Let me break down this whole God thing into this simple contrast that has made all the difference in my spiritual journey. This is what religion looks like:
- We are tempted to pursue a religious approach to God instead of a relational approach to God. It seems easier, I guess. Like Emmet in the Lego movie who said, “Just tell me exactly what to do and how to do it,” we all just want to know the requirements to get us to heaven. We want it all laid out for us. No thinking required.
- Religion places a major emphasis on rules and rituals that are supposed to either manipulate God or earn his favor. Let’s be honest, this is us. We are comfortable with religion (however we personally define religion) because it allows us to feel good about being ‘good’ and following the ‘rules’. In religion, we define what ‘good’ and ‘rules’ means in terms that fit our desired lifestyle.
- Religion has a “one size fits all” approach. Much like our popular western culture that tells us that is cool, what is acceptable, what we should do, think, believe, etc., the Christian church has a popular culture that tells its congregations how you must behave and worship to please God. Certain music is taboo, you need to dress a certain way, talk a certain way, etc. to fit into church culture. Everyone needs to fit into the same mold or model of what a good person looks like. Who decided the rules for this stuff anyway?
- The fruit of religion is a judgmental heart. Those who don’t follow these church “rules” are outcasts, or otherwise considered unspiritual by the “rule followers” who judge them. It’s true, isn’t it? Even if you’ve never set foot in a church, when you see anyone who is not like you, or who does things, says things, looks different than you, etc. you (subconsciously or out loud) cast judgment that they are wrong. Have you ever seen the Facebook news feed. Sheesh!
The beautiful truth is that God doesn’t want religion. God just wants our heart. His desire is to have a deep loving relationship with us. This is what relationship with God looks like:
- We give God our time. We move from being institutional to intimate in the way we communicate with God. Much like you would never punch a time clock for your time spent with your spouse or children, God doesn’t want you to relegate your involvement with him to just an hour at church and 2 minutes of prayer at dinner time. Instead, we recognize God as our ever present friend with whom we can talk to ( and listen to) at any time. He wants to hear from us.
- We are transparent with God. We move from being guarded to genuine. Much like you would never talk to your spouse or children with a pre-written script that you repeat every day, God doesn’t want that either. He already knows our hearts so there are no secrets with God. We can and should speak freely with the Ultimate Creator of the universe! How cool is that?!
- We submit to God. We move from being ritualistic to relational. Make no mistake, there are still ‘house rules’ in God’s family. There are certain things you need to do, and some things you can’t do without negative consequences. This is not surprising. We were raised with some house rules and if you are parents now, I’m pretty sure you have some house rules of your own. While the rules of your house apply to all, the consequences of breaking the rules likely vary according to the rule breaker and the circumstances. For example, say your son lies to you. His punishment is to take away is favorite toy for a while because you know that he could happily sit in time out for a long time. Conversely, when your social daughter lies, taking her toy wouldn’t be much of a punishment, but sitting in timeout for just 10 minutes would set her straight.
My point is that God relates to each of us as individuals and according to our relationship with him, in a much more perfect way than we relate to our kids. Does that make sense? We are not God’s robots and he is not our cosmic vending machine. God wants to be our friend. He wants a relationship with us. When we finally get it and invite God into relationship with us, we will find all that we have ever been looking for.
My personal spiritual journey includes a constant tension between me trying to please God by being good (and failing miserably) and me just seeking God as my heavenly Father and friend. Though I can be pretty stubborn in my old ways, I find much more peace, joy, contentment, and blessing when I simply love God and relate to him honestly and often. #preachingtomyself #underconstruction #workinprogress
**Special thanks to Pastor Ryan Wright and Bedford Alliance Church for inspiring this article from the sermon series Toxic Religion.**