Most of us have about had it with religion! Religion seems to be ineffective, at best, and often we seem to be moving backward with our practices and traditions. We are tempted to just leave it all behind and just cut our losses. We gave it a good shot — we tried — but, it’s almost causing more harm than good. The trouble is that even when we don’t want to be religious, in a way, most of us still are. Skye Jethani, in his book ‘With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God,’ says the following:
“All man-made religion is a system of control, predicated by fear”
When we look around, we see a dangerous world. Viewing the world as dangerous causes us to experience fear. The reason most of us are religious is because all of us care about something. When we experience fear about what might happen to that thing we care about, we attempt to control it. The trouble, as many have stated, is that trying to control it doesn’t really make our world less dangerous — it generally makes it worse. Trying to control others (other nations, other groups, or just other people) generally causes us to act in ways that are irrational. Think about the various religious organizations and try to remember times that those institutions tried to control — didn’t it make matters worse on most occasions? We either make it worse or withdraw into our own little world where nothing can get to us. Jethani discussed four postures of religion.
The Four Postures of Religion (Skye Jethani)
Life Under God – In a life under God, we attempt to control God through rituals and morality. In this posture, we see our actions as the strings that manipulate God. Like a puppet master, we assume doing the right things will cause God to act in the way we assume He should. Of course, the problems comes when we do everything right and God doesn’t do what we expect. We may also eventually realize we cannot keep it up forever. Many of us become discouraged and blame it on religion or God or just quietly give up and walk away.
Life Over God – In a life over God, we systematically cut God out of the picture. We assume natural laws or our intelligence or our understanding allow us to proceed without God. After all, religion is just an archaic system that doesn’t work anymore, right? This posture is actually adopted by many Christians without realizing it. Many of us have been known to get our control from the Scriptures. If we are not careful, we began to worship Scripture instead of Jesus. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). It’s very possible to worship Scripture and miss Jesus in a life over God.
Life From God – In a life from God, we experience the most popular modern posture. This posture is characterized by our desires and a belief that God exists to help me. Most parents of teenagers can relate to the “hand out” methodology that assumes we deserve something. In the story of the Prodigal son, this is the son that demanded his inheritance and then proceeded to waste what the father gave him. Many modern pastors, especially in pop Christianity, excel at this posture – they simply determine what people want and then tell them that God is how you get it.
Life for God – In a life for God, we believe our existence is to serve God. It sounds pretty good, especially to denominational executives. In this posture, we believe we should find God’s purpose and get on mission with God. The more we accomplish, the better we feel. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true — we often feel that God is disappointed in us for what we haven’t done or for what we have messed up. The older brother represents this posture because he stayed home and did what he should. He felt slighted because the father was happy when the first son came home. He didn’t feel appreciated for what he done. It is easy to get to this place when we’re on mission for God. It’s also a little disheartening to feel “used” by the church or a group or even by God when we feel we are not appreciated.
So what is the right posture? The right posture is hiding right there in the Prodigal Son story. In explaining his behavior toward the prodigal, the father begins, “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.” There it is – the right posture is a Life WITH God. All of the other postures use God in some way – they assume God is the HOW instead of the WHO that makes real relationship possible.
I have recently spent some time contemplating the following statement, ” for in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28, NASB). In Him, we exist! That’s the plan – that’s the right posture. God used the Hebrew equivalent of the word to say “I am” (I exist) to Moses when Moses questioned the mission. Jesus used the same word to say “Before Abraham was, I am” (I exist). Our posture very simply should be to “exist” IN Him!
My understanding is that I need to begin to understand how to abide IN Him, instead of performing for Him. I need to submit to Him instead of trying to control Him. I need to have faith in Him instead of my strategies and abilities. I think there is a right way to do religion and it’s probably a lot deeper and simpler than I ever imagined!
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Check out Skye Jethani’s book “With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God” on Amazon.