piety

by Joel Brown – Article / October – December 2020

Passion is most readily recognised as a hallmark of youthfulness. The vitality and excitement of young love prizes intimacy and companionship above all other pursuits. So often this is true for those who newly come to Christ, but there is, unfortunately, a tendency if left unattended, for intimacy to be replaced with something that seems otherwise noble. 

I can recall the earliest days of my walk with the Lord as a teenager, those times where I felt prayer was more like a conversation, where I couldn’t wait to share what was on my heart and listen to what was on His. Eventually, as I had less time available to enjoy His presence with legitimate responsibilities like my academics, sports and typical teenage distractions, I started to feel distance in the relationship and knew that something was amiss. 

As I grew up in the Lord I became busier in the work of ministry, and this increased time spent doing this work started to compensate for the spiritual distance I was feeling. Doing more for the Lord was like my justification for the increasing lack of intimacy. Like days away from the gym makes it harder to find joy and progress in working out, disaffection with the Lord made it even more difficult to sense His presence and ultimately created the climate for disillusionment and burnout. 

I got to a point where I recognized my faith wasn’t producing fruit in my life nor making me a better person on a consistent nor particularly outstanding basis. I expended more moral energy wrestling with the guilt and shame, than really making a moral mark on the world around me. Shame about my inadequacy was such a disempowering force and it made it increasingly difficult to muster the courage and humility to seek the comfort and admonition of the Holy Spirit. 

It frequently occurred to me that something must be missing, dysfunctional or disconnected but I was too embarrassed , perhaps too conceited, to admit it. I suspect the dissonance was too much to bear any longer and this moral impotence led me to re-envisage the source of my moral intuitions and where the responsibility to direct them ultimately laid.

I then started to struggle with the conspicuous discrepancy between my life and that of the earliest followers of Christ, the courage, power, and the miraculous they experienced seemed alien to my life. How had the drama that unfolded in the lives of the believer’s recounted in the book of Acts been so far removed from the relative mundanity of my life? I figured it was either a symptom of low expectations or spiritual disconnection that led me on an oscillating yet unfulfilling pursuit for more of this kind of power. Ultimately, the lack of intimate connection with the father cost me a disruption and confusion about my core identity. When you don’t functionally know and experience WHOSE you are, you forget and ultimately reinvent WHO you are. 

Then came the desperation met with experimentation to find identity in what I did or what felt good which was frustrating and unfruitful. It’s so important to pay attention to your desperation, as even pigslop can look appetizing if you are hungry enough, as we learned from the famous prodigal son. Desperation can lead you to re-envision who you are and your convictions in order to justify compromise. Many people appear to change their behaviour out of character in a moment of desperation; so it’s so important to pay attention to your desperation. What you are desperate for can become a vice and a yoke of control that can prove detrimental to your destiny.

One act of deviance in desperation can destroy an entire legacy. What you are desperate for might indicate a genuine need, but don’t let it change who you fundamentally are in order to achieve that thing. As you are aware of situations that drive you to desperation, be guided by the compass of your convictions and not the intensity of your desire.

In closing, if your works FOR Christ have greater priority than an intimate relationship WITH Christ then you have missed it and could be on the way to spiritual shipwreck. The disciplines and duties in the Christian life must flow from the primacy of devotion to Christ for it to be authentic, sustainable and pleasing to Christ. I knew this in theory but too often neglecting it in practice, thinking that my works, ministry responsibilities and activism would compensate for my lack of desire to wholly pursue His presence and Kingdom. 

This only led to buyers remorse when I realized I traded intimacy for piety. If this in any way speaks to you, ask the Lord to search your heart and repent for making idols out of even good things, in the neglect of the one thing that matters above all.