Religion vs. relationship – how did Jesus do it?(Part 2)

Posted: 14/05/2011 in God
Tags: , ,

In my last post I wrote about the struggle I’m facing with not making the time I spend with God a religious thing. This is an area I think many of us battle and it’s a battle we don’t need to fight. I can picture myself standing on an empty battlefield wielding a sword, fighting no-one and getting tireder and tireder. How pointless! So in putting my sword down, what has God been teaching me in this area?

Firstly, what do I mean when I talk about being “religious”? Jesus spoke about it in Matthew 23. He acknowledged the inherent goodness of God’s law but warned against following people who start making rules, regulations and practices out of it; by-laws I suppose. When my walk with God goes from a relationship to one where I am weighed down by the expectations that I, not God, have put on myself, I believe that’s when I’ve gone from relationship to religion. “Instead of giving you [me] God’s Law as food and drink by which you [I] can banquet on God, they [I] package it in bundles of rules, loading you [myself] down like pack animals” (Matt 23:4). Animals loaded up with too much are only going to collapse under the weight and this is exactly what happens to us. The more we load ourselves up with self-prescribed “Christian living”, the more weighed down we become and inevitably we will collapse. Either this becomes a vicious cycle or wary, we stay away from those things that caused us to collapse in the first place. We stop reading scripture or praying all together!

So are there commands for spending time with God? Throughout scripture we are told about the virtues of meditating on the word of God and to pray, but they are not preceded with a command. What Jesus did command however is that we love God and love people (Matt 22:34-40). Every command or instruction of Jesus, everything we do and everything we say should fall under these 2 things. Loving someone involves spending time with them and so loving God should include spending time with Him. How though? Aside from the example Jesus gave us of how to pray (Matt 6:5-13) there is no formula for it, no specific instructions on it, no examples from the disciples. Exactly! And yet we make formulas, instructions and rules. What God has shown me on prayer and bible reading is to copy Jesus. We are told to “…fix our eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfector of our faith…” (Heb 12:2a). If Jesus is the perfect example of what it looks like to walk with God, what did he do? Well there is no mention of Jesus having a daily quiet time, or of him reading the law and the prophets (the old testament) every day for 1 hour or 2 chapters, or of him having a prayer wheel, or of him having any kind of structured, formula for spending time with the Father. He just did it whenever and wherever. There are passages that quote his actual prayers and there are passages that state he went and prayed (Matt 14:23, 26:36, Luke 6:12, 9:28, John 14:16, John 17). He had knowledge of scripture, often quoted it and so therefore must have read it often even from an early age as is seen in Luke 2:41:52. But it was more than that, there was amazing wisdom in his knowledge, he wasn’t just spouting off “memory verses” that seemed vaguely applicable to certain situations. This implies meditation on scripture as well as Spirit given wisdom.

Jesus did it so we should do it, but Jesus didn’t specify a formula or give us rules so neither should we. And what then when we really struggle with time or if we hate reading, or are not sure how to pray or simply don’t even know where to begin? I think we are simply not able to do this on our own! God does not expect this and Jesus says that apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). For me, that’s exactly what I’ve done, stopped trying to do it on my own. I have started to learn what it means to be utterly dependant on him in all things and to do all things including spending time with him. And I’m having cups of tea with Jesus…I’ll save that for my next post!

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