True Spiritual Life Can’t Be Bound by Religious Rituals
By Jane, Philippines
I was born in a Catholic family. Since I was little, I observed all the religious rituals of Catholicism. From as early as I could remember, I began to pray with my parents. Apart from praying the Angelus at 6 a.m., 12 a.m., and 6 p.m. every day, we prayed the Chaplet at 3 p.m. and the Rosary at night. This was the ritual we had to keep every day. We also carried rosary beads and a prayer bracelet all day long so that we could pray at any time. When praying, we usually repeated the prayer over and over again. As for the length of the prayer, it depended on what kind of sins we had committed. The bigger the sin, the longer the prayer. If we just committed some small sins like telling lies, we didn’t need to pray for a long time.
Every October, my whole family and our neighbors would gather together to pray to the statue of the Blessed Mother. We carried the statue to a room, prayed, and then moved to another room and repeated the process. This ritual usually lasted for a month, but didn’t bring me any enjoyment; all I felt was exhaustion. Because we had to kneel on the ground for a long time during the prayers, my legs trembled after I stood up, and sometimes I even lost my voice. So, I couldn’t help but complain and doubt, thinking things like, “Does God really approve of such practices?” But every time I thought like this, I felt regret, fearing that I might offend God. So I still observed these religious rituals. As I grew older, my life became increasingly busy, and thus the long prayers turned into a burden for me. Every day, I just galloped through the prayers so that I could have more time to do other things. Because of this, I felt very worried, and thought, “Praying this way is not drawing close to God. Will my prayers be accepted by God?”
Every December, we needed to attend Mass for 9 days in a row, which started at 3:30 a.m. or 4 a.m. every morning. The priest told us, “If you can attend every Mass in these nine days, the Lord will grant all your pleas this year and forgive your sins.” Thus, during that time there were always large crowds of people going to church. Even though typhoons and floods frequently occurred in December, we still persisted in attending Mass. But because we got up very early to see the Mass, most people dozed off when listening to the sermons. Seeing this, I thought, “Since most of the believers sleep through Mass, what’s the meaning of this practice?” However, no one doubted whether the practice was right or not.
Apart from these, we also had to keep many other rituals, such as praying to spiritual figures, taking the communion in Mass, confessing to the priests, performing religious ceremonies, visiting seven churches, and so on. We thought that if we failed to observe these rituals, we wouldn’t be able to enter the kingdom of heaven because of having committed too many sins. There were at least four feast days a month. Every day, I was excessively attentive to these dates for fear that I would forget to prepare candles and “holy” water for feast days. Because there were many things we needed to prepare, I often relied on my mother to remind me. If I missed something, I would feel distressed and guilty, thinking that I wasn’t religious enough. Besides, the regular prayers made it hard for me to focus on my work because when the time came I had to stop the work in hand to pray. If I forgot to do the prayer, I would be worried about being rejected by God and then would immediately pray to God for His forgiveness. Living like this, I felt more and more depressed. I asked myself, “Is this life normal? I observe these rituals scrupulously, but I don’t feel the presence of the Holy Spirit; neither do I have any satisfaction nor gain any growth in my life. Do I really gain the approval of God by acting this way? Is there another path of following God and worshiping God?” But whenever I thought like this, I would condemn myself by thinking, “Am I qualified to make complaints? I’m just a sinner. I should observe these rituals.”
However, as time passed by, I started to grow weary of these religious rituals. I prayed to God earnestly, “O God! I can’t feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps there is another way by which I can draw near to You, but I don’t know how to find it. May You lead me.” Later, I inputted the keywords “group for Christ” to search for relevant information on the Internet in the hope of finding God.
One day when I was browsing Facebook, a sister’s post attracted my attention. I liked her post and added her as my friend. After that, we often talked about our belief in the Lord together. Soon after, the sister invited me to attend one of their meetings, where the brothers and sisters fellowshiped the truth about the work of God’s six-thousand-year management plan, the three ages of God’s work (the Age of Law, the Age of Grace, and the Age of Kingdom), and the true story and essence of God’s work in every age. They fellowshiped this with me, “Though we have accepted the Lord’s salvation and have been forgiven of our sins, our sinful nature still exists. Only when we accept God’s work of judging and cleansing mankind in the last days can we completely break free from the bondage of the sin and return before God.” Their fellowship surprised me and brought me spiritual satisfaction. More unexpectedly, they told me that God has returned and has carried out new work, and that the words we fellowshiped together in the meeting are God’s personal utterances. Hearing this news, I was both surprised and pleased. Little did I dream that I could be with God face-to-face. At that time, I couldn’t say enough to describe my excitement. Afterward, the brothers and sisters from The Church of Almighty God fellowshiped many other truths with me. I had never heard such practical fellowship before and felt it was exactly what my spirit needed, so I decided to investigate the work of Almighty God in the last days.
One day, I asked Sister Lily, “So is it the Age of Kingdom now? Then what should we do to satisfy God’s will?”
She answered, “In the Age of Kingdom, God does the work of judging and cleansing people through His words. He has expressed all the truth we need. His intention and His requirements are all in His words. As long as we read and experience His words, we will come to know Him and understand His will. Meanwhile, through experiencing the judgment of God’s words, we will gain an understanding of the truth of our being corrupted by Satan, as well as our nature and essence of resisting and opposing God. Then we will become determined to hate ourselves and betray our flesh. When we practice truths and live by God’s words, our disposition will become transformed. So, as long as we accept truths and practice truths, our corrupt disposition will be cleansed and we will have the likeness of real human beings, and in the end be saved by God.” Hearing the sister, I felt confused. I thought, “Is it this simple to obtain God’s salvation? Is it true that I no longer need to observe the religious rituals?”
Then I asked Sister Lily, “Does this mean that we don’t need to go to Mass, say the rosary, recite the prayers, or kneel and worship the spiritual figures anymore?”
Lily answered me with a smile, “Yes.”
Then I said to her, “Your fellowship is really practical, but I still feel some confusion. The religious rituals such as fasting and partaking of Holy Communion are what the Lord Jesus required us to keep, and we have observed them for generations. Is it really the case that we no longer need to observe any of them?”
Sister Lily continued to fellowship with me, “It is true that fasting and partaking of Holy Communion were the Lord’s demands for believers in the Age of Grace. But God’s demands for mankind are not immutable but change according to the age and the stage of His work. Just as Matthew 9:16–17 says: ‘No man puts a piece of new cloth to an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up takes from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runs out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.’ And Matthew 26:29 says: ‘But I say to you, I will not drink from now on of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’ The truth about this issue has also been clearly expressed in the words of Almighty God, so let’s read a few passages of His words: ‘What is asked of man this day is unlike that in the past and even more unlike that asked of man in the Age of Law. And what was asked of man under the law when work was done in Israel? They were asked for no more than to keep the Sabbath and the laws of Jehovah. None were to work on the Sabbath or transgress the laws of Jehovah. But it is not so now. On the Sabbath, man works, gathers and prays as usual, and no restrictions are imposed. Those in the Age of Grace had to be baptized; not only that, they were asked to fast, break bread, drink wine, cover their heads and wash their feet. Now, these rules have been abolished and greater demands are made of man, for the work of God continuously deepens and the entry of man reaches ever higher. … for the age has changed. The Holy Spirit works in accordance with the age, not just at will or according to set rules. The age has changed, and a new age must bring with it new work. This is true of every stage of work, and so His work is never repeated.’ ‘God’s intention has always been for His work to be new and alive, not old and dead, and that which He makes man hold firm to varies with the age and period, and is not everlasting and immutable. That is because He is a God who causes man to live and be new, rather than a devil who causes man to die and be old. Do you still not understand this?’”
Sister Lily fellowshiped more, “From the Lord Jesus’ words and Almighty God’s words, we can see that God’s work is new and alive, and that He makes different demands of people according to the age and the stage of His work. When God does new work, if we still cling to the old work and old ways of doing things, our entry into life will stagnate. The Holy Spirit works along with God’s new work. When the new age comes, the old age passes, and the old ways of doing things become outdated. For example, in the Age of Law, Jehovah God asked man to keep the Sabbath; those who did not observe the Sabbath would be stoned to death. However, when the Lord Jesus came to work, He asked men to baptize, fast, break bread, drink wine, cover their heads and wash their feet. If the believers who followed the Lord Jesus didn’t act according to His new demands for mankind, but still held onto the old ways in the Age of Law, they would not gain God’s approval and could even be condemned by the Lord Jesus. God is the truth, the way, and the life; what He brings to mankind is total freedom and liberation, while rules and rituals are actually Satan’s tricks and the ties it uses to bind us. If we understand God’s will and grasp the principles of God’s work, we will not be bound by rules and rituals and can live with freedom and be released from confusion before God.”
Through God’s words and the sister’s fellowship, I came to understand that God’s work is always new and never old, and that when God carries out new work, He also brings us new practices. God has different requirements for mankind in different ages, and He never asks mankind to hold to the old things. Satan, however, always uses rituals and rules to control mankind. No wonder that the more I observed the religious rituals, the drier and darker I felt in my spirit. It was all because God has done new work and made new requirements of us. I must stop clinging to the outdated practices and follow God’s new work and act in accordance with His present requirements. Only then can I gain His approval. Thank God! After listening to God’s words and the sister’s fellowship, I felt especially released from confusion and free in my heart. I am so blessed! This was exactly the way I’d been looking for.
In the following days, I hungrily read God’s words every day and gained real nourishment in my spirit. At the same time, I gradually put aside my old religious rules and practices and only occasionally went with my mother to church for Mass. One day, I read these words of God: “As of today, God will formally perfect those who have no religious notions, who are ready to set aside their old selves, and who obey God in a simple-hearted way, and He will perfect those who long for the word of God. … If you really want to be made perfect, then you must resolve to completely abandon everything from before. Even if what was done before was right, even if it was God’s work, you must still be able to put it aside and stop clinging to it. Even if it was clearly the work of the Holy Spirit, done directly by the Holy Spirit, today you must put it aside. You must not hold onto it. This is what God requires. Everything must be renewed. In God’s work and God’s word, He makes no reference to the old things that went before, and He does not dig into old history. God is a God who is always new and never old. He does not cling even to His own words from the past, from which it is clear that God does not follow any rules. In this case, as a human being, if you always cling to the things of the past, refusing to let them go, and rigidly apply them in a formulaic manner, while God is no longer working in the ways He did before, then are not your words and actions disruptive? Have you not become an enemy of God? Are you willing to let your entire life go to wrack and ruin over these old things? These old things will make you into a person who obstructs God’s work. Is that the kind of person you want to be? If you truly do not want that, then quickly stop what you are doing and turn around; start all over again. God does not remember your past service.”
From God’s words, I understood His will: God requires that we believers in Him should not cling to the old things and define His new work randomly, which contains His disposition. In the past, I held the belief that adhering to religious rituals and serving in the religious way represented my loyalty to God and was after His heart. Not until I read God’s words did I realize that those old rituals were actually what God hated and loathed. Every time God does a stage of work He brings us a new path of practice, and what we should do is accept, obey and follow, for God likes those who long for and love the truth and obey His work in a simple-hearted way. I should no longer follow and listen to the priests blindly because they all serve God based on their own conceptions and imaginations, which is exactly against God’s will. Look at the Pharisees in the Age of Law: Not knowing the principles of the Holy Spirit’s work, they judged and condemned the work of the Lord Jesus with old rules and rituals and were eliminated by the work of the Holy Spirit in the end. The disciples of the Lord, however, walked away from the laws and rules and lived face-to-face with the Lord. So if I keep holding on to God’s previous work, I will become a modern Pharisee who resists God’s work. Having understood this, I determined to put aside all religious rules and rituals.
Later I read another passage of God’s words: “A normal spiritual life is not limited to prayer, song, church life, eating and drinking the words of God, and other such practices, but it means to live a spiritual life that is fresh and lively. It’s not about the method, but the result. Most people think that in order to have a normal spiritual life one must pray, sing, eat and drink the words of God, or try to figure out the words of God. No matter whether there is any result, or whether there is a true understanding, these people just focus on going through the motions on the outside, and do not focus on the result — they are people living within the rituals of religion, and are not people living within the church, and even less are they people of the kingdom. This kind of person’s prayers, songs, and eating and drinking of the words of God are all abiding by the rules, they are compelled to do them, and they are done in keeping with trends; they are not done willingly or done from the heart. No matter how much these people pray or sing, there will be no result at all, because all they practice are religious rules and rituals, and they are not practicing the word of God. By only focusing on the method, and taking the words of God as rules to keep, this kind of person is not practicing the word of God, but is satisfying the flesh, and is doing things to show off to others. This kind of religious ritual and rule comes from man, not from God. God does not keep rules, does not abide by any laws; He does new things every day and He does practical work. Like the people in the Three-Self Church who are limited to daily morning watch, evening prayers, giving thanks before meals, expressing thanks in everything, and other such practices, no matter how much these people do, or how long they practice, they will not have the work of the Holy Spirit. If people live within rules, with their hearts poured into practice, then the Holy Spirit has no way to work, because people’s hearts are taken up with rules, are taken up with human conceptions; therefore God has no way to do work; people will just always be living under control of the law, and this type of person will never be able to receive the praise of God.”
The words of Almighty God not only revealed the deviation in my practice but also told me how to lead a true spiritual life. From God’s words, I understood: Whether we have a true spiritual life is not judged by our external formalities and actions, but by effectiveness. Whether we pray to God, or read His words or live the church life, it is for us to get close to God, understand His will and then practice in accordance with His requirements. Thinking of those religious rituals I had kept — praying at a fixed time every day, attending morning Mass, fasting and partaking of Holy Communion — I found that I only focused on the external actions but didn’t draw close to God with my heart. As a result, even after keeping those rituals for many years I neither had more knowledge of God nor had broken free of the bondage of sin, but only felt more pressured and burdened. With only my own hard work and none of the work of the Holy Spirit, even though I kept those rituals perfectly well, I still couldn’t gain God’s praise. Then what was the meaning of it?
In the past, prayer was really a torture to me: I needed to kneel before God, repeating my prayers for a long time. Even if sometimes I couldn’t concentrate, I still had to keep on until the prayer was finished. Now, after accepting God’s work of the last days, I no longer recite those long prayers when I pray to God, but practice speaking my heart to God, telling Him about my difficulties and thoughts. Having broken free from the binds of religious rituals and rules, I feel really liberated.
Now every week I attend meetings, fellowship and share God’s words with my brothers and sisters and often listen to the sermons and fellowship, gaining a lot of spiritual sustenance. Moreover, God’s words have resolved many practical difficulties in my daily life. How new and practical the way is! Through fellowshiping with my brothers and sisters at gatherings for some time, I have gained some knowledge of many truths that I didn’t obtain through my thirty-five years of faith in Catholicism, such as the truth of God’s work of judgment in the last days, the mystery of the incarnation, and the inside story and substance of the Bible. What’s more, in God’s words I have found the practical way to draw near to Him and seek His will, and no longer need to seek priests’ advice about all matters. God’s words have revealed all the truths and mysteries I don’t know, so as long as I read His words and seek the truth in them I will find the way to practice. Now I have a normal spiritual life and can feel the presence of God, living under His blessings and guidance. I have also preached the gospel to my family and we now follow God’s new work together. Our new life has begun. All the glory be to God! Amen!