In a little book called All of Grace by Spurgeon he tells the story of a poor woman who lived in one of the northern States of America. ‘The minister from her church called on her one day with a gift of some money, for he knew how poor she was,’ the story begins.
“He knocked at the door, but there was no answer and so he assumed she was not at home and went on his way. The next Sunday he met her at church and told her he had called to see her with the intention of giving her some help. “At what time did you call?” she asked him, and he said he thought it was about noon on the previous Thursday.
“Oh dear,” she said. “I heard you but I thought you were the man calling for the rent and I didn’t have any money. I’m sorry, that’s why I didn’t answer.”
Spurgeon then applied the story to certain aspects of the work of the church. He suggests that one reason why so many people don’t like going to church is that they think it’s a place where they will be told what their duties are, what God expects of them, and like the poor lady in Spurgeon’s story they stay behind closed doors.
I overheard a conversation between two men in a restaurant a while ago and it reminded me of that story. It seemed that the younger of them had just been to a week long Christian conference in Greenock, Scotland and his friend asked him what he enjoyed most about the conference.
“Feeling the presence of God,” he said. And then after a few moments thought he added; “although I feel that when I take long walks in the countryside or along the beach too.”
Then the older man asked did he learn anything at the conference and the young man paused for another minute or two, “Yes I did,” he said. “I need to discipline myself more. So I’ve started reading through the Bible again.”
Now I have no problem with self discipline, nor do I have an objection to reading through the Bible, again and again, but I wonder did the young man miss the point. I mean the impression he appears to have of God is that he is a God of requirements and duties, of rules and discipline. And I can’t help wondering was God at the conference, for it seems to me that the underlying purpose of some such events, organised by men, is to do what Jesus criticised the Pharisees for doing. He said, “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” (Matthew 23:4).
We live in an age in which so many people are weighed down by troubles and anxieties of every kind. A time when people need to hear the lost message of Jesus: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
Isn’t it a shame that this uncomplicated declaration of God’s unconditional love is so often and so easily drowned out by the demands of legalistic religion?