Introductory Note:

In my local church I lead a “School for Seekers,” the credo of which is “Follow, then seek.” The cornerstone course is a six-week series, taught at the beginning of each year, called “God Ideas.” The simple premise of the course is this: Your ideas shape your experience of reality, and if you have bad ideas about God, you cannot have a good relationship with God. It regularly turns out that the God they find they actually believe in is not very lovable: distant, demanding, and easily affronted. In the course they try on a set of “new” ideas, and see if these change their relationship with God for the better.

The following is adapted from a piece that appears on fellow Renovaré Institute graduate Kevin Tupper’s website, “Christian Simplicity.” It was the impetus for the God Ideas course and weekend retreat that I offer with my ministry partner, musician Benton Stokes. To find out more about the retreat or the course, feel free to contact me.

Elane O'Rourke

God does not want you to enjoy your­self and be hap­py. God is not trust­wor­thy. God is hold­ing out on you. God does not want you to be like him, and it isn’t pos­si­ble anyway. 

Ever won­der why you act against your own best inter­est? Suc­cumb to the pres­sures of con­sumerism? Resist spend­ing qual­i­ty time with God?

Blame the serpent. 

Now, God had giv­en Adam and Eve only one rule: Don’t eat the fruit on that tree.” God told them, Because if you do, you’ll think you know every­thing. You’ll stop trust­ing me. And then death and sad­ness and tears will come.”… As soon as the snake saw his chance, he slith­ered silent­ly up to Eve. Does God real­ly love you?” the ser­pent whis­pered. If he does, why won’t he let you eat the nice, juicy, deli­cious fruit? Poor you, per­haps God doesn’t want you to be hap­py.” The snake’s words hissed into her ears and sunk down deep into her heart, like poi­son. Does God love me? Eve won­dered. Sud­den­ly she didn’t know any­more. (Sal­ly Lloyd Jones, The Jesus Sto­ry­book Bible)

It wasn’t will­ful dis­obe­di­ence that brought down Eden, but instead false beliefs about God. God cre­at­ed us to be in rela­tion­ship with him, enjoy­ing his pres­ence as he enjoys ours. Our false ideas about God destroy that joy­ful intimacy.

I can do this by myself. I know what’s best for me. Why shouldn’t I have what I want?

These ideas and oth­ers like them slith­er dai­ly into our sub­con­scious minds, bring­ing with them destruc­tion and heartache, both per­son­al and rela­tion­al. Your beliefs influ­ence how you feel about your­self and oth­ers. They deter­mine how you feel about what your life ought to be like, and how you act on those feelings. 

We tru­ly live at the mer­cy of our ideas; this is nev­er more true that with our ideas about God. Those who oper­ate on the wrong infor­ma­tion aren’t like­ly to know the real­i­ty of God’s pres­ence in the deci­sions that shape their lives, and they will miss the con­stant divine com­pan­ion­ship for which their souls were made. (Dal­las Willard, Hear­ing God)

Whether you are a Chris­t­ian or a Mus­lim or a Bud­dhist or an athe­ist or an unde­cid­ed, you have ideas about God. Every­one has a the­ol­o­gy. Many of us have nev­er thought very hard about our the­ol­o­gy, or tried to artic­u­late it clear­ly and pre­cise­ly, but we all think of some­thing or some­one when we hear the word God.” Your the­ol­o­gy affects how you read the Bible and whom you trust to teach you. The ideas about God you actu­al­ly believe (and not just think!) cause your deci­sions, pre­dict your actions, and shape your life. If we are not liv­ing in joy­ous trust and divine com­pan­ion­ship, then we need a more accu­rate view of God. 

God wants me to enjoy myself and be hap­py. God can be trust­ed. God nev­er with­holds good things. God wants me to be as close to him as Jesus is, and has shown me how to do just that.

Chang­ing our beliefs starts with exam­in­ing our ideas 

Most of us have the idea that God is all good and all lov­ing, but we don’t always believe it. For exam­ple, we might think that God is good, but live in fear of being pun­ished. We might think that God is love, but spend our ener­gy try­ing to earn God’s approval. Believ­ing is more than think­ing an idea is true. Believ­ing is liv­ing as if that idea were true. If we believe, deep down, that God isn’t fair, or doesn’t love us, or is wait­ing for us to make a wrong move, we demon­strate that in what we do, and espe­cial­ly in how we think about others.

To believe only good about God – to live as if God actu­al­ly is good – we have to think good about God and get that think­ing down into our bod­ies and feel­ings. This hap­pens through prac­tice, exper­i­ment, and train­ing. The first two moves toward chang­ing how we live are 1) chang­ing what we think and 2) how often we think it.

Dis­cov­er­ing use­ful ideas starts with ask­ing good questions 

Some­times our thoughts and feel­ings are shaped more by shame or fear than by real­i­ty. For exam­ple, we might think that God is a good provider, but feel scared of not hav­ing enough. We might say that God is just, but think vin­dic­tive thoughts about oth­ers. When our thoughts and feel­ings are shaped by shame or fear, they inevitably become habits that destroy our abil­i­ty to live in God’s lov­ing, life-giv­ing reality. 

Begin to change what you think by ask­ing some ques­tions about real­i­ty. What do you believe is real? What is true? What mat­ters? Then apply the answers to your own life. When you apply your under­stand­ing of real­i­ty to your actions and atti­tudes, how much are you like Christ? Are you kind? Com­pas­sion­ate? Grate­ful? Wor­ship­ful? Hope­ful? The more like Christ you become, the clos­er to real­i­ty and truth you are.

What are the ideas about God that make joy­ous trust and divine com­pan­ion­ship pos­si­ble? Here are some ques­tions and answers for you to con­sid­er. These are ideas that Jesus taught and lived. They are root­ed in Scrip­ture and test­ed by Jesus’ fol­low­ers through­out the cen­turies. Test them your­self. Try them on for 30 days. Notice if any­thing changes about your approach to living.

What kind of per­son is God? 

  • God is holy. 
  • God is whol­ly good. 
  • God loves me, because I am God’s trea­sured child. 
  • God wants to spend time with me. 
  • God is not wait­ing to chas­tise or pun­ish me, but to guide me and delight in me.

What about Jesus? 

  • Jesus is the full image of the Father. What I see in Jesus is true of his Father. 
  • Jesus invites us to live in his Father’s king­dom – God’s world – right now. 
  • We can learn to live in God’s king­dom by becom­ing Jesus’ appren­tices in king­dom living.

What is God’s kingdom? 

  • God’s king­dom is wher­ev­er God is in action, and where God’s will is done. 
  • God’s king­dom is real. It is with­in me and around me now, in this life and on this earth.

So, if all this is true – God is good and loves me, and what I see in Jesus is true of his Father, and God’s king­dom is with­in and around me now – what does this mean for my dai­ly life? 

  • Life in God’s king­dom is life-giv­ing. Sin – exis­tence out­side of the influ­ence and pow­er of God’s king­dom – is life-destroy­ing. Thus, my choic­es are less about right and wrong than about life-giv­ing and life-destroying. 
  • Life in God’s king­dom nec­es­sar­i­ly involves oth­er peo­ple. It is not just between me and God, but among me, God, and every­one else too. 
  • I have enough. And it’s all God’s.
  • I am enough. So are others.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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