Say you have appendicitis.
Your suffering is intense. You are sick, feverish, you are groaning and whimpering in your bed as your body is raked by sharp pains (Ok, so symptoms vary by person, but just bear with me). You know that if you are not treated you could risk your appendix rupturing inside you, leading to internal infection and inflammation. You shiver in horror. You know that, should this happen, the infection will spread inside you, pollute your internal organs, and you will die after having suffered untold agony.
You reach out for a Tylenol, and hope that it does the trick. After all, you have decided to wait until you are little better—maybe even healed—before betaking yourself to the ER.
* * *
You understand my little analogy. It’s ridiculous to wait until you are better to turn to God, because the only hope of a cure lies in him and not in us. And yet, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed: Why do people think that they have to be better (and holier) before they can return to God?
Why did I?
About a year-and-a-half ago I was a specter Christian. I haunted the halls of the Church without actually having a real experience with Christ. I was (what people might call) a good—excellent!—Christian. Little did people suspect that I was spiritually dead.
I’d struggled since my teenage years, trying to come to terms with a way of life and a way of thinking I hated but couldn’t give up. Sadly, however, once my twenties rolled around I had come to a point of resignation. While I was convinced that I had to clean up my act, I simply had no overwhelming desire to give it up. I did not feel disgust and horror at my sin.
It goes without saying that I did not like to pray—really pray, much less study the Bible. I wish I had done so, then I would have been able to read Isaiah. I would have found several gems in it; passages that describe a loving God who is just but who longs for the restoration of his people:
15This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength…18So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help. 19You will weep no more. He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries…21Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go.” Whether to the right or to the left. 22Then you will destroy all your silver idols and your precious gold images. You will throw them out like filthy rags, saying to them, “Good riddance!” (Isaiah 30:15,18-22 NLT)
And summarized a little later:
Though you are such wicked rebels, my people, come and return to the Lord. I know the glorious day will come when each of you will throw away the gold idols and silver images your hands have made. (Isaiah 31:6-7 NLT)
* * *
What makes these passages so wonderful?
It describes in clear detail the transforming process of a human heart when we turn to God.
The Holy one of Israel is calling his children (wicked rebels though they may be) to return to him and rest in him. It’s not saying anything (yet) about abandoning sins. He is just saying “Turn to me just as you are. Seek me, wait on me, and trust me. I will give you strength to overcome” (30:15).
Our faith is exercised in this process of waiting. Waiting is relying on God DAY BY DAY. It’s baby steps, and sadly here is where most give up. They think that by seeking God they shouldn’t fall, and when they do they say “forget it.” Imagine if babies gave up just as they are starting to walk because they fell? You might say at this point, “I can’t feel or hear God” or “What happened to that exhilarating experience from before?” Well, you can’t hear him clearly yet because you have for years shut out the voice of the Holy Spirit. And you can’t rely on feelings or emotions. Have faith, and live it. How? Seek him in his word daily—it will be hard some times. It will be hard most times. Your inclinations and desires will rebel against you and the monster of self will scream in protest—but God is always reaching out to you and in the moment of weakness he will be with you and hold you (30:19,21). And even if you fall, it’s still ok, as long as you get up and once again take grasp of his hand.
God guides you in the path of righteousness, and the more you behold him, the easier it is to know his will and which way to go (30:20). Then comes that day—you may or may not be able to pinpoint it out—that you see your life and sins for what they really are, because you have gazed upon the holy purity of Jesus, and you now eschew everything that could ever mar joy of his salvation. Here is where the whole-hearted repentance comes in, and it is at this point where you willingly and gladly get rid of your idols, and every thing that you used to cherish and be addicted to (30:22)
So to return to my question, Why do people think that they have to be better before they can return to God? The answer is because they simply don’t know any better! I mean it! I, at least, did not understand it at all, and I’d been hearing at least 52 sermons a year for more than 20 years! Some churches preach only fire and brimstone sermons, while others preach only Grace. Is it any wonder that you can’t find truth if you see things from the point of view of one or another extreme? Someone had to break it down for me, and I will never forget the moment I understood that it was okay if I went to God even if only a hundredth of my heart was in it.
So this is my testimony. I’m still a work in progress. God is winning back the rest of my heart, and has much more of it than simply a hundredth. And while I’m not fully there yet, this can’t stop me from telling you—return to him. Today. Just as you are.
God bless you.