Choose Relationship Over Religion

Another Year of Choices

By Barbara Dahlgren

Those who sing, “Give me that old time religion; it’s good enough for me…” may not know what they are asking for.

Exactly what is religion?  Dictionaries define it as belief in a god, group of gods or the supernatural.  It can include service, worship, practices, traditions, rules, and observances.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t include a relationship with the living God.

Some pacify their need for religion by going to church once a week, wearing a cross around the neck, putting a fish emblem on a car, carrying a “Prayer of Jabez” key chain, or saying, “God bless you!” when someone sneezes.  These are not bad things to do, but if that’s all Christians rely on, they are missing the mark.  That’s what happened to the Pharisees – they missed the mark.

Jesus had a great deal of patience towards sinners.  He healed them, ate with them, extended them kindness and compassion.  However, He was not fond of the Pharisees – the religious leaders of the time who religiously kept religious laws, traditions, and observances.  They even added a few of their own to make themselves even more religious in the eyes of others.  Their over zealousness did not endear them to Christ.  In fact, it repulsed Him.  He called them vipers, evil, hypocrites, sons of the devil, blind and a few other things we don’t have time or space to explore. (Matthew 23)

You see, God is not looking for religion; He’s looking for relationship.

God created us as relational beings.  Humans long to connect with others.  We want people to understand us, empathize with us, share our joy, feel our pain, and so on.  For this to happen we must open ourselves up to others.  We talk; they talk.  We listen; they listen.  It takes a little time, but well worth the effort.

Well, God is relational as well.  He longs for a relationship with us, but He will not force it on us.  He will beckon or encourage us to come to Him.  He will make himself available.  He will love us.  He will stand at the door and knock, but He won’t come in and fellowship with us unless He is invited. (Revelation 3:20) He initiates, but we must respond on our own.

Some talk about “building a relationship” with God and while I think there is some merit to that phrase, it does make me think of hard labor.  Therefore, I’ve been leaning more towards words like interaction and participation in regards to a relationship with God.

Hebrews 13.8 - Water LiliesConsider this… Jesus is the same – yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) He is always near, ready and willing to connect with us.  We don’t have to build a high tower to be closer to Him.  We just need to reach out and He’s there.

How do we reach out?  We reach out through communication, which is a give and take process.  We talk and He listens.  He talks and we listen.

There is a fancy name for talking with God.  It’s called prayer.  The purpose of prayer is to spend time with God, communicating with Him. We tell him how we feel from the heart.  Since we don’t always feel the same way, our talks will vary.  Sometimes we might be angry or frightened. Sometimes we might be elated and joyful.  Sometimes we are anxious and worried.  Sometimes we are overwhelmed by God’s goodness and full of praise.  And we should always be able to find something to be thankful for.  We talk to God just like we would talk to our most intimate friend – from the heart and often.

So how does God talk to us?  God spoke to Moses through a burning bush, but I wouldn’t wait for that to happen today.  If we ask God to interact with us, He will probably do it through what we come in contact with in our daily routine – maybe through a Bible scripture, a sunset, a child’s smile, a co-worker’s off handed comment, a friend’s concern, a quote we read in a book, or various circumstances.  It may come in the form of comfort, wisdom, or even correction.  Since we are not all alike, God communicates with each of us differently.  However, we must be receptive if we want to hear what God is saying. So our thoughts need to be on Him throughout the day.

Old Time Religion

My advice is to forget that old time religion.  It’s not good enough for me and it’s not good enough for you because God did not create us for religion.  God created us for relationship.

Suggestions for practicing this choice…

  • Say this to yourself throughout the day: “God is not mad at me.  God loves me.”  God may not like everything you do but He will never stop loving you.
  • Say this to yourself throughout the day: “God is not impressed with my works; God wants my heart.”  Stop trying to work your way into heaven by adhering to a self-imposed list of dos and don’ts to make you feel more “religious.”
  • Say this to yourself throughout the day: “God is interested in everything I do.” Actually, God and your mother are probably the only ones who are interested in everything you do.  And to be honest – you can’t always count on mom.  She might just be feigning interest.
  • Say this to yourself throughout the day: “As I draw near to God, He draws near to me.” (James 4:8)
  • Say this to yourself throughout the day: “Lord, I desperately want a relationship with you.  Help me be attuned to your presence all around me.”
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