A few weeks ago, I attended a gathering of believers. For the first time in my life, I was acutely aware of just how out of place I really was. It was highly uncomfortable, and I knew I didn’t belong at all. It wasn’t the race, culture, or even the language that was different. All of us came from similar backgrounds, and we have the same belief system regarding The Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit.
The funny thing is, we were having biblically sound discussions regarding the Bible and its context. We focused on a specific chapter in the New Testament. Everything was going fine and dandy, but there was no life in the discussion – at all. It felt dead, and as I looked around me, it was as if everyone – except me – were asleep. They said all the right things, but there was no life in it.
At one stage, a woman in the group remarked, ‘I wonder how many times I need to pray every day. Also, how many times per week do I need to fellowship? And lead people to Jesus? And do all the things that are required of us?’
The group was unable to answer her question because the truth is this: we are in the New Covenant, and no bar has to be met. We no longer live under the law, and we are not required to perform to meet God’s ‘expectations’.
I decided to gently share my point of view, to see if the conversation could be turned around. I said, ‘In Romans 8, it says that the sons and daughters of God are led by the Spirit of God. When I think of praying, reading the Bible, evangelizing, etc., I think of how Holy Spirit is inside of me. He’s the one leading me every day. What do I need to do right now, at this moment? It’s not about ticking off the boxes, but living in freedom and allowing God to lead me…’
The group nodded their heads in agreement, except for the lady who had asked the question. She gave me a furious look; it was clear that she was unhappy with my answer.
As the night wore on, someone else asked, ‘I wonder what it looks like – practically – to live with Jesus in our lives.’
An older man gave a beautiful, heartfelt response: ‘By being aware of His presence in our lives.’
I enhanced and added to what he said, ‘Yes, absolutely. The world teaches us that a true sign of maturity is to live independently. But in the kingdom, everything is upside down. The more dependent I become on Jesus, the more mature I am. I want to live in such a way that I can’t do anything without Jesus.’
This remark seemed to baffle the group. Their faces turned into question marks, as they viewed me suspiciously. Some had blank expressions as they looked at me sideways.
Suddenly, I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I was a foreigner, speaking a different language. I was an alien, and the others were looking at me as if I came from a different planet, and spoke a different language.
As the evening wore on, I started thinking, ‘There are so many other things I could be doing with my precious time, instead of being in this room with this group of people.’
I let my mind wander a bit more and tried to imagine what it must be like to be in their shoes. The condemnation, the spirit of heaviness and sleepiness, the bondage, the slavery mindset. I remembered that I had once been like that as well, caught up in my own religious mindset. The only thing that had set me free was desperation, heartbreak, disappointment, bitterness, and regret. I had been at the end of my rope when the drastic turn came in my life.
Does this mean that all the others will also need to go down the same road for their hearts to finally wake up?
This week, I had a conversation with a friend who is having the same experiences that I had at that gathering, except she’s having it at her church. ‘I hope that one day they will accept me for who I am, and will recognize and celebrate what I carry…’
As our conversation wore on, I realized what makes us different: we carry new wine inside of us. We are no longer conformed to the world – even if that world is the old wine within the church context. Our minds have been renewed, and we look at and experience things differently.
What used to work in the past, is no longer working today. It is dead, and God’s Spirit has long since moved on. For what is His Spirit, but an ever-changing, ever-adapting being? As believers, we are challenged to move with Him, to change and grow within Him, and not to be stuck in the old way of thinking, the old way of doing things.
‘There’s a price to pay when you have been exposed to the new skin. You’ve already tasted the new wine, and you’ve been transformed by it. The problem is, you can no longer go back,’ I said to my friend. ‘You are now a foreigner in a foreign land, a stranger amongst your own people.’
‘Yes, that’s exactly the way I’ve been feeling,’ my friend replied, relieved to know that she was not alone. ‘What am I supposed to do now?’
I thought about her question for a while, and replied, ‘To be honest, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I can never go back to that old wineskin again. Yes, there’s a price to be paid, but it’s worth it, for I live in absolute freedom. I will never go back again to that old way of thinking.’
I grew up listening to Pam Thum. I never understood what her song ‘The Other Side’ meant, but today I do. It’s a haunting song with the following lyrics:
‘Walking down the street you loved so well, now you just seem like a stranger…’
I also grew up listening to Sara Groves. This short but powerful song is about shedding off our old selves and our old ways of thinking:
‘The snake gets tired of being him, he wriggles from that itchy skin… Leaves it lying where he’s been and moves on…’
This song is my heart’s desire for those who are still asleep:
‘I’m waking up, I can feel my heart beating and breath in my lungs. I’m on fire, finally free… I am alive in the land of the living.’