment. I just want to be right.
I was curious about seminary because I don’t want to “get God wrong.” I have tons of friends that went to seminary for the right reasons. Me? I figured that if I spent a few years focusing on the Bible and seminary, I could eventually become bulletproof. I could add a layer of scriptural Kevlar to my writing and have a great argument to shoot down anybody that tries to disagree with me.
When I realized that my desire to read the Bible was to win arguments, I felt kind of gross. I want my motives to know God better to be pure. I want them to be noble and not self serving. I don’t want to treat God like a really, really, really good self help guru. When I read the Bible, I want that desire to come from a thirst for the truth and an all consuming need to be close to God’s Word and His heart.
And when I realize it’s not, when I see the brokenness of my motives, I want to run away. To go figure my motives out, fix them and then come back to God when they are pure and not self serving. But in the middle of wrestling with that, I felt like maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe, if I quieted down for a minute, God wouldn’t kick me off His doorstep until I had the right motives, maybe He would say,
Don’t you see what you’re doing? This is the enemy’s favorite lie. This is the idea of needing something else when you’ve already got me. This is the same lie that he told in the garden. Adam and Eve already had my presence, but he told them there is something they were missing. This is simply a way for the enemy to put conditions on something that is unconditional, my love. What you’re saying is that your motives aren’t pure. They aren’t noble. You come to me with a wish list sometimes. Your heart is in the wrong place. You feel guilty and distraught, because your heart isn’t right. Well stop. Stop thinking you must stand outside my presence waiting until you have the right motives to come in. You will never be noble enough on your own to come into my presence. That is why I sent Christ. You will never have a heart that is pure enough before you can come into my presence. I alone can purify and sanctify your heart. That is something that happens in me and through me, never before me. I make motives noble. I make hearts pure. Not you.
I never really know if something I write is just for me, like maybe I’m the only one that struggles with the idea of trying to sanctify myself. That perhaps, I alone try to get things looking noble and pure before I come into the Lord’s presence. That maybe this is a sign of spiritual immaturity and other people have already figured out this issue long ago.
But if you’re like me, and you doubt and you get tangled up in trying to put conditions on grace and forgiveness and God’s presence, I’ll go back to what I’ve written about a number of times. The prodigal son story.
He didn’t get things right before he came. He brought all the junk with him. He brought all the failure. He brought all the mistakes. Luke 15:20 says, “He got up and went to his father” and the very next verse says, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
As many times as I’ve written about that story, I’ve never paid enough attention to the phrase “while he was still a long way off.” That’s me. I want to think that I’ve come a long way in my faith, that I am maturing and growing and getting closer, but the truth is, I am “a long way off.”
The expanse between my heart and God’s feels large sometimes. We feel miles apart, but that is OK. God spans the distance. He runs. He loves me even though I am a “long way off.”
And He feels the exact same way about you.