WITH – Small Group Series Overview

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It is only when we have a Relationship WITH God that we are able to truly be satisfied in our life and in our faith.  Over the next few weeks (on Oct. 24 & 28), we are going to offer you a two-part series based on an incredible book called With by Skye Jethani.  This article will give you and your group leaders an overview of the key talking points from the book that we will be pulling from in the discussion guides.

What you need to know?

Over the next few weeks, students will be studying and learning from a series called WITH. This series discusses the perspectives and paradigms of our faith. Each of us brings a particular perspective to how we relate to God, and in this series we’ll discuss particular perspectives (or postures) that are insufficient for a vital faith.

All quotes or summaries are from the book: With by Skye Jethani (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011).

The Four Postures

In his book With, Skye Jethani outlines four “postures” that our culture takes when relating to God. Below are short summaries from chapters in Jethani’s book.

Life FROM God

We live in a material world, consumeristic. Many people see God as a divine butler, and cosmic therapist, existing to help through problems and achieve dreams and desires. LIFE FROM GOD looks at a God who exists to supply what I need or desire. The only experience or relationship with God in this posture becomes receiving material or personal “blessings.” The extreme form of this posture is “The Prosperity Gospel.” This posture is appealing because we are not asked to change our lives very much. We can distract ourselves from fear and pain, and we feel in control. We forget why we need God. We get comfortable. But when pain and suffering DO happen, there is no explanation.

Look at Exodus. After the migration from Egypt, the former slaves forgot why they needed God and longed for Egypt again. LIFE FROM GOD is not a relationship with God. LIFE FROM GOD is just about God’s blessings for us.

At the CORE of LIFE FROM GOD? Me (no relationship with God).

Life OVER God

The basic principle of the LIFE OVER GOD posture is humanity living without God. John Lennon’s IMAGINE is an example of this posture. Some in the church have this posture too. LIFE OVER GOD means that there is no room or need for God. The universe is a machine that we can understand, and God is simply the clockmaker that made the clock and stepped back. God established principles and natural law, and gave us a manual (Bible). We substitute a relationship with God for a relationship with the manual and principles (We have the repair manual, why talk to the mechanic?) We have the steps and the laws and instructions. There is no need for any relationship.

We revert back to the proven formulas that have worked for us or others. In Exodus, God tells Moses to strike a rock in order to bring forth water for the thirsty Israelites. However, when the people get thirsty again, God tells Moses to speak to the rock. But Moses reverts to what worked in the past instead. He strikes the rock. And water comes forth. But God is not pleased.

Of course, problems arise when certain questions come up under this posture. What happens when we can’t explain something with our principles or formulas? In our attempt to set aside fear and gain control, we are saddled with more control and burden then we were meant to carry. And in reality it is false control.

At the CORE of LIFE OVER GOD? An immutable set of principles (No relationship with God.)

Life FOR God

The LIFE FOR GOD posture is motivated by a fear of living an insignificant life. This posture believes that what matters most to God is what you can accomplish for God (not God’s love for you or a relationship). This posture tends to be the opposite of LIFE FROM GOD. Mission and helping people becomes the only goal. There is no relationship for God. There is only the accomplishment of as much as possible FOR GOD.

Matthew 7:22-23 illustrates what can happen when we replace a relationship with Christ, with mission as our primary goal:

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

At the CORE of LIFE FOR GOD is mission (No relationship with God).

Life UNDER God

LIFE UNDER GOD is common in Christianity. This posture is characterized by a belief that one’s primary calling is to live under divine rules in order to avoid divine calamity. Ancients lived UNDER God, and that is how they participated in maintaining the universe and their survival. AKA Follow the rituals/rules = Get blessed; don’t follow rituals/rules = Receive punishment. So, if you live how God wants you to live, he will bless you and answer your prayers.

Of course the problem with this is that we seek to exert control over God through strict adherence to rituals and obedience, we assume authority. And what happens when we live accordingly and we don’t get blessed? Many leave church because this is what they are taught and it does not work out. And it doesn’t make us less afraid. It just makes us afraid of God. There is no relationship. There is only a hope that we do all the right things.

At the CORE of LIFE UNDER GOD is God’s capricious will and the fear of humanity (No relationship with God).

Life WITH God

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was WITH God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). The Trinity reveals that we worship a relational and intensely personal God. God’s relational nature is further revealed by Eden, a place established by God, for the purpose of walking WITH humanity. Humanity is created in the perfect image of God.

The beginning of our scriptures are filled with this idea of God desiring simply to exist WITH humanity. Interestingly, the end of our scriptures (Revelation 21:2-3) prophecy a similarity:

I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here WITH humankind. He will dwell WITH them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be WITH them as their God.

God’s desire from the beginning to the end is to exist WITH humanity, in relational unity. But LIFE WITH GOD is so far beyond our imagination that is must be revealed to us. And it has been revealed to us. Christ is Immanuel, God WITH us. Jesus provides an entirely different way of relating to God.

At the core of LIFE WITH GOD is relationship. When God sought to restore and reconcile God’s self and humanity, God’s plan was not (1) to send a list of rituals and rules to follow (LIFE UNDER GOD), (2) nor was it the implementation of useful principles (LIFE OVER GOD. (3) God did not send a genie to grant us our desires (LIFE FROM GOD), (4) and God did not give us a task to accomplish in order to get back to God (LIFE FOR GOD). Instead, God came to be WITH us.

In LIFE WITH GOD, we do not seek to use God to achieve another goal. In LIFE WITH GOD, God is the goal. God becomes our treasure, our desire. We seek to be restored to the perfect image of God through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Want a biblical example of all 5 postures?

Take a look at Luke 15:11-32. The Story of the Prodigal Son. In this story, Jesus illustrates God’s relationship with God’s people. LIFE FROM GOD is exemplified by the prodigal’s posture toward his father – the son valued his father’s gifts more than he valued his father. It was not about relationship, it was about what the son could receive FROM the father.

When apart from the father, with wealth and life experience, the son lives LIFE OVER GOD. There is no need for God. He has some knowledge of the way that the world works, and he thinks he has what it takes to maintain control over his life and his circumstances. However, the son quickly realizes that he does not have control, and ends up worse than when he left.

The son realizes that he can live his life in better circumstances, working as a servant for his father, under a set of rules. His posture changes to LIFE UNDER GOD, as he seeks to live under his father’s rules in order to receive “blessings” (food, shelter, etc.).

He returns home, and his father greets him, throws him a party. In fact, the father runs to meet his lost son. The father kills the fatted calf, and there is a great celebration. The brother sees the celebration and becomes unhappy. This is because the brother has spent years serving his father, doing everything FOR his father, living FOR his father, never particularly interested in relationship, similar to the prodigal son. The brother found his significance in what he accomplished for his father. LIFE FOR GOD.

But the father illustrates LIFE WITH GOD. Of central importance is relationship. To his older son, the father states,

Son, you are always WITH me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’

– Luke 15:31-32

What mattered most to this father was having both of his sons WITH him. And so it is with our heavenly Father. Reversing Eden’s rebellion and restoring what was lost can only be accomplished when we learn that at the center of God’s heart is having God’s children WITH him.

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Lane is the Pastor of Discipleship at Brentwood United Methodist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. He’s a graduate of Huntingdon College and Harvard Divinity School and is an elder in the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. Lane has a passion for making disciples for Jesus and for Auburn football! Follow him on Twitter: @RevLaneDavis.

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