Right now my ministry is discussing what it means to be a Christian 24/7 outside of the church. Which is super interesting how necessary of a discussion this is to have. For many Christians it’s tough defining a Christian life in the common workplace. It’s tough making sense of your two lives. Life 1:The life as a Christian which includes church, bible studies, prayer, bible readings, quiet times and so on. Life 2: Where you spend 90% of the rest of your time.
Now of course the two are really one, but for many who follow Christ there’s a deep struggle to make this connection. How do you bring life one into life two?
I’m really fascinated by the need for this question. Why isn’t it inherent to us or why does this need to be taught to people who’ve been raised in the church and have been “walking with God” for some time.
So I’d like to provide my thoughts on the why of this. Why is it so hard to find God outside of Christian fellowship?
When I was five years old I began learning some of the fundamentals of what it “means to be a Christian.” or “how to be a Christian.” These structures and ways to encounter God would stay as the primary practices of my faith into my late teenage years.
1.Read your bible.
2.Go to church.
3.Have Christians friends (Christian community.)
4.Pray every night before sleep and every morning before you wake.
Now chances are you received these too. And for me as someone new to the faith it was very helpful to have some sense of structure.
The ancients had similar practices. The altar of the gods was a place you would go and be with a god. There would be tabernacles, temples created for your god. You could enter into the temple and see fellow believers and worship in community these idols inside of the temple. The idol was where your god resided.
Then comes the Israelites who flip the system upside down. They get rid of the idols. God does not live in a created image. They get rid of this but hold onto the idea of God’s dwelling place being inside a temple. And so people would gather inside the walls of a temple to experience God. They would come together and sing songs and tithe to God. The scriptures would be read and taught.
And then they would leave the temple and their lives wouldn’t look any different.
A great deal of the Old Testament prophets address these issues. Their anger is placed on this ritualistic falseness.
Now, these are known things even in our world today. The better question isn’t just why is it like this, but what actually fuels this way of life? Is it merely sin? Or are we caught up in the same way of thinking of our most distant ancestors.
People know and notice the difference of their lives at church around Christians and then in contrast their lives with others at home, at work, with non-believing friends. I actually believe and sense, from most people I know, that they desire to make the two lives one. So is the issue merely sin in our lives keeping us from God? Or is it perhaps the nature of the structure we’ve been handed? The way we’ve been taught to experience God.
See the point of gathering in the temple the point of entering the “house of God” was to be reminded that the entire thing/the whole universe is the house of God. The point of gathering with like minded people in the church was to understand and be reminded of the life outside the church. The point of entering the walls of a church is to be reminded that there are no walls. The church after all is defined as the people.
But when we gather people together to look at a stage in the front it’s easy to miss this. We make the stage and even the pulpit this idol we gather to see. And then we leave with the same disconnect and falsehood of the Israelites. We gather together for somebody to show us an experience with God. We limit our experience to being in the presence of this idol.
The Israelites kept trying to build their temple because they believed this is where God dwelt. (Mind you they still accept this belief and are waiting for the Messiah to return and fix it.) But by trying to put God somewhere, you miss that he is in fact everywhere. As the letter to the Ephesians teaches He is over all through all and in all.
What I experienced growing up and have seen in many people’s lives is that we were taught or subtly led to believe this same mistake. That God is somewhere instead of everywhere. Oh you’re struggling with your faith? You need to set aside some time in your day to read your Bible. You need to make a designated hour for quiet time. And so people give ill-fated attempts before bedtime to cross this off because they want to make sure they at least attempted to make time for God at some point in their day. But here’s the problem:
God is actually with you the entire day. Not just when you make time for him.
See I was taught I needed to make space for God instead of being made aware or taught to understand his presence with me the whole day. Which is something we know but we aren’t always taught to practice. The practice is “make time for the LORD.” Which is insanely and incredibly beneficial. It’s great to spend time in the word. It’s great to go to church and be gathered around like-minded believers but that’s meant to make you aware that the whole thing is a temple.
People have gotten upset with me when I say that in my “quiet time” the bible is not in front of me. I take a walk through creation. I process what I’ve experienced throughout all of God’s creation. I spend most of my workdays studying and reading the bible. There’s a good bit of noise to go along with that. So for me, stepping away and processing is one of the healthiest things to do. And I’ve seen numerous people get fidgety at this idea.
But in the anger or caution of my method, and in the strong adherence to their way, I think a certain idolatry is revealed. As much of a paradox as it may seem The Bible has become a certain form of an idol. You must go to it to be with God. And this is something we picked up early on when we were taught how to follow Jesus.
Now I’m not trying to be controversial nor am I trying to take you away from a Biblical quiet time. (read this again for emphasis)
What I want to address is have you been taught to see God in all things? Not just the bible. Not just church. Not just christian community? But do you see God when you overhear people arguing? When you order your coffee at Starbucks? When you pick your outfit for your day? When you talk to someone about that movie you saw last night? Are you aware of the divine in these moments as well?
Have you been taught to take God on a date, or to encounter God always?
If the structure is to pray before bed and when you awake how does one pray without ceasing?-1Thessalonians 5
Perhaps prayer is something about how you live and not just something set aside for you to do.
Perhaps prayer involves seeing what God is doing in the world through you and others. Being connected with, experiencing God’s creative and restorative work in the world.
In Colossians we read that 16 For in him (Christ) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
The insistence is that God is actually holding everything together. Christ is the glue. Things at church and things at work. God is something you can encounter in every aspect of your life, whether it’s through prayer or a concert or even some Netflix binge. There are ways to be aware and in tune with God in every moment. We crave to see God in all the beautiful and yet forget to see God in the difficult and the trials. God is in the whole shebang.
Perhaps these are the ideas we need to practice.
This was the question I asked last night.
Does it feel like you need to learn to make more space for God throughout your day or more like you need to be made aware of God in all moments?
What I believe is that many of us have been taught ways to do the former without being shown that the former should lead you to the latter.
So pray over this idea throughout your day. Posture your life towards the awareness of God in all moments. When you read your bible, when you go to church, when you pray before bed, let these remind you of the God who is over all and through all and in all. Let these remind you of the God who is actively and beautifully outside the walls.
When you have an awareness of God the whole day, you begin to live for God the whole day.
*The title of this post is from a Pete Rollins book I haven’t yet read. But it’s a darn good title.