The title of this article, “Relationship>Ritual” means relationship is greater than ritual. Imagine a math problem with the greater than (>) sign in it. (3.5>5 or 1/2>1/4, for example).
Relationship>ritual is about our relationship with God. Writing it in this way, with the “greater than” sign in it, serves as a visual reminder that a relationship with God is more important than a legalistic ritual. God designed us for a relationship with Him. However, when we try to earn something from Him, or get Him to do something we want, we may engage in a sort of ritualized behavior to try and coax Him or prove to Him that we should have our way.
A ritual performed legalistically – for the sake of the ritual itself or just to get something from God that we want – isn’t what God is looking for. He desires a warm, intimate relationship with His children. He knows us intimately, and He wants us to know Him intimately, too.
Jesus warned about overvaluing the ritual or the letter of the law during his ministry.
“And the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness’.” Luke 11:39
“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisees! First clean the inside of the cup and plate, that the outside may also be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26
When we focus on ritual, we become concerned with performance, with ability, with “me” and “I.” We spend time and energy focusing on the rules or the procedures. The focus is external. Did we do all the steps? In the right order? Did we follow all the rules? (We’re focusing on the outside of the cup).
Instead, our time and energy should be on understanding who God is, on reading His Word, on learning to hear His voice. On asking Him to change our hearts and lives. (If we do this, we focus on the inside of the cup).
We should pray: Father, search my heart. Is there anything evil there? Is there anything impure? Is there anything I am prioritizing over my relationship with you? Remove those things from my life, Lord. Make my heart pure. I only want you.
Praying words like this to God from a sincere heart can prove life-changing. God will answer. He will give knowledge of Himself, an understanding of His word. He will help us learn to submit our lives to Him and to obey His will. He will help us lead godly lives.
If you want this – knowledge of God, intimacy with God, an understanding of His word, to live a godly life – you must come to understand that He wants a relationship with you. Personal. Genuine. Mutually loving and caring. Purposeful. Intentional. Interactive.
Knowledge of the steps and rules of a ritual won’t cultivate that kind of a relationship.
Focus on your own ability to perform the ritual won’t nurture intimacy with your Creator.
None of these will ever lead to a life-changing relationship with him.
We need to learn to hear His voice, so we need to learn to listen to Him and talk to Him by spending time in quiet with Him.
We need to understand His character, so we need to spend time in the Word reading about Him and what He has done.
Following a ritual formula means we don’t actually have to get to know Him, just the ritual. We place all our faith in the ritual and in our ability to do it well enough to gain what we want.
Even getting up every morning (or whenever you do it) to have quiet time with God can become “just another ritual” if it becomes mechanical, if we begrudge it, if we are trying to convince Him of how good we are, or if we do it because we feel we must rather than because we long for the presence of our Heavenly Father.
This doesn’t mean rituals are rendered useless: the Lord’s supper, baptism, saying the Lord’s prayer, the sacrament of marriage, lighting Advent candles…but the condition of our hearts when we do them is more important the the doing of the rituals. Don’t just go through the motions. Our hearts should be clear first. Our minds should be set on God. Grudges forgiven. Horizontals relationships (with people in our lives) in order. These things make our hearts clean and open to our Lord when we participate in a ritual.
Pray this prayer from a sincere heart:
Father, You are my Creator. You have fearfully and wonderfully made me. You have chosen me and called me to be your child. You have revealed yourself to me. You will keep me. Praise the Lord! I am so thankful to be your child.
I want to be able to be in your presence, Lord, to sit at your feet. Show me when I don’t put you first, Father. Convict me when I am focusing too much on the ritual and have neglected the relationship. I don’t want to just go through the motions. I want you. I want you as my Savior and as my Lord, to save me and be sovereign over me. Help me to choose you, to keep my eyes focused on you, to keep your Word in my mind, and to keep my heart open to conviction and change. Make me a light for you. Make me bold. Give me the words to say and the things to do to point others to you. Thank you for hearing y prayer, Lord. I love you. Amen.