My son is constantly asking questions. Sometimes we know the answers. Sometimes we have to look them up. Then there are times he asks questions no one knows the answers to. It’s often a constant barrage. We usually answer him from wherever we are sitting or ask him to come to us so we can hear him better. However, if he’s ever in trouble or there’s a problem, when he calls out, we’re on the move trying to get to him. We don’t just sit there and tell him to figure it out or ignore him. Depending on where he is, sometimes he can’t see that we’re on the way. It’s a similar relationship with God that we have as His children. He’s always listening to us and our prayers. Whenever we need Him, He’s there to help even when we can’t see Him.
In Matthew 14, the disciples were in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee when a storm popped up. They were doing all they could to keep from going under. Jesus had eyes on them, but they couldn’t see Him until He came walking on the water towards them. Peter felt safer with Jesus on the water than in the boat so he asked to join Jesus. As he walked toward Jesus, Jesus walked toward him. At some point, Peter became terrified of his situation and began to sink. He cried out to Jesus for help. Jesus reached out, grabbed him and walked with him back to the boat. When they got back in, the storm stopped.
Psalm 145:18 says, “You draw near to those who call out to you, listening closely, especially when their hearts are true” (TPT). God doesn’t expect us to go through our storms alone. He’s not far away when it feels like we’re going under. He’s waiting on us to stop trying to do everything on our own. Once we realize our need for Him, and call out to Him, He draws near to pull us up and walk with us through it. When we put away our stubbornness and pride that says we can do it on our own and call out to Him, He draws near to us, reaching out. It’s a point we all must come to in those times. He doesn’t want you to suffer. He simply wants us to recognize our need for Him and to want to be close to Him. Like a good parent, when we call out, He comes running, even if it’s on water.
I’ve studied and taught DISC for years. When you see a DISC logo, it’s usually in a circle. It’s broken up with lines going north and south, as well as east and west. The letters on the top of it represent outgoing personalities and the letters on the bottom are indicative of people who are introverted. On the left side, the letters are personality types that are task focused, and on the right represent people focused individuals. My letter falls on the top right. I’m an extrovert who is people focused. I get my energy from being around people and enjoy working with a team rather than individually. What my wife has found is that I will sacrifice tasks if given the opportunity. If she needs something done, she makes a to-do list and I’m pretty good at knocking it out. Tasks are easy for all of us to relate to. We have a set of things to do. It’s defined, clear and appeals to our goal oriented nature.
In the Garden of Eden, God had a relationship with Adam and Eve. They walked in the garden and talked, but when they sinned, it hurt the relationship. Fast forward to when the Israelites left Egypt and were in the desert. When God met with them on Mount Sinai, they preferred not to have a relationship with God even though He had just rescued them. Exodus 20:19 says, “They pulled back and stood at a distance. They said to Moses, ‘You speak to us and we’ll listen, but don’t have God speak to us or we’ll die’” (MSG). They were afraid of relationship. Moses went up to talk with God and came back down with the Ten Commandments. It was a task list of how to behave. We, like them, tend to gravitate to a check list approach to Christianity instead of the relationship God wants to have. We often pull back from Him and try to make it into Heaven by following the checklist of behaviors we’re to exhibit forgetting that the work has been done and a relationship is all God wants.
I wish I had space to incorporate all of Galatians 3:11-12, but here’s a portion of it. “The obvious impossibility of carrying out such a moral program should make it plain that no one can sustain a relationship with God that way…Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith, but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping.” Task oriented Christianity does not lead to relationship. You can’t sustain any relationship by following a check list. You must know the other party in the relationship, know their heart, understand their motives and be vulnerable if a relationship is going to be healthy. For these reasons, many of us allow our fear to have us pull back and stand at a distance from God, but He’s still there waiting for you to enter in. He’s waiting for you to draw close. He tore the veil when Jesus was crucified so that you could enter in and know Him yourself. Spend time in prayer today building that relationship rather than offering God a checklist of things you want. He prefers relationships to tasks.
I remember first hearing about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” when I was young. There was debate on whether it was a physical handicap that happened to him or a person who heckled him everywhere he went or something else. I don’t God told us what it was because we don’t need to know. I know it’s fun to speculate, but whatever it was it humbled him and limited his effectiveness in his mind. We know that he was surprised that after asking God three times to remove whatever it was that God didn’t remove it. God allowed whatever it was to bother him or limit him to continue so that Paul would be humble and learn to rely on God’s strength and wisdom instead of his own.
Think of something in your life that is happening or has happened that bothers you or feels like it’s limiting you. It probably consumes a lot of your thinking of how to get rid of it or to escape it. Has it caused an increase in your prayer life? Has it caused you to depend on and seek God more? If it has, then what looks like a curse, may actually be a blessing in disguise. I know it’s hard to look at something annoying or painful in our life and to see that as a blessing, but anything that draws us into a closer relationship and dependence on God is a blessing though it may not seem like it at the time. We like having an easy life and smooth sailing, but those things don’t produce mature believers. They produce overconfidence in our own abilities. One of my favorite quotes is that smooth seas never produced a skilled sailor.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become” (MSG). Learning to take our limitations in stride is hard, but necessary in our maturity. Difficult things happen to everyone. How we respond matters. We can get angry and depressed or we can let them push us into greater dependence on God and His grace.
As I wait for my oil to get changed in my car, I can’t help but think of all the correlations between the routine maintenance work on my car and the need for routine maintenance of our walk with Christ. Someone was recently telling me a story about a guy who was never taught that his oil needed to be changed. He got a new car when he started college, but by the time he graduated, the engine broke down. His car wasn’t designed to go on forever with the original oil. It, like us, needed fresh oil.
Too many Christians try to live the life we are called to live without ever getting fresh oil. We try to survive our whole lives on the emotions of our initial salvation experience. When we try to do that, we break down, get tired and run out of energy. It gets hard to move when God says move because we haven’t done anything to grow the relationship. It becomes difficult to walk by faith because we haven’t done anything to improve our sight. We couldn’t stay in a romantic relationship based off of our initial feeling so why would we try to do that with God?
Imagine your first date with someone you love. There were butterflies in your stomach. Your palms were sweaty. Your voice might have even cracked. You were so enamored with the person across from you that you could just stare into their eyes forever. Now, many years later, life has happened. That initial feeling is gone. You’ve learned that to make that relationship work, you’ve got to do routine maintenance to the relationship. You can’t count on those initial feelings to keep the relationship going when times get tough. You’ve had to put fresh oil in the relationship if it’s going to survive.
For a Christian, we get fresh oil by spending time in prayer with God. I’m not talking about a one way prayer. I’m talking about dialogue where you sit and wait to hear back from God. You have to spend time reading and pouring through the Bible. Fresh oil doesn’t come from reading a chapter a day. It comes from digging through it, listening to the tone and finding how it applies to your life. You also get fresh oil from being around other believers. You can’t get that kind of oil just sitting in a pew next to someone for a few hours on Sunday. You have to break bread with them, hang out with them and have a relationship that stirs up each other’s gifts.
Fresh oil doesn’t come on its own. It’s something you have to take time out of your schedule for and will cost you something. If you’ve been trying to keep your relationship with God going on that initial feeling, you probably aren’t far from a break down. Spend time today getting back into your prayer closet. Take time to look deeper into His word than just the normal cursory look. I will also encourage you to connect with other believers who will challenge your faith and will push you beyond your comfort zone. When you do that, you’ll find a renewed love for God and an excitement that is deeper than your initial salvation experience.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
I think most all of us have been in a relationship at one time or another where we felt like we were the only one giving. Think about one of those relationships for a minute. You gave, and gave, and gave, yet the other person only took from you. After a while, you felt depleted. You got tired of giving with no return and the relationship failed. It’s a story all too common between us and God. We expect God to give, give, give, and all we do is take in the relationship. It’s a recipe for disaster. No relationship lasts that way.
One of the best ways we can give back in our relationship with God is to spend quality time with Him. We have to pray, read our Bible, and love others daily in order to spend quality time with God. James 4:8 says, “Come near to God, and He will come near to you” (GNT). When we do things that give in the relationship, He does too. If you read that verse again, you’ll notice that it’s up to us to take the first step in getting near to God. When we do, He comes close to us.
If you’re going to deepen any relationship, it requires vulnerability. You have to be open and honest. God is not afraid of your past, your questions, or your insecurities. He doesn’t hold them against us, so it’s ok to share them with Him. In II Corinthians 12, Paul was vulnerable with God about his weak areas and God replied, “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” Once we admit our weaknesses, His strength is made perfect in us. It just takes us being open and honest with Him.
Finally, we need to listen in order to give back in our relationship with Him. This is hard to do. We’ve been conditioned to make prayer a Honey-do list of things we’d like. We end it with a quick “Amen”, then we go about our business. Prayer is a conversation between you and God. It should go both ways. Try spending a few minutes each day being quiet in your prayer time to give God a chance to speak. You’ll be surprised at how much He wants to say to you, and how much deeper your relationship with Him gets.
What other things have you done to grow a deeper relationship with God?