If I asked you to tell me how you came to believe in God, could you tell me that story?
How is it that you have come to believe in God? What experiences brought you to that belief?
I know people who have had wildly radical experiences that led them to believe in God, and I know people that haven’t really had anything extraordinary happen to them, but they still believe in God just the same.
I know people that came to believe in God later in life, and I know people who have believed in God as long as they can remember. And–at least as I’ve observed it so far–belief is a very personal and contextual occurrence.
When you think about your relationship with God, could you tell me that story? How do you feel like God has been there for you? How has God helped you? What do you think that God has done for you?
Then let’s flip that around and ask the more difficult set of questions: How have you been there for God? How have you helped God? What have you done for God?
I get it; these questions are a bit more existential. God doesn’t really need us to do anything. And yet, if we claim to have a relationship with God, that kind of necessitates that we respond, right?
God gives us grace, by grace we have faith, and as a result of faith, we are led to works. Grace is an action. Some would even contend that Grace is a virtue, but even then, a virtue is an action. And that means, in order for us to foster a relationship, we need to respond.
We wouldn’t say that two people are in a relationship if it is only one sided.
If I was constantly showing care for my child, and my child never once acknowledged me or sought to respond to me, I might still love my child, but there is no way one could say that we had a true connection or relationship.
And so the tougher question that this raises is that if we say we believe in God, but our actions don’t reflect that fact, do we really believe? Or do we just say we do? Is an affirmation with our voice enough?
I think it depends. I have seen people at the end of their life who were capable of no other action than to affirm their allegiance to Jesus with their lips. And I believe that that verbal affirmation was a faithful response. I also think that it is absolutely important for us to speak our reality into existence. But, on the other hand, I likewise know that it is possible to say one thing and do another altogether.
If you need proof of that, look no further than political elections. Politicians will often tell people whatever they want to hear to get our vote. Sometimes, they’ll even regularly lie or tell half-truths to us. I know, you are just shocked to learn this, right? Of course you aren’t, because you have experienced it over and over. You are used to it. You’ve even probably come to expect it.
Many politicians don’t know us, they will never know us, and they certainly will never have a relationship with us. They won’t have a relationship with us because the only interaction we will have with them is that we will vote. That’s it. It’s not completely one sided, mind you; the politician may do things while in office that impact us. But most of the time, it won’t actually be because of us that they’ll do those things. Instead, it will more likely will be because of an ideology, another goal they have politically or otherwise that drives them to take the action.
And while I think that it is easy to criticize politicians for this, I would contend after a couple of decades of working in ministry that many churches are no different. Many churches will often tell us whatever we want to hear to get our vote, or our approval, or our money. Sometimes, they too even lie or tell half-truths to us. And if you’ve lived long enough, you’ve likely seen this, if only in the news.
The harder thing to hear is that we are often no different in our relationship to God. Sometimes we tell God whatever it is that we think God wants to hear. Sometimes we even lie or tell half-truths to God. And we do this for many reasons, but it’s usually because we want to justify our wants, desires, or possessions.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be that kind of church, and I certainly don’t want to be that kind of disciple.
Don’t get me wrong, I am actually pretty sympathetic to people trying to direct the government or large institutions. Those aren’t easy jobs, and it takes really good systems to truly take care of people because no one, outside of God, can do all of that work by themselves.
That being said, in my opinion, there are just some things that shouldn’t be sugarcoated, either. In many ways, the church has just become all about telling people that everything is going to be alright. And in the process of doing so, many churches have stopped telling us the other things that we also need to hear in order to grow, so that things actually can be alright. One of those things that the church doesn’t say enough to people is that, like all relationships, being in relationship with God isn’t easy. Personally, I think that it is actually really difficult.
For me, it’s like running. It’s really good for me, I like how I feel when I do it, and I like the results that I get from doing it. But at the same time, in an odd way, if I want to get better at it, I have to push myself while I’m doing it. Which isn’t always easy for me, and sometimes there are moments that are so challenging that I’m not even sure that I’ll be able to continue to do it.
Discipleship is a lot like this. If we really want to show people love, we not only have to tell people to do the tough thing, but we have to be willing to do the tough thing with them. We’ll like parts of the journey, but other parts may be so challenging that we won’t be sure if we can continue.
Saying difficult things like this is exactly what Jesus does in the Gospels.
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew 22:1-14 is a great example of Jesus telling folks the tough thing. God has offered an invitation to humanity to be part of a great marriage–the marriage of Heaven and Earth–and this joyous union will bring about God’s Kingdom and engraft them into the family of God. But many folks don’t want to hear such things. They dismiss the invitation. They shoot the messengers, or just behave badly, but others–in maybe the most interesting part of this whole passage, in verse 5–simply choose to ignore God by fiddling their time away at home or at work.
This may initially seem a bit strange. After all, what is wrong with spending time at home? Or what is wrong with work? Well, nothing, inherently. But when those activities, or any activities, get in the way of us helping to unite Heaven and Earth, then they have become idols.
This brings us back to the question: what have you done for God lately? I can easily binge-watch a series on Netflix, or talk about politics for an hour, or do this or that hobby or watch a three-hour football game… But am I as committed to bringing about the Kingdom of God? One can work a whole lot of hours doing all sorts of things for our jobs, but how are we actually leveraging that work for the Kingdom? One can make money hand over fist, but how are we prioritizing those resources to move God’s Kingdom forward?
And when we talk to God, if we talk to God outside of when it is convenient for us, what do we tell God about how we spend this time or these resources? Do we tell God the truth? Do we really seek to have a relationship with God, or are we just looking to use God to justify our own behaviors and desires?
In this particular parable, it’s likely that we are the people who have been initially invited to the marriage that will bring about the Kingdom of God. We have been invited to share in the great joy of the union between Heaven and Earth. We get to be right in the midst of the party. If we respond.
But I think one of the most difficult things for church people to hear is that if we choose to ignore this invitation of the King, it won’t be us who will end up celebrating in the end, because a relationship cannot be a relationship if it is only one way.
We can say we believe in God, but if we don’t act, it won’t be us at the party. It will end up being someone else altogether.
It’s important to remember that we aren’t entitled to a relationship with God. For it to be a relationship, we actually have to want it, pursue it, and express love in it. We have to learn who God is, what God likes, and what we have to offer in the relationship.
When you love someone, you want to serve them. You feel joy being in their presence. You care about their dreams and helping them to make those dreams a reality. You take pleasure in giving them gifts. You believe in them, and you live to create a story with them.
So when you think about how your life is going–when you think about your relationships–again, what is your story with God?
Reality Changing Observations:
1. If I asked you to tell me about your relationship with God, what would be your story?
2. What have you done recently to show God that you love God?
3. What is something that you don’t do currently, but that you could do in the future to show God love?