There is truly nothing that brings more joy to the human heart than to know and live in the reality of being forgiven in Christ and enjoy the delicious fruit of grace. Sadly many struggle with living in this joy as a characteristic of their lives. Instead many settle for sub-glorious moments, hours, days and eventually lives as followers of joy incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ.
What follows is my humble attempt to serve you. In the next three days I want to outline 10 ways that you can live a miserable Christian life. Perhaps you can identify with some of these.
I have written these to myself first and foremost and desire to share with you. My prayer would be that you would inspect your life, heart and motives for unsuspecting parasites that serve to suck out your joy in Christ that you might pluck them out and hopefully be edified together with me.
1. Try to Repay Jesus for the Cross
The sure-fire way to short circuit joy in Christ is to undervalue him and overvalue yourself. It is really a subtle shift into idolatry. Instead of living your life in complete dependence upon and appreciation to Jesus for everything you have, you find yourself depending upon yourself to repay the glorious gift of salvation and life. What could be more frustrating than this?
This takes the form of practicing disciplines of grace (Bible reading, prayer, meditation, etc…) for the purpose of repaying Jesus. In this posture you see these post-salvation works as somehow meritorious to diminish the eternal debt that was born by the Savior. I don’t know about you but for me the reality of the debt that was born by Jesus compels even more hearty praise and appreciation.
Do you see the offensive shavings of idolatry here? You end up saying that Jesus gave you a good spiritual boost to your feet and now you’ll take it from here. It sounds like an evangelical hybrid with Rome. Instead we need to realize that it is grace that saves sinners, it is grace that sanctifies sinners, it is grace that keeps sinners, and it is grace that will ultimately present sinners as blameless before the throne of God. Our constant dependence upon the grace that is ours in Jesus reminds us of his richness and our neediness; this reality brings joy and intensifies our appreciation of the cross of Jesus. For the sacrifice of the Son of God was never intended to be offensively repaid but rather it is to be valued for its supremacy and efficacy.
Are you trying to repay Jesus for Calvary? If so you are no doubt living a miserable Christian life. Preach the gospel to yourself afresh that you might agree with God about the eternal value of Jesus and then join him in delighting in Jesus (Matt. 3.17; 12.18)
2. Neglect the Bible
The Bible is the means of grace by which God communicates himself to his children, even shaping our minds into conformity to him (Rom. 12.1-2; Eph. 4.20-23; Ps. 119.28, 58, 65,116). So if the Christian neglects the Bible they neglect the mind and affections of God and so therefore rely upon themselves for a mere caricature (idol) of who God is.
The whole point of revelation is to confront and conform us to God, even to agree with him, thinking his thoughts after him. Our avoidance of revelation serves to avoid confrontation and leave us stagnant. The believer is blessed in obedience to the divine commands (Jn. 13.27; Lk. 11.28; Jam. 1.25). The joy in heart comes from submission to the will of God.
If you and I neglect the Bible we neglect the means by which God sanctifies his children (Jn.17.17) and so therefore a dusty Bible will make a miserable Christian.
Do you come to the Bible to find information or to find transformation? It is true that information brings transformation, but if your motive for Bible study is to glean some new facts to impress your small group then the Word of God, which is intended to humble you and exalt God has just been offered on the altar of self to exalt you at the expense of the glory of God.
What is your Bible reading schedule like? What is your motive for reading your Bible? What type of fruit have you experienced in your devotions? How is God teaching you to think like him through the revealed Word of God? These are good questions to ask yourself as you seek to evaluate your own practices.
It is possible to open the Bible for reading but neglect the Bible for surgery. What I mean is you can read the Bible faithfully but apply the Bible hypocritically.
Consider James 1:22-25 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
Do you see this? You can deceive yourself with faithful reading while being miserable. Instead we are to come to the “mirror” to examine ourselves that we might agree with God, apply his word and even enjoy the “blessings” of obedience.
Are you fasting from the Bible? If so you are no doubt living a miserable Christian life. Resolve today (now!) to change and esteem and enjoy the word of God.
3. Neglect Prayer
In prayer we find ourselves verbally submitting to divine sovereignty, professing agreement in divine goodness, massaging our hearts to understand divine holiness, while also clinging to divine grace. If you neglect prayer you will not be refreshing your own heart with the richness of the divine character. Additionally, you will fail to appreciate the blood-bought privilege of prayer. When you pray you are to remind yourself that it is only in the footsteps of the submissive Son that you may even approach the throne of God much less ask for anything.
In prayerless seasons you find the greatest times of self-dependence and self-worship. For why pray when you can handle it? Why pray when you do not need help? Why pray when your heart is not saturated with the glories of the Cross? There is no need to pray when you are declaring self-sovereignty and self-supremacy.
It is here in self-dependence that misery sets in with vengeance. When you catch a glimpse of yourself refusing to submit to God, even to acknowledge his supremacy and willingness to help, only to carry the burdens of life on your own shoulders misery sets in. It is in this self-dependence that joy is absent. Do you live like this? How long can you go without prayer? Do you not see the declaration of sovereignty in this fasting of communion with God? Resolve now to pray. In fact pray now! The Puritans used to say, “Pray until you pray!” meaning, get after prayer and keep getting after it until you find yourself praying!!
We enter the Christian life through humility and we live the Christian life through humility. Prayer is to be a tangible and regular reminder to the blood bought follower of Jesus that he is needy and so therefore not self-sufficient. I need to pray to crush my idols.
Are you neglecting prayer? Then you are no doubt walking in or headed to a miserable Christian life.