Relationship and religion
“Christianity is a relationship not a religion.” We hear this phrase all the time and many catchy variations have made their way unto Christian paraphernalia. I originally understood the undercurrent of this phrase as a warning against legalism and an exhortation toward intimately and personally knowing God. That however evolved into a staunch rejection of structure and routine in our walk with the Lord.
The later manifestation looks like, "Don’t judge me and my personal relationship with the Lord." Whilst I believe that the out-working of individual relationships might appear different, I know that there is sort of prescription from scripture for how God expects us to relate to Him. I don’t believe these two concepts of relationship and religion are mutually exclusive, but with all things in life, there’s a balance that needs to be struck.
We serve a great, big, awesome, loving and invisible God, who though we can clearly see His attributes, the fact is that we can’t see Him. This, I think might be the difficulty for many Christians in understanding how to relate to God.
Human relationships can be inherently difficult to navigate because of personality types, background and beliefs, and when we add the variable of distance, it complicates the matter even further. How then do we relate to an invisible God?
We see the children of Israel being given the opportunity to be close to God in Exodus chapter 19 and opting to let Sir Moses be the mediator between them and God instead. The books of the Bible reveal God’s desire to be with His people but under his terms of holiness and righteousness. Jesus is the culmination of God’s pursuit of reconciliation to himself. Jesus was also the example of what closeness to the Father should entail in our physical frames.
I’ve observed that there is a perception of how we think an intimate relationship with a partner should be and throwing that unrealistic expectation on God as well. Relationship is not void of routine. Jesus, God in flesh met with the Father, and was constantly in contact with God.
There becomes a tension when we expect these things to flow naturally all the time and not expect that there’ll be times we have to put systems in place to ensure we guard our intimacy with God. This is a necessity simply because distractions exist.
In all reality, we see where we have to be deliberate about the relationships we want to work. Date nights, or the mundane of just talking or even the commitment to working through uncomfortable situations, calls for deliberate actions to be taken rather than automatic flowing of intimacy. So, prayer, fasting, reading the word and evangelism are always things that we need to contend for as basic features of our journey.
Seek and find
Throughout scripture we are exhorted to seek after God. In my mind, seeking does not amount to passively hoping that you’ll buck up on God, but it speaks to intentionality and action. Religion or tradition paints a picture of rigidity and structure. Whilst to a large extent that is what it is, I think there is merit in adapting the quickly dismissed form and structure that comes with it.
Structure leads to habits that will help us to contend for intimacy when we don’t "feel" like it. We are new creatures and thus need retraining. There are some things of the spirit that will have to be a matter of discipline and intimacy with God is one such.
Jhonelle is a Jesus enthusiast and Christian youth leader. She’s a lover of all things related to discipleship and a freelance writer.