“May I ask you a question and know that you’ll understand I mean no offense by it?” I asked the man in India. “Of course,” he answered. So I looked him straight in the eyes and asked, “When you’re fasting and praying — now be honest with me — do you ever think to yourself, ‘I’m praying to a monkey!’
When my wife, Melanie, and I were in India, the same taxi driver drove us around town for several days. He was a nice young man who willingly answered any question we had about Indian culture. Over a period of a few days, I had really come to like him.
It was on a Saturday that we were in his taxi going from Kota to the city of Agra, where we were going to see the Taj Mahal. As lunchtime drew near, I asked him if he knew a good place along our route where we could stop to eat. He did and it wasn’t long until we pulled up in front of the restaurant.
Since I’d known him for a few days and liked him, I invited him to come in and let me buy lunch for him. “No, thank you,” he replied. “Are you sure?” I asked. “I really would like to buy your lunch today.” “I appreciate it,” he said, “but I’m fasting today.”
We went in and ate without him and when we returned to the car, I asked him about his fast. I learned that he was fasting to the monkey God Hanuman. Monkeys are greatly revered in India. You see them everywhere. They are given free reign of the place and come and go anywhere as they please.
He explained a little of the history of Hanuman to me and then I said to him, “You know I like you, don’t you?” “Yes,” he said. “You are a nice man.” “Then may I ask you a question and know that you’ll understand I mean no offense by it?” I asked. “Of course,” he answered. So I looked him straight in the eyes and asked, “When you’re fasting and praying — now be honest with me — do you ever think to yourself, ‘I’m praying to a monkey!'”
He smiled and said, “I understand why you would ask that question, but you see our culture is different from yours. We are taught how to live out our religion from the time we are small children. We are taught not to question it, but to just do it. So I don’t think about it. I just do what I’ve been taught to do.”
As the week progressed, I did talk to him about Jesus Christ and he was very polite. Like many in India, he was respectful enough that if I’d had a carving of Jesus he would have been willing to put it up on his altar at home and pray to Jesus right along with all the other gods he offered prayers. Of course, you know that shows he didn’t understand the gospel.
As time has passed, I’ve come to recognize that young man’s attitude exists even in the Christian church. There are things that many of us grew up being taught that are simply wrong. Many who sit in church every week have horribly faulty ideas about who God is, about who they are and about what He expects from them.
They go through the motions of their religious rituals in an effort to please a God who already is pleased with them because they are in His Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. But they think that if they don’t do the right things, He will curse them and if they do the right things, He will bless them. They think they are rotten people who need God’s help to improve themselves and they are constantly trying to do just that. They believe that God has high demands on them concerning what they do, what they say and even what they think. They believe that bad things happen when they fall short in those areas.
The truth of the gospel of grace is that God loves you. He accepts you just like you are. That doesn’t mean that He won’t change your attitudes and actions over time, but that’s His job not yours. Your responsibility is just to yield yourself to Him in faith that He will transform you by His grace, in His time and in His way.
It’s true that contemporary Christians aren’t praying to a monkey god, but many are stubbornly holding on to old beliefs just because it’s what they have always believed. It would never occur to them to question those beliefs.
The fact of the matter is that, if you are going to grow and go on in your grace walk, there will be things at times you must reconsider — things you must subject to the Spirit of Truth as if you were learning it for the first time. To walk in freedom, there are things you may need to reject, to put aside out of your belief system and your actions.
Have you changed spiritually in the past years? Months? Weeks? Remember that growing things always change. Don’t allow old viewpoints to become idolatry in your life. Submit yourself, your views and your actions to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to show you the truth. Be willing to think about what you believe and do and ask yourself why in light of God’s Word. That’s how you’ll grow and how you’ll experience your freedom in Christ. Dead, religious tradition becomes stagnant but in the fullness of His life you can experience grace upon grace.