Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Frustration Factor

"Ever get frustrated with God?" someone asked. "I bet He gets frustrated with you..." 

Huh. There's a thought.

The definition of frustration is the anger one feels when a desired goal is thwarted. 

So yeah, we get frustrated with God. A LOT. We pray for something to happen; it doesn't. We want something else not to happen and we pray for protection; it happens anyway. Someone is sick and we pray for that person to be healed; they die. It's frustrating when you don't get what you want, when God doesn't act in predictable ways.  [That's a whole other blog post (and then some) in itself!!]

Frustration is a daily companion of those in leadership in the church. They are in a certain place in God (after all, their whole lives are about pursuing that place right? and to do what they do every moment of every day, they have to have some serious Jesus on tap, right?) and they want their parishoners to achieve that place as well, to be more involved in the church, to get out into their communities and make a difference. And yet, that doesn't happen - at least not to the degree that they might like. 

Life happens. Their people hurt. And they hurt each other. Or they become so jaded that they give up trying. It's frustrating for leaders, who might define themselves in terms of how well their flock is doing. And sometimes that frustration comes through in statements that are either openly or covertly designed to produce that change that they want to see in people. "Can't I get an Amen here?" .... "What's the matter with you people? You see that the prayer room is empty; we need revival, let's hop to it and pray!" (Oh don't even get me going on guilt trips.) 

That kind of frustration comes from looking at what other people are doing in their lives, not on focusing on what God is doing in my life. Too many of us try to (and I have said this before but it bears repeating) try to BE the Holy Spirit. That is, we try to do His job: convicting people of the error of their ways, convincing other believers to live holy lives. It isn't our place to do that. It's the Holy Spirit's job

As to whether God gets frustrated with us, my Bible tells me that He knows the end from the beginning. He has things all planned out. He can't get frustrated in that sense, because He knows what we're going to do before we do it. He is intimately concerned with our spiritual well-being, yes, but frustrated? Not in the sense that we can be.

Photo "Bible" courtesy of
Arvind Balaraman at
As I read throughout scripture, I find that there is only one instance in which the word "frustrate" appears that is linked to how God feels, and it has to do with "frustrating the grace of God." (Galatians 2:21) So .... let's think about that for a second. Frustrating the grace of God. Hmmm. So God freely gives us His grace through what Jesus accomplished once for all for us on the cross.  As such, He intends for us to live in that grace, that place of total acceptance in Jesus (not in rules and conditions and regulations) - in a growing intimate relationship with Him, in gratitude and love toward Him, and from that love we will naturally be spilling over into the lives of the people with whom we come in contact. Sound about right? So what happens to frustrate that grace? 

Adding stuff to it (like rules, like conditions, like fear-mongering) frustrates it. (By fear-mongering I mean things like, "God will take away His gift if you don't toe the line...") Adding stuff is what the Galatians tried to do. Galatians 2:21 says, "I do not frustrate the grace of God. For if right standing with God came by obeying the Law, then Christ died for nothing."  

Putting limits on grace frustrates it. Saying, "Yes, but" frustrates grace. Shame frustrates grace. All the things we hear our leaders getting frustrated about ... actually frustrate the grace of God. He wanted - wants - us to live in freedom, not in bondage. Not the kind of freedom that abuses or takes advantage of the One who gave it (because if we do that, then we haven't understood how deep His grace is!!), but in the kind of freedom that realizes how great His love is, and loves Him in return ... and wouldn't DREAM of hurting His great, loving heart. 

I have yet to see anyone who fully understands and has embraced the grace of God for him or her personally, who has walked away in frustration and disgust. I have yet to see anyone who truly grasped for himself or herself all that Jesus did for us to purchase salvation for us, who then stayed in a sinful state and flaunted it, claiming he or she was "under grace." And yet ... I see people all the time who think that there is something they can do to add to or keep what Jesus died to freely give us, who crash and burn in fear and frustration, and they wonder why ... and end up thinking that "they weren't trying hard enough." As if anyone could match what Jesus did for us!  

The way of grace is rest. The way of grace is peace and free of strife. The things we desire are already ours in Jesus; all we need do (if we call that doing) is believe. That's it. It's as simple as that. What is hard (and the Word calls this "labouring to enter into that rest" in Hebrews 4:11) is staying in this good news of believing - because it is so much easier on our heads if we start sorting and putting into baskets, categorizing and religifying everything. Once we start doing that, the life that Jesus died to give us gathers dust. Rather, let's remember that this "hope of the gospel" is what we hold to, not some set of behavioral goals. If we add rules and behavior to it, it might LOOK like the end result, but it will be the cart before the horse. Best to put the horse first, and then the cart will naturally follow ... and I'll wager it will get farther. See what I mean:  "He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach - if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard..." (Col. 1: 22-23)

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