I wonder if anyone else out there has ever pondered why following Jesus can seem so hard at times. We read and study the Word, doing our very best to apply it, just like we are told to do. We tithe and worship as we are instructed by those of greater learning. We even maintain a wonderful prayer list of people and situations that we faithfully bring before the Lord every day. Yet, even with all this, there are days that it seems so hard; it seems like God is a million miles away; it seems like there is no spiritual inspiration at all. Perhaps it is because we are trying to do all these things in the same package, attitude, perspective we had before turning our lives over to Jesus.
In Matthew 9 we read of an incident where John the Baptist's disciples came to ask Jesus why his disciples did not fast like they did. Either they were wanting to point out the human effort they were making to draw closer to God or they legitimately wanted to know why he did not require it of his disciples. It was either a question of spiritual pride or honest inquiry. It seems Jesus chose to consider it the latter as he responded:
How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. (Matthew 9:15)
It appears to be a reasonable answer that took care of the immediate question but Jesus rarely left it on the surface of things, dealing only with the immediate. Even now as we go to him he often goes past the surface problem and deals with the deeper root of it. So he continued with these disciples of John:
No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. (Matthew 9:16-17)
I think many of us have attempted to do this, pouring the new wine into the old wineskins and it is the reason we cannot fly with the eagles. Hey, we can't even get our feet off the ground. Jesus was pointing out that a new thing had arrived with the fulfillment of the law and prophecies. However, this new thing could not fit into the old system of priests and sacrifices. All the old attitudes and thoughts had to be let go of. The old system that had provided security for so many worshipers had to be cast aside and the new had to take its place. We can't see or understand from our perspective of history what an incredible radical change followed with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit but everything changed as the new wine was poured into the new wineskin.
Don't let history fool you. What happened to the Church in the years that followed was a terrible thing. Man took hold of the new and slowly clawed it back to the old. As the Church became a political tool we see the priesthood emerge again and the gospel of grace was smothered for the purpose of control. Many of us think we enjoy the freedom of the Spirit now but we are still holding on to the things that are familiar to our human nature. We still maintain the attitude of the priesthood. We require pastors to be men of learning instead of men of anointing. We have our temples, our sacrifices, our priests and we just come in and have our seats and enjoy it all, playing our little part.
Now transfer that attitude to the individual and you will see the limits we put on Jesus in our life. The Spirit is permitted to operate within acceptable parameters; we follow the letter of the law, entirely missing the spirit of it; we have fixed in our minds the way God works and the way he doesn't; our lives are governed by the "do's" and "don'ts" of our religious beliefs. We say we live by the Spirit but honestly, when is the last time you let him move in your life? That would mean letting go of the controls and I am not sure many of us trust Jesus enough to do that.
Before you get too annoyed at me for writing in this manner, check your life and your heart to see if I am speaking the truth. You have accepted Jesus but other than going to church and maybe Bible Study, has anything else really changed? Do you think differently? Is your attitude any different? Are you still making all the decisions in your life? Do you live by the security you have or do you operate in the "risks" of faith? Would the world consider you radical in your love for people or do you still disappear in a crowd?
In speaking about the ministry of reconciliation that Jesus has called us to, Paul stated:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
We are a new creation but we are a frustrated new creation if we allow ourselves to be stuck in the inflexibility of the old wineskin. If we are indeed children of the Spirit then we must have the freedom to move, dance, fly, climb, dive or whatever else the Spirit would have us do. We have been called to throw off all of the old with its failings and sins, and put on the new garment that would see us live in power and love. The old will only frustrate us whereas the new sets us free. Let go of the religious practices and attitudes which has kept you from breathing and maturing in Jesus, and step into life in the Spirit where he directs us in all the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Be free so the Spirit is freed to work in you and through you the great grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.