I can't even begin to count how many times I heard it growing up and still hear it today. I'm sure you have, too. If you want to be right with God, then you have to have a relationship with him. I was always told that when I grew up in church, but the problem was that nobody really explained what that meant. I know it sounds simple, but somehow I just missed something or didn't connect the idea well, and this concept always confused me. I didn't really understand what it meant to have a relationship with God. He wasn't around me and I couldn't see him, so how was I supposed to do that? Reading the Bible was beneficial for knowledge, but I didn’t really feel any connection to God. I prayed, but it more often felt like mailing a letter to Santa Claus.
One day a few years ago the realization hit me out of nowhere. Something clicked inside me and finally connected the missing link: having a relationship with God is the same as any relationship I have with anyone else. It’s so simple, and I was trying to make it out to be something it wasn’t. It’s not about some grand religious ceremony. It’s not about music or clothing or even denominations. It’s about the relationship. As soon I realized this, everything else started to fall into place.
When I think about my relationships with others, particularly with close friends, there are three key aspects that come to mind. Every good relationship in life will have these, and the same is true of a successful relationship with God.
You spend your time on things that are important to you. That’s the big secret, but it’s not really a secret. You make time for the relationships that are important to you, and the rest just drift away in the breeze.
My wife and I cannot have a successful relationship if we don’t spend quality time with each other. And what does that entail? It doesn’t really matter, honestly. As long as we’re hanging out with each other and focused on each other, it doesn’t really matter what we’re doing. Some of the best times I’ve enjoyed with her have been stupid jokes riding in the car. Deep conversations on long road trips. Sitting out in the yard on a warm day. All of it is quality time because we’re with each other sharing that moment in a manner that is significant to us.
The whole purpose of quality time is to allow you to get to know the other person. Think about when you first start dating someone. All you want to do is spend every free minute with them because you want to learn more about them. Even in the midst of a stupid joke that makes no sense, my wife and I learn each other.
The same is true with God.
You want to get to know God? Spend time hanging out with Him, and I’m not talking about going to church on Sunday. Spending time with God doesn’t need to be limited to one hour one day a week. It should happen all the time. It doesn’t always have to be something like praying or reading the Bible either (more on those in a bit). It’s just you and God sharing an experience in a meaningful way.
I hiked to the top of a mountain, and the incredible view from there revealed the beauty of God’s creation. A song randomly came on my iPod, and I had some profound thought about the nature of God. I was reading a book (secular or sacred, it doesn’t always matter), and it took me into the depths of humanity and the complexity of what it means to be human. And God created that. I narrowly escaped a major car accident, and I recognized how precious life is as well as the way God looks after me.
All of those are moments in my life where God was very real and very there, and they didn’t have to come at a church service for me to experience. Taking time regularly to hang out and get to know God a little more is integral to having a successful relationship with Him.
A majority of the misunderstandings I have with other people usually stem from a lack of this. Whether it’s forgetting to tell my wife I’ll be late getting home or saying something to a friend in a harsh tone when I really didn’t mean it, clear communication is the second key factor in a successful relationship.
Communication and quality time go hand-in-hand. When you spend time with someone, a large part of that quality comes from communicating with each other. That’s how you learn a lot about someone else, by having conversations. And there are two sides to conversation—speaking and listening. Both are equally important, and neither should be neglected by each side of the conversation. There is a time for speaking and a time for listening, and they are not always equal amounts.
If a buddy of mine is having a really difficult problem, I’m not going to say much. I’m mainly going to listen. And vice versa, when I’m dealing with an issue, I’m the one doing all the talking.
Another element of clear communication is openness. I can’t hide my true feelings in the name of amicability. Part of clearly communicating with someone is being open enough to tell them the truth, even if it may hurt that person’s feelings. Now, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be said in love, but we hold back something that needs to be said just because we’re worried about hurting feelings.
One of my college friends provided me with a wonderful example of this when we were in college. I was dating someone at the time, and he approached me one day and said that he needed to talk to me. He proceeded to tell me that he didn’t think that I needed to be in the relationship because it wasn’t good for me. He saw a lot in my relationship that he had experienced in a previous one and knew that it wouldn’t end well. Needless to say, I didn’t like what he had to say, and I didn’t listen to him.
He’s also the guy I spent a week with that following summer after things went south and the relationship ended. But I’ll always remember the fact that he was looking out for me and was honest with me, even though he knew I wouldn’t take it well.
If clear communication is important for successful relationships with people, how does that work with God? It’s not like you can have a face-to-face conversation with Him. I mean, Moses came as close as anyone, but he would have died had he looked directly at the face of God, right? And I’m nothing close to Moses. So how do we communicate?
Two simple answers: speaking and listening. Prayer is how we speak to God. And that’s all prayer is, having a conversation with God. Prayers don’t have to be in a dark room with your eyes closed and head bowed. There are times for that, but on a daily level, prayer is simply talking to God wherever you are. When I experience the things I mentioned above, I don’t leave it at the experience. I respond to God. Instead of always asking God for my needs, I thank Him for taking care of me. I compliment Him on His creation. I ask Him the deep questions that plague my mind.
And the listening part? That’s where the Bible mostly comes in. The Bible is God’s Word put onto paper, so when I want to hear from Him, I go there to find His response. There’s a lot to be said about knowing scripture and where to look for certain texts when I’m looking for answers to questions. It makes it infinitely easier to find the answers I’m looking for. I also find His responses to things I haven’t thought of yet when I read regularly through the Bible.
These certainly are not the only two ways to communicate with God. Communication from God is all about looking for Him in the everyday. God can speak to us through other people, a song on the radio, a book we’re reading, a TV show we watch, a dream, you name it. Prayer and reading the Bible help us learn to recognize God’s voice so that we can then hear Him in every other aspect of our lives.
The whole honesty and openness concept fits right into this relationship as well. Who says that we always have to be happy when we talk to God? Job is probably one of the best examples of clear communication with God in the Bible. Job didn’t hold punches when it came to talking to God. He said what was on his mind. He didn’t hide behind pride or a false sense of righteousness. He opened up to God and laid his heart out on the table.
One word of advice about this, though. Be careful. If you’re going to be open and frank with God, be ready for Him to do the same. Job laid his heart out alright, but God had a few words to say as well. I’ll let you take a guess on who won that argument.
Trust is the result of quality time and clear communication. This is the element that takes the longest to obtain. It takes patience and time. On a human level, trust usually takes years to really gain. By spending quality time and communicating effectively, the relationship grows in trust. I’ve found that difficult times in life tend to deposit the largest amounts of trust into the account.
I have a handful of extremely close friends that I’ve known for many years now. These are guys that I have complete faith in and would trust with my life. It didn’t start that way, though. It took years to get there. But as the years went on, scattered through the manifold times of ridiculousness, there were times when I needed someone to lean on to get through tough times. Their advice and the simple fact that they were there proved that they were looking out for my best interest. And through those times, I grew to trust them more and more.
Trust can be betrayed as well. I’m sure at one point or another you’ve experienced something akin to betrayal. Once you lose your trust in someone, it puts a roadblock in your ability to trust that person. Sometimes relationships never get past that roadblock; sometimes they do.
When it comes to trusting God, that tends to be the roadblock that a lot of people can’t push through. Spending time with God, praying, reading the Bible, those are acceptable for most followers. But what about trust? We say that we have faith in God, but how much trust do we really put in Him?
All throughout the Bible, scriptures show that God is always looking out for us. He always has our best interest in mind: to be evermore closer to Him. Yet, we seem to have a hard time following through on that belief. What happens when God tells you to give up something good and you have no idea why? What happens when God tells you to quit your job when you have no prospects of another one? What happens when tells you to end that relationship you’re in with a guy or girl that has all the appearance of being a good relationship?
What happened when Jesus asked the disciples to follow Him? They didn’t have a clue, yet the followed.
Trust is not something we easily give. We want to know what’s ahead. We want some proof that everything will be okay. We want to understand all the logistics before we leap. Faith doesn’t work that way, though. Proverbs tells us to trust in God with all our hearts, not our own understanding. Finite human understanding doesn’t hold a candle to the infinite wisdom of God.
So how do we get there? That’s the question that I can’t answer. However, I do know that this is the apex of a relationship with God. Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, the disciples, Paul all distinguished themselves in the faith through their trust of God. They are the ones who didn’t need to understand. The only thing they understood was that God loved them and was looking out for them.
Trusting God with all our hearts. That’s the goal. It’s a long and arduous road, but when you come out on the other side, it becomes the greatest relationship ever. The only really left to do is leap.