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Christian Living

ChurchWatch 11/29/11

Relating to God in "With"

In his new book, ‘With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God’, Skye Jethani identifies the four “postures,” or ways people are relating to God, that are responsible:

  • Life From God - Those in this category want God’s blessings and gifts, but they are not particularly interested in God himself.
  • Life Over God - With a focus on organizational principles rather than prayer, one doesn’t have much space in his life or ministry for God. The mystery and wonder of the world is lost as God is abandoned in favor of proven formulas and controllable outcomes.
  • Life For God - The significant life, it believes, is the one expended accomplishing great things in God’s service. (Perhaps the most popular posture!)
  • Life Under God - Sees God in simple cause-and-effect terms—we obey His commands and He blesses our life/ family/nation. Our primary role is to determine what He approves (or disapproves) of and work vigilantly to remain within those boundaries.

So, instead of life over, under, from, or even for God … what leads us into freedom and restoration?

"Life with God is different," says Jethani, "because its goal is not to use God; its goal is God."

"When God becomes our goal," he explains, "He ceases to be a device we employ or a commodity we consume. Instead, God himself becomes the focus of our desire. But before we can really desire God, we must have a clear understanding of who He is and what He is like. The reason most people gravitate to one of the other four postures is because they’ve never received a clear vision of who God really is, and so they settle for something less."

Jethani points to Jesus, who provides an entirely different way of relating to God.  Rather than stumbling in the darkness between forms of religion that are each a variation of fear and control (Life Under, Over, From and For God), through Christ, the lights are turned on and our attention is drawn to an entirely different vision—life with God.

Q&A with author Skye Jethani

Q: You say in your book, With, that you are concerned we are inoculating an entire generation to the Christian faith. How do you see that happening?

A: Many come to church with a holy desire to know God, to experience his presence in their lives, to be cared for like sheep entrusted to a meek and gentle shepherd. But this is not what they see or experience. In fact they may leave the church without ever seeing a beautiful and enthralling vision of life with God. The lights are never turned on to reveal the beauty that is present just behind the shadows. Instead they are offered a substitute form of Christianity, one that cannot break through the shadows and that never really satisfies the deepest longings of their souls. When their experience of faith leaves them disappointed they may falsely conclude that Christianity has failed. In reality, to quote G.K. Chesterton, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

Q: What has been your own personal experience with a particular posture that you mention in the book?

A: My Christian tradition had taught me that obeying God’s commands and being devoted to his work in the world was the prescription for joy, peace, contentment, and fulfillment, and this is what I had been teaching others. But after a decade in ministry the evidence, within and around me, was failing to verify this assumption. I could not explain why many of the people accomplishing the most for God seemed to reflect his character the least. Rather than being marked by peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and love many of them were anxious, impatient, rude, aggressive, and sometimes even spiteful. This was not universally the case, I certainly know godly men and women in ministry, but the lack of godliness among church leaders was far more common than I was comfortable with. And I saw these same disturbing traits within me as I gave myself over to the work of God and ministry. Simply put, living for God was proving to be detrimental for my soul.

Q: Your discomfort with the popular “postures” advocated by the church reached a tipping point a few years ago when you began mentoring a number of college students. What happened?

A: Most of these very intelligent young men and women had grown up in Christian homes. They had significant church involvement in their backgrounds, and some even lived with missionary parents overseas. They knew the Bible better than most, and they could engage in meaningful theological and cultural discussions. I truly enjoyed my time with them. But when I started exploring their personal communion with Christ, their practices of prayer, their understanding of sin, and how they related to God, I was dismayed. To some my questions were incomprehensible. “What do you mean, how am I experiencing God?” one would say. Others admitted never being taught how to pray apart from the perfunctory grace before meals and bedtime. Most could not identify any time of meaningful transcendence or moments of peace or joy in God’s presence. They often gauged the quality of their faith on one measure alone—how well they controlled their sexual desires. Many spoke about God as a theological reality, a sterile calculation, or the way an office worker at a large corporation might speak about the CEO whose portrait hangs on the wall but whom he’s never met. Admiration and respect were evident and even a dedication to service, but personal knowledge of God was largely absent.

Q: Where does the concept of Life WITH God come from?

A: The opening verse of John’s gospel is one of many texts in the Scriptures that support the Christian belief in a Trinitarian God. The Trinity, the notion of one eternal God existing in three persons (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit) is a foundational, and admittedly mind-twisting, doctrine of Christianity. But it is also where Life With God finds its origin. With Jesus an entirely different way of relating to God is revealed to us.

Q: Why do Christians have such difficulty grasping the call to live with God?

A: Our instinct, like all people, is to seek self-rule and a posture apart from God. The Scriptures and Christian tradition call this rebellious human desire for control apart from God sin. Yet most of us retain some sense that God is important, that He must be factored into our lives in some way even if only to control Him. But rather than engage in life-giving communion with Him, we opt for one of the other four postures through which we try to manipulate, use, cajole, or appease Him.

Since Eden, our human capacity to relate properly with God has been severely impaired. Like pilots in a fog with malfunctioning instruments, we cannot tell that we are flying upside down, no matter how sincere our efforts at navigating may be. This is the affect of sin. Life With God is different because its goal is not to use God; it’s goal is God. He ceases to be a device we employ or a commodity we consume. Instead, God himself becomes the focus of our desire. But before we can really desire God we must have a clear understanding of who He is and what He is like. The reason most people gravitate to one of the other four postures is because they’ve never received a clear vision of who God is, and so they settle for something less.

Q: So how can Christians experience this constant communion with God?

A: The Gospels show that Jesus lived in constant communion with the Father even when no words were used. This view of prayer is what Paul had in mind when he commands Christians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Paul is calling us to live as Jesus did -- in constant communion with God. This is made possible by the presence of God’s Spirit within us. We are invited to live in ongoing communion with God, and this is made possible through the presence of his Spirit who is with us. By granting us his presence through the Holy Spirit, we can, as Dallas Willard said, “have our treasure now.” We can live in constant, unending communion with God.

Q: You say in your book that control is an illusion, but what is the alternative? How can we be set free from fear, apart from our feeble attempts at control?

A: No amount of control will ever be enough to ensure our safety, and no amount of control will ever remove our fears. In addition, whatever comfort we do gain through control is little more than a placebo effect. We are fooling ourselves into believing we are safe when in fact we are not. Faith is the opposite of seeking control. It is surrendering control. It embraces the truth that control is an illusion -- we never had it and we never will. Rather than trying to overcome our fears by seeking more control, the solution offered by Life With God is precisely the opposite -- we overcome fear by surrendering control. But surrender is only possible if we have total assurance that we are safe. We must be convinced that if we let go, we’ll be caught. This assurance only comes when we trust that our heavenly Father desires to be with us & won’t let us fall.

Q: And this Life With God posture is what breaks the cycle of fear and control that plagues the other four postures of religious life.

A: Yes. Once this cycle is interrupted, genuine faith (surrender), hope (purpose), and ultimately love, become accessible to us. What brings a person value, significance, and hope is not what he does, but who he does it with. The call to live in continual communion with God means that every person’s life, no matter how mundane, is elevated to sacred heights.

Order your copy of ‘With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God

Learn more about Skye Jathani at www.skyejethani.com

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