“It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship.”
Christians often say this when sharing the gospel with unbelievers. We want them to understand that Christianity isn’t just a matter of changing churches or habits or rituals.
We enter into a relationship with God when we repent of our own way and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. We actually become God’s children.
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). (See What does it mean to be a born again Christian?)
“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
This relationship changes everything, and we spend the rest of our lives growing in it and learning the implications of it.
The main way we grow in that relationship is the same way we grow in other relationships: communication. We read the Word God left here for us, the record of what He wants us to know and practice. We talk to Him in prayer.
Because we’re human, we set up habits and routines to helps us incorporate prayer and Bible reading into our everyday lives. We find a Bible reading plan or study book that works with our schedule. We stake out a serviceable spot and assemble tools: good lighting, highlighters, pens, journals.
And then life happens. We wake up too late one morning. Or we wake up early because we have to be somewhere. Or someone is sick or company comes. Or we don’t feel inspired.
If our time with any other member of the family gets disrupted, what do we do? We touch base as we can and make arrangements to talk one-on-one another time.
When our time with God gets disrupted, what do we do? We feel nagging guilt because an item on our to-do list didn’t get crossed off. We forget the relationship aspect of it
I love what Sue Donaldson says here: “We don’t worship the habit, but habits help us worship.” We set up the habits in love, in order to foster our relationship with God. But then we devolve into just keeping up the habits and forget what they’re for.
We often approach our devotional time out of duty rather than anticipation of spending time with God. A quiet time begun as a sense of duty can turn into something that touches out hearts and draws us close. Remembering our purpose will motivate us to look for Him rather than just dragging our eyes across the page.
We don’t always feel warm fuzzies when in any relationship. But love isn’t always warm fuzzies. Sometimes it’s doing for another when we don’t “feel” like it. A mom awakened at 2 a.m. by her baby’s cries might not feel warm and nurturing at first. But she gets up out of love for her child, and the warm feelings kick in later. Remembering our purpose, our history, and the relationship can help restore the warm feelings.
There are other ways we often lose the focus of our relationship with God:
- When we have a need, we look for verses to plug into it rather than remembering, “This is what my Father said about this issue.”
- We avoid sin to avoid punishment or protect our reputation rather than, like Joseph, cringing at the thought of acting unseemly toward God. He’s done so much for us. How can we disregard Him or do things that hurt or displease Him?
- We set up our ministries and cram all of our service into that time slot, thinking we’re “off” the rest of the time. Instead, we should remember God’s family is our own, and we minister by His grace whenever a need comes up.
- We treat prayer like a vending machine—insert request, receive answer—rather than a conversation with our God.
- We witness for Christ during our official church visitation time instead of looking for ways to point people to Him all through the day.
- Modesty becomes rigid standards for hairlines, hemlines, and necklines rather than a heart attitude to please and rightly represent God.
- We feel we’ve had a great worship experience because we knew all the songs or sang our favorites, even if we didn’t have a conscious thought of the greatness of God while singing.
Israel was rebuked all through the prophetical books for forgetting their why and their who. Their habits and rituals then became empty, a weariness. It wasn’t too long before idolatry provided a seemingly more exciting alternative.
But they weren’t the only ones. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day stressed God’s law, but missed its heart and purpose. The church in Ephesus did all the right things outwardly but had left their first love.
How can we guard against just going through the motions? How can we keep a warm, nurturing, and loving relationship with God at the forefront of all we do?
God gave Ephesus a twofold instruction: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:5a).
Remember. Remember how God saved us. Remember what our life was like before: “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Those who were saved very young can think about what life might have been like if you hadn’t heard the gospel from your earliest days.
Remember our “Ebenezers,” those times we especially saw God’s hand at work. Remember prayers God has answered and how He has led in the past. “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands” (Psalm 143:5).
Remember and meditate on His attributes. Focus on Him in our Bible study and worship. Perhaps go through a book like Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him and In His Image.
Read though some psalms or other Bible passages that especially drew us close to God’s heart in the past.
Repent. We pray and ask His help to love Him as we ought.. We reverse the list above. We go back and evaluate all those activities and relationships in light of our relationship with God.
There for me the Savior stands,
Shows His wounds and spreads His hands.
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps and loves me still.
Pity from Thine eye let fall,
By a look my soul recall;
Now the stone to flesh convert,
Cast a look, and break my heart.
Now incline me to repent,
Let me now my sins lament,
Now my foul revolt deplore,
Weep, believe, and sin no more.
From “Depths of Mercy” by Charles Wesley
(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Hearth and Home, Senior Salon, Remember Me Monday, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Legacy Linkup, Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network)
Amen! We indeed have a mighty Savior Barbara!
Barbara, Thank you, yet again for providing a very timely post. Your words struck my heart especially when thinking about my own personal worship and Bible study times. If I gave as much time or consideration to my other earthly relationships as I do my relationship their The Lord, they would be a mess!
Thank you for giving me the insight I needed. I haven’t “fallen away” from God, but I certainly have neglected the most important relationship in my life.
Thank you, Barbara. That’s a good comparison–what would our other relationships be like if we treated others as we do God. That’s eye-opening.
Wonderful reminders, Barbara! Tweeting this, my friend!
What a good list of ways we tend to take our focus off of our relationship with God! I think I need to read this post each week; really wonderful thoughts for keeping that relationship fresh.
I do, too.
Thank you for the reminders, sometimes we need that and to pray ‘restore to me the joy of my salvation’ that we would always delight in the Lord!
That’s true, Sharon.
Thank you for sharing these precious reminders of the depth of our merciful Lord! And thank you for sharing that beautiful hymn. Oh, may I continue to learn more of what that mercy means for me!
Thank you, Bettie.
Without that quality time, it’s easy for our relationship to stall—whether it’s with our Savior or our spouse.
I loved reading this Barbara. The quote from Sue was especially telling. It is my habit to read the Bible in bed before I go to sleep. It is a habit that I look forward to – I often read more than I intended to – but because I am sleepy, I think I don’t always get as much out of my reading as I should. I often read posts by Christian bloggers that are about verses I have just breezed right on by, sometimes only the night before! Remember and repent – good advice!
I’ve had that happen, too. I love how sharing what we got out of our reading helps each other. “Iron sharpening iron.”
Yes, habits can definitely help us to grow in faith but we need to be careful that they don’t just become routine. I love the suggestions you give to help us remember the why behind them.
Thank you, Lesley!
My relationship with God began before I understood anything about repenting – I met him in my closet when I was 5. I tell people who don’t know Him – to start a conversation with Him. Today, I still have those conversations. Good habits, like you mention, help keep that conversation in relationship, sharpening it, taking me deeper! Thank you for this encouraging post to weave Him in to so many places in my daily!
That’s true, our relationship with God starts before we know or understand much. The more we talk with Him and listen to Him through His Word, the more the relationship grows.
Our relationship with God is the most important one we have. And as you shared some of the best ways we strengthen the relationship are by prayer and Bible reading. I look forward to my time in the Word every day. And I love the quote from Sue. Thanks for these good reminders. Blessings to you, Barbara!
Thank you, Gayl. That time in God’s Word is my lifeline.
I am so grateful my relationship with God began at a young age. It has changed over the years as my schedule made demands, but He has always helped me to keep it alive and vibrant. My time with Him remains the best time of my day, no matter the time it occurs. May He continue to bless you, Barbara, in every season of life!
Thank you, Joanne. My time with Him is the best part of my day as well. As you said, the mechanics of what we read and pray, when, how long, etc., may change, but keeping up some kind of communication is vital.
I don’t know where I’d be, had I not come to know Christ as my Lord and Savior at a fairly young age. I can also look back at all the Ebenezers I’ve been able to raise to His faithfulness. This really drives me to be in relationship with Him when I feel the weariness. How can I not spend time in His presence when He has been right there with me through so much. Joining with you in looking for new ways to minister to others as I go about my day. Great post, as always.
” How can I not spend time in His presence when He has been right there with me through so much.” Amen, Bev — me, too.
Good post. Shared on my Facebook page and church facebook page. I especially appreciate your list of ways we lose our focus. Thanks and blessings, Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles
p.s. I am catching up, I commented on a post from the end of August, not sure if you would see it or not.
Thanks so much for sharing! Yes, I did see the other comment. I get emails when someone comments anywhere on my blog, so I see it even if it’s from an older post.
Woah! It really is a slippery slope into legalism and away from life. Thank you, Barbara, for this warning to guard our hearts and avoid making an idol of the habits that are supposed to lead us toward relationship.
I’ve often had to ask myself have I really met with the Lord today or just worked through my routine? So much comes back to balance–hard but necessary to maintain.
This is so good, Barbara! I am one of the people who share my testimony in a way that reminds others that I grew up with religion but wasn’t saved until I had a relationship with God. Your list of the ways we lose focus on God is spot on. Thank you.
Thank you, Mary. I’m so glad God brought you to that realization of the difference between religion and relationship.
Thank you for the encouragement to get back to our first love! Great list to check our actions. Blessings, sarah
Beautifully written, so many truths that are balm to our weary souls. Remembering our Father’s love and truth 💕 and running to Him.
So much wisdom in this post. It’s not about religion but about the relationship is a conversation I’ve been having often with an unsaved friend who says, if I keep listening to your stories about how God is using you and showing up for you, I just might become a believer.” That is why we must be bold about sharing our faith because it just might be what inspires someone to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. I guess this is my way of pointing people to him all through the day. Your list of ways we often lose the focus of our relationship with God is spot on and made me pause to think…
“This relationship changes everything, and we spend the rest of our lives growing in it and learning the implications of it.” yes! and how easy it is to lose our focus too! love this, such practical encouragement to remain in Him. glad i found you from the crystalstorms.me link up!
If I get up late or am running behind, what’s the first thing to go? My time with the Lord, of course. The funny thing is I wouldn’t even think about going out of the house without a shower and putting my makeup on. If the choice is “time with God” or “time getting dressed,” the latter always wins out. I would be much better to be clothed with Christ and not have makeup on than to have a flawless face but no Jesus. Thank you for this reminder to daily focus on my relationship with Him.
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