Maybe you already know the Lord, but the way you know Him isn’t working for you. You’re not enjoying the relationship.
Here’s the real secret: You can fulfill the commands of the Bible better by falling in love with God than by trying to obey everything.
It’s not that our obedience to God isn’t significant or relevant; it’s simply not the center of the wheel. No, the hub of our lives is our relationship with God. Our behavior and obedience radiate like spokes from the center of our lives and allow us to roll forward. When we put our external behavior as the turning point, we get stuck. Forward motion must be fueled by love.
Some people are trying to be good people by doing godly things—reading their Bible, praying and serving those in need. But they’re doing it out of a sense of religious duty and obligation, not because they’re in love with God and want to know Him and offer up their lives to Him. Then they wonder why their spiritual lives are so dry. Aren’t they doing everything a good Christian should do? Well, then, why isn’t God coming through with His end of the deal—answering their prayers and giving them the abundant life of peace and joy that Jesus said He brought to us?
The Christian faith is not a business transaction. It’s not an arranged marriage with an exchange of compliance for a dowry of riches. Christianity only works if you’re in love. All relationships are enjoyable when you’re in love.
Some of you are fighting temptations by working on self-control. You’re working on the wrong thing. I’m all for living a disciplined life, but there’s a better way. Temptation is a test of your relationship, not your self-control. Whether you pray or not is not about self-control, either; it reveals your relationship. Do you really want to talk to God? And better still, do you want to listen and hear what He wants to say to you?
It’s time to stop trying to please God and simply love Him. Stop doing things out of obligation. Only do the things that enhance your relationship with Him, the things that please you because they delight Him.
It’s funny, the things we do for love. I hate cleaning out the garage—the time, the effort, the trouble. Sure, the outcome is nice, but is that really how I want to spend a weekend? However, my wife feels like the most loved woman in the world when I help her clean out the garage or tackle a big project that needs doing. It’s better than sending her a dozen roses—well, almost. The point is, I don’t mind cleaning out the garage or buying her roses; I do both because I love her so much that it brings me joy to do something I know she loves.
What we do for God is the same way.
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15, emphasis mine). For years I read that verse this way: “If you love me, you will obey me and prove how much you love me.” But what He’s really saying is that when we love Him, our obedience to Him will flow out of that relationship.
I’m afraid that most of us don’t grasp the enormous extravagance of our Father’s love and the lengths to which He’s willing to go to show His love. That’s why the Apostle Paul prayed that we might know and understand it more and more (Ephesians 3).
One of my greatest revelations of God’s love came when my firstborn son, Michael, was about two years old. My wife was attending a friend’s baby shower and had taken Michael with her. She was sitting in a metal folding chair and didn’t realize he was hanging on the back of her chair. When she got up, he fell backward and pulled the chair right on top of him. The metal chair hit him right on the bridge of his nose and cut it wide open. Minutes later, I got the call that my wife and son were on their way to the emergency room.
As the plastic surgeon began to sew up Michael’s nose, my son screamed: “Daddy, please—help me, Daddy!”
All I could do was watch as the surgeon finished his work. I would have done anything to take my son’s place on that table.
On the way home from the hospital, while Michael slept in the car seat, I cried uncontrollably. And in that moment, God spoke to me: “That’s the way it felt for Me when My Son was on the cross—but I let it happen because I love you, Chris.”
I realized then how great the Father’s love is for me. To allow His Son to go through such pain for me—and for you—is overwhelming. I can’t help but love Him in return. I wish the same for you.
This article is an excerpt from Fresh Air: Trading Stale Spiritual Obligation for a Life-Altering, Energizing, Experience-It-Everyday Relationship With God (Tyndale, 2012).
Chris Hodges is the founder and senior pastor of Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Ala.