My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:2) (NIV)
What a fantastic Scripture reference. It speaks of a profound desire to commune with God. As I often do, I grabbed Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language, and I turned to Psalm 42. Peterson translates the first few verses as follows: “A White-tailed deer drinks from the creek; I want to drink God, deep drafts of God. I’m thirsty for God – alive. I wonder, ‘Will I ever make it – arrive and drink in God’s presence?'” (The Message)
Let’s consider what it means to be in a relationship. Dictionary.com says relationship is “a connection, association, or involvement…an emotional or other connection.” We are social animals. God created us that way. Genesis 2:18 tells us God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” (NLT) So it is only natural that we are created for being in relationship with God. Obviously, all relationships require work. They don’t just happen. When it comes to a relationship with God, we tend to feel as though we inherited our faith from our parents, and that we are one of His. Although family does have an impact on what we believe, the time comes when we must decide for ourselves. Until we make that decision, there is no real basis for relationship.
Foundation is important in all things, including relationships. Decide what you truly feel about God and tell Him. He’s big enough. He can take it. You can’t tell Him something He hasn’t already heard. My mentor and friend from church believes in writing a letter to God. You might be thinking, as I did initially, “But God must know this stuff already, right? He knows the number of hairs on my head.” True, but the letter will serve as a cement slab on which you can erect your relationship with God. (Write out your concerns, doubts, and feelings in long-hand. I recommend not using your laptop for this exercise. A handwritten note is more personal.)
The number-one key in a good relationship is knowing your expectations. Once you establish the base for your relationship with God, you can begin to build upon it every day through prayer and devotional reading of the Scriptures. I can’t overstate this point: Don’t sit on negative feelings too long. Otherwise, you will develop an offense or resentment toward God. Satan loves this because it tends to cut us off from God. As much as this is true in relationships with friends, family, or spouses, it is more so in a relationship with your Heavenly Father. The longer you wait to talk, the harder it gets. If you’re mad at God, go to Him as soon as possible. Preferably in a private place.
Relationship is about finding and meeting God. As Perrott puts it, “It’s about starting and nurturing an honest relationship with our Creator. It’s about coming to terms with ourselves.” Sarah Young is the author of a daily devotional titled Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence.” Her reading for March 17, says, in part, “Come to Me for understanding since I know you far better than you know yourself. I comprehend you in all your complexity; no detail of your life is hidden from Me. I view you through eyes of grace, so don’t be afraid…when no one else seems to understand you, simply draw closer to Me. Rejoice in the One who understands you completely and loves you perfectly.”
The following comments are from Chip Ingram, Teaching Pastor at Living on the Edge. I was truly shocked by how much I could relate, minus the Marine upbringing part. Relationships, whether with a spouse or Almighty God, cannot be fear-based. Having a real, intimate relationship with God is not about using the right words, spiritual techniques, twisting God’s arm, or trying to live a perfect life. As we grow closer to Him, we come to see that He already knows our heart.
I spent many years living under a performance mentality, partly due to my “Marine” upbringing. I was taught from a young age that discipline and performance were paramount, so when I became a Christian I approached my relationship with God the same way. I remember I used to go through a long prayer list every day, worrying that I’d make a mistake and leave someone or something out. I also thought that in order to “get God on my team” there must be a certain formula, or specific actions that I needed to follow. But nothing I tried seemed to bring me feeling closer to God. Living on the Edge
Naturally, there are some basics we need to consider. For example, we need to make a daily habit of confessing our sin. If sin is the barrier in our relationship with God, then confession removes that barrier. When we confess our sins, He promises to forgive us of those sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (See 1 John 1:9) Forgiveness is what restores a strained relationship. However, confession is more than simply saying, “I’m sorry for my sin, God.” It is heartfelt contrition out of recognition that our sin is an offense to a Holy God. It is confession born out of realizing our sin nailed Jesus to the cross.
Of course, to have a closer relationship with God we need to listen when He speaks. Many people today are chasing a supernatural experience of hearing God’s voice, but Peter tells us we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which we would do well to pay attention. That “more sure prophetic word” is the Bible. In the Bible, we hear God’s voice to us. It is through the God-breathed Scriptures that we become “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (See 2 Timothy 3:16-17) If we want to grow closer to God, we should read His Word regularly. When we read Scripture, we are listening to God speak through it by his Spirit who illuminates the Word to us.
Another critical component is to speak to God daily through prayer. The Gospels provide many examples of Jesus secreting Himself away to commune with the Heavenly Father. Prayer is much more than simply a way to ask God for things we need or want. Consider the model prayer that Jesus gives His disciples in Matthew 6:9-13. The first three petitions in that prayer are directed toward God (may His name be hallowed, may His kingdom come, may His will be done). The last three petitions are requests we make of God after we’ve taken care of the first three (give us our daily bread, forgive us our sins, lead us not into temptation). I have found that reading the Psalms on a regular basis has enhanced my prayer life. Many of the Psalms are heartfelt cries to God with adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication.
Obedience will help us grow closer to God. Jesus told His disciples in the upper room, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (See John 14:23) James tells us that as we submit ourselves to God through obedience, resist the devil, and draw near to God, He will draw near to us. (See James 4:7-8) Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that our obedience is our “living sacrifice” of thanksgiving to God. I believe obedience is our proper response to the grace of God we received through salvation. We don’t earn salvation through our obedience, but we were bought with a price. Oh, what a tremendous price it was! The only true way we can show our love and gratitude toward God is to honor His Word.
It might sound simplistic, but consider how we develop a closer relationship with other human beings. We spend time with them in conversation, opening our hearts to them and listening to them at the same time. We acknowledge when we’ve done wrong and seek forgiveness. We love them. We treat them well and sacrifice our own needs to fulfill theirs. It’s not really that different with our relationship to our Heavenly Father. Surely, we have to admit to ourselves that we are social beings in need of relationship. Furthermore, we need to see relationship with God as critical to joy, peace, fulfillment, and a sense of belonging in an otherwise vast and scary universe.
How few people we know, or even know of, who experience the kind of closeness with God that our hearts long for. Even in Scripture only a handful of people seemed to have a special relationship with the Father. Abraham was called a friend of God. The Lord spoke with Moses face to face. Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a throne. Paul was taken up into the third heaven, and the Apostle John had an incredible vision, which he recorded in the book of Revelation. These are not every day encounters with Jesus. Each of these individuals developed a closeness with God that ultimately changed their lives, as well as hundreds of millions of others over the last 2,000 years.
God does not have a secret society of intimate friends. We are as intimate with God as we choose to be. It is our desire, our abiding, our purity that will determine the depth of our intimacy with Him. Intimacy is understanding that I may feel “hinged” or “unhinged.” It is knowing that I must sit at the feet of Jesus, so that I can walk with integrity as His friend. It is experiencing the closeness of the Lord and at other times wondering if He is near. Essentially, intimacy is abandonment of ourselves to the Lord—abandonment born out of trust and an intense longing to know the living God.