Last time we jumped in an airplane and flew over a territory called “the Christian life”. From way up high I wanted you to glimpse the big picture; briefly mentioning seven spiritual practices that are part of a healthy Christian walk. This morning, that airplane is back in the hangar. Put on a pair of comfortable shoes. For the next few weeks we’ll be walking; taking a closer look at most of these spiritual practices from ground level. Today we tackle the first spiritual practice. Here it is:
Spiritual Practice #1: I keep my personal love relationship with God at the center of all that I do
This is a part of Christianity that people sometimes find easy to make fun of and I admit that, in certain ways, it does seem odd; like a child who has bonded with her “invisible friend”. How does one have a serious relationship with a spiritual Being whom one cannot see or touch or hear? Christians sometimes claim to have actual physical interactions with God (my brother says that he heard God’s voice once when he was a young child) but these are rare exceptions, and have always been, even in Bible times. And although some believers talk as though they have a hotline to God (“God told me yesterday I ought to take that job.”) most of us aren’t sensing a lot of direct messages from God, even in our heads.
So yeah, it’s true that our relationship with God is, in some ways, very different from the rest of our relationships. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make it imaginary. Unlike, say, the Easter Bunny, or fantasy figures, God is real. A good case can be made for His existence. Furthermore, the God of Scripture is not some detached deity, snoozing off in a dark corner of the universe, oblivious to his creation. No, God is in the middle of everything: sending ancient text messages through the prophets, rewarding and punishing, guiding and protecting. And when Jesus descended to earth to become a man, all of this got ramped up even more. People could actually see him and talk with him. That’s what Christianity is about: a personal love relationship. Anything less becomes a distortion. This raises our first question:
Why does it matter if my Christian faith is built upon a loving relationship with God?
1. It matters that my faith is built on a loving relationship with God because that relationship is by far my greatest need
Would you rather be close to God or have a billion tax free dollars? If you took the money, you’d be cheating yourself. Closeness to God is a priceless gift. He’s everything that we truly desire. All other loves, wonderful though they may be, are only pale reflections of God’s love. His love is relentless and wise, deep and strong. It heals us, strengthens us and delights us in ways that no one else can match. In fact, God’s love is the spark that sets true love, wherever it exists in our world, on fire.
2. It matters that my faith is built on a loving relationship with God because that relationship provides me with the right motivation
Humans beings have one particularly bad tendency – we’re often more interested in using God than we are in knowing Him. So He becomes our Divine Vending Machine, or Celestial Sugar Daddy – “Look, God, I’ll be your buddy if you’ll only give me. . . (fill in the blank). This is a parasitic, selfish approach to God which leaves all of our worst tendencies still intact. Unfortunately, this mindset easily creeps into even our religious activities. Only a love relationship with God can soften our hardened hearts, dissolve our selfishness, and humble our pride. On the flip side, only a love relationship can calm the shame and fear we feel in the presence of a holy God.
3. It matters that my faith is built on a loving relationship with God because that relationship provides me with the spiritual resources I need to grow
As I’ve progressed in my Christian walk, I’ve become more and more aware of how hard it is to become like Christ. The Christian walk is good, but it’s not easy. In fact, in my own strength, I quickly tire and start faking it. In the daily presence of my loving Lord, however, I find incredible strength. His love heals me, calms me, guides me and strengthens me. We walk through life together and, with his hand on my shoulder, I’m steadily transformed.
How do I build and maintain a personal relationship with God?
Basically, our relationship with God is requires what any good relationship requires.
1. I build my relationship with God when I make an effort to get to know God better
Best friends know a great deal about each other. This knowledge allows the relationship to deepen and advance. So any time that we invest in getting to know God is time well-spent. By far the best source of information about God comes from the Bible. It paints a picture of God that stretches our minds and corrects our misperceptions. He’s a complex being, not just some benign old grandfather, or corporate executive. Get to know Him.
2. I build my relationship with God when I talk with God a lot
Prayer is so crucial. Get in the habit of having a running dialogue with God; when you get up in the morning, when you’re working, driving, or just relaxing. Reflect on Him. Chat with Him just like you would a close friend. Don’t worry about sounding cool or saying everything just right. He knows what you’re thinking anyway. Just be honest.
3. I build my relationship with God when I keep one ear open to hear God’s voice
You may have noticed that I used the word “dialogue” a moment ago. That means that along with talking we also listen. This part’s a little trickier since God doesn’t speak out loud and we have to be careful about what we label as “God’s voice”. It’s all too easy to start claiming our own thoughts as a message from God. Again, I would emphasize the importance of filling our minds with the Bible. This is God speaking at His clearest. And test every thought you believe might be from God against what the Bible says. God will not contradict Himself. But also learn to listen for impressions given by God’s Spirit, who lives in you if you’re a believer. His voice is usually a soft, subtle one, but you can learn to recognize it with practice. And finally
4. I build my relationship with God when I seek to develop a positive emotional bond with Him
Close friends connect, not just on the intellectual or practical level, but also on the emotional level. They grow to love, appreciate, and enjoy each other. The positive emotions are, in fact, what gives friendship its sparkle and zing. And they create a strong bond which helps hold the relationship together through all its ups and downs. You can help build this bond by keeping your heart open to God. Take time to enjoy Him. Express the love you feel for Him. Where there are emotional barriers, try to find out why so that they can come down. And seek to sense His love for you in return.
Put loving God and enjoying His love at the center of your Christian walk and it will bring green springtime to your spirit.