“Jesus said, ‘If you love me, you will do what I command.’ Some people live on the ‘Do what I command’ side of that comma, but we need to get back to the ‘If you love me’ side of that comma. When you are in love, the relationship becomes this fresh air internal motivation.”
Gayle Trotter: I’m speaking with Pastor Chris Hodges, author of Fresh Air: Trading Stale Spiritual Obligation for a Life-Altering, Energizing, Experience-it-Everyday Relationship with God. What do you mean by fresh air and how can we experience it?
Chris Hodges: Everyone has already experienced this kind of culture. Fresh air is a culture where things thrive. All of us have been in either life-giving cultures or we’ve been in life-taking cultures. We’ve all been in homes where it just was empowering and life-giving and free and so you wanted to be around. Others were raised in homes where you simply couldn’t wait to get out of it. We’ve been in churches in the same way. They’re using the same songs, same Bible, but one of them is life-giving and one of them, you’re just looking forward to it being over.
It’s these life-giving fresh air kinds of cultures that make everything in our lives thrive. I base my book around a very obscure little verse out of 2 Timothy where the Apostle Paul referred to this guy named Onesiphorus who visited Paul while he was in prison. Paul said “his visits revived me like a breath of fresh air.” Paul was saying that when this guy came around, he was encouraged and free again. It was all life-giving again.
So many live in the “doldrum state,” a state where there is no wind in your sails. I wrote about applying it to all these areas of our lives so that we can have the wind back in our sails.
GT: You talk in your book about how the year 1999 was the worst year of your life. How so?
CH: I’m not a depressed guy. I’m outgoing. But something was missing, and I didn’t know if it was medical. I didn’t know if it was spiritual. I didn’t know what was going on. The best way to describe it is that I was just going through the motions. I was serving as an associate pastor, and I just was going through the motions. It was like where you’re on a journey but the only way you’re getting there is just to paddle really hard. You’re working really hard and nothing is energizing it.
There’s this place called the Doldrums that’s right around the equator. Because of the Northern Hemisphere, the trade winds spin one way and in the Southern Hemisphere, the trade winds spin the other way. There’s a zone right around the equator that they call the Doldrums where there is no wind. Back before there were motorized boats, when it was purely sailing by wind, if you ended up in the Doldrums, you didn’t get out. You died in the Doldrums.
I start the whole book with identifying with what I believe are thousands of people who are simply going through the motions with no wind in your sails and you’re in the doldrums. You’re putting on a smile but inside, you’re dying. I use my own experience of that so people can have the freedom to get out of it with me.
GT: You write, “The world around us tells us that we must look good to get ahead, which often leads us to spend money we don’t have and invest time in pursuits that bring us only temporary comfort or prestige.” Can you explain?
CH: When you end up in the doldrums, you still need to go forward so you manufacture energy. You’re padding really hard. As it relates to culture, people will put on the smile or they’ll put on some image with money and spend money that they don’t have to impress people they don’t even like. They’re trying to create something but they’re creating it the wrong way.
In the second story of the Bible, God put two trees in the garden – one, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the other, the Tree of Life. He said, if you’re going to pursue life, if you’re going to pursue me, if you’re going to pursue religion based on just your knowledge, your external knowledge of things, it’ll kill you. What you need is life. What you need is something energizing all of that. And in fact, when I teach this in conferences, I often start with this message and just simply say that there’s a choice. Most of us have a tendency of making the wrong choice of just manufacturing that energy.
GT: You write about generosity. Why is generosity important in getting this feeling of fresh air?
CH: There actually are seven or eight qualities or attributes that I talk about that can get you back into a fresh air kind of a lifestyle. I have bent toward the money thing. My dad was an auditor for the State of Louisiana and I was raised up in this very strong financial culture and I see money as being one of those things where boy, it can be life-giving, one of the best parts of your life. If you get it wrong, it can be life taking. It could be one of the worst parts of your life.
One of the greatest antidotes to selfishness is generosity. I write about bringing some fresh air to our finances.
GT: You write that, “Religion is man’s external effort to please God but God doesn’t care about all my efforts to get it right. He wants more, something far greater.” What do you think God wants from us?
CH: In one word, God wants relationship, not religion. Jesus himself said it in Matthew 7. He said there’s going to be a lot of people who will show up in Heaven on Judgement Day who would’ve done the religious motions – calling him Lord, the miracles in His name – he lists all these religious things. Then he says I’m going to tell them plainly “Away from me because I never knew you.” The word “know” there is the same word that the Bible uses where it says, “A man knew his wife and they had a baby.” It’s an intimate term.
In John chapter 14, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will do what I command.” For years, I read that out of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil out of this non-fresh air mentality and here’s how I read it. I heard, “If you love me, you’ll prove to me you love me by doing what I told you to do. If you love me, you will do what I command.” But that’s not what it says. It says, “If you loved me, you will do what I command. All you need to do is fall in love with me and my commands are going to be the byproduct of that love relationship.” And I think there’s a comma there between those two phrases. Some people live on the “Do what I command” side of that comma but we need to get back to the “If you love me” side of that comma. When you’re in love, the relationship becomes this fresh air internal motivation. Here’s the simply way to say it. It goes from the “have to do it” to “you want to do it.” From the “got to” to the “get to.”
GT: How do we know God without religion, though?
CH: You don’t know God with religion. Religion is simply things man created to try to approach God. We think that God is impressed with our church attendance or our liturgies but that’s not what he’s looking for. He never came to Earth for those. He came to be in relationship. That was his whole purpose. The liturgies and all of the baptisms and communions and church attendance and giving and serving, they are all important but they are all important as a result of the relationship, not the things that create the relationship.
Let me give you an example. For instance, putting on a wedding band does not mean that I have a good relationship with my wife. Because I have a familiar with my wife, I put on a wedding band to let the world know. Too many times, we’ve thought that those motions actually get us to God and no, you have to get to God so that you can do all of those things.
GT: It’s interesting you raised that example because now, a lot of young people are choosing not to get married and just focus on the relationship. What would you counsel those who are saying it’s just a piece of paper, it’s just a ring, it’s really all about the relationship?
CH: All of the actions are important. Again, I’m not dismissing them. I’m just talking about the order that relationship needs to proceed the commands of God in the Bible. All of the commands, including marriage vows and getting married, all those are very important but it’s built on the foundation of relationship. If you do those things without the relationship, it’s almost certain that the relationship will fail. That’s why a lot of religious people aren’t finding a lot of success in their walk with God is because they’ve done the motions without the relationship.
I’m not saying eliminate the commands of God, I’m just saying we need to put them in the right order. When you’re in love, it just changes everything. The motivation changes where it’s something that becomes the delight of your life. I’m just so concerned for people who are trying to fulfill the bible without being in love with God. I’m telling you, Gayle, it’s almost impossible. But when you’re in love, 1 John chapter 5 says, “Now his commands are no longer burdensome because he who has the Son has life.” When you’re in that relationship, it fuels everything where it becomes the delight, not a duty.
GT: You write also about our relationships with other people and specifically, you write, “Nothing has the potential to drain our breath and leave us feeling alone and exhausted more than other people.” You have some suggestions on how to turn those relationships into something that breathes fresh air into our lives rather than drains us.
CH: That’s the cool part of the book is that once we unpack this principle of living a fresh air life, there are eight application chapters of let’s get this working in our family. Let’s get this working with our kids. Let’s get this working with our marriage. Let’s see if we can bring some fresh air to our Bible reading, to our worship, to prayer. Most people don’t enjoy prayer. When you approach it from a fresh air standpoint, it’s enjoyable again. Giving money, all these areas are added to your purpose in life.
There are all these applications and probably, without a doubt, one of the areas that can suck the life out of you or it can add life to you, are your relationships. There’s a chapter in there describing Cheers, that saloon where all those people gathered to be revived and refreshed by those close relationships. The theme song is, “Where everybody knows your name.” I maintain that you can be in a big church meeting or in a lot of environments with a lot of people and still be very lonely. I write about how God put in motion a plan for every person to be ultimately fulfilled and receive all that he has through powerful relationships. But they have to be shaped in a life-giving way.