There have been many things to steal our peace this year. I was thinking about prayer and my relationship with God. I know that often, probably too often, my prayers begin with “I” statements or “I” requests. Sometimes even in an attempt to be humble, my I statements might be self-deprecating in order for some manufactured perspective but even this makes the focus on me and still misses the point.
I have noticed that a pattern in my life when times are difficult. We have probably all heard that prayer is not meant to change God but us. If that is true than all my prayers are doubly missing the mark only in that they keep the focus on me. It really does keep us from entering into his presence with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. My religion of “I” needs to be lost and not found again. But that will never come about until I identify some of the fundamentals of “I” religion.
One obvious one is whether or not God lets us have more than we can handle. “I” religion will never believe this, I understand this idea. But the question we have to answer is what is more than we can handle? If we think that this means God won’t allow bad stuff to happen, well then I understand why people won’t believe this, because people experience tragedy all the time. But what if it is actually more than we can handle from God’s perspective? He says when we are tempted that he will provide a way of escape. (1 Corinthians 10:13) This does not say that we will not fall but it says there is help, an escape route is available if we would only reach for it. But when I am overcome, do I look for it?
I think the reality of this idea is trying to communicate the truth of Romans 8, about nothing being able to separate us from him. But this is prefaced on if we turn to him. If we have a habit of not going to him more often than we do we will be overcome. That is not that he allowed an insurmountable problem to destroy us. It means we didn’t turn to him when he was there to be found. So now we are stuck in a prison of our situation not realizing that he is still there offering help.
The religion of “I” does not lift its head and fall into the everlasting arms. This is something that we discover only as we pursue him. Paul reminds us that persecution would come if we desire to live godly lives.(2 Timothy 3:12)
Another aspect of “I” religion is that I expect certain benefits to the Christian life. When I do not experience the benefits I feel should be mine I become discontent or worse disillusioned in my relationship. This is the problem with the “I” religion, not my actual relationship with God. God says if you expect me to prevent pain in your life than you will be disappointed, but if you expected me to be present throughout your life then you are rightly placing your faith.
Realizing that life it not about us is a hallmark of maturity. Realizing that Christianity is not about us is the hallmark of a genuine relationship with God. (This is also the hallmark of any healthy relationship)
Until we cast down the idols of the “I” religion, which is ironically ourselves, we will never experience the deep relationship with Christ that comes about by truly abiding. This is really about developing, growing and becoming the kind of person that others want to be in relationship with, including God. God can’t truly be in relationship with us if we are the center of our worlds. God is not going to waste time coming into our kingdoms to hang out. We have to get off our thrones smash them and come into his.
“I” religion is so easy to fall into. I expect God to do certain things and I grow sad when he doesn’t, or worse we are tempted to walk away because he didn’t deliver. We say God doesn’t come through when all we were really looking for was a certain definition of “how” and “when” God grants comfort. But God delivers in his time, and in his way. (James 4:13-17)
I want to encourages us to all to continue to walking with God, soon you will be coming home. But God wants us to walk with him in his kingdom not ours. His guarantees are a vibrant relationship as you invest in it. He guarantees eternal life when we pass. He guarantees his presence in the midst of trouble and the presence of the counselor the Holy Spirit. He guarantees to be with us and that nothing will separate us from him as we press into him. He rewards our faith with more of himself. This results in a confidence and hope during storms that helps us to weather them that much better. Even during turbulent elections and unsettling futures. Tough times come but we have to hold onto God. If we think American must look a certain way, if we think church must look a certain way or if we belive our lives must work a certain way we will be disappointed and then wonder about God.
The truth of the matter is this. Christianity is simply living as if God was real and that we have a real relationship with him. Working out all the implications of this is a life-long journey, but it is so rewarding. We start to realize that we can release control, we can release the need to be vindicated, we can release all the pain, bitterness and lusts that drive us to establish our own kingdoms and rest in a better one.
This is why it is so important to read the Bible and let God define himself and his kingdom for us. It is so easy to throw off things we dislike but we need God’s help to not throw off the blessings that come from abiding. God says if you abide/remain in me then I will remain in you, apart from him we can do nothing. (John 15:7) We may for a while think that what he says is nothing is actually something. God help us to see what it really is without You.
Apart from him we can do nothing, but with him the whole world is up for grabs.