Let’s continue this theme about what grace and truth together really mean, where love grows and comes to fruition out of the rootstock of a healthy fear of God. Here’s some practical examples I’ve experienced personally, and that I’ve observed in the shining examples of people that have inspired me: Prayer has always been considered a “religious” activity. Whole liturgies and books have been written with “prescribed” prayers so we “get it right” when we come before the throne. And I’m not necessarily knocking that. I’ve seen many sincere people pray such prayers from the heart, with folded hands, on their knees, sometimes with tears in their eyes, . But is that always what God intended when He said “Call unto Me..”? (Jeremiah 33:3) Jesus began the model prayer we all know with “Our Father….”
It’s not a formal meeting with the boss, where you put your case to Him in fear and trembling -- although occasionally something like that might happen. It’s not normally sending a carefully worded celestial email either -- although sometimes a “crafted” prayer can be powerful if it’s inspired by scriptural truth, breathed on by the Spirit, then composed by and prayed from a humble heart. (See Philippians 4:6). Our best prayers, the ones that cause heaven to stop and listen, is often the simple cry of the heart: “Help! I dunno what to do!”
Often the kids seem to “get it” better than we do. It’s more like when we stop and just have a cup of coffee with the Father, so to speak. Not handing Him a shopping list, but listening as much as pouring out our frustrations. Have you ever tried listening in your prayer times? i.e. paying attention to what God’s saying? You’d be surprised at what you’ll hear. Open and honest communication in any relationship is foundational. Once that suffers, the relationship begins to deteriorate.
How about giving?
Religion demands that you tithe your hard-earned cash, or God will consider you ungrateful and withhold His blessing on your finances -- even on other areas of your life! There’s a tiny grain of truth in that, if that sort of meanness characterizes our lives. (See Malachi 3:10). What we sow (in any areas of our lives) we reap. You can’t make a fool out of God! (Galatians 6:7) But relationship invites you to partner with Him, investing in the Kingdom of God. It becomes a delight! You get a sense of privilege to give, not only your money, but your time and energy as well (2 Corinthians 8: 3-5). Why? Because we’ve discovered that God is such a Giver Himself. He gave the best that He had -- His Son -- without stinting. Any good parent invests everything in the lives of their children: money, time, effort. When the child develops the same kind of generosity, the father is absolutely delighted.
The old testament command which prescribed 10% payment of their income was put there because the people generally hadn’t learnt to give from the heart. Sadly it often became a duty rather than a joy. But for us, it now becomes a guideline rather than a rule. Often, especially when God especially blesses us, we go over and above it -- and get excited about it! (See Philippians 4:14-19) When hard times come, it’s not a burden, and God won’t zap us if we pay our bills on time rather than pay the full tithe that week. But having said that, there have been times when someone has felt prompted to give out of faith, even when they can’t afford it, and God paid them back manifold. That requires a bit of sensitivity to the voice of God of course, and it’s something between you and God as part of your relationship with Him. (See 2 Corinthians 8: 3-5 again) We need to learn good financial management of course, and sometimes it’s a journey getting our lives into order. God the Father will help us through that. My experience is that generally speaking, the most cheerful and contented Christian believers are those that are generous givers. Of course, there have been a number of times where leaders have betrayed their people's trust and dodgey financial transactions have happened, so we need to be wise.
But when we hear skeptics complain that “all the church wants is your money,” maybe we could reply with something like this: “Well, it wasn’t the church that gave us our money in the first place, it was God. And considering all that He’s done for me, giving some of it back for the people He cares about is the least I can do. My money, time and talents are entrusted to me to use and invest in His Kingdom -- not to do what I like with. I believe in what God’s people are doing, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is.”