“Religious people find God useful. Gospel people find God beautiful.”
That little Tim Keller gem has been running around my head all week. At first it was just a clever one-liner, great for ‘gospel people’ like me. But soon it had me asking: which group do I really belong to? Maybe too often I see God as useful, not beautiful.
It didn’t take much questioning of my prayer life to find answers I didn’t like. I seem to spend so much time giving God my checklist of things I want him to sort out, and so little time adoring our beautiful God. Even when worshipping him, the very act of telling God how beautiful he is, I still find myself asking what I can get out of it, asking questions like ‘how did it make me feel’?
Could it be that I have taken the beautiful Creator and, in my mind, reduced him to a spiritual butler?
In the contrasting lives of King Saul and King David, we see the difference between a man who finds God useful, and a man who finds God beautiful. Throughout Saul’s life there is little evidence of a deep personal relationship with God. Yes, Saul was religious. He offered sacrifices to God, but these sacrifices were often before battles that he needed God’s help with. He called out to God, but instead of love letters they were nearly always petitions for help with Saul’s cause. Saul knew God, but only as a useful associate. It seems that to Saul God was little more than a higher being that could step in and help him with whatever he needed.
It seems that to Saul God was little more than a higher being that could step in and help him with whatever he needed.
I look at Saul’s life, and I look at my own. How often do I go through the religious motions like Saul, just so I can get something back from God? How often do I offer my sacrifice to God with a mind on what battle he can win for me?
David, on the other hand, knew God as a close friend. David’s psalms are evidence of a deep, personal relationship with God; verse after verse speaks of a beautiful, powerful, faithful God. When David prayed it wasn’t that he would be glorified, but that God would be glorified as Lord. He wasn’t concerned with what God could do for him, but instead how he could serve God.
God says that David is “a man after his [God’s] own heart”, an intimate relationship with God had taken David to the point where his heart had aligned with God’s; he isn’t looking for a God to supernaturally help in his own cause, but instead allowing his heart, plans and desires to be in line with God’s. In short, David knew that God would help him, but more than that he knew that God was beautiful.
Moving away from an attitude like Saul’s to that of David’s isn’t easy. We live in a society which tells us to use and abuse those around us to our own gain. It seems almost human nature to ‘use’ God for our own benefit. It’s so easy to walk through the religious motions, hoping that our hard work will gain some reward from God. But we were made for a higher purpose than this; God is calling us to a real relationship. A relationship based upon love and intimacy, not religion and reward.
Of course, I believe God can and will provide for our every need according to his will. God is generous, loving and kind and he always gives his children good gifts. It’s right that we should bring the desires of our heart to God, knowing that he is able to provide. But when that’s as far as our relationship with God goes we are missing so much. God is infinitely beautiful and worthy of all our praise, not because of what he can do for me, but simply because he is.