On night, about twenty years ago, the church landline rang after one evening at our missions conference. On the other end of the line was a man from the community who wanted a “father” to come and bless his house because he was convinced that his home and family were under demonic attack. I was not a father at the time and so I decided to rope one of our elders into this particular request. He felt that this would be a great training opportunity and so “invited” me to join him on this particular house visit.

We drove to meet the family. The father was highly agitated and explained why he felt that his family was undergoing demonic attack. He pleaded with us again to bless his house as a means of protection from Satan. We took the opportunity to share the gospel with the family and prayed with them before leaving. As we prepared to leave, he asked how much he owed for the visit and the prayer of protection. We tried to explain that we were not selling some form of protection. He insisted and so we eventually agreed to take the gift—on condition that the family attend church that Sunday. They promised. We never saw them again. We returned the cash envelope into their post box the next week.

Clearly, these people were not interested in a relationship with God. They wanted to guarantee, with some form of payment, favour with God, but had no real use for God or his church. They are not alone. Many share this attitude toward God and his church. For far too many, the church is a place to secure good friendships, social respectability, reliable business opportunities, or some sense of religious certainty. They attend the services regularly and even give faithfully but they act out of some sense of moral compulsion while their heart is far from God.

Psalm 51 paints a very different picture. The superscription informs us that David wrote these words when Nathan confronted him about his sin against Bathsheba. He felt the weight of his sin and longed to know forgiveness. Unlike many whose religiosity is driven by a sense of moral compulsion, his motive went far deeper than superficial feelings or social respectability. He longed for a restored relationship with God. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your holy presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (vv. 10–12).

There is a world of difference between rote religiosity and a vibrant relationship with God, even if people try to find these things in the same place. There is a world of difference between mere easing of guilty feelings over one’s sin and intimacy with God. Christianity is not, first and foremost, about securing temporal favour with God. It is about entering into a vibrant relationship with the living God. If you long for anything less than that, you are not interested in the gospel message.

God is not interested in your rote religiosity. All the religious expression in the world does not impress him apart from “a broken and contrite heart” (v. 17).

What motivates your walk with the Lord? Are you using the church for what you can get out of it? Is God nothing more than a genie in a lamp, whom you summon when you need a felt need met? Or do brokenness and contrition lead you to cry out for a clean heart and a right spirit within you so that you might know afresh the joy of salvation?

Let’s plead with God to deliver us from rote religiosity to a vibrant relationship with him. Let’s ask him to give us a broken and contrite heart so that we can know what it means to live in real intimacy with him through Christ.