4 Relationship Building Strategies for Drawing Near to Christ
Have you ever looked at your future in front of you and found it overwhelming? Does the upward ascent and effort required to reach the top keep you stuck at the bottom? Does the reward of what is awaiting your arrival motivate you to keep climbing?
Sometimes my relationship with God feels like I imagine this small child in the above picture feels about the stairs in front of him. Hesitant. Insurmountable. Tiring. Maybe he is inexperienced in climbing stairs and afraid to fall. Maybe he needs to be carried by someone stronger.
As Christians, I think we often want to forgo the work and suffering this life brings for an easier, mediocre life of faith. We want a few easy steps…a big, red, easy button, when what we really need is a big step into faith, leading into the very presence of God.
But life has no big, red easy button even if commercials advertise they do. There is only drawing close, learning to discern, walking between two worlds, and walking in the hope of Christ.
How do we build the kind of formidable relationship needed to faithfully keep climbing?
There are 4 practices present in those who truly rest and grow in their relationship with Christ:
Recognition involves both acknowledgement and appreciation. John 17:3 says that salvation comes through acknowledging who God and Christ are: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”. Psalm 46:10 tells us to “”Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth”.
We can express our gratitude through acknowledging the goodness of God on our lives: the grace of salvation, eternal life, knowing God personally, being right with God and not at enmity with Him, Christian community, and even the common graces of each day and the beauty of the world.
“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
“I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds (Psalm 9:1).”
“The Lord has done great things for us; We are glad” (Psalm 126:3).
I have been reading through the Bible chronologically this year, and I have seen numerous references to the correlation between a vibrant life of faith and obedience with the practice of remembrance. We lose what we don’t set our minds to remember. Especially through the OT book of Deuteronomy and the story of the Israelites, we see God commanding the people to remember lest they become unfaithful. They had rhythms and rituals set up to remember. The book of Leviticus describes their practice for being in right standing with God through observing the sacrificial system. This reminded them of who was in charge, the reality of their sin, and how merciful and forgiving God is. Without these set times of worship, they wandered and were drawn away from the heart of God. We are a forgetful people and need to practice thinking about what is good, right, and true.
Another lesson from Scripture is to rehearse the faithful testimonies of biblical men/women, our own lives, and the lives of other believers. Sharing about how He has provided in the past and present strengthens us to believe in the promise to hold us in our future.
“and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24)
“Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you” (2 Peter 1:12).
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,” (Philippians 1:3).
God doesn’t ask us to look back with regret but to remember as a grace to stand firm and persevere. We can see the mistakes of the past as a warning but not as condemnation. We humans have a tendency to rewrite history, so we have to be honest with our assessment and visit Scripture as a source of truth. Learning from the past is different than living in it. Christ wants us to remember as a means of grace to move forward in faith!
I have grown up with a cynical, critical view of the word, repent. It sounds harsh and has been yelled from pulpits often. Not that we aren’t supposed to repent, but that the heart behind God’s desire for us was not always conveyed in the teaching of this word.
It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). This repentance is a turning from our destructive nature to receive a new, redeemed nature. That is beautiful news! And when we see the beauty of Christ and what He has rescued us from, we easily see it as kind and not harsh judgment. Turning to God leads us to live in the ways God always intended – at peace with God, at peace with ourselves, and at peace with others.
The sin we nurture will kill us from the inside out. It seems fun for a season but reaps devastation in our lives and then reverberates out to the world in negative ways. This is why the psalmist says, “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11). God’s word and the Holy Spirit’s presence reveals our inner motives, teaches, corrects, and leads us to repentance for our own good. It is a grace on our lives to be able to seek restoration with the Father through the blood of Christ on our lives.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Repenting of our sin as we are made aware of it is a necessary practice for living a fruitful existence as heirs of God. We can’t abide in the presence of God with unrepentant sin. Without abiding, we won’t produce fruits of the Spirit.
Remaining in Him means we are abiding in the truths we have been taught through Scripture, yielding to the Spirit’s control over our flesh, and slowing down to listen and hear from God. Through being present in our relationship with Christ, we have the ability to repent, recognize, and remember the reality of this Christian life. Abiding is an inward focus that leads to outward actions. It is also active in the sense that you must choose to make time talking with God, reading truth, training our minds on the good, choosing what we allow into our hearts and minds, etc. It happens as much as we leave the house for work as when we are in the “prayer closet”. Remaining happens in the grocery store line as well as the midnight feeding of a child.
As Christians, remaining is capturing thoughts that we know don’t align with God’s character. It is not always practiced in solitude, although that is the best place to start a day.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;” (Hebrews 10:23).
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
I often feel pushback from people who think that encouraging believers to make every effort, strive for holiness in living, and to practice ways to grow a relationship with Christ is legalistic – or trying to earn grace. But this is clearly opposed to the teachings of Scripture. We are to rest in Christ, rest in our work as patterned by God, and rest in our eternal inheritance that is sealed until the day of our redemption. But we are never to use grace as an excuse to let sin rule in our new bodies, hearts, and minds. It takes effort. The Spirit gives the increase in proportion to our surrender.
There are many Christians who lack maturity and hurt themselves and the body of Christ through their unwillingness to pursue righteous living, kill their sin, serve others, and spend time learning about God. Grace gives us the desires we need to pursue and wrestle in His peace. If it is frustrating, it may because we have unrepentant sin in our lives blocking our ability to draw near. It may be because we have grown bitter to our circumstances and have forgotten how good God has been to us. Maybe pride has gained a foothold on our lives and we have failed to give thanks in all things.
The good news is that His mercies are new every morning – every minute. We can slow down even in the midst of a busy schedule to:
Don’t compartmentalize your faith into “quiet time” and “real life”. Begin practicing now to create a continuous song of praise through being intentional to practice true rest in Christ that permeates every part of your being. Christ is in us and never leaves us. He is waiting for us to show up and meet Him there.
What is one of the 4 practices that you can start thinking of in a new way this week? How will you set yourself up for success? I would love to hear!