Using God or Loving God?

Since we’re fresh out of the Christmas season, I thought it fitting to share with you an observation I had during the holiday. This observation has to do with a common theme in many Christmas movies and lives of kids which has a striking resemblance to the lives of many Christians.

This theme is the relationship or interaction between a child and Santa Claus. Watch almost any Christmas movie or go to any mall during that season and you’ll see this play out.

Take A Christmas Story, which is the best Christmas movie ever made, for example. Here’s what the main character Ralphie’s relationship with Santa consisted of. First, Ralphie wrote a list of all the things he wanted, and then second, he went to see Santa to tell him what he wanted. Not surprisingly, I don’t think Ralphie and Santa ever became very close.

I wonder how many of us have a similar relationship with God as kids have with Santa, where we approach the Lord as our cosmic Santa Claus, our divine servant, where the vast majority of our communication with Him is telling Him what we want from Him or what we want Him to do (I’ll be the first to admit that I often catch myself doing this).

It’s like a Freaky Friday situation where we have gotten our role mixed up with God’s and now treat Him as our servant instead of us being His. If you think this isn’t you or you’re not sure if it is, I recommend taking an honest audit of your prayers and mark down how much time you spend talking about your problems and the things you would like God to give you or do for you in comparison to the time you spend thanking, praising, and submitting to Him. 

In his book The Crucified Life, A.W. Tozer notes,

“We often seek our own interests while pursuing spiritual interests under the guise of seeking God’s interests. Being self-serving is where the strange ingenuity of Christians begins. Under the guise and pretense of seeking God’s interests, we have a sly way of serving our own interests. We have become very clever in this endeavor. But we are only fooling ourselves into thinking we are ‘about the Father’s business’ when we are actually doing our own business.”

When we are really about our own business, God still remains important to us but only for the sake of something else. Instead of pursuing God for who He is, we pursue Him for what He has or what He is able to do for us. We end up trying to “use God” to get what we want. 

Now there are two primary reasons that pursuing God primarily for what He can do for us instead of for who He is creates a lousy and insufficient relationship:

  • 1. It will eventually cause problems
  • Just like marrying someone for their money, if our relationship with God is largely based on what He’s able to give us outside of Himself, it will be a shallow and unsatisfying relationship. Our love and devotion will only exist to the extent that we experience the sought after “perks.” In his song, False Teachers, Shai Linne put it this way, “if you come to God for money, then he’s not your god, money is.” This is also true of anything you find yourself desiring more than God himself, in which you begin to treat God as a means to an end and end up trying to “use Him” to get that relationship or that job or that feeling or whatever else you may be after. This approach will not only create a subpar relationship with the Lord but will most likely lead you to disappointment, doubt, and distance. Now this isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t ask the Lord for anything, for He loves to give good gifts to His children (see Matthew 7:9-11); He delights in doing so. But that is a dangerous place to start, for then it becomes very difficult to develop an appetite for God himself. So just like everything else, our intentions behind us asking as well as our approach and view of God in the asking matter greatly. If either of these things are misaligned, you and your relationship with God will suffer. 

  • 2. We will miss out on something better
  • See, God doesn’t just have what we need, He is what we need. In Exodus 3:14, God revealed Himself to Moses not as the One who has, but as the One who is. And as long as we keep coming to Him looking and hoping for Him to give us something other than Himself to satisfy our desires or quench our fears we will never actually have those desires satisfied or those fears quenched. 

    Let us take the desire for peace as an example (a noble and good thing to desire and pray for just to be clear), where I might pray something like, “Lord, give me peace,” as if it is something external from Himself which He has that He may give to me for me to then have (just like you would give someone a gift on Christmas). If this is our understanding, we not only misunderstand much of who God is but we miss out on the true way to gain this peace. Consider Ephesians 2:14.

    “For he himself is our peace.” (Ephesians 2:14a ESV)

    See, peace is not so much something we have from God but something we experience when we have God. At first this might sound like a small or insignificant distinction, but the truth behind it and effect of it is huge. God doesn’t just give us peace, He is our peace. God doesn’t just have the solution to your problem, He is the solution. He doesn’t just have something to satisfy you, He is what will satisfy you. So as long as you are praying for God to give you something other than Himself to satisfy your deepest longings or solve your biggest problems, you will never actually have those longings satisfied or those problems solved, even if you get the thing you are praying for.

    If we are able to recognize that the only thing that will ever truly satisfy our longings is not something the Lord can give us or do for us but is the Lord himself, then we can allow that understanding to direct our time and prayers to not look for something from Him, but to look for Him. To be with Him. To get to know Him. The result of this approach will be a relationship abundant with love and joy in which you are satisfied and content because you have everything you need, because you have God.

    So Christian, I want to challenge you today to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), to prioritize God’s will for you over your will for Him, to die to yourself and experience life in Christ. In doing so, I think you will find what you are really looking and hoping for, for in seeking Christ over what you want you will find that Christ is what you really wanted all along.

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