Relationship with God
May 28, 2012
You have perhaps heard Christians say that Christianity is not just some list of rules; it’s a personal relationship with the living God. That’s true, and very important, but it’s not necessarily intuitive (especially to newcomers or outsiders) what that means; so I thought I’d put together a brief outline to make it a little more concrete.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I’m not saying this is the only or best possible way to organize it. There’s a lot of overlap among these categories, and no doubt there are things I’m forgetting. I would be interested to hear any feedback or additions you might have.
1 — God’s Character
Almost as a prerequisite to any of these other items, we need to learn what God is like, so that we can recognize Him in the other areas. We can learn about Him in the Bible and at church, as well as from secondary sources, such as J. I. Packer’s Knowing God.
2 — Gratitude
We ought to recognize that every good thing in our lives is a gift from God, and thank Him for it. We should “give it back to God”, so to speak.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights . . . .
3 — Hope
We ought to recognize that those foretastes of heavenly joy which God sprinkles throughout our lives are, most deeply, neither the desire for nor the appreciation of anything in this world with which they are associated in our experience (it will be different things for different people), but expressions of our desire for communion with God Himself in heaven. That poignant song you love, that mountain vista you can’t get enough of, your career, your love life, whatever it may be—don’t mistake them for the final end in themselves. They can be wonderful, but their highest purpose is to point you back to God, the center around Whom everything else revolves.
4 — Acceptance
Of course it’s easy for me to say, but no less true for that: Every bad thing that happens in our lives is an opportunity to die to self, be sanctified, and grow in our relationship with God. From not getting our way in some petty matter to truly horrible sickness and death, ours is to accept, rather than resent. We have to “give it up to God”, so to speak. We can ask God for strength, comfort, patience, and acceptance, and He will give them to us.
For more on this, I recommend C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
5 — Obedience
God calls us to do good and flee from temptation. Both externally (through the Bible, the church, and other intermediaries) and, especially if we are already Christian, internally (through our conscience and the Holy Spirit preaching to us in our hearts), God gives us His loving guidance. It is ours to obey.
If you’re not sure whether something is immoral, try not doing it. If you’re not sure whether God is prompting you to step out in some act of love (visiting a sick relative, donating to some charity, taking time out to listen to your friend tell you about his troubles, whatever it might be), try doing it. It’s the opposite of how you might think it would work, but sometimes our ability to hear His promptings grows through obedience.
Of course not every thought or “prompting” we have is from God. Fortunately, He has given us the Bible and the church, against which we can check any possible communication. For example, if you think God is telling you to commit murder, or to steal, or to have sex with someone you’re not married to, you can be confident that that’s not from God, because it contradicts what He has already said through the Bible and the church.
We’re all fallen, sinners, and it will take at least the rest of our lives for God to fix everything that’s wrong with us. This process is called sanctification, and obedience is how we cooperate in it and take those steps in the right direction. If you can’t see that God is moving you in the right direction over time—making you aware of, and making progress toward freeing you from, particular sins, making you more loving and using you to do more good—I think you should be worried about the possibility that you’re not being obedient at all, which would be very bad.
I hasten to add that I wouldn’t know. I’m not qualified to give pastoral advice. I would recommend that you talk further about this with your pastor. If you don’t have one, I would recommend that you go to a church and talk to one anyway. (You’d be surprised how happy they’d be to talk with you.)
6 — Repentance
Given that we’re all sinners, we’ll have plenty of occasion to repent. Whenever we’re aware of having done anything displeasing to God, we should confess it to Him, and try (with His help) not to do it again.
After we’ve confessed it, however, we should generally forget about it and move on. God hates sin very much, but after we’ve recognized what we did wrong and repented of it, by the grace of God through the sacrifice of His Son, we are forgiven. If God can forget our sins, who are we to continue to brood over them? Are we more righteous than God?
7 — Communication
Of course a lot of these other areas also involve communication, but perhaps it deserves to be stated in its own category: It’s a relationship. God speaks to us, and we speak to Him.
If there’s anything on your mind, try sharing it with God. He knows about it anyway; you may as well be open with Him. Sometimes it’s while we’re praying that God speaks the greatest comfort and joy to us.
In addition to prayer, we ought to read the Bible and go to church regularly. If we don’t, we needlessly cut ourselves off from important channels for God to communicate with us.
In particular, sacraments, such as baptism and regular communion, are an important means whereby God communicates grace to us. We may think we don’t need those physical elements, or we may doubt that God would use such mundane objects to accomplish anything important or spiritual, but that is what God ordained; are we more spiritual than God?
Notice that for many of these, God is already trying to reach out to you all the time, whether you can see His hand or hear His voice or not: You have good things in your life, whether or not you recognize that they’re from God; God is prompting you to love the people around you and abstain from sin, whether you’re listening or not; etc. In other words, you already have a relationship with God, whether you like it or not; the question is whether it will be a dysfunctional relationship or a healthy one.
God has already told you which He would prefer. How about you?