I recently read a book by Skye Jethani called “With”. I heard about it whilst on holiday at Spring Harvest in France as the speaker referred to it a number of times and asked us to reflect on our relationship with God. As I’ve read this book I’ve found it very useful to understand my relationship with God, to identify errors I’ve made and to see what Jesus’ vision is for my relationship with Him.
In the book, Jethani writes about four ways we often default to: Life Under God, Life Over God, Life From God and Life For God. He goes on to speak of how we are created for Life With God and simply what that looks like.
My hope is that in this short summary we will all be able to reflect on what we’ve maybe settled for and move to a fuller relationship with God. If you’re keen to get this book then it’s available here on Amazon.
Life Under God
This disposition is based around living under divine rules to avoid calamity and to win favour. If we follow all of God’s rules and commandments then God HAS to bless you. It is based on cause and effect. If I give well, if I serve well, if I act in certain ways then I put God in my debt and he has to respond in favour towards me. There is an emphasis on the external and visible actions but it doesn’t examine what is going on in our hearts. The Pharisees seemed to do the right thing but Jesus says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”.
Life Over God
A Life over God position would fully accept there is a God; would use the teaching of the bible, but not to relate with God but to find instruction for life. In a world where there is a self-help book for almost anything you can imagine, the bible is thought of in the same manner. It is seen as a divine instruction manual; a resource that can be culled for principles that can then be applied to any situation in life. Rather than a vehicle for communion with our Almighty loving Heavenly Father, we look for and apply for principles that we can then control. We end up with faith in God’s principles rather in God Himself.
Life From God
We live in an age of unequalled consumption (according to the NY Times we are exposed to 3,500 desire-inducing advertisements per day!) and there is a danger that this seeps into our relationship with God. A consumer lifestyle tells us our value is rooted in how happy we feel and that obtaining more can increase our happiness. This puts us at the centre of the story and relegates God to mere provider of our every need and desire. The story of the prodigal son tells of how the son valued what his father could give him above his Father himself. Our relationship with God is predicated on what God can do for us, not God himself and although we may praise him with our lips, our hearts are set on what we hope to get from him. Our God loves to give us good gifts – that is clear in scripture – but those gifts are not the objective of our relationship. When we fixate on what we can get from God, we fail to experience the peace of His presence in our lives.
Life for God
You might read those three words and think, hold on, isn’t that what we are meant to do? However there is a danger if our relationship is solely based on this. Our value can be wrapped up in what we feel we are achieving for God. If we feel ineffective or don’t see desired “results” then we feel like failures. Being on mission for God becomes bigger than God himself and our relationship with Him is a simple footnote. Yes, we are to be on mission but we’re to be on mission with God and motivated by the assurance of his constant love for us. Our value is in being his adopted children through the sacrifice of Jesus, not what we do for Him.
Life With God
Sadly we often settle for a posture towards God (maybe one of the four above – under, over, from or for) that is quite different from the one intended by Christ. Jesus, Immanuel – God with us, came to dwell with us and to have relationship with us. God desires to be with us but what does that look like? Skye Jethani speaks of three phases to this:
Treasure: What do you treasure most? What is the goal and desire of your life? What would you give everything to possess? Throughout scripture we see people who are genuinely interested in him and others who were interested in what Jesus could do for them? Do we truly desire Jesus, knowing Him (and not just in an intellectual way) or do we see him as a ticket to Heaven, a way to avoid hell, someone who can help us only in our struggles? Do we treasure the living, supreme, loving, powerful, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, caring God of this world who knows you and loves you. Matthew 6:21
United: To fully be with God, we first must be united with Him and that has been done by Jesus at Calvary for all of us. With the barrier of sin and death removed by Jesus on the cross, the way has been opened for us to be reconciled to God, to be united with Him. All that must be done by us is to trust. To have faith. Without the cross we’re unable to acquire our treasure of Life with God. Romans 5:21 / Romans 10:9-10
Experience: To enjoy a new car you can’t simply want one and then buy one. You need to drive it. We’re not merely saved for eternity, we’re saved to enjoy life with God now. We’ve been given many gifts by God to do that – reading His word, prayer, worship, seeing His work in creation, and the gift of the Holy Spirit who is always with us. In this HE HAS GIVEN all we need for a life of communion with Himself. In Jesus we see someone who was constantly in communion with His Father and who depended on Him at all times. Communion with God is to abide in Him, to walk together with Him each moment of the day and desire His closeness. Communion with God isn’t something we schedule in to our diaries, it’s not something that we choose to do at certain times and neglect at others. It is an ongoing state of being.
What did I learn?
Rachel and I discussed this briefly at Spring Harvest and my honest reflection is that I see some of “Life For God” in me. Too often my “mood” is based around what I am doing. The task at hand becomes bigger than God Himself and when things don’t go as I had planned them then I’m left feeling flat and defeated. That point of reflection was very useful and although in the last number of months I’ve not seen this completely dealt with, I am reminded in each moment that God is the goal. His plans are greater than my plans and as I treasure Him more, trust in Him more, seek daily moment-by-moment communion with Him, then I hope my relationship will be transformed into what Christ has for me, not what I settle for.
A favourite song of mine for over 20 years now has been Heart of Worship and the words of that song are used time and time again by God to call me back: “I’m coming back to the heart of worship and it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus. I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it when it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus.” Friends, it’s all about Him, let’s not settle for anything less.
Scott MacDonald, December 2019