Thrive in 5 – Spiritual
“What comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us … Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ‘What comes into your mind when you think about God?’ we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man.”
(A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy)
Narratives: How Your View of God Impacts Your Friendship with Him
Narratives are stories that we live by, often unconsciously.They develop from events and people in our lives and have shaped the way we see the world. Key questions such as: Who am I? Why am I here? Am I valuable? are answered early on in the form of narrative. For example, “I am valuable if I get good grades and go to a prestigious college” or “To be accepted by God I need to behave in a certain way.” Sometimes these narratives are caught, sometimes explicitly taught.
Narratives are important because a vague picture of God leads to a vague relationship with God. Or perhaps you might have a narrative of God that makes intimacy with him extremely difficult. Our understanding of God profoundly shapes us.
Skye Jethani, in his book With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, highlights some typical false narratives about God.These narratives are not necessarily “all bad.” Each one contains some element of truth, but in the end is deficient.They distort and reduce our faith and are unhealthy foundations for our relationship with God.
Jethani uses five prepositions to describe ways of relating to God that reveal a particular inaccurate or incomplete narrative of God. As you read them, see if you can identify your own narrative.
1. Under – Viewing God as the Divine Police Officer
- This view is a cause and effect relationship: We obey his commands, and in turn, he blesses our lives, our families and our nation.
- We focus on what God approves and disapproves in order to stay within those boundaries.
- We seek to “exert control over God through strict adherence to rituals and absolute obedience to moral codes” (p. 27).
- We live under the heavy yoke.
- It revolves primarily around God’s will.
- Over – Viewing God as the Divine Landlord or Coach
- In this view “the mystery and wonder of the world is lost as God is abandoned in favor of proven formulas and controllable outcomes” (p. 6).
- We focus on organizational principles rather than on prayer.
- The Bible becomes more a revelation of divine principles for life rather than a revelation of himself (love letters to the world).
- Success is based on effective outcomes rather than faithfulness to God’s calling.
- It revolves primarily around God’s principles.
- From – Viewing God as the Divine Butler or Therapist
- This view sees God as a means to an end.
- We want God’s blessings and gifts but are not particularly interested in God himself.
- We use God to bless our endeavors.
- Comfort rather than deliverance becomes our ultimate goal.
- It revolves primarily around God’s gifts.
- For – Viewing God as Divine Taskmaster or Employer
- This view focuses on God’s mission ahead of God himself.
- We think the most significant life is the one expended accomplishing great things in God’s service.
- God expects a lot out of me.
- We find our worth in serving or obedience.
- Our value is linked to accomplishment and impact.
- It revolves primarily around God’s goals.
- With – Viewing God as Divine Community
- This view focuses around God himself.
- We seek to enjoy God, to “glorify God and enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism).
- We desire God’s presence and communion with him.
- We live a life of overflowing.
- Life with God means “treasuring, uniting with, and experiencing God in a way that allows faith, hope and love to flourish in our lives” (p. 175).
Questions for reflection:
- Which posture do you tend to gravitate toward the most?
- How and when does that show up in your life?
- How can you become more aware of your tendency and adjust your way of relating to God?
- What is one thing you can do to enjoy God?
To explore more about narratives and ways we relate to God, see the following:
Skye Jethani. (2011). With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
J.B. Phillips. (1952). Your God is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike. New York, NY: Touchstone.
James Bryan Smith. (2009). The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Spiritual contributor and curator: Linda Gist is a spiritual formation director in Sacramento, California. She is a graduate of the Renovare© Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation and regularly leads retreats for pastors.
To contact Linda, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Linda’s website: Rhythms of Grace
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle