One of the statements that we as Christians often make as we try to help others understand our beliefs is that the Christian faith is not a religion, but rather a relationship. And well it is that we go there, because that difference is an extremely compelling truth. It’s a distinction that uniquely sets Christianity apart from other faiths, that worship distant and unapproachable gods. We talk a lot about our relationship with Jesus, and rightly so. A danger that is inherent in all things familiar, though, is that we are prone to begin taking the familiar for granted. The depth and the breadth of its reality can begin to fade in our hearts and in our minds. An old saying states that, “familiarity breeds contempt”. Now, while I doubt very much that any of us have gone that far in our perspective on the relational aspect of our faith, it is probably safe to say that some of us have lost the deep sense of awe and gratitude that is worthy of such an incredible truth.
‘Relationship’ is a vague, indefinite word that can be used to cover an extremely broad spectrum. Each of us have a multitude of relationships in our lives, ranging from the shallow and near-meaningless to the deep and vitally important. There are many levels of relationship and I want to take a moment and review these with the hope that in doing so we will breathe fresh life into our perspective on our relationship with God. The following is not an exhaustive list, nor is it taken from any source on the subject. Rather, it is simply my reflections on relationship levels as I sit and write this blog.
Beginning in the shallowest end of the pool, the first level of relationship may be simple acknowledgement. We walk past hundreds of people every day (or at least we used to before Covid sent us all to our rooms), exhibiting no sign of interest or recognition. But for someone familiar we may give a slight head nod, or a smile to evidence recognition. Not much going on relationally here, but still a separation from the total stranger norm.
The next level might be to interact on basic levels. If by chance we meet on the street or in the mall, we stop and make small talk for a minute… “How are you doing?”; “What have you been up to?”; “This is quite the weather we’re having lately”. These interactions often feel a bit forced and awkward, and we may try to avoid them when possible, but at least we’re talking.
A next level may be when we welcome such interactions. Here we cross the aisle or the street to converse even when the other individual hasn’t spotted us yet and we could get away unnoticed. We are genuinely pleased to see them.
A step up from this would be when we get to the point where we invite contact. We are intentional in attempting to get together. We initiate. Specific dates and times are set; plans are made; activities are shared and enjoyed; friendships are formed.
As we move deeper relationally, the next level may be when we begin to invest in the other person’s life. We give of ourselves in some capacity; we make a contribution; we spend time; we build into.
A further step would be when we grant free access. We release the reins on being able to control and limit contact. “Call me anytime, day or night”; “If you're ever in the neighborhood, feel free to just drop in”; “Here’s a key to my house”.
Our small group study of Psalm 23 got me thinking about this topic, specifically in looking at verse 6, which says: “Surely your (God’s) goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This verse points to a deeper relational level. It’s one of many declarations in Scripture that our relationship with God is so important to him that he pursues us for our good. We worship a God that doesn’t merely acknowledge our existence, although that is somewhat remarkable in and of itself; who doesn’t just interact momentarily with us when we happen to box him into a corner; who doesn’t merely welcome us when we happen to meet; who not only initiates contact with us but shows a personal interest and invests into our lives; one who has amazingly granted us free access to himself – inviting us to boldly approach his throne whenever we so desire. No, our God loves us so much and his relational commitment to us is so strong that he is willing to pursue us, for our benefit, even when we are negligent in pursuing him. Scripture is full of such confirmation, telling us about our Creator, searching for Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3:9); our good shepherd, who goes looking for the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7); our Lord, who stands at our door and knocks (Revelation 3:20); our Savior, who came to seek and to save the lost (John 19:10). Our God loves us enough to pursue!
Of course, the ultimate measure of the depth and richness of our relationship with God was evidenced in his total commitment to redeeming us – pursing us all the way from Heaven to a humble and primitive stable. Walking the paths we walk, and sharing our experiences while dressed in our very own skin. Voluntarily laying down his life – taking on the sin of the world, in order to save us. Preparing an eternal home for us. Adopting us into his family and making us joint-heirs with his very own Son, Jesus.
Take a moment today to reflect on how amazing your relationship with God truly is. Thank him. Praise him. Never let familiarity dull the gleam of this implausible, incredible reality!