(This content is also available at https://youtu.be/7VxMaGEfoh4)
By Sarah Nyhan
I think in many of our journeys, there comes this breaking point. Where you’ve done everything you know to do and it just isn’t working. And then either God is bigger than you or there isn’t any hope.
My new friend Neil said it perfectly on Thanksgiving this year. Unfortunately I don’t remember how he put it exactly, but the jist was he puts his trust in God, not in himself OR even his own understanding.
Those of us deep in religion have paid lip service to trusting God for years, but I’m personally amazed at the continual layers of unbelief that Holy Spirit uncovers and heals in me. Depths that were so ingrained I thought they were part of me, part of the human burden. Only to have Holy Spirit masterfully peel up the damage and reveal a true self I had long forgotten.
I now think Jesus is God’s Word, but I am still amazed at how our Bible holds so much God-given wisdom. How it is a prism of genius sorts: either way it shines light into you, but how you look at it matters.
For years I looked at the story of the rich young ruler a certain way. I was taught that the story of the rich young ruler was about a man who loved money too much to follow Jesus. The application was to be sure not to love money so much that you wouldn’t lay your life down for the church, um I mean for Jesus. Which then resulted in allowing myself to be fleeced by some who were not so quick to lead by example.
Ironically it was during a semester where I was in a World Religions class taught by a professor that was very anti-Christian that somehow what I now believe is another angle was revealed to me about the story of the rich young ruler.
In the new way I saw the story sandwiched between other stories about people who were blessed in their weakness, who cried out for a Savior. The rich young ruler on the other hand is only seeking a teacher for further self-sufficiency.
Jesus loves him. Let’s get that out of the way first. But Jesus meets him where he is at and, for lack of a better way to put it, plays devil’s advocate for the purpose of working through the problem.
He knows the rich young ruler isn’t ready yet for the right answer. So He answers the question being asked while exposing its insanity. A challenge. Not to punish, but to help the rich young ruler get to the end of his delusion as quickly as possible in order for true freedom and healing to occur.
The rich young ruler doesn’t get it. He chooses to continue to carry his burden. Jesus continues to loves him. And probably knows he will have to go through hell to get to a place where he asks a different question, where he needs a real God who is bigger than himself.
I wonder whether this rich young ruler could have been Saul. And whether Saul’s zeal caused him to be murderous maybe out of true mislead devotion, but also sadness and anger. Seeing these people who weren’t even trying being undeniably healed around him and yet here he is in all his striving with no happiness, no joy, and no peace.
This richness in question is a word left open to many different angles also. We can be rich with money and still something is missing.
Or we can be rich in relationship with God and not know it. Like this rich young ruler especially; and I’d wager also like most of the modern day world.
Or we can be poor as in third-nation poor and yet really rich because of our relationship with Christ. Like the people in the stories sandwiching the rich young ruler story.
The genius of this story, whether it is true or not, is that all angles apply and become relevant for teaching something helpful.
If I was to teach this story, however, I’d teach it with a focus on what I think is the main point: the quickest gateway to true freedom in Christ. I would explain not that you need to give up all your money and risk your life chasing down isolated tribes in India that don’t want your company in order to make God happy.
But rather, if you insist on a god that has a tit for tat spiritual economy, then be prepared for Him to lovingly push you to the end of that logic so that its fallacies will be exposed and lead you to finally look for the real God who is bigger than all your striving.
He is either God or He isn’t.
We were created in His image. If we as broken humans find it appalling for a parent to abandon their child, why would we insist on our Creator abandoning us? If we have grace for our children, if we know their mess is part of the process, where did that come from? We are Created in His image. I imagine our mercy is but a glimpse of His.
I find it difficult in the infancy of this new freedom in Christ to listen to too much spiritual belly-gazing. Not because I dislike the mental gymnastics, but because I find those exiting oppressive unnecessary religion often want to fit this new Jesus into their old boxes. The talk is still of explaining the old with the new. Trying to put new wine in old wine skins. Versus embracing the new and keeping it simple: God, we need You and You love us unconditionally.
Trying to fit the new into the old right now just confuses me and leaves me trying to save myself again. Which hasn’t ever worked. So I can’t go there much anymore.
I used to be gung-ho about going back into the delusion and leading my loved ones out. This Already Included project is still an attempt at that. Maybe deeper dives will occur with time and God’s strength in me. But for now I have to put on my own oxygen mask. I have to focus more on what I know before I dive back into the sewer of stinking thinking that I came out of. I am called to be a witness, not the Holy Spirit. For now I will tell you what I have experienced versus trying to correct your thinking.
The rich young ruler was so close. He knew what he was doing wasn’t working. He knew Jesus was the right source for the answer. But he wasn’t at the end of himself yet. He didn’t trust Jesus to be the complete answer.
I was like the rich young ruler for the majority of my life. My early years all my striving resulted in no relief from hard times. I believed that I had failed to please god and so he abandoned me to hell on earth and after.
I used that as an excuse to let go and not try anymore for a few years. Even then Holy Spirit never abandoned me. Working inside the logic of whatever god I chose. The denying of God impossible, so the seeking of Him unstoppable.
And in that, finally a sweet time of just me and Him. In a car for hours and hours every day for a couple years. Listening to music, talking to people, and wanting more and deeper connection.
So I did what I knew to do. I sought out teaching by men who were in theory supposed to get it. Instead the ensuing condemnation slowly boiled all my joy away. Slowly I slipped from singing with my Jesus to slaving away to the point of feeling suicidal.
And I couldn’t do it anymore. I broke. It was either God was going to save me or I was a goner. If it was up to me then there was no hope. The cry of my heart was literally the lyrics from the song: “I wanna go back to Jesus loves me”.
Finally I was asking the right questions. And He met me there. He showed off in such a big way that all the theological explanations were unnecessary. I had seen my God and more importantly – He let me know that He saw me. And that I didn’t have the power to run Him off. Blessed assurance that comes not intellectually but only from an encounter with the real, true and living God.
I’ll tell the story of that event maybe next week. I call it my iniquity story. But for now I encourage you to ask yourself which burdens are you insisting on carrying on your own? He promises this world will give us plenty of trouble but that HIS load is easy and light. Ask Him to help you discern the difference. Ask Him to help you see. I dare say, ask Him for a real encounter to break through all your theology – be it on course or not.
Jesus is mine. And I am His.