WHAT IS Your Relationship with God?


[A response to an email]  

You asked me how you can pray, fast, and read the Bible in a way that will “affect your relationship with God.” But I think it will be helpful to first discuss a more fundamental question: WHAT IS your relationship with God? In other words, what is the WAY that God relates to you? How does He view or understand the relationship? And what is His purpose for having this relationship? If we begin with wrong answers to these fundamental questions,all assessment of the success or progress of our relationship will be nothing more than opinion and imagination. 

One man says, “I have a great relationship with God!” How do you know? “Because I talk to Him every day.” But does this necessarily make a good relationship? Lots of people with all kinds of strange beliefs and dirty hearts talk to their version of God every day. Another man says, “My relationship with God is getting stronger all the time!” How do you know? “Because I’m reading and believing all of His words!”But does this necessarily strengthen or improve the relationship?  Again, WHAT IS the relationship?

Man does not have the right or the ability to define his relationship with God. I mean, it’s not just whatever a person wants it to be. It’s not defined by what a man does, or thinks, or prefers. It is a very specific way that God relates with the soul of man, according to a very specific purpose. And if I had to summarize it in a few words, I might say that your relationship with God is the reality of God living in you. It is the very life of God—a seed of His nature, light, power—planted in the soul of fallen man, given in order to grow, and fill, and reign in your fallen soul, transforming it into a clean temple for His presence and glory.

Again, this is a very specific relationship, defined and established by God and not man. The specific place of it is within you. The specific nature of it is a union of the life of God with the soul of man, or the planting of His seed in the soil of your heart. And the specific purpose for the relationship is to remove every form of evil, darkness, sin, and corruption from man, and to create “a new man, according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:24)

Having said this much, I think we are in a better place to discuss what it means for something to “affect our relationship with God,” because things only affect this relationship to the extent that they either hinder or cooperate with what His life is seeking to do in us. Now the Seed of the kingdom—which I said is a measure of His light, life, and power sown into the heart—is like all other seeds in that it grows by its own will and power. Seeds are not made to grow by something outside of them, or given information or instructions on how to become a flower, fruit, or tree. All of this power and desire and purpose is inherently within a seed, and given the right environment, seeds will inevitably produce an increase of their kind. The same is true of the heavenly “mustard seed” that is sown into the heart of man (though it begins as the smallest plant in our garden). Our role is not to teach, convince, or compel it to grow. It is God’s good pleasure to increase this seed, and by its growth to displace all other weeds and thorns. But there are indeed things that a man can do (or not do) which facilitate or encourage the seed’s growth on the one hand, or quench, grieve, hinder or even stop its growth altogether on the other.

Quenching, grieving and hindering your relationship with God (or His increase and dominion in your soul) is a lot easier to do than most people suspect. The truth is, resisting the Holy Spirit is what man naturally does, just by walking in the flesh, living according to his own will, and “setting his mind on earthly things.” The nature of fallen flesh always “lusts against the Spirit.” Paul says, “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:7-8) Apart from the redeeming work of the grace in the heart, everything the natural man seeks and reaches for in his fallen condition is with an aim to satisfy “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.” Even what we call human wisdom, James says, is “earthly, sensual, and demonic.”

Because of this, Jesus teaches us “to deny ourselves, and take up our cross” in order to be His disciples. This “self” that we are to deny is the first birth, the nature of flesh, or the “old man,” who has a life and a will independent of God. The will, desires, and wisdom of the flesh must be denied for a couple simple reasons: first, because they are inherently contrary to the nature and purpose of God, and second, because when these are obeyed and followed, they harden our hearts, stiffen our necks, and always resist the work of the Holy Spirit. They are like rocks and weeds and thorns that “choke the Word and make it unfruitful.” (Matt. 13:22) It is rarely the stated objective of a man to grieve or quench the work of the Spirit. But in whatever way we “make provision for the flesh with regard to its lusts”, we thereby feed, strengthen, and protect the very nature and power that God is seeking to put to death and free us from. This is like Israel making treaties and marriages with the uncircumcised inhabitants of land of Canaan. In whatever way the will of man joins to the enemies of God, it is only a matter of time before our hearts are overrun and defeated by uncircumcised Philistines, idolatry and other abominations.

I believe you could say that two things are necessary for your relationship with God to truly grow and advance, and these are really just two sides of the same coin. The one is a continual denial of all things (both within and without) that the light of Christ shows you to be contrary to God’s nature and purpose. This is absolutely necessary, because if we try to turn to God without turning from self (and also from the world, where self finds its treasure and food), then we will be like the foolish woman in Proverbs 14 who “pulls down her house with her own hands.” 

The other thing, is a continual turning to, looking for, reaching after, and submitting to God, with hunger and thirst for His kingdom and righteousnessThis is that “prayer without ceasing,” “loving His appearing,” “setting our mind on things above,” “looking unto Jesus,” etc., that is so frequently mentioned in the New Testament under a variety of names. It involves a continual turning inward, NOT to yourself, but to the Spirit of Truth, the power of God that works in the heart, and who is always, in some way and measure, seeking to teach, influence, convict, shine, and do all that is necessary to grow the seed of His kingdom into a fruit-bearing tree. 

And if your heart is truly bent in this direction—being turned from self, and towards the light and life of Christ—then ALL that you do, and ALL that you don’t do, will be a cooperating with the grace of God, and so will certainly be beneficial to your relationship with Him. Because a heart that continually turns from self and reaches after God, is that very tree of which David speaks, that is “planted by rivers of water, brings forth fruit in its season, whose leaf shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper,” because “all that he does, whether in word or in deed, is done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Your praying will be the sincere breathing of your soul after more of His life-giving Spirit. Your fasting (if you feel led to fast) will be a turning from lawful things of the world for a time, to devote yourself more entirely and exclusively to that bread which comes down from heaven. Your reading of Scripture will be like reading a menu, where your heart looks beyond words and figures, and is never contented without the inward experience. And not only these thing, but the common experiences of your daily life, and even your sufferings and tribulations, will only help you to a greater experience of the life of God growing up in your soul, so long as all is done with your back turned on self, and your eyes “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”