“The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility. Humility is endless.”
– T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets
[[ Note: This is the first in a many-part series on overcoming the spirit of legalism and religion. In it I will define the religious spirit, explain the nature of the evil attendant on it, and relate my own history with the struggle. ]]
Well, I’m twenty-four. I’ve been looking forward to this year with irrepressible anticipation for some time.
My birthday? Better than I had ever expected.
Did I get everything for which I asked?
But in order to explain to you the manner in which that occurred, I need to talk about some hard things. I have had what’s called a “spirit of religion” for most of my life. It is a mindset rooted in shame, fear, and distrust, at the core of which is a near-unassailable conviction that I can make myself pleasing to God if I only try hard enough for long enough. It denies the reality of the cross and the totality of grace. It manifests in busyness, over-work, distraction, evasion, freneticism, overly-grandiose performance-based religious acts, irritability, anger, and sometimes outright cruelty towards others.
Given this, you’d think it would be fairly easy to identify. It is—for those who don’t already have it. And for those who do, it’s blinding. Pride forbids them seeing, even for a moment, anything that threatens their elaborately-built and stubbornly-sustained self-image. Jesus told the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore, your sin remains’” (John 9:41, NKJV). Yet—and here’s the trick—anyone befriending such a spirit will be likely to insist, “That can’t be me; I’m very aware of my sins. I don’t think I’m better than everyone else; in fact, I think I’m worse!” The other half of Pride is Shame. As Rick Joyner notes in his pamphlet on “Overcoming the Religious Spirit,” and as I’ve experienced again and again in my personal life, any time you attempt to confront a person living a life of works-based righteousness about the evils of Religion, they can easily slip out of it by running in the other direction—through wild acts of prostration, through theatrical attempts at redemption, through overly-earnest, near-excessive apologies. Then, if you confront us about that, we go back in the other direction—into pride, into anger, into hatred. Yet on the surface, it looks great—and it feels great; it looks like nothing more than an over-abundance of zeal and compassion for others. Yet it is altogether vile—murderous, hypocritical, and self-consumed.
Oh God, have mercy.
If at this point you’re still questioning whether or not your life is under the control of a religious spirit, here are a few potential indications:
(1) When you read the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14, you find yourself defending the Pharisee’s prayer (for example, I once tried to argue [without much success] that the Pharisee is actually acknowledging the grace of God in his life when he says, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men…”);
(2) You find yourself nodding along in agreement with the lyrics to the Smith’s song, “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby”: “You just haven’t earned it yet, baby / You just haven’t earned it, son / You just haven’t earned it yet, baby / You must suffer and cry for a longer time…” (Seriously!)
(3) The whole time you’ve been reading this entry, you’ve found yourself thinking of people you know who really MUST read this;
(4) Or you even make it all the way to the end of the article, and vaguely it occurs to you, “This is a definite problem in my life; I ought to look into it more deeply.” Then you never think of it again. You might even forget you ever read it. This is an indication that the stronghold is particularly strong. I’ve done this. If it happens to you, then you should know that the situation is almost certainly chronic.
I’m journaling this entry for my own sake; blogging it for that of others. In scanning the Internet seeking assistance in defeating the religious spirit, I found only the aforementioned pamphlet by Rick Joyner. It’s likely that at some point, somewhere in the world, some other poor soul will be confronted with the reality of utmost evil in his life, and not know where to turn for help, and if he does, perhaps my own experience and reading may provide some spark of hope.
So for seven weeks now I’ve been actively resisting, and attempting to destroy, the spirit of religion. I was making hardly any progress, though, until Thanksgiving, when for two whole days I hid inside a cupboard to evade the distractions that were beginning, anaconda-like, to strangle me lifeless. In the end I decided that, whatever the possible merits of such an approach, it was probably feeding Religion; there was a definitive whiff of theatricality and self-mortification about it; yet it accomplished what I wanted, and when I emerged from the cupboard at last on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I was much less distracted. I could hear God again—with astonishing clarity.
Whilst hiding in the cupboard I had read selected sections from Andrew Murray’s book Abide in Christ, in particular the section from Day 18 on “Stillness of Soul,” in which he describes how the believer’s one duty is to rest in Christ. “Above all,” he writes, “there is the unrest that comes of seeking in our own way and in our own strength the spiritual strength which comes alone from above. The heart occupied with its own plans and efforts for doing God’s will, and securing the blessing of abiding in Jesus, must fail continually. God’s work is hindered by our interference. He can do His work perfectly only when the soul ceases from its work. He will do His work mightily in the soul that honours Him by expecting Him to work both to will and to do” (pp. 120-121, author’s italics).
I immediately thought of a verse God had pointedly given me at the beginning of this journey seven and a half years ago, during my last year of high school: “In returning and rest shall you be saved; in quietness and confidence will be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). (As it happens, this was the epigraph of the chapter). At the time, I had received this as an exhortation to refrain from telling anyone about the strange things that had happened, and continued to happen—thus filtering a loving command to shun striving and labor into an invitation to embrace paranoia and self-protection. In a cold blast of clear-sightedness I suddenly realized that virtually every treasured remembrance of a word spoken in that season had been a gentle but unyielding warning to avoid the very legalism and distrust through which the words were filtered. What else had He said? Through Mike Saladino He had warned me, “You need to hide My Word in your heart; that way, when the counterfeit comes by, you will recognize it; otherwise, it will get you.” Yes, it was an invitation to shun sorcery—but only in part. Religion was the true counterfeit which at that point was only beginning to manifest in a prominent way, after three years of near-silence—works-based legalism, which Rick Joyner and Walter Marshall have both labeled “the enemy and counterfeit of all true religion.” And all this time I had thought He was speaking of poor Marina!
And then, from the same sermon, Zechariah 4:6—long one of my personal mottos: “‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord.” Oh, if only I had understood what that meant at the time, it would have saved me years of failure, years of grief, years of heartache! Are you beginning to see a theme in the words He spoke?
Then last, and not least of all, the great prophecy He gave me at the end of that year (December 2003): “The world has a wrong understanding of what it means to be a hero. A hero is not characterized by his wit, cleverness, or strength, but by the level of his surrender to Me. You and your friends will be examples to the world of what a hero truly is.”
When finally I arrived at this, remembering, I laid my hand across my mouth. So it was true. That prophecy was true. It must have been, because it demonstrated a level of understanding years beyond my age—for, obviously, I still didn’t get it!
“God talks to me,” I said slowly, into the untrammeled darkness of the stairwell. “I can hear His voice!” (In the Spirit I honestly imagined I could see angels throwing confetti at the belated revelation).
Then something must surely have lifted, for in the days that immediately followed I could hardly fail to hear it. He was everywhere I went—and speaking constantly, unless of course I made it clear to Him I didn’t wish to talk. Whiles I was still in the cupboard He lovingly, patiently explained that there were three concentric layers of distraction circling like an asteroid-belt of space junk round my heart. The first was external—books, the Internet, novelling, anything else I could get my hands on; the second was inward, the distractions of the mind—my near-continuous thinking about politics, trivia, music, movies, celebrities, popular culture, which erupts in my speech with unmitigated persistence and renders me a nuisance and a bore to almost everyone I know.
Then, once I had surmounted those two barriers, I ran across a third—a sheer, cold wall of resistance, tight and constricted, like a clenched fist. I realized that I didn’t want God. I realized I harbored not a little the anger and venom I had so vociferously warred against in Corey—rebellion from His plans; resentment of His purpose. I began to see how, in a very real sense, though I honored Him with my mouth, my heart was far away. I was the wife who in the course of a long marriage grows bitter, and grudging, and distant, towards her warm and loving husband. I was the son who hates his father, but couldn’t even give you a reason if you asked him. I was Eustace Clarence Scrubb—before he turned into a dragon—sulky, pretentious, condescending, fearful of Aslan, incontrovertibly convinced that his friends are leagued against him in a secret conspiracy of shared hatred.
And I began to see how much I hated hating—specifically, how I hated the manifest hatred of loneliness, alienation, evasion, and self-martyrdom. I could see where it had brought me—to the bottom of a cupboard, unlit by the sun, friendless, foodless, on Thanksgiving Day. I realized this was all my fault, and that no one had brought it on me but myself. I could see that where God was, there was light, and joy, and fellowship, and warmth, and love, and food, real food, and all the things I lacked here in this self-created pit—this tiny Tophet. And he sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding; and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants… Again and again, He had beckoned. It was not because of Him that I was here. He had not been scheming ways to drive me to the utmost point of misery for years. It was never His intention to hurt me.
But it was someone else’s.
There in the darkness I could feel him—as plainly and closely as though he was right there beside me. It was a feeling I had not felt with such strength, such conviction, since high school. And I realized that he wanted to destroy me, just because—because hatred does not understand love, because misery envies the happiness of others, because in his own pride and pretension and self-glorification and love of the darkness he had separated himself from all that was good and pure and real and loving in the world, in God, and there was no redemption, nothing but ossified grandeur, perpetual self-pity, and isolation unending—eternally alone in a bed he had laid down for himself, burning in a torment that roared from within, outside the very gates of a city where dwelt myriads of bright, shining people, happy and alive.
And I suddenly knew that I hated it, all of it—hated all the evils to which I had clung in my rebellion against God—hated the loneliness and the darkness and the terror of night and the horror in horrifying things and the willful pretension that asserted its own superiority over love, and romance, and friendship. I was no longer lying on the floor of the Katzen’s, eight other people above me, wildly declaring, “You’ll never have love, or friends—and I feel sorry for you!” I had become the very person to whom I was speaking—but a ray of light still shone, there was still hope for the future, I could still feel the pain of longing, numbed and choked and almost blotted out although it was, and I wanted it, and with everything in my power I just wanted to throw myself at the feet of Jesus and say, “Please, receive me back again. Please, take me back. I will become a hired hand…” But could I even mean it if I said it, and if so, for how long? I was as wayward as the prodigal son, but as proud, as lofty, as his brother. I was drifting towards a world without hope.
At the end of it all, I began a poem which reads, in part:
Thould’st shun a bear
Because I could not stop for love
Thould’st shun a bear
Because I could not stop for faith
Thould’st shun a bear
Because I could not stop for grace
Thou hast broken,
Thou hast broken me asunder
Thou liftest me up on the whirlwind,
And dissolvest my substance.
Yet for the first time, I was beginning to trust Him. He had smashed all my bones—but only to rebuild them. He had rent my heart in pieces—but only, in the end, to save my soul.