Jesus obliterates religion… and spirituality.
One of my friends recently shared how having a baby transformed his relationship with God. He is one of the most disciplined people I know. Every morning, from 5-5:30am he reads his Bible, prays, and reads a few pages out of a devotional book of some kind. For years he did this, then went about this day. Religion.
Having a baby didn’t necessarily change his practice of waking up every morning and reading and praying, but it transformed his heart, his motivation, his interaction, and his expectation. His baby loves to reach out and grab his face, poke him, slap him, smiling and laughing, just trying to be close. My friend realized that God desires this of us. He simply wants us to want to reach out and grab Him, laugh, poke him, cry… be close.
It isn’t about religious observance. It is about loving God, who already loves us.
“Must I really attend a church on Sunday morning in order to love God?” (religion)
This is a pretty common question asked by legitimate lovers of Jesus. Of course, in a very literal sense, the answer is “no.”
“I am closer to God in the woods than at a church building.” (spirituality)
I get it. I can understand this sentiment completely. For many (often myself included), the inside of a dusty religious edifice is the furthest thing from a life-giving worship experience. I love getting outside, away from civilization, and feeling my soul soar. In fact, some of my deepest insights into the character of God come while reading the Bible on top of a mountain or alone deep in the forest.
So which is it? Should I worship inside a religious edifice (religion), or practice a form of spirituality on my own (spirituality)?
Jesus offers a third way: Love
Being a God-follower is not fundamentally about specific worship practices in a building or a sort of spiritual communion on my own. In fact, it seems, from the dialogue we find in Mark 12 that we can engage in all kinds of precise practices within religious edifices, or seek a personal communion between ourselves and the Creator, all the while utterly missing God Himself. This is scary. It means that I can spend every last inch of my strength on religious observances, or spiritual experiences, and be far from God.
So what does it mean to be a God-follower, a follower of The Way, a Christian, a Christ-follower?
“To love God with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” – Mark 12:33
This text says nothing about religious practices. Rather, it plunges deep into my innermost being, asking in what manner I love God, and how I live out that love in community with others.
- Do I feel an enduring affection from God in my heart? (heart)
- Are my thoughts continually captivated by magnitude of God? (understanding)
- Is my energy consumed by inventing and demonstrating audacious acts of love toward God? (strength)
God does not allow me to solely express this love alone on a mountaintop. It will necessarily overflow for the blessing and benefit of those around me: my neighbors.
Back to our question: should I express religion in a building or spirituality in a forest?
It seems that the answer is neither, and both. No matter where I am, I deeply, earnestly, passionately, publicly, demonstrate my love for God, and sacrifice myself for the good of those around me.
- Is it wrong to attend a church service on a Sunday? Of course not. But here is the challenge: I can easily do this without loving God or my neighbor.
- Is it wrong to seek a worship experience in a forest or on a mountaintop? Of course not. But how does that prepare me to come back and sacrificially love my neighbors in the name of Jesus? Hebrews 10 says not to “give up meeting together.” Community is a non-negotiable.
- Can my love for God and neighbor spill over to work? Of course! How do I demonstrate m love for God? How do I sacrificially love those around me?
- Can I love God and my neighbor at home? Yes! Does my love for God overflow onto those I live with in a way that they feel loved? How do I sacrificially love them?
Hmmm… This seems a lot harder than I thought. I cannot simply attend a religious service and feel that I “did my duty.”
Rather, God wants us to enter into a 24/7 love-relationship with Him, for His glory, and for my joy.
God’s desire as my Father is for us to simply to be close, that my desire is, as a child, to reach toward Him, seeking His presence, all day, every day.