It started with a phone call. Only, that wasn’t the start. The phone call was really the end. During the phone call, which took place with someone I have known a long time, I was told that they were leaving one church and going to another; that God had made it clear for them to do so. However, it wasn’t just leaving one church to go to another – it was leaving the church they came to when they left the one they were at, in order to return to the one they left the first time. Out of the frying pan and into the fire and back again.
Three years ago, another friend told me about a book by a guy called Mark Fairley. Mark runs an organisation (perhaps even a movement) called The Fuel Project. The book in question, entitled The Restless Church, was an observation that many within today’s modern church had developed a restlessness; a boredom, with the same routine week in week out. If you haven’t read it, I do recommend that you do. My reason for making reference to it is that when you read it, if you are encountering the restlessness it describes, then the book speaks to you. It spoke to me. A lot.
Now, I should say that I have no problem with people leaving churches and going to find whatever they are looking for elsewhere. That is their choice. I am not in the slightest bit legalistic about such matters. To be honest, after four years of solidly seeking God on why we don’t see the kinds of signs and wonders which are described in the book of Acts, I have come to a place of revelation about the whole church issue which leaves me certain that what churches are and do today are not what God intended they should be and do.
People leave one church for another all the time. They look at how lush and green the pasture seems at another church and head over there. This is the restlessness Mark Fairley describes. However, I have come to see this restlessness as a great deal more than merely boredom with the same old routine.
Having spent a great deal of time examining myself after we left two churches within a year, I have come to the conclusion that the restlessness that we both felt was, in fact, a gift from God, rather than a dissatisfaction with routine. The restlessness, the dust in our souls that needed cleaning out, was highlighted by God Himself in order to motivate us to change – to seek Him out, the only One who can refresh our souls.
Boredom and restlessness are both products of the flesh in everyday parlance. But it is easy to confuse spiritual restlessness with fleshy boredom. The layers of dust in our soul are only pointed out by God – only He can bring about awareness of the state our souls are in. In The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, Christian is shown a room full of dust in the House of the Interpreter. Someone tries to sweep the room, and the air fills with dust to the point of choking Christian. The Interpreter then orders water to be poured upon the room and the room is swept again, this time without clouds of dust. The Interpreter explains to Christian that the dust represents the law, and the water, the gospel.
Whilst The Pilgrim’s Progress is seen by many as little more than a metaphor, the point which is made in this particular scene can be used to show us what causes the dust we find in our souls. Or rather, the dust which God points out to us, because we are oblivious to it until His Holy Spirit reveals it.
If God reveals dust in our souls, He does so for a reason. He isn’t in the slightest, legalistic. We are. We are ever so legalistic. We can’t help it. God stirs up the dust in our souls so that we might do something about it. However, we interpret this in a fleshy fashion. We recognise that God is saying something but we fail to seek Him on exactly what. We start to clutch at straws to find the reason for the restlessness we feel. We look around at our church and we see things we don’t agree with – traditions and man-made rules. We object to them in our polite Christian manner. Our objections are rejected by the leaders of the church and our restlessness increases. Still, instead of seeking God, we look for solace elsewhere. The church over there with its lush green pastures doesn’t follow the same traditions and man-made rules. In fact, it has a complete set of its own. So, we go there. And life feels better.
Then after a while, God stirs up the dust once more and our souls choke with it. We look around again for the problem and once more blame the church. And the process starts again.
I can tell you, from my own experience, that if you are feeling restless then it is almost certain that God has stirred up the dust in your soul. His purpose isn’t for you to leave one church and find another that suits you better. His purpose in stirring you up is to bring about change in you, and never in others. For the main, we fail to see His purpose. God doesn’t care about which church you attend. He simply isn’t interested in what man-made tradition happens to suit your temperament. God wants to clear your soul of dust with His gospel – His good news. And the good news is that tradition and man-made religion are not required to receive His salvation.
It might be hard to swallow that last paragraph. It was for me when I realised that it was what God was stirring inside of me. Take a look at the verse below. People have a tendency to see it as a statement of how Yeshua is with people’s problems. But if you look carefully at the context in which it was spoken, you will realise that Yeshua was offering rest from religion; from legalism; from the burdens that the spiritual leaders of the day had placed upon the people. Yeshua’s words apply to all generations, including our own.
“Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My Yoke is easy and My burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV]
In context, Yeshua was talking of discipleship with Him and not to the Rabbis and Pharisees and teachers of the Law of His day. To take on a yoke of someone was, in Hebrew culture, to study beneath a Rabbi. He was, and still is, telling everyone that there is no need to be weighed down with man-made religion and its practices and traditions which cannot bring salvation. Following in His way is what bring us rest in our souls, not doing it man’s way.
It is a common theme in Hebrew culture to find rest for your soul. Throughout the pages of the Old Testament we find many references to it. Yeshua was simply pointing to those things in Scripture and telling everyone that He was the answer. Only those he was talking to at that time failed to recognise it. The odd thing is, we do recognise it and fail to act upon it. Our churches are weighed down with man-made rules and traditions. Yeshua said that anyone who hears His words but fails to act upon them is like a man who built his house upon the sand.
It really doesn’t matter to God where you go on a Sunday. All He is interested in is giving you rest for your souls – to clear out the dust of legalism with the clean, pure water of His good news.
The next time you feel that restlessness, recognise that it is God stirring you up. He wants you to seek Him.
Of course, there are some for whom the restlessness will never manifest. They are happy with tradition and man-made rules and practices. They find a false rest in them for the believe that by adhering to them they will be made righteous. This is little more than self-righteousness. True righteousness is only given by God in exchange for trusting in Him. There is no other way.
However, for those whom God has stirred up, He has a better way for you. He has an ancient way upon which you will find His true rest. You will never find it by swapping churches or traditions – those things are houses built on sand. Build your house upon a rock, upon the Rock. That way, when the storm comes, you will stand.
“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God.” [Psalm 42:1-2]
“Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it. Then you will find rest for your souls.” [Jeremiah 6:16]