Ravi Zacharias is a well-known speaker on faith, culture and philosophy. He travels around the world, rubbing shoulders with the intellectual elite. He wasn’t always the intellectual sort. He wasn’t always a man faith. He called himself an atheist growing up.
In an interview, when he was pressed on that point, he said, “Atheism is a strong word. I was living like an atheist.”
How many of us live like an atheist?
When I was young, and if somebody asked me if there is a God, I probably would have said yes. Perhaps, my answer would have been more reflexive than reflective, but I can’t honestly say that I was an atheist. The fact is, though, I really didn’t think about it.
I lived as if I were atheist. God was not relevant to my life. The thought of God was not in my conscious awareness. I gave no attention to the idea that God existed. God was more like an idea than a person to me, and the idea did not impact my life.
I lived my own life the way I wanted to live it. I was often frustrated. My life did not live up to what I wanted it to be. I did not live up to the image of myself in my own mind. My life was marked with frustration, jealousy, longing, anger and depression. But I was the captain of my own ship.
Most people in the United States believe in God according to the surveys, but it seems obvious that most people in the United States live as if they were atheists.
Some of us make room for God for an hour maybe four or five times a year. Some of us make room for God for an hour on most Sundays. Some of us even go to church on a regular basis, but we don’t think about God, read his Word or attempt to commune with him during most of the week. We have compartmentalized God to Sunday mornings and maybe a few other times during the week.
All of these are different degrees of living like an atheist.
Many of us have belief in God, but we don’t have faith. Even Satan believes in God. Faith is putting trust in God, committing to Him and living our lives in communion with God. If God created the universe, created you and me and everything we know, doesn’t He deserves more of us than one hour every Sunday and a few nods during the week?
I am preaching to myself here.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances….” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
We might be tempted to take this admonition and begin offering up daily and maybe even hourly prayers. Say a dozen “Our Fathers” every day, and you will be good to go. I don’t think this is what Paul is talking about. He is talking about a life lived in relation and union with God – a life orientated toward God.
“[T]hat they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us….” John 17:21)
Jesus was one with the Father, and he prayed for us to be one with each other and one with God. What Jesus exhibited in his life, and what he prayed for us, is deeper and more sustained than any ritual or obligatory actions we could take. Jesus had relationship with the Father, and he prayed for relationship among us and with us.
There is no competition or self-righteousness in a life of relationship with God. Relationship with God is not like the Pharisee who prays publically and thanks God that he is not like other people who are not as pious. (Luke 8:9-14)
In this fast-paced, modern world dominated by busyness, deadlines and media of all kinds, the competition for our attention is fierce. Even in the far simpler times of the 1st Century, Jesus often escaped to “lonely places” to pray and focus on God. (See Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42; 5:16; and Matthews 14:23 to note a few.)
Prayer is certainly much more than reciting phrases. Prayer is awareness of God, communion with God, letting God commune with us. It is the Spirit testifying with our spirit. (Romans 8:16) It is “radical receptivity to the Holy Spirit”.
Our lives are to be loved in conscious awareness and orientation toward God. This is what God wants from us. This what God seeks for us. This is where we find our ultimate fulfillment as creatures made in the very image of God, reflecting back to Him the love He has for us.