This is a variation of a talk I gave at a middle school chapel service recently. I was asked by a sweet 8th grade friend and it was fun.
I am the oldest child in my family. Anyone here an oldest child? Rule follower, pretty compliant, my dad could simply look at me with a disapproving face and I would cry.
I am also, what I like to call, a recovering earnaholic. Which basically means, someone striving to earn love and closeness from God instead of receiving it as the gift that it is.
AKA, Ephesians 2:8-9, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
Anyone here driven to follow the rules, keep everyone around you happy, scared of messing up or never want to show any weakness? That was me. (Let’s be real, sometimes it still is me.)
One message I needed as a middle schooler was this: your friendship with God is more important than what you do for God.
As we follow Jesus, we will do amazing things —
loving when it’s hard,
being faithful in times of persecution,
choosing courage and boldness when we’d rather hide,
speaking truth in moments of confusion,
so many things.
And there are good habits necessary to the Christian life — prayer, Bible, serving in Church.
But the fruit of the work we do for God MUST come from a rich, real relationship with Him.
Fruit is easy to see, right? Apples on an apple tree, got it. What is not visible on the surface is how much life and sap and nutrients are flowing through those branches. And that’s what makes such good apples.
Our work, what is seen by others, is not sustainable enough by itself to keep us strong, joyful, wise or faithful like a genuine friendship with God can.
I was sitting with a new friend over coffee and eventually she asked how my experience of God could be real because of how often I talk about Him. She has jokingly made comments like, ‘Do you realize every 10 minutes you talk about Jesus?”
At first, it took me off guard because the name and idea of Jesus has always been part of my life. (Which is something I’m deeply grateful for.) It also prompted a trip down memory lane.
I would put money down on the reality that if you asked anyone from my 30 years of life, middle school teachers, high school friends, college mentors, friends, they would say that though not perfectly, though with plenty of mistakes, that “Chelsea loves Jesus.”
What they didn’t know, that even I didn’t know until a few years ago, was that for a longggg time I lived a ‘Jesus + Something’ life.
He was always there, drawing me, growing me, loving me. Just like He is doing for you right now.
And I was there, in 7th grade, 12th grade, college, pursuing Him, trying to live for Him.
But my day-to-day experience of Him had a ceiling, because I wanted to be good enough for Him, by doing all the Christian things, more than I wanted Him.
And that made things a little wonky in my head and heart. I wanted God, but I was also keeping Him at a distance. Because, and maybe you can relate to this…
When I was doing “right” things, I could believe that God was happy with me and loved me and was close to me. But when I wasn’t being ‘good enough,’ or even worse, when I was failing or sinning, I could only see His disappointment and ‘you can do better’ face.
That Jesus + something life.
Anyone else ever feel that way? I don’t know where each of you are with God. Maybe you feel close, maybe you don’t. Maybe you pursue Him, maybe you don’t.
Maybe you feel like I did…
That there is this perfect image of what a Christian should be in your own mind and you continuously feel like you’re trying to reach but can’t, or, you believe you could never get there so you don’t even try.
The truth for me? I was afraid that if He got too close, and saw the real me, I’d have to surrender my burden of earning. Because oddly, there was a little comfort in it. I could measure my worth, my goodness, my okayness. I could protect myself from hurt or rejection.
(Which is quite interesting, don’t you think? Because we could do nothing about the sin nature we were born with. Because God already knew everything we would do, good, bad, holy, sinful, and Jesus’ death and resurrection covers it.
Jesus is our righteousness, our goodness.
It is our being in Him that makes us whole. It’s simple. He doesn’t see what you do today and change His mind about loving you, helping you, being in your heart. Because Christ will always be enough.
God can’t not be God for you and to you. Isn’t that amazing?)
I recently heard a question that is changing my life with the Lord: Do you walk with Jesus ONLY to be fixed or to be known?
To be fixed. To be useful. To feel good. To do great things. To be “better.”
Or, to be known. To be loved. To be transformed.
So I ask you…
If you walk with Jesus, is it only to be fixed or to be known?
Do you walk with Jesus because you’re trying to be good enough, because everyone else is telling you to do it, or because you want to know God and want Him to know you?
However you answer the question is okay, because when I first heard it, I was inclined to answer ‘to be fixed.’
My greatest desire wasn’t God, but to be good enough for God.
Being known by Him was scary to me, because I had so long believed that my messiness, that my imperfection, was unlovable.
I fell into this idea that He wanted me so that He could fix me.
And He will change, heal, grow and “fix” sin and what’s broken in us.
For me, I was all “God tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
And He was all, “Come be with Me.”
Umm, what? There has to be more.
And there is, but in a way it starts here.
It’s a little too easy for our relationship with God to become a only checklist of good things to do and bad things to avoid, and culture certainly doesn’t help matters!
The world will always be telling you to do more, be better, do things faster, be the best, make more money, look prettier, to be worthy of love.
And even other Christians will tell you similar things – “This is what your life with God should result in..” This is what your ‘quiet time’ should look like..
God is always the same. But you and God are you and God. It’s unique to you. Trust the freedom of the gospel and explore that with Him.
When we let those impossible expectations creep into our life with Jesus, we’re walking with Him to ‘be fixed, useful, more important,’ instead of walking with Him with our relationship our first priority.
Do you talk to Him? What do you think He’s like as a real Father and a real Friend? What does His voice sound like in your heart? Do you trust Him enough to follow Him? Do you believe the Bible are His words to you personally?
When we think He
wants to be with us
and know us because we have proven ourselves worthy of it,
we operate out of fear, and we think His greatest goal is to fix us.
When we trust that we are fully known and always loved, we live free, at peace and brave, delighted to be His and steadfast in our faith.
Raise your hand, or blink once, if you have something hard going on in your life right now. Friendship, family, sports, school, could be anything.
The question is… When hard things happen and there is nothing more to DO, really, but stay in them, what is it like between me and God, without the noise and activities and other people, when it’s quiet? Inside?
In any situation, there are things within my control and a lot outside my control.
And this is what God reminds me: I am His and He is mine.
No matter what.
That reality keeps me tethered close when the tornado of questions and difficult days and pain swirls around me.
That truth helps me keep things in perspective.
The best moment I have? Not as good as I am His and He is mine.
The hardest moment I have? Steadiness and comfort is found in I am His and He is mine.
The loneliest moment? I am His and He is mine.
The worst thing cannot take that from me and the best thing cannot top it.
But I don’t think that would be true if I did not consider my friendship with Him the most important thing in my life.
And I don’t mean I’m not also pursuing obedience, solid spiritual habits, etc, but I’m doing it out of love for Him, not out of fear, or performance, or earning. That makes a huge difference.
And ps – it’s friendship on top of covenant promises.
So I guess what I’ll round this out with is this: God does not so much want to use you as He does love you. And you being confident in that love, your faith will move mountains, in your own life and in the lives one you encounter. I am sure. of. it.
If, like I did, you find yourself stuck in the anxious cycle of performing and pleasing and perfecting because you think that is what makes Him like you…
Or if you find yourself not even sure about giving your heart and life entirely to Him…
Or if you’re sitting here and this is the first you’ve heard that God wants more for you in your faith, not only salvation and Heaven, but a real, living, breathing relationship?
I’m here to tell you… You are the most precious person to Him and He wants to be the most precious person to you.