Arrangement or Relationship
As I was waking up this morning and began praying to dispel a spirit of foreboding hanging around inside of me, I began asking God some questions. I have learned that choosing to focus on the goodness of God, the trustworthiness of God, the faithfulness of God providing for our needs is one of the most effective methods to dispel fear and darkness inside. But I sometimes wonder how many of my prayers are still motivated by a commercial spirit. Am I really moving deeper into a genuine trust in God as my loving, caring Father or am I still seeking to manipulate Him to some degree for my selfish purposes, to get what I want from Him because I feel pressure from other directions – like no money, bills piling up or being part of a shrinking church?
As I pondered this I was reminded of the words of Jesus about wanting us to be His friends instead of just servants (John 15:15). I know the reason He gave then was that He want us to relate to Him as people who were more aware of the reasons He does things instead of just blindly obeying Him as obedient servants. That is a wonderful thing to contemplate and experience. But I feel I am still missing a great deal here, especially since I still find it such a struggle to enter more fully into that kind of relationship with Him myself for whatever reasons that continue to inhibit me.
So I sensed God beginning to explain to me more about the difference between a friend and a servant, or worse yet a slave. A slave really does not have a real relationship with the master who owns him. A slave is a person who is in forced bondage, intimidated by threats of punishment or even death to perform whatever the master demands of him with no expectation of any kind of compensation. Slaves are viewed as property, not even humans really, which is why slavery is not only dehumanizing but is reprehensible to God. God has no interest in owning a bunch of slaves that He can order around to carry out His demands, who blindly keep His rules and jump to meet every whim of His desire. That is the picture of a very selfish kind of God which is the picture the enemy would have us believe.
A servant on the other hand could in a way be construed to have something like a relationship with a master, but when I think about it this is not really something worthy of the term relationship. The concept of a true relationship means being related, as in blood relation by birth, and a servant typically has nothing to do with being related physically to their master or boss but rather works for hire.
A servant worker is better off than a slave as a servant expects to get paid for their services at a reasonable rate. A servant has some rights not accorded to a slave as they have an agreement or a contract to receive a certain amount of compensation for services rendered. But outside of that commercial relationship after the servant is finished with work and goes home to his own family, that person feel little connection and certainly no affection for those he works for like family. And if they do it is not because of the work arrangement but because of a different friendship apart from their contract agreement.
Servant mentality is something many people have had with God throughout history. That is not to say that everyone who follows God only views Him with this commercial mindset. Even as children while still immature we typically relate to our own parents with a commercial mindset in our early years. Often as our parents raise us they have to rely on an external system of rewards and punishments to keep us protected from harm or death while we begin to learn about reality and life and relationships.
The problem however is that too many of us have failed to appreciate or even understand that a servant mentality was never God's end goal for those He created. God has plenty of servants in heaven – they are called angels or ministering spirits ready and eager to carry out at a moment's notice anything God needs done. That is not to suggest that angels have no capacity to go beyond a servant mentality themselves, but only to say that God did not need more servants around when He created humans on this planet. Humanity was not created to be God's slaves, and neither did He have in mind desire for a larger pool of servants because He had recently lost one third of the ones He originally created. No, God created humans to be unique and new in the universe for they were to be of a different order of beings; they were designed to reflect God in ways never seen before; they were to be something new, never imagined before and they would be called children.
This was possibly an amazing new design concept never imagined by anyone in existence up to that time which likely generated intense interest on the part of everyone. I suspect that this system of families and reproduction after our own kind was something unheard of in the universe before this world was created. Also of interest, it was not only humans that were designed to reproduce after their own kind and their own likeness but nearly everything alive on this planet was designed similarly. This was for a very specific reason though, for our world was designed to answer the charges and slander that was undermining God's reputation and His ability to run the universe the way He designed, with love alone.
The agape love of God, the kind of love that is totally selfless and other-focused and always giving and humble and innocent and caring, was not clearly understood when this earth was being created. There had been enormous conflict over God's claims that love was sufficient to maintain the universe in peace and safety and that His natural embedded principles we call laws that governs all reality were all that are needed to maintain peace and order and happiness. God's claims had not only been disputed and challenged but the underlying freedom God maintained as vitally necessary for true love to flourish had also been exploited by God's opponent until there was so much confusion and chaos surrounding the truth about God's ways and His character that something needed to be done. Trust in God and His methods had been seriously eroded so much so that even angels remaining loyal to God could not discern clearly the deeper issues that were being challenged damaging God's trustworthiness.
It was at this point that God came to hover over this planet in order to create an entire new ecosystem along with a new order of beings who would have infinite capacity to increasingly reveal in their own lives aspects of God's character that had never before been revealed. The creation of humans was specifically intended to put on display the true meaning of family and living in bonded relationships of love with others. Humans were to show what it meant to enjoy transparent relationships of love, trust, mutual respect and thriving in joy for the entire universe to observe and learn more about their Creator. Humans were to enter into the kind of joy with each other and God that so far only the godhead had experienced with each other from eternity past, the only difference being that humans would start out as immature but with the capacity to grow up and become intimate friends of God as they came to reflect secrets of the love hidden in the godhead that were not yet easy to discern by the rest of creation.
Of course we know that God's creation of humans to be His revelation of the real truth about His heart was sabotaged by the enemy and twisted into the horrendous mess that it has become. Instead of cooperating with heaven to reflect and expose hidden aspects of God's pure selfless love than had ever been appreciated before in the universe, humans now began to reflect in their lives the lies and insinuations by the enemy as part of Satan's assault on God's reputation.
Satan has long insisted that agape love is nonexistent and that claims of such love are all a charade on the part of God in order to manipulate His subjects and to deceive them. Satan insists that God is not really the loving Father that He says He is, but rather He is simply a very subtle manipulator deceiving everyone as He claims to be humble and loving and peaceful while in reality He hides a dark side that will lash out if He becomes too offended. In short, Satan has convinced a great number of angels and all of humanity that God is a tyrant, a slave driver or at best a boss insisting on full compliance with His rules and demands or else there will be hell to pay. This picture of God is all embedded in the symbol of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
The principles of healthy, loving family relationships that were meant to put on display by humanity now became very difficult to believe because accusations of His enemy seemed to be confirmed. Humans became subverted in their thinking about God and as a result themselves became abusive and exploitive – very much like the one who had infected their minds with his lies about God. By getting us to view God as demanding and severe, as being a big boss up in the sky dangling enticements or issuing severe threats or even death for even slight infractions of law, Satan has tried to completely obliterate the truth about God's heart that family relationships were intended to reveal.
What is becoming more clear to me know than before is that one of the biggest differences between a slave or servant mentality and true family relatedness is this issue of the spirit of commercialism. So long as we remain infected with a spirit of expecting something in return for services rendered or allegiance given, we also remain infected by the lies of Satan that causes us to remain far from the rich blessings of living life in the kind of love and joy that was intended to be the norm for all humanity.
Some years ago I came across this wisdom by Oswald Chambers that made a deep impression on me.
Then Peter began to say unto Him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed Thee.… Mark 10:28.
Our Lord replies, in effect, that abandonment is for Himself, and not for what the disciples themselves will get from it. Beware of an abandonment which has the commercial spirit in it—‘I am going to give myself to God because I want to be delivered from sin, because I want to be made holy.’ All that is the result of being right with God, but that spirit is not of the essential nature of Christianity. Abandonment is not for anything at all. We have got so commercialized that we only go to God for something from Him, and not for Himself. It is like saying—‘No, Lord, I don’t want Thee, I want myself; but I want myself clean and filled with the Holy Ghost; I want to be put in Thy showroom and be able to say—“This is what God has done for me.” ‘If we only give up something to God because we want more back, there is nothing of the Holy Spirit in our abandonment; it is miserable commercial self-interest. That we gain heaven, that we are delivered from sin, that we are made useful to God—these things never enter as considerations into real abandonment, which is a personal sovereign preference for Jesus Christ Himself.
When we come up against the barriers of natural relationship, where is Jesus Christ? Most of us desert Him—‘Yes, Lord, I did hear Thy call; but my mother is in the road, my wife, my self-interest, and I can go no further.’ ‘Then,’ Jesus says, ‘you cannot be My disciple.’
The test of abandonment is always over the neck of natural devotion. Go over it, and God’s own abandonment will embrace all those you had to hurt in abandoning. Beware of stopping short of abandonment to God. Most of us know abandonment in vision only.1
I have to confess that very likely the reason my own faith is still so fickle is because I am still too infected with this spirit of a commercial relation to God. I want Him to provide for me when I am in need or to protect me when I am in danger. It is not that God does not want to do all of those things and much more in my life; the real issue is that He wants more importantly to draw me into a relationship where I can begin to see and relate to Him as my caring Father instead of my boss or my slave-master standing over me using threats of punishment or offers of reward if I will just perform as expected.
A person thinking like a slave has not even risen yet up to the level of a commercial spirit. A slave obeys in order to avoid punishment or severe treatment or deprivation of what little is accorded for the slave to survive. A slave functions primarily from a spirit of fear alone and has no belief that the master could have anything else in mind for their relationship.
A servant can feel more independent than a slave in that they do not view themselves in hopeless bondage under a tyrant. At times they may not feel like they are much better off than a slave, depending on their circumstances. But either way a servant or a worker holding down a job does not see their boss through the eyes of child living with a caring, delighted loving parent. We relate to our bosses in what we call a professional manner. But interestingly this very word betrays the artificial nature of such a relationship, for the root of this word is profess.
Implied in the word profess is the idea that what I profess can easily be artificial and not real at all. One can be a professional actor playing a part on a stage that is not real but relies on skill and even deception to gain advantage, admiration and to also earn an income. Thus we find ourselves in a world intent on becoming professionals in one field or another while in truth we were never designed to live this way. Life on this planet has become almost completely fake and external and increasingly devoid of genuine bonds of love that families were supposed to teach and provide.
When Jesus explained to His disciples that He no longer wanted to maintain a servant-master arrangement with them but wanted them to see Him as their friend, He was trying to move them a step closer toward grasping the true desire of God's heart. God is not at all interested in being our slave-master or even our boss. Amazingly He is not even content to remain just a friend when it comes down to it. God has far higher plans in His heart for us than we dare to imagine, plans for intimacy with the godhead beyond our wildest imagination or ability to conceive. We may be compelled to move up through various inferior notions about God as we find ourselves at a great distance from this kind of experience with Him, but what God really has in mind is a restoration of the original intent in the design of humanity from the beginning – God wants children and for us to live with Him as family.
Now, children and friends are not exclusive relationships. Being a child does not preclude being able to be hired on as a worker in a company that the parent owns. But so long as the family bonds of love remain dominate over any other expectations in that kind of arrangement, the family relationship will always be the primary way in which everything will be understood and every decision will be made.
Friendship with God according to Jesus means becoming more familiar with the reasons inside God's head and heart as to why He does things and what is hidden in His heart. A child who also grows up to become a close friend is even more satisfying, for a child who has matured enough to relate to their parents more as a peer than simply as child creates a wonderful and rich relationship for both the parent and the child. Living as a child of God as well as a friend of God means that we can feel free to think for ourselves and are no longer afraid to ask questions or challenge things we don't understand. We have moved past unfounded fears that God will be offended by our questions and realize that it delights Him to explain to us the reasons for things He does. But this also means we will question within the atmosphere of trust because we know our Parent's heart well enough to give them the benefit of the doubt. We will not be afraid to pepper our parent with lots of questions to try to eliminate our doubts, but we will also trust when our questions are not answered as soon as we would like.
As I now see more clearly, God longs for us to grow up more in order to enter into a real relationship based on love and trust with Him. This also means letting go of all other arrangements such as slavery or even maintaining a servant mentality. Does that mean we will not want to serve anymore? Not at all, for service is something that will actually become a dominant feature in our lives as we come to reflect more and more the Spirit of the greatest Servant in the universe. But God wants us to serve only from a heart overflowing with His love for us, not doing a professional service because we feel obligated or threatened or with a commercial attitude. God longs to draw us up to participate in the joy of the godhead where there is no trace of self-interest but only a passionate desire to bless and lift up others.
1 Chambers, O. (1986). My utmost for his highest: Selections for the year. Grand Rapids, MI: Oswald Chambers Publications.