Knowing God: Relationship, not Ritual

Knowing GodEveryone is unique and forms relationships a little differently. We all relate to different people in different ways, too. I relate to my wife differently than I do to my father and I relate to my pastor differently than I do to an old seminary professor. However, there are some common elements that all relationships share. Relationships require time invested into another person, they often require putting the other person first, and of course a desire to WANT to have that relationship.

With this in mind, I often hear people say, “A good Christian needs to do X-Y-Z in their relationship with God in order for it to be successful.” Suggestions for X-Y-Z usually include a set amount of time spent reading scripture and praying on a daily basis. To me, though, this seems to assume that the given formula creates intimacy for anyone wanting to know God. I’ve tried the formula and for me personally it only seems to lead to a spiritual rut rather than a living vital relationship with my Savior.

To say that I need to read my Bible and pray for X amount of minutes every day seems to be like saying I need to meet with the same friend on the same bench at the same mall every day for the same amount of time. I listen to my friend talk and when He is finished, He listens to me talk. When I’m done talking, we leave our bench and wait to come back to it the next day. Any dating relationship based on this “formula” would get old pretty quickly.

For me, my relationship with God is much more fluid. I don’t hold myself to a strict schedule of something I do, rather it’s about something I am. My heart naturally draws me to spending time with Him in different ways. One day I may feel like playing my guitar and spending time in worship, other days all I do is pray. Sometimes I’ll read just a few verses, other days I’ll read a whole book and highlight everything that jumps out at me. Then next day I may only re-read those highlighted parts. Because I actually desire to spend time with God it’s something I naturally want to make time to do without making it a forced habit.

I know people say, “Well, I’m too busy so if I don’t schedule it, it won’t get done.” In that case, scheduling is a great way to get started as long as the focus remains on the relationship with God rather a task on the to-do list. Several years ago a college professor of mine said that no matter how busy people are, if they have to go to the bathroom they’ll make time, even if it’s the busiest part of their day. In other words, no matter how busy we are, we all have time to spend with God even if it’s only a couple minutes. Maybe it’s more an issue of prioritizing instead of time? (Man, spend time with God in the bathroom if that’s the only time you have!)

George McDonald said, “Nothing is so deadening to the divine as a habitual dealing with the outsides of holy things.” Attending church, praying and reading scripture are all good things, but perhaps we need to rethink why we do them. Maybe we need to examine our motivations to see if we’ve lost sight of the true goal of these activities.

What’s difficult for me to understand are teachers in churches today that know little of a relationship with God. For me, everything I do and teach in ministry comes from my personal time with Him. Otherwise my teaching comes from a curriculum book instead of my heart. I then find myself teaching facts and head-knowledge rather than a relationship when it’s ultimately the relationship that students need. My ministry therefore depends on my relationship with God. It’s hard for me to be genuinely passionate about something I don’t practice myself.

Back in Bible college a visiting missionary held a workshop called, Spiritual Dryness. I attended and it pretty much changed the direction of my struggling walk with the Lord. He released me from the X-Y-Z mentality and encouraged those in attendance to be creative with the time we spend with God. He told us that time spent with the Lord doesn’t have to look the same way for everyone. We’re all created uniquely with different approaches to relationships. Reading the Bible and prayer are both vital, but if one person chooses to write letters or poems to God instead of closing theirs eyes and bowing their heads, that’s completely legitimate.

He included a handout that I often review and now use with students called, Ten Questions to ask when your spiritual life is dull and dry. I’ve included that handout below for anyone who might be interested. The second document, Quiet Time: How it works, is a sheet I sometimes use with students who express a desire to spend time with God but don’t know where to start. It gives them a starting point as long as they remember that this is about developing a relationship, not going through a form every day.

I always encourage students to be creative and try new things in their relationship with God. When they take the challenge seriously I am almost always blown away with the ideas these kids come up with for spending time with the Lord. The best part, however, is that this usually causes them to take ownership of the relationship. It’s so very awesome to watch!

PDF iconTen questions to ask when your spiritual life is dull and dry
PDF iconQuiet Time: How it works

Posted on September 12, 2006

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