I have been playing ping pong for months. Actually, years. Great game when it’s just for fun. Super frustrating when I’m wrestling with truth.
The match is between chasing perfect and striving for holy living.
I often feel like I am being tested – will I listen? obey? choose God? Testing is hard to understand. It threatens to convince me that I have to earn His love. Ping.
But I don’t have to earn His love. I already have His love. Pong.
Maybe it’s not a test so much as a question. Will I give Him my love – do I want to be with Him? If so, it means being with someone who is holy. Which means agreeing to live a holy lifestyle. Ping.
But wait. That feels like trying to be perfect. Trying to measure up. And that seems impossible. I’ll never be perfect on earth. It’s not even my goal to complete. He already accomplished the goal of perfection for us. Pong.
For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
~Hebrews 10:14 (NIV)
Here’s the thing.
It’s not about becoming perfect or holy so that I can earn His love.
He loves me anyway.
He loves me so much that He will give me whatever path I choose.
I don’t have to live a holy life. But when I make unholy choices, He’s not there with me. Not because He left me alone or doesn’t love me, but because He just doesn’t participate in such things. The more time I spend doing unholy things, the more I feel the lonely distance between us. The more I miss Him.
So here I am, trying to close the distance, playing ping pong with the choices.
I need to be perfect.
No, I don’t.
I want to be holy.
What I really need are examples to ground me in truth so I can retire from ping-ponging. Lucky for me, that’s what this world is – one big spinning example of what we’re preparing for; it’s practice for eternity.
Isn’t every relationship an example of this choosing-a-way-to-live thing?
Let’s look at saying yes to a marriage proposal. We’re agreeing to live together in a certain way – a common lifestyle. Why? Because we want to spend our lives together. If my husband never wanted to walk on the beach with me, and I never wanted to ride bikes with him, we wouldn’t see each other much. If I didn’t value his opinion and enjoy his stories, and he didn’t want to hear about my latest epiphany, we wouldn’t know each other very well. If we never wanted to be around each other, the relationship would fizzle.
Same with choosing friends, jobs, churches, hobbies. Example after example of choosing who we want to spend time with, and the result of our choices becomes our lifestyle. The relationships last if they lead to a lifestyle that lines up with our values and beliefs.
The one relationship I crave above all others is a relationship with God. I choose Him. I want to be around Him. He is holy. So I am choosing to pursue a common lifestyle with Him – a holy lifestyle. We have practiced for this in all of our other relationship choices. We know what it means to commit. Do we understand what we are committing to?
He is offering an agreement to live together in a certain way. To be around Him more, to keep the relationship from fizzling, to be in His Presence – it means aligning my life with His. That is what I’m agreeing to when I say “I am Christian”. It means committing to the values and beliefs of Jesus Christ.
In the human world, we can usually make relationships work with people who have “similar” values and beliefs. We have our deal-breakers and we have the things we can tolerate. But I propose we are practicing for something more – something beyond human. So when I’m looking to have a relationship with the Creator of the entire universe, the King of all kings, it gets even more real than my best human relationships. It’s not just similar values and beliefs anymore, but HIS values and beliefs. I’m striving to spend time with Him, to be like Him, and He is holy.
I have to say it again, to keep my mind from going back to the ping pong table.
I am not striving to be holy so I can earn His love.
I am striving to be holy because I want to be in His Presence.
…Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
~Leviticus 19:2 (NIV)
Will I become holy just because I want to be around Him? No. I have made unholy choices for so long. There is much work and cleansing and changing ahead of me.
But I have hope and help – mainly because I was made for this lifestyle. It is part of how He created me, so I’m not trying to become something I’m not or chasing a lifestyle that will never fit me. I was designed to live a holy life in His presence. We all were.
How will we learn to align with Him and participate in His lifestyle? He gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us ever closer to His way of life; all we have to do is ask. He gave us authors who wrote down His instructions in the Bible to teach us the way to live; all we have to do is follow.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
I’m ready to put down my ping pong paddle.
I want to be around Him, to be like Him.
I’m done chasing perfect, because He makes me capable of holy.
Not to earn His love. To experience it.
Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
~2 Corinthians 7:1