woman wearing mask
Do you feel pressured to put on the perfect Christian mask? Here's how to take it off. (Charisma archives)

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The alarm rang sharply at 5:30 a.m. Refusing to be summoned so abruptly, I hit the snooze button and rolled over. Nine minutes later, the alarm's shrill cry was repeated. Again I hit the snooze button. This exhibition of personal discipline, or lack thereof, continued until 6:30 a.m.

Now, with hardly enough time for a quick shower and a cold bagel, I leaped out the door for another challenging day. Unfortunately, this particular morning had become the rule rather than the exception. Day after day the routine continued with the same goal in mind: getting up early for devotions.

I had committed to spending time alone with God before each day began. But it seemed that every time I tried to prove my love for Him by dragging my tired carcass out of bed early, I just could not rouse myself. This serious lack of discipline had become so familiar that I could not summon the energy to change.

All my life I had heard about the importance of personal devotion and private worship. Desiring above all to gain points with God, I knew I must rise to this level of pristine performance if I were to get anywhere in the kingdom.

After all, I thought, grace from God is only available after I've exhausted every other natural resource. I must prove my worth as a lover of God, or He cannot help me. I must endeavor to prove I am a man of God who is after His heart. I must prove...I must prove.

Part of me wanted to bless the Lord with genuine love and faithfulness through this obedient act of a "quiet time." However, the proverbial "flesh-and-spirit" battle was raging within me. I wondered, Will there ever be a decisive victory in favor of the righteous side of me, or will I be held in the grips of this mediocre spiritual life forever?

With tenacity waning, I knew that somehow I had to stop and take some personal stock. I had to ask the hard questions: Why do I do what I do? What's really inside of me, anyway?

My distorted views of Father God were based on years of practice. I rehearsed ways in which I could please the God whom I believed to be an eternally angry potentate. Though I was a Christian from an early age, I believed that perfection was the only acceptable offering.

Proving myself and my love for God was based on nothing but what I thought I should do for Him. Therefore my worship of Him became nothing but a "performance with a smile" on the stage of life. And if others were fooled into believing I was holy, then I too could believe I was.

Still, deep in my heart I knew there had to be more to this private life of devotion. I ached to know the God so many people talked about on a deeply personal level. I longed to hear His voice and be comfortable with Him.

What a grim existence! My faith was built on my ability to perform well for God. I had reduced my relationship with God to the need for approval from spiritual men. This state of idolatry kept me marching to the drumbeat of man rather than resting in the heartbeat of God's love.

I recognized my sinful nature and how large the chasm was between God and me. I thought even the blood of Jesus couldn't span that. The treadmill of performance was the only way to gain acceptance from God and access to His love.

The guilt of sin was a factor, but shame was the real culprit. I was ashamed of who I was. The person I had become with all my serious, hidden faults was not acceptable to me, and I erroneously believed there was no way I could be acceptable to God--even through Jesus Christ. Self-deception was catapulting me toward disaster.

Drowning in Shame

The gerbil's wheel I was on came to a screeching halt when I fell off, landing in immorality. The pattern of iniquity I had become so familiar with paved an enticing path to destruction. With my limited scope of God's love and the way I operated to please Him, it was only a matter of time before my energy level was depleted. I lost my proverbial footing, slipped and plunged headlong into the abyss of adultery.

Sometimes when we sin greatly, we are merely attempting to prove that we do not deserve God's love. We unwittingly believe that because we have been rejected and have rejected ourselves, we can out-sin the magnitude of His love. And yet, it is only when we hit bottom that we find God's merciful arms stretched out to catch us.

I never intended to hurt my wife, my children or the church family I belonged to. But the choices I had made, based on my inability to maintain the pace I had set for myself, did a world of damage to those I loved and to those who loved me. The guilt was overwhelming. I couldn't bear to face anyone.

I thought there could be no forgiveness and restoration for me. My sin was much greater than the love of God. The idol of self-sufficiency, which I had worshiped for so long, contributed to the length of time it took me to find God again.

Suicide became such a viable option that I soon believed there was no other choice. Fortunately, I had a major emotional collapse before I could do anything too damaging to myself or my family. I now see that experience as God's mercy upon me. Looking up through the bottom of life's darkest dungeon, I realized that if God didn't save me, I would never climb out of the hole I was in, and I would surely die.

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