Is It Religion or Is It Relationship?


During my time away (Let’s just call it an August Sabbatical…It makes me feel more important.), I not only wrote the first two chapters of a book I’ve been dreaming up for a few months now. (Who’s excited???) But I spent time studying the Kings. And I mean s-t-u-d-y-i-n-g 1 and 2 Kings. I’m not sure how I ended up there. But it was good.


Devotional Scripture: 1 Kings 15:1-8; 2 Chronicles 13:1-20
Key Verse: “And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22


If you read 1 and 2 Kings through quickly chapter after chapter, it’s like wait a minute – What guy is this? What kingdom is he with? (There were two – Israel and Judah.) Did he love God? (Chances are probably not.) It all just runs together into a big messy blob of long ago people.

There are well, a lot of kings. Twenty kings for the southern kingdom (Judah), and nineteen kings for the northern kingdom (Israel), in case you were curious. If you do the math, that’s thirty-nine kings to keep track of (not including Saul, David, and Solomon) and twenty years can go by in a matter of about three verses.

(It’s hard enough keeping track of four kids, let alone thirty-nine kings.)

But I had to try. So I went slow. I made notes. I compared 2 Chronicles verse by verse with 1 and 2 Kings. I fit in what prophet went where. I inserted some of the Psalms where theologians think they go. And I loved every minute of it. (I do kind of sort of love history though, as long as there’s no multiple-choice test involved, so I’d say that played in my favor.)

And when I came to Abijah or Abijam (depending on your translation), God was like, “No, you’re stopping here for today.” (He didn’t really say that. It was just one of those mornings a thought hit me so strongly, I couldn’t go on. Holy Spirit speaking? I think so.)

Abijah was the second king of Judah’s lengthy list. He only reigned three years. Probably taking the oath of office about 913 BC. 1 Kings 15:3 has this to say about him, “And he walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father.”

Hmmm, not exactly what you hope the Bible will say about you. So what were the sins of his father? Well, mainly idolatry. He led the people into the worship of false gods. Setting up high places and pillars and “Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree” (1 Kings 15:23). Asherim were probably wooden in nature. I’m picturing something tall and skinny carved in the form of a woman because it represented the goddess Asherah, wife of the chief god El and mother to the other gods.

Verse 24 says Abijah also allowed male cult prostitutes in the land. Lovely eh? This guy cared little for the LORD and his commands and ways and glory.

But if you jump over to 2 Chronicles 13 you realize Abijah had a whole different view of himself. While trying to entice the northern tribes to follow him instead of Jeroboam (the northern king), Abijah had this to say, “But as for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not forsaken him. We have priests ministering to the LORD who are sons of Aaron, and Levites for the service. They offer to the LORD every morning and every evening burnt offerings and incense of sweet spices, set out the showbread on the table of pure gold, and care for the golden lampstand that its lamps my burn every evening. For we keep the charge of the LORD our God, but you have forsaken him” (2 Chron. 13:10-11).

Oh really Abijah. What about the high places? What about the Asherim? What about the male cult prostitutes? But because they kept the daily, weekly, and festival sacrifices, offered incense, set out the weekly bread, and took care of the lampstand (all things we’re going to study in Exodus), Abijah thought they were good.

Interesting. Look at the way he points the finger at Israel – “We keep the charge of the LORD our God, but you have forsaken him.” Not so Abijah. The charge of the LORD is to love him with all our heart and soul and might (Deuteronomy 6:5). Not possible when there is idolatry going on.

But it made me wonder, how many, especially in America today, are floatin’ in Abijah’s boat?

Oh I’m good, I go to church Christmas and Easter.

Oh I’m good, I went forward when I was a kid.

Oh I’m good, I say my prayers every night before bed. I give to a local charity. I do my best to love others.

All good things. But what about the heart? Look what the LORD had to say about their actions – “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

(Clear enough.)

So concerned is God about the heart he goes so far as to say to Israel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26a). A new heart! Not because they deserved it but for the sake of God’s holy name, which Israel profaned among the nations by making God into a religion.

But God desires relationship. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

In other words, it’s not about the stuff my friends, it’s about the stuffing. What’s in you? Apostasy? Idolatry? Or a wholeness of heart devoted to God.

Ritual without faith based obedience is unacceptable to God. Sacrifice without faith based obedience is unacceptable to God. Worship without faith based obedience is unacceptable to God.

King Abijah thought he was good but God saw his heart and it “was not wholly true to the LORD his God” (1 Kings 15:3). Which begs the question, what would the Bible say about us? Or for that matter, about a nation who professes to know His name, but their hearts remain far from Him. (Sounds so vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?)

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” 1 Samuel 15:22-23a


My Father in Heaven, please forgive us. Help us to see it’s not about religion, but relationship. It’s not a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s a YES to Jesus because while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. In Jesus name, because he made a way, Amen.

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2 thoughts on “Is It Religion or Is It Relationship?

  1. I’m glad you’re back!! Yes, I’m very excited that you’ve been prompted by the Spirit to write a book. Thank you for sharing your insights in such memorable language!! “It’s not about the stuff but the stuffing!” Praying that you will bask in the Lord’s love, enjoying His daily plans for you.

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