Thinking Out Loud

November 18, 2017

The Relational Quality of a Personal Relationship

Often I think that those of us who comprise “the Church” suffer greatly because language is often inadequate to describe some of the most elementary principles of faith. Much ink (or in the case of the internet, electrons) is used up trying to describe atonement, salvation, the indwelling presence of Christ, or even the subject which returns on a regular cycle much like certain comets: “What is the Gospel?”

Entering into “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” or “asking Jesus into your heart” or “accepting Jesus as your personal savior” probably means something to most readers here, but we forget how quickly we’re losing our audience if we’re speaking to seekers, skeptics, atheists or agnostics. The quality of “relationship” probably reminds them more of something likely to be encountered on a dating website. (“If you think Jesus would be a good match, swipe right.”)

I believe the idea of relationship serves us better if we think about it visually. Since we can only share with others what we’ve experienced ourselves, let’s aside evangelistic efforts and make this personal. For example…
Relationship between us and God

I am at the front of the room speaking and I invite my wife to come and stand about six feet from me. “What does it mean,” I ask everyone, “to say I am in relationship to Ruth?”

Some of the answers are:

  • “You love each other.”
  • “You have shared history and experiences, that the rest of us don’t know about.”
  • “You are intimate with each other.”

But then I ask her to sit down and invite Mike to come up to the front. Mike and I are not close, I had to ask his permission before this point because we only know each other superficially. I position him in the same spot.

“So again,” I ask, “Where am I in relationship to Mike?”

After a bit of laughter, some dare to come up with something:

  • “You are standing to his right and he is on your left.”

“Let’s go with that,” I respond, “What does that entail?”

  • “He can see you and hear you and knows what you’re doing.”

I start to deliberately creep back from him. “What about now?”

  • “The distance between you can change.”

The first set of answers all have to do with what we normally think of with the word relationship.

The second set of answers could easily involve other words or phrases: Where I am with respect to Mike; Where I am according to Mike.

When we think about our relationship with God, we might want to consider it in terms of love, intimacy and shared history. “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am His own…

Today I’m proposing we look for ways to expand that and consider the possibilities that:

  • We need to be aware of God’s position in our lives; that he does stand next to us, and our posture should be that of standing next to him. One counselor I know would say we need to visualize this. The example of me standing next to Ruth or Mike can provide the imagery we need to do this.
  • He sees us; he is watching us (“the eyes of the Lord run to and fro”) and this is also true for everyone on earth; whether they acknowledge him as Lord or not, he sees them. But this works both ways; I think we could also include in this an awareness of seeing Him in the everyday routine.
  • We ought to keep close to him; not let ourselves drift away from the awareness of His presence, either on a momentary basis or over a period of time. (For example, I could continue speaking and forget that Mike is still standing there until he asks if he can sit down now!)

In other words, asking the question “Where I am in relationship to God?” is only partly about the nature or quality of the relationship itself, but also about where God is in my life, and where I stand with respect to Him. The focus shifts from the tie that bind us to how I act and live my life according to Him.

The issue is one of proximity or closeness.

God is omnipresent but that sterile piece theological information means, by definition, that He is also present… 

…Only when have this relationship solidly mapped out in our own understanding can we begin to share the dynamics of it with others. If we think in terms of it in terms of physical proximity (as with the example of Mike) we’re on the right track. But hopefully we move on to something that involves more intimacy (as with the example of Ruth.)  

Out of the overflow of that type of relationship is something we will be excited to share with others.

Advertisements

December 16, 2011

Overheard Conversation

A conversation between two people in a retirement home:

Person One: I pray to Jesus all day long.

Person Two: Pray to him? I don’t even think about him.

The reason for quoting this is that Person Two is an elder in a local church. A rather strange thing for a person to admit who has been given a leadership position in a Christian organization, right?

Or is it more common than we think?  I know I don’t always make right choices in the course of a day, and I also know there are times I am just rushed off my feet. But there is a constant awareness that Jesus is always nearby; that the Holy Spirit is present even if I am not consciously aware of it, or even if I am screaming inside for guidance and direction; that God is watching, and not, as the song says, “from a distance.”

Person Two’s statement is also a very candid admission that their faith is not an active reality or active force in their life. It’s somewhat dismissive and perhaps even defiant (“Jesus who? I don’t give him a thought…”). It means the faith system that forms the central core of their church’s beliefs, and the Person who both embodies and teaches those beliefs just doesn’t impact their thoughts at all during an average day. Rather shameful for a ‘spiritual’ person identified as a leader in a ‘spiritual’ institution or ‘religious’ organization.

I might as well go to work and forget that I’m married from the minute I close the front door. (“My wife? I don’t even think about her.”) I might come home at the end of the day because there is a meal waiting and a bed to sleep in, but otherwise I’m not giving her a single thought in the intervening hours. That’s just nuts.

Scripture tells us to “be in conversation with God without ceasing.” That’s my paraphrase. It means the lines are open. The link has been clicked from my waking moments and the page is open. The call is on speaker-phone. The intercom has been pressed. The instant-messaging has been activated.

And Person One, by the way, is very concerned that Person Two could spend a whole life “in church” and miss out on the central reality of a living relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of the world; missing out on the central reality that eternal life can begin right here, right now, today.

So, how often do you think about Jesus?

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.