May 23, 2022 Grace United Church

Ways to have a deeper relational experience with God

Ways to have a deeper relational experience with God

Before we trusted Jesus, from birth, nobody had to teach us to sin, to cheat, or lie, or pout, or to put ourselves first, or to demand your own way. All of this came honestly, naturally from conception.


But, for every Christian here, you heard the gospel, and by God’s grace you trusted Jesus Christ with your sins and He forgave every sin. You believed in Him to restore you to God and He welcomed you to the Almighty as Dad. And the Holy Spirit immediately immersed and sealed you in this RELATIONSHIP with God, this union with Christ. 


Yet the problem is we've lived so long on our own, that leaving behind our destructive ways of trying to make life work without God and LIVING by faith in Jesus Christ, walking with Him, depending on God, is a long process.

 

Learning to live out of our relationship depending on God is a life-long process.


We too often slip into religious-thinking, trusting more on our performance than God’s grace. We look for 3-step applications, religious regimens. "Just tell me what to do." But...


God doesn’t give us a three-point applications or religious programs to follow. He gives us Jesus and invites us into relationship. 


Okay but how do we make that shift? How do we embrace this? How do we live out of this relationship?


How do we engage in a deeper relational experience with God?


First, it is important to understand that a relationship means knowing God, not just knowing about Him. 


John 17:3 This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 


Perhaps the biggest difference maker that shifts us from knowing about God to truly knowing God is faith. Trust in the Truth. We take it all personally.


Knowledge about God is meant to shape how we know and respond to God. Whatever we learn about Him strikes us with wonder and shapes how we know God and how He relates to us: O, this is the God who loves me. This is the Savior that I trust. The God that I love. This is the Lord whom I serve. 


How do we engage in a deeper relational experience with God? 


Second, we engage in a deeper relational experience when we trust and submit to God according to who HE says He is. Not what we want Him to be like…


I say this a lot but titles define the relationship and relationship defines the roles. 


God reveals Himself as Father. Savior. Lord. Protector. Provider. We’re His children. 


In this relationship, we are dependent on Him for these! As we learn to depend on Him, His wisdom, His provision, His power, we allow God to be all that He is for us. 


John 15:1 records Jesus saying, I am the true vine and My Father is the vinedresser. 


Jesus tells us about Himself. He’s defining roles—relationship. Then He explains,


John 15:2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 


Some look for a command here. Aha we're to bear fruit. That's what Jesus tells us do! But no. Jesus defines the relationship: “Understand, I Am the vine; I give you life. And my Father prunes you. Together, we love you. We want you to experience fullness, purpose… “When you get that, here’s my command,”


John 15:4 Abide in Me, and I in you. [i.e., stay connected, dependent; drawing from me every day.] As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me.


Even when He doesn’t use relational terms, like father, child, bride, He’s relational. 


John 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 


Though we are declared righteous, Christians can be practical atheists in our experience. We can still rely on ourselves, our old way of thinking, old ways of reacting. And our lives can be as much of a train wreck as anybody’s… 


So Jesus says, abide in me. Like a branch to a tree, depend on Me and together we’ll tackle everything that I allow this crazy world to throw at you.

 

But again, this doesn’t come natural to us. Listen to a few statements:


All our righteous deeds are like a filthy rags.


With people this is impossible; but with God all things are possible


This calls us to believe something negative (with people this is impossible), and to believe something positive (with God all things are possible).


I can do no good thing [negative] yet God can do all things [positive] 


The problem is since our diaper days we are taught that we can do anything, which is a far cry from, “I can do no good thing; yet God can do all things.”


Or “I have died yet Christ lives in me.” Or “When I am weak, then I am strong.”


Notice each of these axioms invites humility in relationship, and leads to better lives. 


So to think “I can fix this myself” or “I can quit anytime I want” or “God, I’ve got this” not only leaves us weak and vulnerable to sin and Satan. Worse. It hinders dependence, walking with Christ. It circumvents receiving God’s love. Dismisses His offer to love us. Washes our hands of any need for God’s grace. 


Meanwhile, some of us have the opposite problem. We know we can do no good thing; it's been drilled into your head all if your life. But you don’t believe that you can do all things through Him who strengthens you.


Some of you get the "wretched sinner" part but you don’t believe God deals with you in grace. 


Yet David’s adultery didn’t hinder God’s grace for he trusted God to be gracious even in his sin.


Peter’s lies, denying he knew Jesus, didn’t stop God from using him.


Nor did Saul’s violent acts against the church. Again letting God define the relationship. Relating to Him according to His grace not our works. 


You may think your sin disrupts God’s favor, causes Him to withhold His love.


But God says,


Romans 5:20 … where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.


This is why we must submit to His love.


God in His grace opens up the relationship. Trust receives. Humility steps in.


God in His grace doesn’t ask your opinion of what can or cannot be done, He doesn’t fear the impossible.


His grace allows us no excuse because of our inability, or lack of skill. Grace is not devastated by failure. It never fears that you blew your chance for happiness. For God is a generous giver. A very present help in trouble. Whatever God commands, He supplies. Wherever He directs, He goes with us. 


How else can we engage in a more relational experience with God? 


Classic answers are often the best.


Read His Word daily.

Pray frequently.

Engage in Christian community regularly.

Serve God and others.


We recommend all these. Yet some of us hardly read or pray, for instance, because it’s not relational. 


So how do we allow God to make praying more relationally intimate?


Matt. 21:22 “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”


Mark 11:24 “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.


The common denominator is faith. Belief. Trust is intimacy.


As you pray, God says to cast your cares on Him knowing, trusting that He cares for you. Trust is intimacy. Pray, trusting that God is attentive, listening. If we don’t TRUST that He’s present, engaging with us, we may feel we’re talking to ourselves.


Don’t just tell God what you want, bounce things off Jesus, or tell Him then wait. Listen. Trust He’s engaged. Understand His heart—that’s what Jesus did. Give Him permission to lead you. This interchange is at the heart of Christian engagement.


When you’re reading, singing, praying, driving, whatever you do, engage relationally by trusting God hears, cares, and responds to you! Then respond back! This looking to Jesus, this faith and response is what defines an abiding relationship. 


But when we don’t live out of the relationship through trust, and we don’t say “Yes,” or respond to God—we slip into a less intimate non-experience. 


How else can we engage in a more relational experience with God? 


One of the best things, relationally, is to “Yes” to Jesus; this moves us into a friend relation.


John 15:9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 


Jesus began by telling us, “Abide in me.” Now, “Abide in my love.”


Jesus tells us, "I love you with the same love with which the Father loves me," then says, "abide in My love." Let this truth shape our relationship. Submit to My love regardless of circumstances or feelings.


And notice the process continues,


Abide in His love through faith. Submit to His love even when you may be tempted to doubt it. Then, those who submit to His love learn obedience.


John 15:10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.


There's so much here. To abide in His love is to let God love you. Trusting. Submitting. Allowing Him to love you His way, through humility.


Experiencing His love, you love Him (we love because He first loved us).


And, as Jesus says, "If you love Me, obey Me." Love motivates obedience. And love goes full circle--for He tells us to love others. When we do, finally, as we love God in our actions (obedience, love others), we experience fulfillment.


John 15:11 These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and your joy may be made full.


It starts with God's love; it ends with fulfillment. “That your joy may be full.” 

And at the center of all of this is trust, humility and submission.


John 15:12 This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14 “You are My friends if [not "you are saved if", not "you are loved if," but "you are behaving as Jesus' friends if"] you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.


Not all believers act like God’s friends. But all are invited to. It took years of maturing for the disciples. It wasn't till he was 20+ years into his relationship with God that Abraham was commanded to offer up Isaac and he obeyed that he was called a friend of God. 


In other words, it's a process. But we take one step, one "Yes" at a time.