“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ…I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”Philippians 3:7-8a
How beautiful is the relationship between Paul and Christ? He counts everything as loss for the sake of Christ our King, and even refers to everything as “rubbish” or “dung” in comparison to His splendor.
It is even more beautiful when you realize that Paul never met Christ on earth. He literally went from murdering Christians to becoming one in the matter of a week (really, a day), and went on to write most of the new testament and spread the gospel further than any of the apostles before him.
I want a relationship with God like Paul’s with Christ; one which is all consuming and fills me with bountiful, eternal joy. I want to be so filled with a passion for God that I can’t stop talking about Him, writing about Him, and sharing His truth with everyone around me, like Paul did.
So what’s stopping me? In fact, what’s preventing any of us who want to build a stronger relationship with God from doing so?
There are many facets of today’s daily life that crave our attention and time. From work and school, to friends, family, pets, and social media, our minds are constantly being pulled in every direction, horizontally.
These distractions cause us to make conscious decisions everyday that strain our relationship with God, decisions even I choose to make. And that’s not okay.
Why is that? Why do we, who are so passionate for and constantly craving God’s presence, choose these distractions over our Creator?
Simply put, it’s easy.
It’s easy to sleep an extra thirty minutes instead of getting up for communion with God. It’s easy to watch the next episode of a show instead of reading His Word. It’s easy to set aside time for friends or family, but never even devote five minutes to building a strong spiritual relationship with our Father.
Pushing God away is part of the fall, making it natural for us to choose against Him. What isn’t natural is setting aside time for someone we don’t know, someone we can’t physically see or hear, and it’s hard to consciously make those kinds of decisions.
Yet that’s exactly what we are called to do.
The Internal Struggle Between Right and Wrong
Building a relationship with God is a difficult endeavor. J.I. Packer, in His book Knowing God, claims “…Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit: the spirit, that is, that spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room for only small thoughts of God.”
Packer has recognized our passion for greatness and our lack of zeal for a God who, by nature, is Great. The contradiction of our own desires creates a burning sense of confusion among those who can’t see the magnificence of the character of God — and don’t try to.
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or His ear 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.”Isaiah 59:1-2
Our sin nature is the crux of what separates us from a desire to know God, to really desire Him, His presence, and His will. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The “natural” is our sin, our nature.
That sin nature, however, can’t actually keep us from knowing God if we actively choose to seek Him. Staying active in our faith gives us access to the most extraordinary relationship in eternity (literally). It builds within us a will for something greater. God promises in Psalm 37:4 to give us the desires of our hearts if we delight ourselves in the Lord. If we choose God, our desire will be God.
There is an internal battle between right and wrong within us, governing each decision we make. Choosing God is one thing, but overcoming sin is a whole other story.
The first step to building a relationship with God is getting to know Him.
Just like at the start of any personal relationship, you want to know who you are going to be spending your time with, talking to, talking about, and eventually, trusting.
You also don’t want to just simply know about God. For example, I know a lot about J.R.R. Tolkien, but I don’t know him personally. It’s a personal connection you’re after, not just information.
The best way you can go about getting to know anyone is simple, you communicate.
Communion with God
Communication with our God is a privilege, one in which we are invited and called to indulge.
“…far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things He has done for you.”1 Samuel 12:23a-24
Many strong biblical characters have their prayers recorded within scripture:
- David has many of his recorded through Psalms. (Ps. 17, Ps. 86)
- Gideon’s prayers to God are recorded as if they were daily conversations. (Judg. 6:36-39)
- Moses talked with God regularly. (Ex. 33:7-23, Ps. 90)
- Paul writes to the churches in the New Testament that he is praying for them. (Rom. 1:8-10, 1 Cor. 1:4, Phil. 1:3-4)
These Christians, as well as countless others in scripture alone, are great examples of what a healthy relationship with the Father looks like. However, the most perfect example of this is the one established for us by Christ.
Jesus kept a constant communication with God. He prayed during His 40 days of temptation in the desert (Matt. 4:1-11), before every meal (Matt. 14:19), and for hours before he was brought before Pilate for his trial and crucifixion (John 17).
In Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus teaches us the benefits of communicating with God, and provides a model for prayer that many churches still follow today.
Prayer alone isn’t enough, though. We must continuously be listening for God’s response. Relationships are not one-way. God does hear us, and God does reply:
- God’s voice is everywhere (Ps. 29:3)
- God’s voice is powerful and full of majesty (Ps. 29:4)
- God’s voice flashes forth flames of fire (Ps. 29:7)
- God’s voice thunders wondrously (Job 37:5)
- God’s voice can, however, appear through a whisper (1 Kings 19:9-12)
God is our Shepherd. If we know Him, we will know His voice (John 10:14-16).
Characteristics of a Healthy Spiritual Relationship
God has not left us alone. There is a whole community of believers around the world who are studying God’s word, building their own relationships, and sharing their knowledge with us just like Paul did with the churches of the New Testament.
One of these believers is, in fact, J. I. Packer. In Knowing God, he breaks down some of the visible signs that one has built a healthy relationship with God. These characteristics encompass active efforts of faith that grow as we get closer to Him.
Those Who Know God Have Great Energy for God
Our actions are reactions to a culture that is notably opposed to the Christian worldview and to God as a whole. When people disrespect God’s name, we should be spurred into action.
“People who know their God are people who pray, and the first point where their zeal and energy comes to expression is through prayer.”Packer, 1973, p. 28
Having Great Thoughts of God
This contrasts the small thoughts of God mentioned earlier. We have to set aside room in our minds for great thoughts of God, which are evident in the examples set by Daniel:
“Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are His. He changes times and seasons, He sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom. He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells within Him.”
“O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with all who love Him and obey His commandments…The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving…the Lord our God is righteous in everything that He does.”
Daniel recognized God in a way that was outwardly expressive and gave Him glory. He risked his life (many times, actually) to glorify and praise God.
Showing Great Boldness for God
To use the example of Daniel once again, he was quite literally thrown to the lions because he wouldn’t compromise his faith. He was imprisoned, threatened, and persecuted, yet he never stopped praising God.
In Daniel 6, King Darius goes to see if Daniel is still alive in the lions’ den. The first thing Daniel does is exclaim God’s hand in his life/survival, then pleas for redemption from the king’s punishment. Because of this, Darius writes a decree addressing God as a living God, and Daniel prospered.
God is with Us
If we exhibit these three characteristics, then seeking God our Father, our Savior, our King, will become more natural. We will long for communion with Him and desire that everlasting relationship we as Christians have been promised as a result of the resurrection of Christ.
“Let the Bible be the place where God meets you…let the Bible be the place where you speak back to Him.”John Piper
We serve an active and living God who has invited us to be adopted into His kingdom. Our walk of faith is a response to the grace of our Creator, our Redeemer, our King.
We are His children and He is with us every step of the journey.
A Prayer for All of Us Mountain Goats
I could go on for pages about the love of God and the examples of that love in scripture. It is so great, that we can’t fully understand it. When I consider the overwhelming presence of His love, I am flooded with joy and I know that God is here, actively communicating with me even as I write this.
My prayer for you—and one I pray for my own friends, family, and also myself—is that you will be filled with a deep hunger and passion to experience God’s love firsthand. I pray this passion inspires you to learn about God, grow within His Spirit, and entirely praise His majesty.
Christian, Writer, Coffee Addict
1 John 3:1
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