He was as wriggly as a nightcrawler about to be hooked!
Each night we read the Bible with our preschoolers and ended our time in prayer, on our knees at the sofa. While my wife and daughter and I focused minds and hearts on our prayers, my boy was sitting, standing, rolling, sighing, twiddling – and every other “ing” but kneeling.
I warned him that if he kept it up, I would put him in the “prayer closet.” Which is what? you may ask. It is a private place where a person can devote themselves to prayer (think the movie War Room). It is based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:5-6.
But that wasn’t the prayer closet I had in mind.
He continued with his antics. Of course, he did. We didn’t learn until he was in 4th grade that he had ADD / HD and maybe XYZ too. He couldn’t help himself.
But we didn’t know that back then, so one evening I followed through and pulled him into the prayer closet. To do this, I placed him in a kneeling prayer posture, between the sofa and me with my arms on either side of him and my body hovering over his – as in nesting prayer partners.
He was trapped – trapped by my religion.
There are other ways to trap a person with religion.
The Pharisees in Jesus day were masters at it. They went far beyond the principles in the Word of God to create a host of nit-picky rules that they compelled their flock to follow
They decided that a righteous person could never eat with a sinner (Mt. 9:11); that one could not be holy unless they fasted (Mt. 9:14); that a person who feeds themselves on the Lord’s Day is a sinner (Mt. 12:2); that there are only certain days when it is appropriate to help others (Mt. 12:14); and that the person who does not wash before eating is a pretty much a heathen (Mt. 15:1)
They reduced faith to a punishing dribble of todos and were more excited about arguing the law than keeping it. (Mt. 23:2) They drew others into the same empty pit into which they themselves had fallen.
The urge to trap others with our religion is called legalism and it is contagious. In fact, many of us have occasionally been guilty of putting others into a straight-jacket for Jesus.
-Sam told Andrew that a true Christian could only vote for one particular candidate.
-Amber is teaching the girls in her Bible study that God wants them to eat vegan.
-Molly corrected Shirley for not wearing a dress to church
-Bill blasted his boy for cheating God – said he needed to give 10 cents out of every dollar
-The pastor counseled the man to boycott the movie theater, and yet the pastor was streaming smut at home.
Oh my – why do we do such things? Choose the excuse that best fits you…
– to create a ladder to holiness I think I can manage
– to make sure others share in my misery
– to validate my own convictions
– to deflect attention from my own sorry manner of life
– to exercise power over others
Legalism is a trap. For those of us who struggle with it, here are some suggestions.
– Escape the trap. Those that impose legalism on others usually have the same noose around their own necks. Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1. Study the book of Galatians if you need assistance.
– Focus on what is clearly articulated in the Word of God. There truly are standards to which God calls us but be careful because it is too easy for us to tack on extras.
– Allow the Lord to be the Master. Paul wrote in Romans 14:4, “Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
The Lord allows us a great degree of latitude with issues that are not clearly defined in the Word. He says we need to be convinced in our own mind. (Romans 14:5) Let’s allow one another that same latitude.
Not long ago, I threatened to put my boy back in the prayer closet. He laughed! He is now in his forties and a good 7 inches taller than I am.
Fortunately, he is also standing tall in the faith. He escaped the trap. May you be as fortunate.
A PRAYER: Lord relieve me of the obsession to straight jacket myself and others with peripherals.
All Scripture references from the NET Bible®