As I have walked around the world, I have been told that the two things you shouldn’t talk about are religion and politics. Wars have even been fought in the name of religion. Yet, people commonly speak of their “religion”, “spirituality”, “faith”, or “belief.” What do these words really mean? If these are supposed to be good things why do they end up being so controversial.
Throughout the centuries and around the world, people have attempted many things to reach God. People pray, read holy books, do good, visit sacred sites and special buildings of worship, and even, make spiritual pilgrimages in order to receive spiritual blessing, or Divine favor. All are acts of devotion. But devotion to what? Often, people are devoted to their “religion”. The religions of our world have promised a “better” way, a “new” truth, and a “superior” life. New orders, movements, or organizations are formed to bring others into the “proper” way. The faithful are committed to the beliefs, creeds, and formulas of that particular religion so that they might reach God. Sometimes, people are even devoted to their “devotions.”
Where is God in all of this? The focus is not on God! It stays on us, and what we do! God’s way is not about selfishness, pride, judgment, or the exploitation of others. This is why there have been, and continue to be disagreements, and even, wars. In our attempts to reach God, rituals and traditions have been established. If kept, there is the promise of spiritual rewards. The question is — “How much is enough?”. “How good is good enough?” No one will ever be good enough. Yet, when rules and regulations are created and kept in the name of God, a religious hierarchy can be established. The people who keep the laws are “special“ and those who fall short, are considered “outsiders”, “unclean”, or “infidels”. We have made this more about us, than about God! Religion, in its attempts to reach God, has created belief systems where people can do good things and look good, yet still be judgmental, exclusive, and proud!
I firmly believe that the people of this world are tired of the hypocrisy, professionalism, and commercialism that has so often masqueraded as religion. Though different in culture, religion, and economic status, the hearts of people all around the world respond to genuine love and the call of God. People from all places and all backgrounds, are searching for truth, and desire a pure heart and a real relationship with the living God.
Though people are searching for God and trying to reach Him, He is not just “up there” or in a building, or in a holy place. God wants to be with the people! He loved us so much that He came to us! He came as a man — in the flesh! God lived among us. His name was called Jesus and He was born to a Virgin. He went about doing good and even, performing miracles! He lived a pure and sinless life. Yet, He was nailed to an old rugged cross to die. He died in the place we deserved. He was buried in the ground. But, three days later, Jesus rose again! Not reincarnation; it was the same body! Because He lives, we can know Him. God cares for us. He loves us. We can have the presence of God in us, and with us. He promises to never leave us, or forsake us! He said that He would live with us always — even to the end of the age!
God is not after our devotions — our acts of righteousness. God desires our devotion! The devotional life is simply an invitation from a loving God to a deeper level of relationship with Him. It is not based on rules and regulations, or traditions and laws. Real devotion is not a philosophy or a good idea. It doesn’t have to be mystical or vague. Devotion is simply the response of a heart touched by the love of God. A father wants to talk to his children; to love them; and to be with them! And so does God!. God is much greater than a man! How much more does God wants to be with His children, too?! He longs for us to come to Him and talk to Him and to receive His love! Jesus simply said, “Come to Me” and “learn from Me.” He said that He would give rest to those who are weary and burdened. He is still inviting us!
While it is an honor to be a servant of God, it is even a greater privilege to be a friend of God. God has many servants, but very few friends. It is one thing to be called a friend; it is another to be a friend. God invites us to talk to Him through prayer. God has given us the Bible so that we can listen to Him. He also wants to speak in our heart through His Holy Spirit. We can ask how we can help Him. We can ask what makes Him happy or sad. In the Bible, Paul said that he counted everything as loss just so that he could know God. He had climbed the ladder of spiritual hierarchy. He had been good and kept the religious rules, yet, he was empty and unfulfilled until he committed his life to Jesus. The Bible calls Abraham a friend of God. It says that David was a “man after God’s own heart”. Moses is said to have spoken face to face to God as a friend. John was called Jesus’ best friend. He even leaned his head on Jesus chest. I believe that we can too!!! The Bible says that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us!
Relationships do not occur instantly. To truly get to know someone takes time. In the same way, there are no quick fixes, or formulas, or shortcuts for a relationship with God. It is okay True love and real friendship take time. It is in talking with God, listening to Him, even laughing or crying with Him that we really begin to know God.
Ultimately, devotion looks like the object of it’s devotion. Whether it is business, athletics, or religion, people look like the object of their commitment. And when we are committed to Jesus we begin to reflect His nature and character. Remember that God is with you in this entire process. He wants to know you and to be known by you. Enjoy this adventure!