Rule-keeping Misses the Mark
Our pastor has been preaching through the Book of Mark the past few months. While his series has been engaging and informative, for me a particular point sticks out: how badly the Pharisees missed the mark.
They started out with good intentions: seriousness about keeping the law. But along the way, they turned 10 Commandments into 600-plus rules, regulations and interpretations that stemmed from their desire to lord it over others.
It’s no wonder they were out to do Jesus in, He of the loving nature who quickly punctured their phony religious pretenses and called out their desire for public adulation.
Recognizing Our Proclivities
Before we are too quick to pile up on the Pharisees, though, we must recognize our proclivities to similar behavior.
We are quick to hold up ourselves as paragons of virtue while putting down whatever person or group that doesn’t adhere to our (fill in the blank: favorite Bible version, denomination, mode of dress, or restaurant. Just kidding on that last one.)
We also like rules. The more rigid and easily understood, the more we attempt to keep them. More than one church has tripped up on this line.
I noticed such inclinations while reading a recent blog by author Jim Watkins, a writer and conference speaker whom I’ve joined on the faculty at a couple past events.
Writing on “Finding balance in life,” Jim commented on how if he heard another pastor, teacher or speaker proclaim that we are to put God first, family second, and self last, he would put them last on his priority list.
Failure of Hierarchy
He then explained why. While putting God at the center of our lives is essential, if he puts time alone with God as first in the hierarchy, he will never have time to get to his family. He will be a monk, cloistered away reading the Bible, praying, journaling and worshipping. If he’s real spiritual, fasting too.
Jim said if he has a choice between reading the Bible or reading to his kids or grandkids, he must choose God’s Word if he’s locked into this rigid ranking of priorities.
What’s more, he said, if he puts family over work he will never get a word written or leave the house to speak at a conference. Pastors would never have time for sermon preparation, board meetings, hospital calls, and thousands of other tasks assigned by the congregation.
Jim said if he puts ministry over self, there won’t be much left except a burned-out shell of a person with high blood pressure and ulcers.
Staying in Balance
“That’s why this ranking system is so unrealistic and unworkable,” Jim wrote. “Those who attempt to keep it implement it end up conflicted and stressed—and probably alienated from their family.”
His solution: to think of life as a wheel, where family, God, ministry and self are kept in balance. They don’t outrank each other; they all contribute to keeping our wheels turning and traveling down the road.
I like that analogy. It made me recall how I used to get hung up falling short with my prayer life, getting so overwhelmed by everything going on around me that I often failed to pray for weeks.
Once I relaxed and saw that prayer was for my benefit, not God’s, I settled into a daily quiet time. We should never try to perform for God or try to keep rules for His benefit. If we do that, we are headed for the same ditch where the Pharisees lived.