Dear Apostle John,
Please explain 1 John 5:3.
The honeymoon phase had worn off. My walk with God had gone from blissful to joyfully stressful and Apostle John was obviously holding out on me. I proceeded to read verses 4 and 5 again. Ohhhhh! Having faith in Jesus Christ seemed to be the answer to keeping God’s commandments!
Emmm… No. I still didn’t get it.
Why would he say that God’s commandments are not burdensome? Compared to what? The crucifixion?? I would have agreed with “God’s commandments are loving”, or “truthful”, or “are eventually joy-producing” but not burdensome? We must have had very different experiences.
Don’t get me wrong: I was grateful to God for salvation. He had given His own Son to reconcile me to Himself even though I had done nothing to deserve it. By His Power, I was free to walk in Christ’s victory over sin. By His Power, I was healed and renewed. Because of His great Name, I had hope.
But I was weary. Giving credit to God for every victory did not change the fact that I still had to fight: I had to love unconditionally. I had to forgive. I had to take every thought captive and fight against worry, doubt, selfishness, anger, laziness and greed… to name a few. It was hard.
Even though I knew that God was with me, I often felt that I was going through these struggles alone. I frequently heard that the Christian walk was not easy, so I never thought of asking God whether my experience was normal. All I knew was that I had to persevere no matter what came my way.
It never occurred to me that I was walking with myself instead of God, and that many of my struggles were unnecessary.
When I felt anxious, I did not talk to Him. Instead, I used Bible verses to calm myself down.
When I was offended, I did not let Him guide me through the experience. I knew that He wanted me to forgive, so I acted out forgiveness and asked Him to help me achieve it.
When I failed to display His character and was convicted of it, I did not recognize that He was uncovering a heart issue. Instead of asking Him what He wanted to teach me, I was quick to suppress it: I asked for forgiveness and strength to do better next time.
Meanwhile, thorns and weeds were sprouting from my heart. Living out God’s commandments began to feel like a burden, which grew heavier with every act of obedience. I was using what the Holy Spirit had revealed to me through scriptures, meditation and prayer to walk in my own strength. As a result, I did not let God use circumstances to refine my heart: I used circumstances to change my behaviour, and thanked Him for the progress that I saw.
That apparent progress was the source of my joy.
What if the Bible was not meant to be an idol but an instrument through which the Word of God was deposited into my heart? What if I felt burdened and alone because I was ignoring the Spirit who actually inspired and interpreted the Word? What if my walk with God was meant to be walked with God?
God’s solution to my weariness was to reintroduce me to the Holy Spirit. He had been with me all along yet I never acknowledged Him, never interacted with Him and never leaned on Him. I had more of a relationship with other spirits: I used the Word to rebuke anger, speak against pride and dismiss doubt. I even used the Word to encourage my own spirit. But the Spirit that God had given me… the Spirit of power, love and self-control… I had no communion with.
God was teaching me that He had not left me alone. He did not just want to hear from me at the beginning and at the end of each day; He wanted to walk with me through each day. His Spirit was my companion.
From then on, I began to talk to the Holy Spirit. When I felt anxious, I talked to Him about it. When I was offended, I confided in Him. When I failed to display God’s character and was convicted of it, I thanked Him for pointing it out to me and asked Him how I should move on. When I was happy, I shared it with Him.
Surely enough He always answered, always explained, always directed, always comforted and always made me laugh. He never scolded me for my mistakes. Instead, He talked me through them, exposed the causes of my struggles and healed me. I realized that my emotions were precious to God. I was not called to bury my feelings and secretly take pride in my “righteous” actions. I was called to let God deal with my heart.
The burden that I was carrying began to get lighter and lighter. The struggle was replaced with precious moments, spontaneous conversations and insightful guidance. It was as if all along, I had been stepping on landmines that could have only been avoided through fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
It was ironic in a sense: the Bible had been a stumbling block to me. Knowing scripture had caused me to take over my own transformation instead of inviting God’s presence even in the most “obvious” situations. He cared about every fall, every success and every trial. He was more than my Lord and saviour. He was my Father, my friend, my companion. Walking in this truth brought me a completely different kind of joy.
If I had to describe it today, I would say that walking with God without interacting with the Holy Spirit is like wanting to love God without liking Him. Seeking to love God through obedience is great, but actually getting to know Him and experiencing His personality, His incredible patience, His hilarious humour, His abounding goodness… is definitely more enjoyable.
I still don’t know how Apostle John experienced his walk with God, but now, I would definitely agree that God’s commandments are not burdensome. Challenging, yes, but not burdensome. Not with the Holy Spirit as my closest friend.