Critics of Christianity often say religion is no more than a way for people to cope with life. I agree — all too often it can be, if we are religious without actually knowing God.
I share my story here and with friends in order to introduce Jesus to those who have only heard ABOUT Him. To help people understand that they not only can, but must have a relationship with God in order to enter His heaven (Matt 7:22-23). To challenge the religious to be sure they are saved, and to challenge the saved to surrender to transformation in order to experience His power, abundance and joy while on earth. I am or have been all these people at times. It’s exciting to see what God does in us as we realize it is our privilege to seek Him for Who He is, not just what He gives.
During my 40-day commitment to focused, listening retreats with Jesus, I’ve written very little, but God has said so much! A few of today’s pearls embody all that drove me to seminary, where God taught me to seek His face above knowledge, understanding or even wisdom.
Religion can be a legalism trap instead of a Relationship. Many people have daily quiet times, tithe, attend church, etc. In short we seek spiritual fulfillment by a “good” behavior to-do list, believing our lives will fall in place, because we’re doing what God wants. We think certain actions and disciplines are not only central but sufficient for being “spiritual.”
In short, we squeeze into a safe box an understandable God we feel we can control and predict. Then we do stuff “for Him.” Focusing on the externals, while difficult, is much easier than offering your heart to His blade. Because our scale is a measurable comparison to the behavior of others, we generally become complacent and feel we no longer need to struggle with the internal conflict of flesh and spirit. In fact, we hide our inevitable struggle, because we feel we should have matured spiritually beyond all that (I’ve worn that mask, even to church).
For a while we are smug, possibly self righteous — until despair creeps in. We know ourselves and that we fail to measure up. Or possibly we finally “have it all.” Life is under control and all we worked for has transpired — and that’s terrifying, because it’s not enough. Or as happened to me, life caves in and exposes that this religious system we’ve developed isn’t enough to sustain us in the toughest times.
The point is, God will allow the frustrations and trials of this world to unsettle us and compel us to seek Him. To look beyond the illusion of control to where God woos us into true relationship. And He will use it all for our good, as we love and trust Him.
Christianity is not a lifestyle. Our legalism is inevitably exposed as idolatry and entitlement at its heart. The religious formula that God will give us earthly well-being if we will merely do the right things is a lie. True spirituality is a relationship, not a prescription or action plan.
Relationship with Him will take as many different forms as He has children… so in no means do I intend to describe specifics. But a general description might help, if intimate relationship of a Christian with God seems foreign or impossible.
We offer our hearts with child-like wonder in the presence of the One who made us and sustains us. We willingly expose all of who we are to God, who already knows us, and engage with all He has revealed of Himself in the Word and the world. We love, worship, struggle and trust Him in increasing surrender. He interacts with us with mystery and awe. We are open to His surprises and delight in Him as a child.
We are not immune to life under the sun. We experience confusion, rest, frustration, peace, impatience and joy. We learn to embrace that God is mysterious (beyond our comprehension), but always good and loving. Life in relationship with Him is not predictable, tamable, or without pain (in fact there’s often more), but it is purposeful and good beyond our wildest imaginings — which is why we can experience joy and peace no matter what the circumstances.
God wants our hearts. Our flesh (self serving) is in conflict with His spirit which lives in every believer. We must be open, and welcoming to His transformation of us, even when it hurts. We can be sure “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 6:8). We know God better each day, but not exhaustively — not until heaven. We look forward to our time with Him as the best of our days! As we are with Him and surrendered, He changes us. He works in us to make us more like Jesus. To release His power, joy and love to flow through us to others.
Everything good, beautiful and pleasurable here on earth is a hint of heaven. It’s meant to turn us toward Him in gratitude and expectation! Our passion is to know Him better each day, as we look to the day He will complete our joy and the work He is doing in us — and we will worship Him and experience His endless mystery, wonder and love (heaven).
After some time getting to know Him, I can’t help but share Him with others.
It’s a beautiful picture, of the already (Christ in me, heaven) and the not yet (flesh, still earth bound). Just to be clear, I mess up (sin) and fall away (my agenda, all the “self” words like self-sufficient) from HIm daily. He sees me as His work in progress and forgives me as I turn back toward Him. I experience the consequences of my sin, but not condemnation. Nothing I could ever do could make God love me more or less… because His love is perfect and complete.
Jesus is my all in all. I want everyone to know Him intimately and to experience His love and caring.