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How Simple Can it Be?
Brett Anderson ©2004

Part I

"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said, 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.' [Matthew 18:1-4]

In view of these words of Jesus I have often thort that what He meant was that we must keep it simple. 'Have faith like a child' - a child doesn't have a grasp on salaries and payments of food and water and electricity and so on, yet he will trust that his parents will provide for him - he will have a bed to sleep and food to eat and clothes to wear etc.

Yet as we grow up and 'get mature' we tend to complicate things - unless we can prove something it can't be real. Everything must have a reason or a purpose. Simple faith becomes something for the weak or for children. We spend too much time doing God's work of judging people and defending His name and not enough time doing our work of loving people and caring for the poor and sick and needy.

In light of this reasoning I want to use an analogy I have used at a number of camps and schools that takes the heavy, serious, complicated Christian life and breaks it down a little bit - nothing overly revolutionary or new here, but maybe for some of you it will be like, 'Oh, yeah that makes so much sense. It seems a lot easier that way.'

CHRISTIANITY IS LIKE HAVING A GIRL/BOYFRIEND (OR JUST A REALLY CLOSE BUDDY)

Now because I'm a boy type person I'll stick with the girlfriend analogy but for you feel free to relate it to boyfriend or close friend as it is applicable and relevant to you...

But the point is that there are some things we will naturally do if we have a girlfriend and they also apply to our relationship with God - as Christians we come up with these big, complicated words like 'evangelism' and 'prayer' and 'church' and often get scared or confused by what they mean. Let's see if this helps us a bit.

[I] IF YOU HAVE A GIRLFRIEND, YOU WILL SPEND TIME WITH HER.

You with me? That make sense? Not stretching it too far...? But chances are that if you have a girlfriend, you are going to spend time with her, and not even out of obligation... you will WANT to spend time with her. Right?

Well that's 'QUIET TIME' or devotions or daily time with God - whatever you want to call it. But we have tended to make it into this religious thing that we have to do or we'll be in trouble with God. Or a thing that we tend to feel really guilty about cos we haven't had one for a few days or (gasp!) weeks... Quiet Time is not about reading a passage out of the Bible and saying a prayer and maybe working through a Scripture Union devotional. It is SPENDING TIME WITH GOD. Yes we can do it by reading the Bible and by praying and using devotionals... or we can do it by writing a poem to God, or singing along with a worship cd, or going for a run and having a conversation with God... and so on...

When you spend time with your girlfriend it is not so much important what you do (movies, restaurant, the beach) as the fact that you are spending time together. If that is not the focus of your regular time with God then there is something wrong and religion has crept in. Kill it DEAD! And missing a quiet time is not the end of the world, but not having regular relationship time with God should be. If you don't have enough time to spend with God, then you are too busy.

I am quite a busy bloke. But BELIEVE ME, if I need time to spend with a girl, it miraculously appears. God should be SO MUCH more important than a girl. Make the miracle happen.

"He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." [1 Corinthians 1:8-9]

[II] IF YOU HAVE A GIRLFRIEND, YOU WILL TALK TO HER/LISTEN TO HER.

Wow. Now I'm getting really WAY OUT hey? We're talking extreme stuff here. No, really, once again plain common sense stuff. It makes sense that if you want to ever get to know someone better you need to spend time with them and talk to them.

Same thing with God. This complicated, scary thing called prayer? It's communication with God. And if you go check out the book of Psalms you can see that it can take place in many forms - you can cry, you can shout, you can whisper, you can sing, you can scream with excitement. I think the one thing God values most in prayer and communication with Him is realness. We may be able to fool people with a simple 'How are you?' 'Fine!' routine, but God knows better. And since He knows exactly how we are doing it makes sense that we meet Him as the person we are, not the mask we may have been holding out to everyone else.

You may ask, 'why pray to God if He already knows everything?' - well I don't think it's about information-giving as a lot of our communication with people tends to be. It's not like God sits up there in heaven and hears a prayer and goes, 'Oh my word, Brett has a cold?' And if it's not about information-giving then what? Relationship. It doesn't matter that you know someone loves you if you never hear it - and that is the one line you can hear over and over again without it losing its meaning (actually 'Here's some chocolate' I find also works in that vein) God desires to be in relationship with us. We need to talk to Him and not just in the 5, 15, 30 minutes we've put aside for that. In your car on the way to work, walking to school, before you go to bed, in the shower - the cool thing about God is that He is everywhere and so you can always talk to Him.

Secondly, what should follow naturally is that if you have a girlfriend, not only will you talk to her but you will also listen to her. With God, this is the one skill that tends to get left out. 'I never hear God speaking to me' is a common complaint. 'Do you ever give Him a chance to?' would be my common reply. Yet we don't - maybe because we can't physically see God or hear Him audibly (although some people have had experiences of that).

But I really believe it is a skill we should practice more (and every time I speak/write that line I realise that I don't!) and we probably shouldn't expect it to come naturally as we've been putting it off for years probably. It may take a little bit of practice. But here's what I suggest:

Start small. Take some time, maybe five minutes a day - if you have more, go for it. And spend time listening. It may take you a few days of doing this just to be able to start blocking off the sounds around you (ticking clock, cars driving by, phones going off in other people's houses - TURN YOURS OFF during this time!) and then a while longer to start hearing something. But if you pray 'God please speak to me' or 'Jesus, what do you want to say to me today?' and then spend some time listening I'm sure in time something will come. Maybe a Bible verse, maybe an impression or a thought in your head, maybe the name of a person to pray for or visit, whatever God has to say to you...

"Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the Lord, and bring you back from captivity." [Jeremiah 29:12-14]

"Jesus answered, 'I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for Me, but you do not believe because you are not My sheep. My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand." [John 10:25-28]

I think that's enough for now - this is a two-parter and I'll share the rest next week but I encourage you to re-look at and re-think and re-experience your relationship with God if necessary. If you spend time with God because you feel you HAVE to then pray and ask Him to give you the desire to spend time with Him. Ask Him to show you a refreshed picture of who He is. Because if you only spend time with God because you must, then there is something wrong with how you see God.

In summary, if you have a girlfriend you will naturally spend time with her, you will talk to her and listen to her as you grow in your relationship - all those things should happen quite naturally.

And yet God is SO MUCH BIGGER AND BETTER than a girlfriend... how much more so should we eagerly desire His company and His voice and to hear how much He loves us and to let Him know how much we love Him right back...

Part II

CHRISTIANITY IS LIKE HAVING A GIRL/BOYFRIEND (OR JUST A REALLY CLOSE BUDDY)

Last week I started looking at our relationship with God and comparing it to having a relationship with a girlfriend.

[I] IF YOU HAVE A GIRLFRIEND, YOU WILL SPEND TIME WITH HER. [II] IF YOU HAVE A GIRLFRIEND, YOU WILL TALK TO HER/LISTEN TO HER

Let's continue:

[III] IF YOU HAVE A GIRLFRIEND, YOU WILL READ THE LETTERS SHE WRITES TO YOU.

Oh there I go again. Stretching the analogy for my own good. Who would possibly do that? Oh wait, all of us right? Someone, especially someone you love, writes you a letter and it makes sense that you will read it. These days it's cellphones and the sms (text message) - how many of you see an sms arrive on your phone from your girlfriend and go 'hey cool, I got a message' and then put your phone away? No ways! You will read it! Why should it be any different with God?

And there we bring in Exhibit A, that ominous old-fashioned piece of literature called 'The Bible' aka 'The Word of God.' I know a lot of Christians who don't dig the Bible - it's too old, it's too boring, it's too confusing. With that kind of perception around, no wonder no one wants to read the Bible.

But if you change the focus for a second and see it as what it is - a love letter from God to us. Wow! Then it starts to get exciting.

[and just as a side moment, the Bible is SO not boring - it has some of the most exciting stories than any book can offer - murder, rape, judgement, dead people coming to life, God becoming man and so on - the verse I use to illustrate this point frequently is Judges 1:6 - check it out! Not a boring book]

The Bible is a LOVE LETTER FROM GOD TO ME! There are different parts to the letter - some bits tell about who God is and give us some of the history of how He has worked with mankind, some parts describe His love for us, some parts have instruction for us which show us the best way we can live to have abundant life as it was meant to be, and some bits tell us about a future plan where everything just gets better - it is an exciting book!

If your girlfriend writes you a letter, you will read it. Why not the same for God? Sure it's not the easiest thing to read in one go, and I wouldn't really recommend trying that, but the joy and reality of the Bible is that we can read some of it every day and it remains relevant and life-bringing nearly 2000 years after it was written.

For me there was a time when the Bible was just 'The Bible' and now I'm in a time of 'I love this book' and it's not like I did anything to make the change occur. I think God puts the desire in our hearts or grows the desire possibly as we start seeking Him. For me, part of that process was watching a friend of mine, Jaap, who was on DTS with me in Holland three years ago, every night reading the Bible and other books late into the night. So hungry as a young Christian for more of God and to know and understand God more. That helped fuel a desire in me to have a hunger like that and God answered that over time and I left DTS a lot more interested in and excited in the Bible than I'd arrived.

So maybe the place for you to start is by asking God to give you the desire to read and know His Word. Read and learn to love the love letter that is written by a God absolutely and passionately in love with you.

"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double- edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." [Hebrews 4:12]

[IV] IF YOU HAVE A GIRLFRIEND, YOU WILL SPEND TIME WITH HER FRIENDS

Hmm, so we're on to point four already (for the Roman numerically challenged) and everything is making such sense... in any ordinary relationship and especially with someone we are going out with we do all that stuff naturally, so it should make sense that in a relationship with God it follows naturally as well.

But what about this one? Well if you have a girlfriend then chances are at some stage, whether you want to or not, you will end up hanging with some of her friends. The secret is that you probably won't even like all of them (maybe for some of you 'any of them'). But if your girlfriend has a birthday party, for example, the odds are pretty good that she won't only invite you and so you may be forced to spend time with people she digs spending time with. Then your choice is to hate it and avoid it and them as much as possible or figure that since she is going to want to keep spending time with them and so realise that you may as well at least try and get to like them.

Especially if you get married one day. Then you will have to figure that the friends are there for good and so you might as well make extra special effort.

This is a picture of the thing called church. Another heavily theological word that has all sorts of meanings and understandings and connotations attached to it. But what is church? It's spending time with people that God loves and enjoys spending time with. Ever think of it like that? Sure, there's a lot more to it, but

intrinsically that is what it is.

Church is a place where two or more gather in the name of Jesus and the Bible (there's that love letter again) tells us that where you have that many people gathered in His name, God is there. So, hanging with God and His people. If God loves these people then it just may be worth loving them as well. And getting to know them. And looking out for them when they are down or in need. Whether you like them or not. That's not the point - the point is God loves them and thinks they're worth dying for - and if God thinks that, then it really should be good enough for you.

It's another one that can take off with a prayer - God, help me to see in Your people the potential You see in them - help me to feel about them the way You do - and help me to love them in the way that You do.

Chances are you're going to be around most of them for a long, long time so it's worth getting your differences sorted out now.

"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching." [Hebrews 10:25]

[V] IF YOU HAVE A GIRLFRIEND, YOU WILL TELL PEOPLE ABOUT HER.

I'm sitting with an average of about one girlfriend every ten years, so believe me when I tell you that if I get a girlfriend you will know about it!

When I was younger, Jonty Rhodes, the greatest fielder cricket has EVER seen, was my hero. I used to love watching him play cricket. I had pictures of Jonty Rhodes in almost every room in my house. And I do mean ALMOST, because both bathrooms had pictures of him on the door (my folks and sister didn't see the merits of having his picture in their rooms). You could not spend a lot of time with me without hearing that I thort Jonty was cool. I wrote to him (and when I say 'younger' I mean when I was 20-something not like 8 so ja, slowly start edging towards the door kind of stuff). His parents managed his fan club and so one day my friend who knew where they stayed, drove me to their house and I met his mom (fully - she invited us in for juice and gave me clippings of him and I indefinitely borrowed flowers from the garden to press - stop laughing Sam! She was there!|). Eventually I managed to meet up with Jonty and gave him the FISH cap I'd had made for him (never saw him wear it on tv - the punk!) and chatted to him for about 5 minutes. Very cool!

The point is this - I thort he was cool and so people go to know that! If anyone insulted or dissed Jonty in conversation I would dive right in and start defending him and could explain why his test average was not as high as it should have been and how could they drop him from that arena and just let him play one day cricket and so on.

And then there's God! Jonty is NOTHING on God. Doesn't even come close. Not even on the same graph and so can't even begin to compare them.

Do people know I am absolutely stoked and passionately IN LOVE WITH God? They should. It should be a natural thing. Same as the story with the girlfriend. The news is going to get out. Via sms, phone call, internet and live visuals. If I never wanted to be seen with my girlfriend, what kind of message would that send to her? How important would she feel? Even if I kept reassuring her how much I loved her and talked to her and listened to her and read her letters. At some stage she would want people to know about her (probably from the very beginning)

Well that's this big, scary, threatening concept known to Christians as 'Evangelism' - telling others about God.

The way I heard it put excellently once was this 'You are just one beggar who has found bread, telling another beggar where to find it.'

'But I'm not called to evangelise!...' Maybe not, but you are called to let people see Jesus in and through your life and not to hide it away.

Do people that live around you and interact with you know that you are in love with God? Or is that an area where you still need to invite the Holy Spirit to come in and make Jesus Lord?

"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." [1 Peter 3:15-16]

I hope that these two weeks have helped simplify the whole idea of what it means to be a Christian - in understanding anyways - in practice and living it sometimes does get a bit more complex. But I think this is a good place to start.

If we claim to love God and be in relationship with Him it should follow naturally that we will:

# Spend time with Him # Talk to Him and listen to what He has to say # Read the Bible - the love letter that He has written to us # Go to church and spend time with the people God loves and who love Him (obviously God loves people who are not Christian but that falls into the next category) # Tell people about God and how He has changed our lives and invite others to know Him.

Simple, isn't it? But not necessarily easy. Cos if your Christianity is easy, chances are you're doing it wrong... But it should be life... lived to the full! In loving, growing relationship with God. Who is always waiting, lovingly to forgive and restore where we have messed up and get things moving in the right direction again.