A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
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Where christians come to share, pray and study.
By Michael Hawkinson
John 15:12-15 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. |
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
We are beings fashioned in the image of God. He loves us and wants to live according to His design and He also wants to have a personal relationship with us. I am going to discuss those things in reverse order.
1) FALLING IN LOVE WITH GOD (PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP)
This does not come from religious dogma and doctrine. This is not achieved by baptism, denominational attendance, tithing, being in any ministry position, walking the aisle, etc. The personal relationship comes through prayer, faith and obedience from love and results from spending time with God. If most people spent the amount of time they spend with God on their friends.... most of them would not have very good friends. Personal relationship is work, it is commitment, it is love and it is trust. The only way to increase love, trust, commitment is to know the object of one's relationship better. Jesus says, "Drop the worldly sins, stop serving the world and worries and come and follow me." Your answer to that call determines the beginning of your relationship. In fact, it is the answer to that call that brings you into the family of God. The point at which you will to follow Jesus and choose to leave the world behind, with the full knowledge that you have lived for yourself and apart from God. It is the combination of realizing your worldliness, confessing, repenting and then gladly saying, "Yes, I will follow you, Jesus!" That makes you a "follower of Jesus." A member of "Israel." .. and Yes, a "christian." The problem is that many people choose to have that relationship and then forget all about it and move to the "responsibilities" of the relationship. Anyone know that, whether it be friendship, marriage or roommates, when a relationship becomes just work, then the relationship suffers. You lose that spark, the ability to talk late into the night about little things, the feeling that you matter to the other person and the ability to laugh or love easily. If you have lost your "first love." Get it back!! Jesus has never lost it for you!
2) LIVING ACCORDING TO GOD'S DESIGN (RESPONSIBILITY)
This is the work of the relationship. Although God will lead us through His Holy Spirit, There are several ways that we learn how to live.
a) His Word, The Bible is composed of books written by those whom God loved. You can learn about His relationship with them and their relationship with Him. They do not pull any punches. You see the mistakes, sins and great faith of many of the people whom God loved. You also see some of the things that He taught them. Make sure that you understand that what God promises someone in the Bible does not always apply to you. God will probably not send manna, part the Red Sea, have ravens feed you or send you on a trip via Whale Cruise Lines (See: Jonah) The truth is that He will meet your needs... but the means are up to Him.
b) The Church: Capital "C", meaning all believers under the headship of Jesus. Many pastors, deacons, servants, prophets, apostles and teachers are self proclaimed and hold their titles from universities, seminaries and denominations. It is important to hold those in no account. Judge what every man or woman says and lets pastors pastor, servants serve, prophets prophesy, teachers teach, apostles apostletize, etc.. Do not put boundaries on the family of God. Whatever gift, ability or talent you have, use them to the benefit of all brothers and sisters in Jesus. We are commanded to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, pray for the sick, visit those in prison, clothe the naked and meet the needs of all who cross our path. Family and enemy!! Work with all believers you meet to solve the problems locally and wherever you can.
c) Holy Spirit: Yes, God does work directly. Many people have heard the voice of God, see visions and had dreams. Listen to the Holy Spirit and test the spirit to be sure that you are not misled. Do not follow after another gospel even if an angel preaches it. (See Galatians) When one's relationship is healthy, one will hear the small, still voice of God often. In fact, this may even belong under the relationship heading rather than the responsibility section.
It is important that one does the responsibilities because of the relationship. That makes for a nurturing, growing and healthy life. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; and to love our neighbor as our self. It is the "love" that helps us to live our lives correctly. Unfortunately today, many people reverse that process. They call doing all the responsibilities a "good relationship." That is not necessarily the case. In fact, it is legalism, religion and a rut not easily detoured from. The Bible teaches that 'without faith it is impossible to please Him." but it also says that faith without love is meaningless. (See I Cor 13) Learn to love God and one will love both oneself and ones neighbor. Be aware that I have arbitrarily made distinctions to help clarify some points.
This brings us to "religion" in it's worst sense. When one worries about the "rules and regulations" too much the relationship gets dry and forced. Responsibilities become the focus and the relationship is ignored. Remember, God will help with the "responsibilities" if one works on the relationship. Relationships are tough. They don't just happen, they are hard work! There is a dichotomy at work between relationship and responsibility that is well compared to liturgical prayer. I am not saying that liturgical prayer is wrong, bad or unwarranted. The problem with liturgy comes when the heart and mind are separated from the activity. Many of us can say The Lord's Prayer, read the prayers of the Psalms, say the confessional prayer while meaning every word. There are other times when those prayers can be said as though they are a text book and we find we have no idea what we just read if we bother to think about it at all. This prayer becomes merely a necessary "requirement" for something not quite definable. Salvation? To be blessed? To get to heaven and avoid Hell? Yet, the relationship with God, the Father slips away and the prayer becomes "work." When tithing, church attendance, choir participation, teaching the Word or any responsibility become rote then one begins to take God for granted. One who becomes religious begins to look for approval and praise from others. They bury themselves in religious activities. They begin to either stop questioning authority or ask that their authority not be questioned. They begin to speak "in the place of God" instead of "seeking the face of God." Instead of testing the spirits and obeying their conscience, they rely on the titles and charisma of other people. A religious person confuses respect and honoring authority, with unquestioning obedience to human authority.
The struggle I am trying to clarify is that religion in it's poorest sense, the one condemned by Jesus, is when His design is made into a Law and the responsibility becomes the purpose of ones focus. When the goal is not Loving God and loving one's neighbor, but to "get to heaven" or to "be good," then the door is opened to spend hours arguing "The Law"; interpreting the Word; and growing intolerant of non conformation to the "rules" by ones self or others. Spirituality becomes endless Bible studies, debates, clashes over human authority, discussions of punishments for failure and passionate striving to attain perfection which has becomed defined as keeping the rules perfecting. The whole intent of God's design is lost. We no longer see God, the loving creator but we become blinded by the created. We do not think about the designer but continually fuss over the design. I am not sure if I am making sense. I do not understand why God does not give a more articulate person the relationship He has with me. Others have much more charisma and certainly less colorful backgrounds. I do know that I would never trade my relationship with God, as trying as I can be, for religion or power again.
In conclusion, If you find yourself feeling that God is distant make sure you are not falling into religion's trap. It is a delicate balance trying to maintain relationship and responsibility. If you are taking God for granted, do not stop doing what you know is right. In fact, reading the Psalms, sharing God's love with others, studying the Word, worshipping God in song, etc. can sometimes help us recapture the "first love." Sometimes just taking a moment to say, "God, I am sorry I have not spent time with you like I should. I love you. Help me to remember how much you love me and want to spend time with me." can be such a blessing to God. Isn't an unexpected phone call, card, hug or even an invitation to some activity by an old friend (or even one's spouse) sometimes a real joy? Do not give up doing what is right, but do it because you love God and because you know that is what God wants you to do. Because you checked it out with Him, not because your grandparents, parents and friends do it or for any reason of worldly gain or recognition.
"There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in that we do it to God, to Christ, and that's why we try to do it as beautifully as possible." Mother Teresa.
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