It’s common language even today.
Read your Bible more. Pray more. Go to church more. DO more for the Lord!
Moving Out of Obligation
I grew up in a small, West Texas town. Church-going was the norm rather than the exception (at least that’s what I came to believe). My family attended a decent-sized Baptist church in the town where I grew up. My dad was the part-time music minister.
Growing up in that environment, I learned that God expected certain things from me:
- Reading my Bible
- Going to church
- Getting discipled
- Discipling others
And if I didn’t do those certain things, He would be disappointed in me at best, or discipline me, or even worse, withdraw Himself from me. And I really took those things to heart.
There’s nothing wrong with those things, but when we tie them to God’s blessing or love, that’s when it becomes an issue.
If I read my Bible, go to church, attend a small group because in doing so…
God will love me more or approve of me more.
God will bless me more greatly.
God’s favor will rest on me in a greater way or intensity.
That’s when we start to get it wrong. God’s love doesn’t increase because you study your Bible more. God’s favor doesn’t rest on you in a greater way because you made it all 4 Sundays to your local gathering and hit 3-4 of your weekly small group times. Our superior religious performance doesn’t equate to God’s greater love and affection for us (although you might feel that way.)
God’s favor rests on you because the work of Christ was completed through the Cross and resurrection. He loves you because you are His child and you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
He may be disappointed in your actions, but He is never disappointed in you. This is where I’ve gotten in wrong as well. Not only have I believed these things, I even used to teach some of these as a pastor.
Moving into Invitation
Is there a key to moving from obligation to invitation? Really, it’s a shift in mindset. And it can take a while.Trust me. I’m still moving away from the obligation mindset. It can be very difficult; especially if you’ve been steeped in religious tradition as long as I was.
The key is to see God inviting us into what He is already doing. For a long time, I had the mindset that God’s desire was for me to find out what He wanted me to do, I’d go do it (whatever that was), and then He would join me in that and bless my efforts. How prideful was that?!
What I’ve grown to discover over the last decade or so (slowly – I’m stubborn, y’all) is that God is moving and working and constantly inviting me into what He is already doing in and around me and through those in my sphere. The adventure of His life isn’t necessarily drawing me into some grand adventure, but the small adventures He has for me in what I’m already doing: the people I already know and those He puts in front of me; the work I’m already doing and those who I interact with daily; the neighborhood where I already live.
One way (the path of obligation), I’m asking God, “What do I need to DO FOR you?” (As if God needs us to do anything for Him.)
The other way (the path of invitation), I’m asking God, “Okay, Lord – what are you doing? Where are you inviting me in to join you? What do you want me to see today?” And then waiting, resting, and relaxing. When we try to force these things, we can drive people away and we miss where God is moving because we’re too anxious and others around us can pick up on that.
The way of invitation is WAY more subtle than the path of obligation. It definitely takes an intentionality and patience. And, it also allows us to rest and relax. When we relax, others around us feel that too and we can naturally engage in work and conversation and just allow those things to happen naturally.
With obligation, I can (and often do) create work that has the appearance of ministry, religion, being holy, whatever, yet most of the time it’s about me (my unmet needs and wants) and what I THINK God wants me to do FOR him.
With the path of invitation, it really is a lot simpler, yet at first can seem more difficult. I must be patient and wait on God. It requires me to be constantly aware and watching for where God is moving. The hardest thing is being still (if you’re like me) and just relaxing into Father’s life.
As I’ve moved out of obligation and into invitation, I’ve experience better spiritual conversations and more natural ways to minister to people day in and day out. And I’m not perfect, and I’m sure I’ve missed opportunities and the nudges of Father, but it’s so freeing and humbling to see Father moving in and around me. And it really does feel way more natural than trying to “bring up God in a conversation” or trying to “witness to my coworkers or friends” or “sealing the deal.”
I just relax into how God is already moving and working and follow His lead. It’s really that simple.