I’ve always hated rules. I know. I’m a first-born child and we’re usually great rule followers…and I can follow them, I’ve just never really liked doing it. That’s not such a surprise, I guess. I don’t really know anyone who wakes up every day and says, “HEY! Give me more rules! I need more rules!”
As for me, I’m one of those semantic people. We’re trouble. We listen for the exact wording and we are really great at following the letter of the law…if not the exact spirit of it. When given instructions as a child, I listened as much for what wasn’t said as what was. That made me a somewhat rebellious rule-follower. It meant that I could look like I was following the rules, but my attention was on the “loop holes” and getting away with what I could and not on being the obedient, respectful child my parents were trying to raise. If caught, I could always repeat verbatim what was instructed so it really didn’t leave the instructor anywhere to go. There was really no way for them to give me rules that encompassed every possibility my brain could conceive, so there was always a ‘way out’ for me to take.
That kind of attitude doesn’t just go away overnight. As a Christian, it leads to being a bit of a legalistic rebel. That’s not a good thing. We can still look really good all while we are busy trying to justify some things that aren’t pleasing to God simply because He didn’t say not to do them…specifically.
I think that’s why it was such a revelation for me to have the following thought: what if the ‘rule’ was to act, think, talk, and live in such a way that everything I did pleased God? Uh-oh. That cuts out a lot of wiggle room for some of us, doesn’t it? (Don’t look like you don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m not the only one who has that attitude, am I? Some of you just don’t say it out loud…or write it down in a blog.)
So. If this is the “new” rule—maybe it’s the old rule that God’s word and my parents were trying to instill inside me all along?—then what are my parameters? This new rule means that I must ask whether or not God would be pleased, honored or glorified by my actions…my thoughts…my feelings. Ouch. That hit something, didn’t it? You mean I even have to regulate my feelings?! Well, yes. The answer is yes.
How do we do that? Yes, once again, God has given us instructions that are comprehensive. Philippians 4:4-8 (NKJV), says.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
These verses cover our actions (rejoice, be gentle to everyone, pray, give thanks, tell God what you need, meditate on Scripture), our thought processes (meditation means to “spend time thinking about”, so see the list! If it isn’t in the list, you’re not allowed to spend time thinking about it!) and feelings (once again, see the list!–no focusing on your anxiety or on what other people have to say!) Then, when we follow His rules, His peace (the kind that lasts forever and is so incredible we can’t totally wrap our minds around it) will begin to guard our hearts & minds…and we all know that our feelings follow both of these.
Maybe you can’t relate to this post. Maybe you’re one of those people who’ve known this all along and always followed it perfectly. If so, congratulations! You’ll probably be up for sainthood shortly and we thank you for your patience while the rest of us catch up. (Did I mention that I sometimes struggle with sarcasm, as well?) If you can relate, however, then know that you can change. It isn’t always easy. It’s actually pretty radical in our culture. Join me? I think our world could use a few more radical rule-followers.