Like all relationships, our relationship with God is strengthened through experience. The shared experiences that we have with friends and family provide memories and creates a bond that is essential to long lasting relationships.
Our shared experiences with God will look different, but that doesn’t mean they are any less valuable. We are able to experience God in our lives as we live in obedience to His Word.
The reason many American Christians are frustrated with their relationship with God has little to do with their passion for ministry, their commitment to worship, or their love for God. Rather, the problem lies in their obedience. If you are not willing to obey God then you will miss out on God working in and through your life. In short, you will not experience God in your life.
We see this truth in action in Matthew 19:16-30. This passage is the story of the rich young ruler.
I think the rich young man is one person American Christians can identify with in Scripture . One of the things we have in common is wealth. I recently saw a statistic that stated that a person who made $25,000 a year was in the top 10% of the richest people in the world. Since the average income for a person in the United States is a little more than $26,000, means many Christians in the United States are wealthy when compared to the rest of the world.
Another thing we have in common is morality. Many American Christians, especially conservatives, are concerned with morality. This rich young man was a moral person. When he told Jesus that he has kept the law, he wasn’t saying that he had kept it perfectly, rather, he was saying that he made sure to take care of his sin through offering the correct sacrifice. Christians in the United States are moral people, and we are deeply grieved by the sin in our lives and in the world around us. This causes us to seeking God’s forgiveness on a regular basis.
The young man, who seemed to be on the right path, came to Jesus with a question: How can I have eternal life?
In spite of his morality and wealth, when he had examined his life and the young man noticed that something was missing. He longed to be part of God’s Kingdom, and he went to the one person he thought had the answer: Jesus
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Matthew 19:21-22; NLT)
The young man came to Jesus with what seemed to be a sincere question. The problem was not the question, but his desire to hear a certain type of answer. This might be reading too much into the text, but I believe he came looking to add something to his life. He was looking for the right sacrifice to make, the right prayer to pray, or the right spiritual discipline to do. He was not prepared to radically change his life.
Jesus challenged the an to step out in faith and to give up his identity. To sell his possessions and give his wealth to the poor was risky. In a world of extreme poverty, the young man had security. Who was he if he didn’t have his wealth?
The young man knew by refusing to follow Jesus in obedience meant he was giving up something important. Matthew tells us that he left Jesus sad. He knew something was missing in his life, but that craving was not stronger than his desire for security and comfort. In the end he missed out on developing a deeper relationship with God through the experience of God’s daily provision for his life.
Many Christians would like a deeper relationship with God, to be able to experience eternal life, the life that Jesus has for them to live. They have been faithful in their church attendance, they are a part of a small group, they have gone on a short term mission trip, and they give generously. The issue is that God still seems distant to them. Could it be that the reason God feels distant to them is because there is an issue in their life where they are not obeying God?
Jesus asks us to be baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We walk away frustrated because that is a “work” and a relationship with God is built on “faith”.
Jesus asks us to spend time with the elderly couple next door. We cry out to God for His presence, but we are too busy to walk next door because we have more urgent things to do.
Jesus asks us to simplify our lives. We put it off because there is too much clutter in our lives to deal with right now. We tell ourselves that we will do it later, when things slow down.
What has Jesus asked you to do, but you have failed to do it? Could this be the reason there seems to be something missing in your relationship with God?
The reason men like Abraham, Moses, and David had amazing relationships with God was because of their obedience. True obedience is always an act of faith and love. When we trust God we will obey Him, because we know He wants the best for us. When we obey we demonstrate our love for God, because we know He will not ask us to do something that will harm our relationship with Him.
This is what James wrote about the connection of obedience and faith:
“Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was declared right with God because of what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, he was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to do. His faith was made complete by what he did—by his actions.” (James 2:21-22; NLT)
Abraham was willing to follow God even at the cost of his son Isaac. What are you willing to sacrifice in order to have relationship with God?
Spiritual disciplines are essential to our relationship with God, but they are not enough. A relationship with God is developed through our obedience, as we step out in faith and experience God’s presence in our lives. This means we need to be willing to sacrifice the good in our lives so we can have God’s best.