Last weekend during our Sabbath day breakfast, I was reading through a devotional book with our kids. We were looking at the 10 Commandments and how God made ‘rules’ for his people to live by, which led to a discussion on how we felt about ‘rules’ or ‘boundaries’, if we were being brutally honest about them. I shared how I didn’t like them very much at all; they often seemed like a ‘party pooper’ idea and someone restricting the real fun that could be had if we just put the rules to one side.
I think very often we see God’s rules as this – as though we have some stingy, grumpy, old-fashioned God who just wants to restrict our joy and make us miss out on the really good stuff. Rules can seem ‘grey’ in colour and like they are preventing rather than enabling life. Rules can be really hard to follow and so tempting to want to break….if only they seemed appealing to want to live within, like brussell sprouts that tasted of white chocolate rather than brussell sprout-y, or green tea that tasted like sweet juice, rather than liquidised grass (in my humble opinion!)
There are so many misconceptions about rules, and God’s commands and rules even more so – I believe that seeing God’s heart behind them and the truth of what they protect us from and for is vitality important if we’re going to see them with the right perspective.
Misconception 1: ‘God is grumpy. Therefore he likes rules’
When we look at the God of the Bible, he is far from dull, boring, and a rule maker for the sake of it. He is zealous, pursing, faithful, passionate and tells us in the book of John that “he came to give us LIFE and life in ALL its’ FULLNESS” (John 10:10). The Bible is a redemptive story all about God loving His people and how time and time again, they (we, I) turn away from God’s good ways and get themselves totally stuck in sinful rebellion. Often God’s people realise what they had done and determine to follow God better next time, listen to what He’s said, quickly to fall back into their old ways. This is all down to the inherent fallen nature of man.
God’s rules and boundaries are never to restrict life, but rather to give it. During the Old Testament, when God gave his people commands not to intermarry with other tribes, it was to keep them pure and set on worshipping Him only rather than worshipping idols as many other nations did. When God told his people to rest on the Sabbath Day, it wasn’t to promote a day of boredom but to enable them to be still and know that He is God, to trust that they could follow God’s pattern at the very start of Creation and rest, knowing that God is sustaining the world, not them. When God tells his people to pray, to devote themselves to reading His word and to spend time with other believers, it’s not to create a ‘make myself a better Christian’ ticksheet. Rather, it’s to allow His people to use the very things that help us to connect with Him, which are the very things that we need in the first place. They are to enable relationship and abiding, not be a measure of righteousness or worthiness.
Misconception 2: Rules restrict life
The flip side of this would be the no rules bring life. But when we look at what this would ACTUALLY look like in practice, we know immediately this simply isn’t true. I gave the example to our kids of why we give them a set bedtime and not just let them stay up all evening until they eventually doze off, too tired to keep their eyes open….it’s not to be harsh or mean, it’s BECAUSE we love them. We know that they need refreshing sleep. It’s for their good. Same with not eating all their Christmas chocolate in one go, or having every toy their whim desires, or not coming downstairs until 7am…it brings good to them (and to us!)
An image regularly used in the bible to describe God is of a Shepherd. Shepherds place physical boundaries around their sheep (i.e. fences and borders) and also place very immediate boundaries on them as they guide and steer them using their voice and staff. Far from being unkind, these boundaries are there to protect the sheep from wolves, ditches and harm. “Know my voice” – that’s why God says to cut off anything that hinders our walk with him because He KNOWS we need to recognise and hear his voice (John 10:27-28).
In direct contrast to being restrictive, God’s boundaries are so loving; they draw lines between life and death, between life and life in all its’ fulness. I don’t know about you, but I need the Holy Spirit to daily shift my perspective and soften my heart, to allow me to see how loving they are and how they draw me to my loving Shepherd who wants to guide and protect me. Help us, Holy Spirit, to allow you to reveal, change and sanctify us. Help us to not push against your lines but to allow you to hem us in for, and because of, love.