Developing An Intimate Relationship With God
By S.J. Black
Something that I speak about frequently in the Bible study class that I teach is the concept of "religion" verses "relationship." This is a topic that I consider incredibly important and look for reasons or ways to work it into the various lessons.
So far I have managed to work this topic into studies on everything from a series of lessons on prophecy to a series on the book of Ephesians.
We started a new six-week series this week on "Finding God's will." It is more than probable that this topic will come up a number of times during the next five weeks. I was really excited about this study, because I know that it will no doubt give me many opportunities to mention the topic of relationship.
People who know that I am a devout Christian often give me a strange look when I tell them something like, "I hate religion."
Granted this might sound a bit odd coming from a 'Bible study' teacher but please allow me to explain.
First, I think that going to Church is very important. It is a great way to find fellowship with other believers. Having Christian friends can be a great resource when you need someone to hold you accountable, for mentorship, and encouragement. Church is also a great way to get involved with serving in a ministry and to learn about the word of God.
However, I know people who go to Church on Sunday that I cannot tell any difference between them and the rest of the world during the week. It seems to me that many of these people are there on Sunday to "network" for business or for other social reasons.
In Jesus' day, the Pharisees were very religious people. They made every effort to comply with a large amount of religious law and rituals but many of them were cold and had a hardened heart.
Ever wondered what Jesus would say about today's religious people? I think we find the answer in Jesus' statement to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34, "You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?"
Personally, I used to be one of the people who went to church occasionally and had religion with no relationship. This sort of religion is useful perhaps at funerals but is of no use for much of anything else. Several years ago the Lord convicted me very strongly on this and my life has not been the same since. Maybe this is why I feel so compelled to speak about the concept so frequently.
Basically, I see religion as a bunch of rules along with dead rituals and chanting of mantras with no change in one's heart.
How then do we define the idea of relationship?
More importantly how do we move from having religion to having relationship?
Relationship has nothing to do with going to a building and performing the same rituals every week. This sounds a bit like my job to me. I go there every day and do the same tasks day in and day out.
Relationship is about living every day of your life with your focus on God and His will for our lives. It is about seeking God's will for our lives and growing closer in our walk with Him.
God tells us in Proverbs 8:17 "I love those who love Me; and those who diligently seek Me will find Me." God is telling us in this verse that if we love Him and seek Him that He will not "hide" from us.
Notice however, that the verse from Proverbs also says that we must seek God in order to "find Him."
We "find Him" when we begin to understand the Lord and have an intimate relationship with Him. However, this relationship, just like any other relationship we have, does not just fall into our laps. It takes time and commitment.
One of the most effective ways that I have found to develop and maintain a relationship with God is having a daily quite time to study Scripture and pray.
Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:15-17, "…and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
In this verse from Timothy the term "God-breathed" means that while various men wrote the Bible they did so by the divine inspiration of God Himself.
To put it another way, Scripture is the literal word of God that He has provided for us.
Scripture is how God reveals His character and His desires about how we are supposed to live our lives. We cannot expect to grow more intimate with God when we do not understand His character or desire for our lives.
We should study the Scripture God has provided for us so that we can begin to understand Him and the relationship that He desires to have with us. It is rather silly to think that we can begin to understand God and draw closer to Him if we are ignorant of what He tells us about Himself in Scripture.
Prayer is also an important part of seeking God and drawing closer to Him. When we pray we are communicating with God.
Have you ever had a friend move away and gone numerous years without having the opportunity to speak with them? How close would you say your relationship with that person is today?
It seems unreasonable to expect that if we never communicate with God through prayer and study of Scripture that we should expect to have any intimacy in our relationship with Him at all.
Rather, God quickly becomes the person that we see every week at church that we don't know very well. We might give that person a quick "hello" when passing them in the aisle, but do we really know them?
There are a million excuses people will give you for not making a commitment to pray and study the word each day. Some people will tell you they are busy at work. Others will tell you that they are busy with their children. Perhaps some people are too busy with work, children and their tee-time on Saturday.
It really only takes about 15 minutes a day to read a chapter in the Bible and spend a few minutes in prayer. Failing to have a daily time of prayer and study really comes down to a matter of the priorities in your life.
God tells us in Exodus 20:3, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." In addition, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:21, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Stop and think about this for a second. If you are putting your career, money, golf game, gym membership and so forth before spending time with God, are you not saying that these things are the gods of your life instead of the God who sits on the throne in Heaven? Sounds to me like you are "storing up your treasure" in this life and not in Heaven and serving your "stuff" instead of God.
Jesus warned us about putting other things before Him in Matthew 6:24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
If you are focused on your career and money to the point of slavery whom are you really serving?
Getting started in a daily time of study and prayer was difficult at first. However, now it has become the most important part of my day.
I cannot begin to tell you what a difference spending time daily with God has made in my life. He has revealed Himself and His will for my life in so many ways during our daily time together.
One key thing that God has taught me in our daily time together is the last piece of our puzzle.
That last piece of the puzzle for developing a relationship can be summed up with the word obedience.
What if someone is unwilling to act upon what God reveals to them through the study of His word and prayer?
The prophet Isaiah had something to say about the effect of willful disobedience with regards to our relationship with God. In Isaiah 59:3 he wrote, "Behold, the Lord's hand is not so short that it cannot save; Neither is His ear so dull That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; Your lips have spoken falsehood, your tongue mutters wickedness."
While it is true that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" this does not give us a license to sin profusely without consequences in our life. One of the first consequences we suffer is a lack of intimacy with God.
Do you desire a truly intimate relationship with God and the joy it brings to life as opposed to just having your name on a membership roll at Church?
It is my prayer that you would try daily Bible study, prayer and the avoidance of willful disobedience against God.
If you are faithful in doing these things, God will be faithful in revealing Himself to you.