Do You Really Need God Anymore?

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” ― C.S. Lewis

I got to teach a course on religion this past year. That’s one of my specialties that I enjoy digging into and helping students understand. It’s an especially exciting experience for me because working at a Christian university, there are a number of misconceptions that we have to address right away. The first is that the course is about religion, not just about Christianity. That opens up our study to all of history and all of the many ways that human society has gone about creating explanations for the unknown.

It’s a great class that I think everyone needs to take. Can I sign you up?

“Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Our society right now is so advanced and has enabled most individuals to thrive so well that I often wonder if we need God anymore?

Have you ever asked yourself that question? Do you need God today? What about tomorrow?

Sociologist Christian Smith writes that people (as members of a society) are religious because:

…they hope for superhuman powers to help them realize human goods and avoid bads, especially to grant them blessings, prevent misfortunes and aid them in crises; and because they wish to enjoy the various forms of identity, community, meaning, expression, aesthetics, ecstasy, control and legitimacy that practicing religions offer.

We studied his definition in class this past year. It still has me thinking about the practice of religion in my own life and among the groups to which I belong. I don’t think ANYONE that I know would ever say or believe that they didn’t need God anymore. But how do we know that people need God? What behaviors would we find?

  1. Attending religious services and studies, to express and grow in faith
  2. Praying, alone and in groups, seeking answers to problems
  3. Sharing their faith story in prayer requests and testimonies
  4. Seeking answers to larger (and smaller) questions about the application of faith to daily life

This is just the start of a list. You could probably brainstorm other additions.

When I look at Smith’s definition of religion (it has be very global so it fits all religions throughout the world and history), it makes me wonder if people in my circles are less religious just because we don’t think we need God for much. As long as we have good health insurance, a retirement plan, a steady job, a warm and loving family – why do we need to bother God?

Again, I don’t think we are actually aware that we’ve fallen out of our relationship with God. Because we’ve become so self-sufficient (or so we think), he’s just become like a distant uncle who we visit on the holidays.

I’m probably being way too cynical.

You take a look at your own life and decide.

  1. What and who are on your prayer list? Do you keep one?
  2. What are your conversations about when you’re with other Christians? The weather?
  3. How often do you attend your church and small group? Are you spectating or participating?
  4. Are you and God on speaking terms right now?

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” ― C.S. Lewis

Why not start to journal this year about your spiritual life, about your need for God? Writing each day will help you to refocus and realign, just in case you’ve accidently wandered off into that place where you think you’ve got it all under control.

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”   ― A.W. Tozer

 

Suffering and Obedience

christ_in_gethsemane

“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” – Hebrews 5:8 (NLT)

I can’t explain it.

How did Jesus, who was fully God – fully man, need to learn anything?

He had free will because he was a man.

He had to choose to suffer. He had to choose to follow the path set out from all eternity for him to follow.

If you haven’t already, you are going to suffer in this life. Sometimes, you are going to have to make some choices, the right choices. Doing what’s right can be uncomfortable, painful, lonely and even cause some suffering.

Choosing to walk in faith each day will mean some hard choices along the way. We live extraordinary lives here in the USA and typically aren’t challenged with painful or even life/death choices when it comes to practicing our faith. What puts our faith to death are all the little choices we don’t make every single day.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
― Charles Dickens,  A Christmas Carol

When suffering comes your way there are often choices along each painful step. The right choices can heal your soul in ways that will last forever. It is possible for your Heavenly Father to transform even the most terrible suffering into something miraculous. When we lay it at His feet, all of our pain, all of our worries, each terrible moment can all be redeemed somehow. Our suffering can have eternal meaning when we obey.

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” – James 1:2-4

Seeing is Believing

watchingfromafar

“I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but to mature and transfigure us.” ― Hermann Hesse

When we suffer it gives us a chance to demonstrate our faith in Christ to everyone around us. Through all the pain, disappointment and fear…we have a chance to let other people see what faith in Christ looks like. This ship of faith can indeed ride out the storms of life. When we demonstrate Christ we are living out these truths:

  • a belief in an eternal future
  • the Holy Spirit bearing fruit
  • our obedience to God’s daily call to surrender

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21

  1. No one is immune to suffering, not even Christ
  2. When we suffer we have an opportunity to follow the example of Christ, a life of obedience to God’s call
  3. An essential part of living the Christian life is demonstrating Christ to the world around us when we experience suffering

“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”  ― Vance Havner

Suffering always presents us with a choice. An offering or a hard poison. Something we can cling to and let it darken our soul with bitterness or something we lay at the feet of our Father in Heaven, turn it loose, and let Him work and redeem brokenness and make wholeness again.

We carry the death of Jesus in our own bodies so that the life of Jesus can also be seen in our bodies. – 2 Corinthians 4:10 (CEV)

 

What is God’s Will For Me?

choices

We asked that question in my Sunday School class today. We didn’t come up with any “Sunday School answers” like “Jesus loves me”

Mostly blank stares. I had been talking too much.

How do people find an answer to this big giant question? Here’s one place to look for guidance.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

After reading this, it makes me think of several crucial steps to take when trying to figure out God’s will. I don’t like to reduce the Christian life to a list but I couldn’t resist.

  1. Live out your physical life in service to God – take a hard look at all your motivations
  2. Expect to act, think and feel different – this type of  consistent practice and worship changes your internal “wiring”
  3. Submit to transformation – you always have a choice, sometimes we don’t know God’s will because we don’t really want to obey it…
  4. Learn what God wants by spending time with God as a submitted and transformed disciple – this type of practice makes understanding God’s will easier and more evident to us

I really think knowing God’s will is not that difficult. Obeying God’s will is much larger challenge, one we struggle with all our lives.  I want to pray in faith each day – “May Your will be done on earth (in my life), as it is in Heaven” – it’s not going to be done in my life if I’m unwilling to make that first step and choose to walk in that direction. There’s always a choice before me.

“Choices will continually be necessary and — let us not forget — possible. Obedience to God is always possible. It is a deadly error to fall into the notion that when feelings are extremely strong we can do nothing but act on them.”  ― Elisabeth Elliot

This corrupt world is already wasting away, as are its selfish desires. But the person really doing God’s will—that person will never cease to be. (1 John 2:17, The Voice)

How Could I Have Gotten it So Wrong?

553db62f-d3ff-45ba-9eda-0770aa6751e6When was the last time you came to the realization that you had been wrong the whole time? Was it a misunderstanding with your spouse or a friend? A decision at work or about your personal finances?

I don’t do it enough…think about the way I’m thinking…the way I’m believing…

Have you got God all figured out yet?

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. – I Corinthians 13: 12

Mirrors back then were not like the one you have today or the ones we use to see distant galaxies. They were like looking at shimmering puddle of water.

We all carry around so many biases in our thinking.

  • Confirmation bias – the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.
  • Self-serving bias perceiving oneself responsible for desirable outcomes but not responsible for undesirable ones.
  • Just-world phenomenon – the tendency for people to believe that the world is just and therefore people “get what they deserve.”

We end up believing that we know much more than we really do. Sometimes we run the risk of making big assumptions about how God thinks and will act. We interpret our circumstances with a biased thinking that clouds our faith.

Do you imagine that Jonah (the rebel) believed he was being delivered when he found himself inside that big fish? Did Zacchaeus (the spectator) really think Jesus would find him up in that tree and they would actually sit down to dinner? What about that woman (the outsider) who went to draw her water at the well and had a conversation with a stranger who challenged all of her assumptions about life?

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine…”  – Isaiah 55:8

  • I thought all the big plans for the future were null and void and then, over time, began to just want today.
  • I thought I was in exile, but then came to see that I was kept safely away from the devastating storm.
  • I thought I was all alone but then one day awakened to the realization that I had been in conversation with someone deep in my heart every single moment.

While I’m not a Christian fatalist, I don’t believe everything happens for a reason…Nor am I one who holds God responsible for all that occurs in this world. I’ve made too many messes to ever think I could get away with blaming Him. I do think God loves me. I know that he will guide my steps. I believe that he will take care of me – keep me from drowning, even when I’m too afraid to walk on the water.

My experiences here in this world can never become absolute reality. This mirror is too dim. I make so many mistakes. But I really can take hold of the promises that God has made and then make it day by day. In so doing (it’s a practice) this will transform the way I think about myself, my circumstances, and all the people I meet along the way.

And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.  In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises.  – I Peter 1:4-5

What kind of response does God deserve today?