This is so helpful, I could cry. I know Jesus tells us his yoke is easy and his burden is light, but I get so stuck legalistic rituals and it just tears me down. Everyone around me expects me to go to church, but I feel uncomfortable at most churches because of my past, and then the guilt eats away at me, and praying and even talking about God makes me feel like a fraud. I used to turn to God for everything, in all times, and I just want to feel that peace of resting in Him again. Thank you for understanding and helping me through this.
Legalism - This is an issue which will wear anyone down including Paul the Apostle because he wrote it and it was by the inspiration of God so our Lord must understand or He'd be contradicting Himself. It's a thread throughout the New Testament in Christ which I've seen very few get a handle on or see the life giving fruits of it in their life, it's the key to abundant life! Jesus and Paul had to argue almost constantly throughout their ministries with the religious as I'm sure you know and there literally dozens of examples in the gospels alone teaching about not going back to the Old Covenant way of thinking or, you will fall. Paul knew this to be an issue so in the Book of Romans he went to great lengths (Chapters 5-8) trying to convince his hearers of the dangers of returning to the Old and it wasn't because God's Law wasn't perfect, it is, it was because of it's affects on our sinful nature.
Paul said that every time a law was introduced into his life, it would pull him down and try to destroy him and again the issue wasn't with the law, it was his own flesh. But Paul knew what the Primary Result of the Cross in Jesus was, that Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf opening the way for a true relationship with God. Now please, please bear with me, I won't rabbit on too long but this is the revelation I believe you need. God's demands were, that one man would need to fulfill every single law and precept of God in thought, word and deed from his birth to his death in complete perfection! Impossible for us, but so possible in Christ. Jesus did fulfill every law of God from His Birth to His Death in thought word and deed and here's the key - Jesus said on the Cross that 'it was finished.'
Sometimes teachers miss what Jesus said until you look at the words in the original - He said 'it is perfectly perfect it is completely complete' and Christ as God's Royal priest, ended the old Testament and brought forth the new, in Grace. Our sins cannot be imputed against us now even when we do sin, our faults, weaknesses and mistakes cannot be imputed against us because of what Jesus did, He fulfilled the law on our behalf. You might think that you've heard all this before but please bear with me. So what does it mean in our world? Here's an example 'A unsaved man is driving church and he breaks the speed limit more than once and is charged according to the law. In the church he gets saved and becomes a Christian and on the way home he still speeds and breaks the law more than once. He notices though that there are no speed limit signs so he says to the waiting policeman - "where are all the speed limit signs and why aren't you charging me" to which the policeman responds, "there is no law written against this now, it's been taken away."
"...now I'm not advocating breaking the law, this is a worldly example to illustrate a scriptural principle..."
You might not get this at first but keep thinking on these things - Jesus said 'it was perfectly perfect it was completely complete,' He fufilled the whole law on your behalf once meaning that God cannot impute sin against you because He is no longer reading from the letter of the law. It sounds strange and it sound like He's letting you off with your sin yesterday, today and tomorrow but to those who believe, He is letting you off the hook. God is not judging you and He knows what the effects of His law can have upon those who believe, death! This was the primary reason for Christ going to the cross, blotting out the handwriting that was written against us to set us free and Romans assures us by the Words of Jesus through Paul, that He knows the effects of the law on us not because of the law, but because of our hopeless sinful nature. Here's a couple of verses, you seem very smart indeed so I hope these verses speak to you....
1Co 15:56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory (it is finished, it is perfectly perfect it is completely complete) through our Lord Jesus Christ (on the cross).
Mmmm, the strength of sin is the law? Maybe we need another...
Col 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
Gal 3:1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (The Galatians, Paul's Assembly, after him having established it in grace was now turning back to the law due to false teaching!)
I'm the sure the above is more than enough for your mind to see that these are just a few examples of what Jesus speaks about in His Epistles and it shows only one thing, our true sinful nature underneath and our need for God's Grace. Our sinful nature drags us down and the remedy, Christ setting you free from the law and giving you life. My mother gave me a great illustration before and it's a true story. A Spanish Resort which was built directly on the seashore had some of the best fishing imaginable so, the owners put up signs - No Fishing. You know what, people fished off their balconies and broke windows and the owner didn't know what to do so, he took down the sign and nobody fished off the balconies again. It's our fallen nature, as soon as we're put under law, sin revives and it kills us spiritually so, the plan of God was to end the old and step forward into the new.
Now, we go to church, pray and read our word because we want to, not because we feel we have to but if we do feel we have to, we will fail and find these simple actions incredibly difficult.
Recovery - I believe that you maybe need to take some time out for yourself and really enjoy yourself with God, almost like hitting the reset button to get rid of all these laws we've accumulated in our minds and feel that freedom again in Jesus Christ. This si something you are permitted to do as a Christian, to relax and just enjoy Jesus for who He is rather than feeling you need to work. Christ by His Spirit will build you back up again and He will give you that life you may or may not have experienced yet and by the sounds of things, you're going to have a great time getting to know God more as your saviour, Lord and best friend.
I hope this hasn't been too much to take on board but, I fully believe you'll understand this and allow God's Spirit to birth this joy within. Just live, do what you need to do and enjoy yourself. Relax and stop worrying about church, prayer and reading your word - you just wait, in a short space of time you'll be doing these simple acts again with a great passion and hunger for the only person who understands you Jesus Christ x