It happens slowly.
Okay, another Christmas under our belt.
Typically, in the thick of the season, we lament the way “Merry Christmas” has become “Happy Holidays” and the birth of Christ has turned into Amazon shopping carts. Now we’re gearing up to Easter time, where the resurrection of Christ becomes chocolate bunnies, and the cross moves from the heart to something worn around the neck. These are the things the faithful usually complain about.
But have you ever heard anyone say, “Put Christ back into prayer”? Or “back into Bible reading”? Probably never, because we assume those things are the same as He. When the church replaces Christ, or a beloved ministry all but co-opts His living presence, when a spiritual gift is considered His equal, then that is the fatal slip for many genuine movements of God.
The Ephesian church excelled at works of all kinds, yet they fell far enough from their first love for Christ that He threatened to remove their lampstand.1
Nor is this strictly a “church” failure. John the Baptist had heralded the most exciting, newest movement on the planet, when he rose to fulfill the prophetic call:
“A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isa. 40:3).
The single largest part of his ministry was preparation for the coming of Jesus. That involved a general reconciliation of people (Mal. 4:6), repentance (Mk. 1:4), whatever it took to ready the nation for the appearance of Christ.
But by Matthew 9:14, the mechanics of readiness had eclipsed the Person of Christ to the extent that John’s followers were challenging Jesus Himself–“Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Fasting should have been a discipline of preparation. But now that Christ appeared, they kept doing it as though He hadn’t appeared at all. And this was the way Jesus argued with them: “How can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?” (Mt. 9:15).
That little group of fishermen disciples might not have had much as they wandered the villages and wastelands, but they had the bridegroom. They felt the joy of purpose, the proximity to glory, and God’s open arms.
Religion, though, makes people dull to all this. It causes them not to know Christ’s presence. It makes them not know His absence, either. That’s because our practices easily become like a blanket, thrown over our heads.
I recall a number of times in my past, being in worship sessions where we shouted at the top of our lungs. I had been assured that the elevated emotional state we had worked ourselves into was the Holy Spirit. But afterward, I was exhausted, hoarse. Empty.
It was as though we had been trying to summon Jesus up from some nether region.
But praise, Bible reading, singing–and all the rest of our helpful practices–help us to realize the Bridegroom’s presence. They don’t convince Him to spend time with us.
They wake us up to the fact that He’s already here.
- Check out my post, Christ in Eclipse.