I enjoy listening to podcasts of some pastors’ teachings before I go to bed at night, and my favorites currently are usually from A Jesus Church in my dear Portland, Oregon. I just listened to one from around Christmas time last year, in which pastor John Mark was talking about the four different ways most people relate to God (and thus to other people). (This is where you could skip the post and just go listen to the sermon - it's fantastic: www.ajesuschurch.org/teaching)
. Here are
some of my notes – see if you can find traces of yourself:
1. Life Under God – This is an if-then relationship that subconsciously sees God as a vending machine that gives us equal for what we put in. A person who relates to God this way believes that if they do good things for God, they rightfully deserve the blessings God owes them. In relating to people, they are people-pleasers and can’t take criticism. These people value safety and security, can easily get angry with God for not giving them what they believe they’ve earned, and their greatest fear is disaster, tragedy, or losing control. This view often treats the Scriptures as a rulebook, simply a list of do’s and don’ts.
2. Life Over God – As it sounds, this kind of relating to God is nearly secular in that it does not see God as involved and supreme in every (or any) area of life. These people do whatever they want whenever they want, or take control of things themselves. This can tend to show itself through things like more “4-steps to a healthy marriage” than truly going to God for solutions. With others, they can be controlling or see others as a means of getting where they want to go, treating them somewhat like employees. They value plans and control, and are scared to death of change and the unpredictable and surrender to God. In life over God, people view the Scriptures as a collection of helpful principles to get ahead in their career or family or education, etc.
3. Life From God – These people are usually more interested in what they get from God than in God himself. This means of relating to God is extremely common in our modern, consumerist culture. A sociologist named Christian Smith spent years studying the emerging religious life of young Americans, and says that they see God as, “A combination of divine butler and cosmic therapist. They are primarily concerned with one’s own happiness.” The goal becomes the gift, not the giver. Similarly, other people’s worth is determined by their usefulness to you, whether they make you look better, whether you benefit from them. These people tend to value money and stuff and success and health, and worry about money and stuff and success and health. These people can see the Scripture as a pep talk to get you through the day, which is why they may often slip into wanting Bible devotionals or tweets or instagrams more than the Bible itself.
4. Life For God – The people who relate to God this way are usually the go-getters, the missionaries, the people constantly wanting to do more. Their greatest desire is to see the kingdom of God come to earth, and nothing will stop them from being involved in bringing it. They value accomplishment and achievement, and their greatest fear is living a normal, average life. To them, Scriptures are a manifesto for the kingdom. Other people’s worth is determined by their involvement in the mission of God.
After these descriptions, John Mark said, “All four see relationships with God as a means to an end. The problem with that is that God is an end in and of Himself.”
Now, you are probably much quicker than I am, and you probably understood that all four of these means of relating to God are off-centered. But the first time I listened to this teaching, I was completely taken off guard. Through the entire description of “life for God,” I thought John Mark was describing the correct response to God, and I was tempted to pat myself on the back. But I was wrong. Of course, there is a little bit of truth in each one: Yes, God often blesses us for following His way of living. Yes, Biblical principles can be practically used. Yes, the Scripture can help us get through the day. And yes, we want to see the kingdom of God come on earth. But there is something so much better!
Life with God.
When we live life with God, we live because of Him, because we just love Him. We want to spend time with Him for the sake of just being with Him! John Mark told a story about when his 5-year-old son wanted to come Christmas shopping with him, and was told that if he came, his dad wouldn’t be able to get any presents for him! His son responded, “I’d rather go with you than get anything!” That is the essence of “with-ness.” Desiring the presence and person of God without needing to get anything from Him.
In life with God, Scripture is a context and space for you to meet with Jesus. You can pray by speaking, or by listening, or by sitting in peaceful silence just enjoying the presence. And that presence continues with you everywhere, getting to the heart of what Paul meant by “prayer without ceasing.”
When we live life with God, we value God. And we fear nothing, except God, because nothing can take Him away from us. “With God” means we simply want Him, and everything else follows as it may.
Now, as I was learning these principles, my immediate reaction was, “Okay, so what do I need to do to live life with God like you’re saying?” But praise the Father for revealing to me quickly that this was my life-for-God-self jumping in again trying to do it all. Rather, I remembered Isaiah 26:12, which says, "O LORD, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works." God is God, and He has fully saved and will fully sanctify me – I will just consent to let Him do it. After all, it’s not just about us being “with God.”
Maybe you’re wondering why this was a Christmas sermon? I believe this concept is so beautifully concluded with the realization that, as always, God is the one taking the action, and we simply believe. At Christmas, we remember that it’s not just about getting “with God.” We remember that He chose to be Immanuel. God with us.