“Pray without ceasing.”
— 1 Thessalonians 5:17
Whether we realize it or not, God is at the center of the life of the Christian, and our life is a constant life of prayer, not merely because of what we ask of God, but because of His sovereign choice of us! The same Power that raised Jesus from the dead now dwells within each person who trusts Jesus to save, keep, and deliver him or her to our eternal resting place with God.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you feel God to be at the center of your life! What matters is the acknowledgment that God doesn’t break His promises, and that Jesus says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37)
We have been called out by God from this world, before the worlds were even formed (Ephesians 1:4) to be His own possession and, therefore, He is at the center of our lives as long as we trust Him over and above our life-circumstances or anyone or anything else!
Unfortunately for all of us, the world, the flesh, and the devil seductively beckon us to have them first and foremost in our lives and there is, therefore, constant warfare between the spirit and the elemental things of this world. The Word of the Lord as spoken through Jeremiah puts it succinctly, “My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting-place.” (Jeremiah 50:6)
God is referring to those who place themselves above others, in a religious hierarchy, and demand behaviors that are deemed to be culturally appropriate in the name of Christianity; seek to impose rules and regulations on others that no one, including them, can obey. Hence, many people are both turned off of church, and even question whether God is at the center of their lives, and thereby forget that only God is their resting-place.
What many fail to realize is that there is a redemptive aspect to suffering attendant upon such abusive religion. As the author Viktor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, observed, we frequently discern our purpose in life through suffering.
It is through suffering that we can best see the hand of God in our lives. Suffering can lead to self-absorption, but it can also lead to acknowledgment of God’s centrality in our lives. To the degree we have a choice in the matter, it is to that degree that we can exercise the last of our human freedoms: our attitude toward our suffering.
By seeing suffering, ostracism, demonization, and all sorts of predatory behavior exercised upon people in the name of God, and frequently by the Church that claims to speak for the Prince of Peace, as a vehicle to focus on God, we are exercising biblical faith. It is such biblical faith, that sees God’s sovereignty in all things; that knows that God is not stupid and knows the beginning from the end; that knows that God knows our frame, that is the faith that enables us to plug in to God’s grace, or unmerited favor to us.
Suffering and the seductions of the world must force us to further acknowledge God’s claims on our lives as Christians! When Martin Luther was most busy, he prayed more! As he wrote in his last letter to his wife, “Pray and let God worry.”
We must distinguish the “urgent” from the “important!” The world, the flesh, and the devil compel a sense of urgency. God compels a sense of importance. We are to realize that our feelings are irrelevant to our standing with God!
Our standing with God has already been decided from the foundation of the world and there is absolutely nothing we can do to change that fact, save turn our backs on God which, I believe, is impossible for a Christian to do. God is at the center of our lives because He chose us to be His own possession! We didn’t choose God; He chose us!
This fact is, in part, what distinguishes Christianity from all other “religions,” in that in other religions people seek after God. In Christianity, God seeks after His own people. The Hound of Heaven knows His own and is at the center of their lives, whether they recognize it or not.
Now, how do we recognize the fact that God is at the center of our lives? Look at our past and see how God delivered us from all sorts of problems and turmoils that beset us. He didn’t bring us this far so that He could turn His back on us.
He has always been at the center of our lives, in that He is “out there” and “in our souls.” He is external to us and at the very core of our beings.
Rather than acknowledge these facts, many Christians feel they have to resort to all sorts of defense mechanisms and coping strategies in order to deal with this corrupt world that is ruled by the prince of the power of the air. We seek to avoid problems, desire to be liked or affirmed by others, use alcohol or other drugs as anesthetics for the problems in living that we all face, and all sorts of strategies that bespeak a lack of knowledge that God, a Person, resides within each and every Christian.
Unfortunately, the Church is a frequent stumbling block for us to understand that God is at the center of our lives! It demands creeds, doctrines, marginalization, demonization, intolerance, and outright homophobia. The Catholic Church, of which I’m a member, says that homosexual orientation is not a sin, but acting on that orientation is a sin.
That view is equivalent to saying that you can be hungry, but never eat food! Moreover, it says that marriage is to only be for the possibility of procreation; hence, gay marriage is taboo. To use that logic, infertile and sterile people couldn’t get married. The Church’s homophobia is foolish on its face!
Clearly, homophobia is not restricted to the Catholic Church, but is inextricably bound within the stated or unstated doctrines within most “traditional” churches. In this context, it is important to remember Jesus’ injunction, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? (Matthew 15:3)
The commandment of God is to both love Him and to love others as ourselves! Traditions frequently make void the Word of God and in so doing dissuade people from recognizing and acknowledging that God is at the center of their lives. As was the case with Afro-Americans, women, and slaves, this fact is also currently true with many GLBT Christians.
Although segregation and diminution of the role of women still exist within many churches, most all churches send out messages that God can’t be in the center of the life of GLBT Christians. Indeed, many churches say that one can’t be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and be a Christian.
If one believes this lie, one is looking for affirmation from mere human beings (see Isaiah 2:22 and Galatians 1:10) and institutions and that is the sin of idolatry. Not only is God in the center of the life of each and every Christian, it is quite therapeutic to recognize that fact, and realize that we are not answerable to other people or even the church world. We are solely answerable to God!
What I am writing is a prescription for mental and spiritual health! I sincerely hope you ingest and digest this sweet remedy!
Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society,” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. Maneker also published a blog called “A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights” and the website Radical Christianity.