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.