Ways to have a deeper relational experience with God Pt II
We talk about our Christian faith as being in a relationship with God but our experience may be more of a Sunday religion or following religious duties.
So how do we engage in a more relational walk with God?
We must know that our relationship with God is based exclusively on the completed work of Christ and nothing you have done.
You are accepted because of what Jesus accomplished—i.e., you are saved by grace. And everything Jesus has and accomplished He shared with you when you trusted Him—i.e., you are saved by grace through faith.
So grace is the word that defines how God relates to us.
What is grace? “Grace is nothing less than the face that love wears when it meets imperfection. Grace is what love is and does when it meets the sinful and the undeserving… It is what God does when He reaches down in love for us—sinful as we are—and welcomes us into a relationship with Him…"
Joseph R. Cooke, Free For The Taking
Grace defines how God relates to us. Faith, or trust defines how we relate to God.
Through faith in Jesus the relationship changes. We become God’s children in this relationship. This is something to trust. Children know they are loved. Children want to hear from their dad. Children can throw a fit. Children don't have to have all the answers. Children are dependent, trusting, teachable.
It is also very important for us to understand how very relational God is.
The very essence of God’s being is relational: Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
God’s nature is relational for God is love.
Out of the overflow of His love, God made all things. Thus, creation is relational. Everything that has been made reflects His glory and is given for us to know God.
God created us male and female. Relational. The family? Relational.
The Law? Relational. It boils down to two relational commands and one word,
Luke 10:27 … “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND [LOVE] YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
The incarnation? Fantastically relational—God became man and lived among us.
The fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness)? All relational.
Spiritual growth? Relational? Abide in Me, and I in you. Abide in My love.
Not feeling much of a need for God? Are you too distracted with too many things? To a relationally "lukewarm" church that says, “I am rich, and wealthy, and have need of nothing,” Jesus says, you’re actually impoverished. Spiritually, you are impoverished, miserable, naked without me.
Then he makes this stunningly relational invitation,
Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.
He tells another church which chose cultural vices and values over God,
James 4:4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?
"You adulteresses." Wow. God is far more relationally invested in each you than any of us can appreciate.
Even His discipline is relational. For God only disciplines those He loves. He disciplines His children not anyone else's.
Hebrews 12:5 … “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM [feel loved!]; 6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”
So even His discipline is relational, it is love. How does this play out?
If you are straying from God, He invites you to dine with Him. If after you make every excuse not to, and say, you face hardship, it may be God’s discipline to keep you from straying further. Instead of reacting to suffering like a nonbeliever, we must trust and remember you are His beloved child.
God is sovereign over everything we face, so everything in life can be faced in relationship with God. Every good gift is from the Father. But even in the hard things He allows. Hardship. Reproof. Scourging. Consequences. God is there. And He is Father. And He is love. And everything about life in Christ is relational.
Even hell? Sure, the worst thing about hell is the absence of relationship God.
2 Thessalonians 1:9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed…
Since God is so relational it’s important to know how God relates to us.
1) First, He reveals Himself to us, grabs our attention, communicates His goodness to us—in nature, scripture, something you read or heard or something someone shared. But He reveals truth about His goodness. His faithfulness. His call upon us. Etc.
2) Second, as we trust Him, He calls us to walk with Him in light of this truth. As children.
3) Third, because He wants to anchor this truth in the experience of your relationship with God, He allows your faith to be tested, exercised.
For example, if in His love He is going to have you be a bold spokesperson or leader or to do risky things for the Lord, He may be teaching you,
Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.
And if He’s teaching you this, He may then allow hard and scary things to come your way in order to exercise a courageous faith.
Another example, if he wants you to grow in His grace, He may allow you to be hurt or let down. If you don’t trust God with this—in the moment—you ca isolate, stay hurt, reject the other. But seeing God relationally in everything we face, you can trust Him that He’s providing opportunity to mature you into a grace-living person who forgives and loves those who hurt you.
If He wants you to be a comfort, an encourager to those who suffer, like Paul, He may allow you to suffer that He can heal you that you may comfort others in Him. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
Since God is sovereign and He is never outside of our circumstances, and since He uses even hard things to mature our faith and conform us to Christ, we can view everything relationally, as children to a loving and sovereign God, rather than see anything as random or happenstance, bad luck or good fortune.
In other words, we can look for Him to mature us and conform us to Christ relationally and through real life circumstances.
A certain human characteristic that may need to rethink is how we want instant change, linear sanctification, simple solutions.
We want miracles but God wants relationship.
Jesus didn’t miraculously cause His disciples to be godly disciples. He used relationship and real life. He called them to follow Him. Gave them faith building exercises. After He saved Saul, it still took 15 years of him learning to trust God's grace and depend on Christ before He was sent out as Paul, the apostle of grace.
I’ve been asked, since God is so relational, why don’t I feel closer to Him? Well, to state the obvious, He is invisible. Present in spirit not in body. So He can’t be seen. Can’t be touched. He can’t be heard.
So, should we pray for God’s presence? "Lord, manifest your presence here."
I get that. It expresses our heart's desire and love for God. And sometimes He makes his presence more noticeable. But again, we want miracles, God wants relationship. We don’t need to beg Him to be with us, we need to trust Him,
Matthew 28:20 [Jesus said] “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Trust Him with this. Trust is intimacy.
But when we gather as a church we want Him to be present. Absolutely, so trust Jesus’ promise to us,
Matthew 18:20 “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
The best way to feel His presence is to trust His promises to be with you and by faith relate to Him knowing He is personally present, even if He feels far.
Hebrews 13:5… For He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.”
When we pray, we may not be super aware but we seem to expect God to answer our prayer miraculously. Yet He prefers to do it relationally—walking together, teaching us to trust, maturing us through life’s hurts and mistakes, trial and error, truth and error, truth and grace.
Several friends recently shared a post that says, “Lord, work on my attitude. Make me more loving, compassionate, patient, obedient. Strip away the anger, the bitterness. Help me to be more like you.”
I.e., we pray, "Make me different. Change how I act." Awesome, but don’t expect, presto, to lose the anger and bitterness! Poof, no more lust. Poof, you’re suddenly a patient loving mom of well-behaved children. Expect Him to speak truth to you, give you something to trust, and then to walk through this with you.
We may be worried. Anxious. Rightly, we think of Philippians chapter 4,
Phil. 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
After we pray this we expect a minor miracle, we expect God to replace our anxiety with feelings of peace.
God certainly may do that on occasion. But He’s more likely to give you truths to trust, someone to remind you of His character, a passage or sermon or certain truth about Him that you can trust.
Look at the four preceding words in verse 5,
Phil. 4:5… The LORD is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
5… The LORD is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing...
This reminds me of Joshua 1:9,
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed [be anxious for nothing], for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
After telling us to pray He says,
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Trust me. Relate to me. Remember I am with you and remember the truths I have taught you. O and practice these. Obey Me. It's all about relationship.
Perhaps the most relational and transforming thing we can do when we trust Him is to obey Him. This is a lifelong relational process. But Jesus tells us God’s love language is obedience. I.e., if you want to love God in the way He prizes most—obey Him.
John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and [note what that opens up, notice God’s response to our love:] he who loves [obeys] Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”
This is why we call obedience a love word.
His love initiates our love. Love obeys. When we obey Him from the heart, God becomes even more relationally open.
But it’s hard to obey if we don’t always feel like God loves us. And some of us don’t always feel loved or accepted by God.
So how do we overcome this feeling that God does not love us?
By trusting everything we've just said. Relationally. By grace through faith. By trusting Abba's love, God's promises, and Jesus' finished work on the cross.
Rule #1, do not base whether or not God loves and accepts you on your feelings. Instead, submit your feelings to His promise that He loves and accepts you.
Jesus tells us of God’s love and commands us to abide in His love, submit to His love.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
And not just for us, He died for you. Paul teaches us to take this personally,
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
God loves you and gave His Son. Christ loves you and gave His life. But no matter how much love he has for you, no matter how many different ways He acts to love you—for you experience His love for you, you must submit to His love for you. And He gives you every reason under heaven to submit to Him.