When we use the word “religion” what does that mean exactly? For me, a religion is a worldview (an understanding of how reality works), an identity (I am a …), a set of practices or traditions and a system of doctrines. It is a big deal. But is there something bigger and better yet? Better than this is to have an actual relationship with God. A relationship includes all of the above plus you are blessed to have interactive communication and emotional bonding with the living God. Is that even possible?
In the minds of many, it is not. God is a transcendent being, so different from us, so holy. To think of something like us having a relationship with God may seem unachievable if not blasphemous. Certainly we cannot demand that God listen to us or demand that He care for us. God chooses to do that himself. He stoops to our level and offers us forgiveness through a great sacrifice He made. He reaches out to us so that we may not only know about him, but actually know him. He loves us.
God does not bother to love us so that we can merely have a religion. Love is a part of a relationship. Relationships involve interactive communication. Prayer is one half of this. It is the upload. God doesn’t need us to tell him our needs. He knows what we need already. The purpose of prayer is therefore to be with God, speak our hearts to him and to wait for his answer so that we can know him.
The second part is seeing how God communicates to us. He is not far off and aloof. He invites us to call him “Father” even “Abba” which is like “Papa” in English. It is childlike and familiar. How God responds is perhaps different than what we are used to in interpersonal relationship, but it is a real response nonetheless.
Jesus makes it clear that even though He ascended visibly into Heaven, He will remain with His disciples until the end of the age. This doesn’t mean conceptually, or as a thought, or that He is thinking of us. It means that Jesus is literally among us and in us. As such Jesus is able to communicate with us in many ways: by teaching us through the Bible, by answering specific prayers, by arranging specific situations, even through dreams, visions or angels if He so desires.
Perceived communication from God always needs to be tested. It needs to agree with the whole council of Scripture if the matter is something doctrinal or moral. If it is direction, then we need to see multiple signs from God. The danger is that we can imagine God’s direction or worse–Satan can communicate as well.
Despite the difficulties of having a relationship versus just a religion, a relationship is what God seeks and is definitely what we need. A religion is something easily neglected. A relationship is exciting and draws us in. God becomes our most intimate and trusted friend. We are never alone, never powerless, never without hope. A relationship with God allows us to truly be Jesus’ disciples and work with God on a daily basis.
So what do you have? A religion or a relationship? Seek the latter. God is waiting.