“Having a personal relationship with God”—it’s a phrase that gets tossed around in many Christian circles. But what does it actually mean to have a relationship with the Savior of the Universe?
Knowing God is going to look different from any other relationship in our lives. We can’t see God. We can’t look across the table at our favorite coffee shop and talk with Jesus in bodily form. So, in a world where we cannot text God or send Him an email, what does it look like to be in a relationship—to be in a friendship—with the one who created all things (Colossians 1:16)?
No deep relationship happens apart from intentional cultivation. Even the relationships that seem to happen “organically” in our lives—those friends we click with immediately—need to be nurtured to one degree or another. We reach out to the people we care about, and we have to seek to be intentional in order to get to know one another. Determining that we actually do want to grow in our friendship with God—and then setting aside intentional time to spend with Him—is an important first step toward getting to know Him better.
But while we may be intentional about growing in relationship with God, it may seem challenging because we may not feel God’s intentionality toward us. Still, His intentionality in loving and knowing us is always, always there. The One who created us—the One who “knit [us] together” (Psalm 139:13)—has never wavered in His intentionality toward us. He made each of us specifically and with great love. We are worth a great deal to Him (Luke 12:6-7).
We don’t have to ask God to pencil us in to His calendar—He always has time for us. Whether it is 15 minutes in the morning where we read the Bible and pray, an hour-long jog while appreciating His creation, or a weekend retreat spent worshiping Him, consistent, intentional time spent getting to know God is one of the foundations of a deep relationship with Him.
But what do we do during the time that we’ve set aside to connect with God? As with earthly relationships, the hope is that we will communicate. Communication with God looks both similar and different from communication with earthly friends, but it includes what all healthy relationships include—sharing, confessing and praising.
We share our hearts with God through prayer and tell Him what we’re excited about, what we’re worried about, and what we are thinking about. We open up about the places we have fallen short and confess our sin to Him. And we praise Him for who He is and what we love about Him. We thank Him. We worship Him. Just as we tell our earthly friends how much we appreciate them and are thankful for them, we do the same with God—to the highest degree.
But our communication with God can feel difficult at times. Perhaps we think we are the one doing all of the talking; while we can talk to God through prayer, we don’t (usually) expect an audible voice to respond to us. So we must learn to listen to God in other ways if we are going to have a relationship with Him that runs deep. What does that look like?
Listening to God includes reading the Bible—one of the clearest ways we have to hear God’s voice speaking to us. If we read Scripture with a mind and a heart that is listening for His personality, His presence and His encouragement on the page, we will hear Him. We will get to know who He is as we read about how Jesus responded to the disciples; we will encounter His passion as we read about how He cared for the sick and hurting.
We can also listen to God by asking Him to speak to us. While it may not be through a lightning bolt or an angelic encounter, God does communicate with His children. He has given us His Holy Spirit to live inside of us, and Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)
Acts of Love and Sacrifice
Earthly relationships that are rooted in trust are the ones built over time, through honest communication and with acts of love and service. This is why spouses make promises at the altar to stay faithful “in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer”—because it is a choice to stay and serve and sacrifice when the going gets tough. The same is true in our relationship with God—but not in the way we might think.
Unlike earthly relationships, where mutual sacrifice and acts of love are needed to keep a relationship healthy, our relationship with God is built solely on His love and His sacrifice. When Christ allowed the nails to be pummeled into His hands and feet—when He endured the horror of death on a cross—His was the ultimate and only act of love and sacrifice that was needed. He did all that is necessary for us to “have a relationship” with God by becoming the sacrifice for sin, and now the way to relationship with God is open and available for any who desire it.
We don’t have to sacrifice for God in order for Him to love us. We don’t have to do a certain number of good works in order to know God. We cannot earn our way into relationship with Him. But, as in any healthy relationship, when we truly love someone, we desire to pour our affection out on that person. How do we do this with God? There are many ways. We can love God outwardly by serving others, by giving generously, and through the daily choice to love Him and obey His commands.
Although relationship with God will look different from every other relationship in our lives, there is no other relationship that matters as deeply or shapes us as fully. As we seek to build a relationship with him through intentional time together, meaningful communication, and acts of service, we will find that he is already reaching out to us in love (1 John 4:19).