Remembering the Relationship

“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

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