Letting God Out of the Box

In his book, What is Reformed Theology? Understanding the Basics, R.C. Sproul explains the difference between Religion and Theology. He explains that religion is the study of particular types of human behavior, while theology is the study of God. In other words, religion is man-centered while theology is God-centered. It has occurred to me slowly over the last few months that much of what we do as Christians has little to do with God. We seem intent on practicing a religion that is man-centered.

The desire of any Christian should be to focus his life on Christ. We should all be more interested in how God would want our faith to play out in our lives. Too often, we take our cues from our pastors, denominations, authors, small groups, and other areas of influence when we should be taking our cues from Christ.

Sometimes, I think we have created a faith that has little to do with the real living God.

I am beginning to lose interest in the faith we have created. In the faith we have created, we expect God to manifest Himself in a variety of ways. How many times have you heard someone say after a church or worship service, “Wow, I could really feel God’s presence in there,” or, “The spirit was really moving during that sermon.” Have you ever heard someone say that during a moment when you didn’t feel God at all? I know I have. It is in those moments that I feel like the worst Christian in the Kingdom. There’s been moments when I wondered why everyone else seemed to sense God’s presence when I couldn’t. I wondered what I was doing wrong. Then it ocurred to me … those people are lying.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that you can never feel God’s presence during church or feel the Spirit moving during a worship session; however, I am saying that we have created a church environment where you fall short as a Christian if you don’t feel God’s presence at the right moments. So much of what we do as a church and as Christians involves creating moments for God to reveal Himself. We create emotional sermons, passionate worship songs, tear-jerking service opportunities, and intimate small group discussions with the expectation that God will participate when and where we say so. There are even some denominations that expect the Holy Spirit to make you jump around, dance, and speak in tongues; and if it doesn’t happen, there is something wrong with you.

It is as if someone says, “Let God out of His box now so we can all feel better about ourselves … just be sure to put Him away when we’re done!”

I am nearly forty years old and I have been a Christian for going on ten years. While there have been several times in my life when I have felt God’s presence and even times when I felt as if Jesus were speaking right to me, I must admit that none of these moments occurred on demand. Rather, God has spoken to me in moments of His choosing. Do we really think that we can demand the Creator of the universe to speak to us because it is Sunday morning and expect to get a response?

When you study the life of Christ it is apparent that He never acted and responded to the people around Him in the way they expected. He changed all of the rules and all the expectations they had for their savior. He was a rebel that refused to be typecast. Shouldn’t we expect Him to be the same now. I fear that far too often, we attempt to turn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into our own personal puppet.

In his book, Real Church, Larry Crab attributes all of this to an addiction to ourselves. I couldn’t agree more. We create these moments for God to participate in our religion because we selfishly want to feel His presence on our schedules. We play worship music not because we feel He is worthy of our praise, but rather because it gets our adrenaline pumping and makes us feel better about ourselves. We create service opportunites not out of a desire to serve our fellow man, but rather because it makes us feel better about ourselves. We pick and choose our churches like we pick and choose our movies … we’re not interested in attending the church where God wants us because we are too busy trying to find the one that entertains us the most.

Our religion has become all about us when it is supposed to be all about God.

Study the life of any saint worth remembering and you will find they lived a life that was God-centered rather than man-centered. Mother Teresa’s life would have been impossible if she had been afflicted with this addiction to self. Rather than wasting her time creating opportunities for God to reveal Himself, Teresa went about the business of serving her fellow humans and waited patiently for God. By her own account, she went decades without feeling the presence of God … but yet continued to wait for Him.

God is not fast food. We can not have Him our way. We can only experience Him in His way and on His schedule. Larry Crabb teaches that this anticipation is more valuable at times than any experience we can have of God in this life. Jesus taught that this life is all about anticipation. Heaven is so close we can taste it. We should look forward to it like a little child does Christmas morning. There is no experience we can have in this life that will come close to the experience of being with Christ in Heaven … we should embrace this anticipation and quit trying to put the cart before the horse.

Church, sermons, worship songs, service, small groups …. these are all good things if they serve to increase our anticipation for God. He will reveal Himself to us on His schedule. The Spirit will move among us … not like a pay per view movie, but rather like the living, breathing God that He is. We should embrace those moments when we can’t feel God’s presence in this world because He has  promised we will live entirely in His presence someday.

Manipulating God into doing our bidding … creating moments that feel religious … these are the things that false religions are made of. These are the things I no longer have an interest in.

Father, my prayer is for you to speak to me and fill me with the Spirit as you see fit. I ask that you help me stop and take notice of You in the moments You are trying to speak to me. In the moments that I can’t feel Your presence, I ask that You fill me with anticipation. Father, I want to desire your presence like a child desires his Christmas present. Lord, lead me to worship, praise, study, and serve with the right motives. Help me to conquer my addiction to self and become more addicted to anticipating You.

Amen.

Further Reading:

Real Church by Larry Crabb
What is Reformed Theology by R.C. Sproul
Living in the Power of the Holy Spirit by Charles Stanley

3 thoughts on “Letting God Out of the Box

  1. Todd French August 5, 2009 / 2:01 pm

    Awesome piece Clark! I couldn’t agree with you more. It really gets at the dilemma a person faces when they don’t ‘feel’ or ‘experience’ what everyone around them seems to be.

    Speaking for myself, I tend not to focus on what everyone else is saying about their experience of a given event. I tend to focus on what happened for me. Did I worship God? Was my expression of worship consistent with the core of my being? Did I engage the circumstance honestly and allow it to seep into my soul? Did I repent where I needed to? Did I rejoice where I needed to? If all of those things are true, then I really don’t mind if I didn’t have a mountaintop experience with God in the process.

    If God is worshipped in spirit and in truth, then the rest is just detail.

    Like

  2. Ty August 9, 2009 / 8:16 pm

    Great post, Clark (and Todd, great posts from you, too).

    Clark, I think you’ve pointed out one of the reasons some people shy away from church at various points in their lives, or don’t stay with the church. They don’t feel like they’re part of anything, and they’re drawing upon the cues of those around them. When they see others spouting about how they felt God’s presence, but they themselves didn’t, it can be discouraging.

    Like

  3. Clark Goble August 11, 2009 / 8:45 am

    Hey there Ty … its a little ironic actually. A person who is seeking a genuine relationship with Christ is going to feel the most out of place in an environment that encourages fake (for lack of a better word) cues that signal God’s presence.

    Like

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