Getting off the merry-go-round

One of the dangers of growing up in the church is that we can be exposed to Bible Stories without allowing them to impact and change us. I recently discovered this while reflecting on the story of Nicodemus in John 3.

I have become increasingly aware that I seek to validate my existence through accomplishment. I want to be good at my job, I want to be good at ministry, I want to be a good husband, I want to be a good father, I want to be a good writer, I want to be a good . . . 

This has led to a constant drive to do more while finding less and less satisfaction in the accomplishment. On the flip side, it has led to emotional devastation when I fail in any of these areas. Which then leads to a need for more accomplishment which then leads to additional failure. This is not a happy merry-go-round to be on.

In reflecting on this and asking the Holy Spirit for guidance on getting out of this cycle, I was led to the story of Nicodemus in John 3.

Nicodemus was one who accomplished stuff. He was a leader of the Jews. He qualified for leadership through a combination of academic achievement with a lifestyle of rigorous living-out of what he learned in his academic studies. 

He had the respect of the nation and his peers, yet he was attracted to Jesus and sought him out. One can assume that Nicodemus felt some dissatisfaction despite all his accomplishment.

In the text, we see that Jesus went right to the heart of the matter. His first words to Nicodemus were, “unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

In bold, capital letters Jesus is saying life is not about accomplishment. It is about belief in Jesus and trust in his love for us. It is all about the grace of God and not about earning God’s favor.

Certainly, if given this as a test question, I would have gotten the answer correct, but I have not done well at living it out. I have not fully relied on the Grace of God and have continued to try to earn what I have already been granted. It is sort of like Bill Gates working at Burger King.

I could articulate a long list of excuses as to why I have not fully trusted in God’s grace, but none of them are valid. The disconnect between my intellectual understanding and my emotional understanding of God’s grace has kept me chained to the merry-go-round.

But like the perfect father that he is, God has brought me to the place where I am over-committed and unable to maintain the trajectory that I have been on. I am forced to see the merry-go-round for what it is and how sick it has made me.

I am also forced to admit that I made the chains binding me to the merry-go-round. They are of my own manufacture. But they no longer need to bind me. I am reminded of a stanza from the hymn, “And can it be that I should gain”:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.