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Prayer Defines Your Relationship with Christ

This blog post is based on an idea from the soon-to-be-released book, Secrets of the Inner Chamber: How to Experience the Phenomenal Power of Private Prayer.

When I mention the inner chamber, I am referencing Matthew 6:6, where Jesus shares the concept of the prayer closet with us.

If God’s Word is the anvil, and prayer is the hammer, then the inner chamber is the forge in which the bond of relationship with God is formed. When we talk about what it means to know Christ these days, we are quick to say, “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” That idea is a fallacy. It is a shallow, easy-to-grab slogan that is mindlessly repeated everywhere.

The fact is, it is not either a relationship or a religion that defines our Christ-life, but both-and. Without the religious aspect of our faith, which includes the careful teaching of sound theology and doctrine, and our participation in public worship, whatever form it may take in our tradition, there would be no proper relationship with Christ or with His body, the Church. Conversely, without the personal relationship we enjoy with Christ, the rest of it would be nothing but law and dogma and dreadfully stifling obedience.

There is nothing whatsoever wrong with religion. We need more of it, better practiced. More and more. Of course, religion can be, and is, perverted, just as is the case with virtually anything else. Wherever the pure, genuine and true exists, there also will be the adulterated, inauthentic and false.

The biblical definition of religion has to do with the external form in which our faith expresses itself. It is devotion to God arising from a healthy and proper reverence for Him, inspiring us to engage in His worship, which results in practical piety, rightly directed.

James puts it so well when he says, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:26-27). The possibility of “pure and undefiled religion before God,” then, does exist, and is a thing to be desired and sought after.

Still, we do speak of this relationship business, and I love it as well as I love Christ and the pure religious pursuit of Him. I love my Lord. I love everything about Him, and everything, including religion, that is a part of knowing and honoring Him. Love, in fact, is the basis of my relationship with Him, as I certainly hope it is the basis of yours, too. His love for us is the introduction to our relationship with Him. It is the first thing that we encounter about Him, since it is the means He uses to reach out to us, attract us, and draw us to Himself.

You learn to love God in the inner chamber. Your “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ, something that most Christians tossing the phrase around so glibly still have trouble defining, acquires all of its true substance in the inner chamber, and nowhere else. It expresses itself, religiously, outside of the chamber, but it is formed in front of the fireplace, where the hearth is blazing and crackling with the fire of God’s truth. It is fashioned under the illumination of the classic lamp of understanding, in the secret place. It is formulated as you are seated, side-by-side with Christ, your heads bent over the open Word.

Jesus clearly leads us into the understanding that all religion, all righteousness, all knowledge of God and everything about serving Him, all these things are matters of the heart. If they are not rooted in and carried out in your heart first and always, if they do not serve to educate, purify and mature your heart, they have no effect or value in your life. In other words, what you make of your relationship with Christ in the inner chamber is all you have of it to carry out into the world. This is what ignites within you the light of the world. It is how God establishes you as a city set upon a hill, that cannot be hid. This is the fountainhead, the source, of pure religion, undefiled.

In a complete and amusing irony, your worship of the Father in spirit and truth, which is the only acceptable worship, since “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24), is your “religion.” Your religion is what gives you the equipping, motivation and confidence to go out and “be” the hands of Christ, His faithful steward, conducting His business in your daily activities.

So really, “It’s not about relationship, it’s first about religion. And it’s not only about religion, it’s also about a relationship.” Get it right and you’ll live it rightly. You will only get it right in the inner chamber, because “A good man [or woman] out of the good treasure of his [or her] heart brings forth good things, and an evil man [or woman] out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12:35). The Lord Christ does not compromise on this.

Your religion and your relationship both are to result in an ever-expanding love for God, based upon the ever-expanding understanding of His love that you receive by knowing Him better and better. The inner chamber is all about communion, fellowship and communication with God. It is all about deepening the bonds. This happens through prayer, which is the dialogue between you and Jesus Christ. Prayer is the exchange of communication that takes place as you listen and are instructed through God’s Word, and as you speak, through prayer conversation.

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Comment by Jim Otis on May 2, 2012 at 12:40pm

Thank you for a very insightful comment, Bran. I think I'm alongside of you in the pet peeve market. I particularly like your ideas about the "not a religion" position being a smokescreen for ignorance. It is that, in many cases I'm afraid. Relationship with Christ is defined by communication and communion, and the religious actions that arise out of that. The Word, as the listening side of our prayer dialogue, right interpretation yielding a healthy theology and sound doctrine. These are essential. So, I think it is lack of relationship that has given rise to the "it's not a religion." I'm not trying to be harsh, but I come across so many folks today who frequent the local church, but have neither religion nor relationship.

Comment by Brian Considine on May 2, 2012 at 9:07am

Nicely written. Well said and it needs to be said often. One of my pet peeves is this idea "Christianity isn't a religion but a relationship." It is repeated as the Christian mantra by many religiously and ad nauseum. What the unbelieving world hears however is "I'm making excuses for my religion." They then perceives us as being less than truthful with ourselves and hypocritical, rightly mocking our lack of integrity. I think this "not religion" mantra arose for two reasons. First, from the pushback on flawed religion from our culture. But we only perpetuate more of the same by being disengenous. Second, lack of an informed and educated body of Christ who fail to love God with all their minds. Because so many cannot give a reason for the hope they have, cannot articulate a well reasoned defense of their faith, and our religion, they succumb to fear due to their lack of preparation. Then this response "ralationship, not religion" becomes a defense mechanism. It's past time we enthusiastically embrace our great religion, and all it offers mankind as the only solution to life's challenges, the only internally consistent and cogent worldview there is. This can only happen as enter the chamber and into a deeper relationship with the living Christ.

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