There is a myriad of books, Christian and otherwise, about developing healthy relationships. My intention is not to discuss any of the “how,” which has been done from many perspectives, but rather why those pursuits are significant to our relationship with God. Whether it is an endearing, sweet relationship (think: grandchildren or BFF), or a difficult relationship (name your own here), that relationship can cause you to move closer to God or farther from God because it is practice ground for our relationship with Him.
God wants us to “relate” to Him. We can see that clearly in His relationships described in the Bible. He walked and talked in the garden with Adam and Eve. The Ten Commandments are relationship guides that teach us how to relate to God and each other. There are so many relationship descriptors in the New Testament about us: child, bride, friend and others. Paul uses the most common of household metaphors of the goal of our relationship with Christ: “Father, out of your glorious riches, strengthen your people. Fill their souls with the power of your Spirit so that through faith Jesus will become more at home in their hearts. May love be the rich soil where their lives take root...so that they can know the love of Christ that is infinitely long, wide, high and deep, and may your fullness flood through their entire beings.” (The Voice -Ephesians 3:17-19)
What a loss for a human to not feel grounded, welcomed, settled and at peace in a place on earth! What a gain to have a home! Having a home where we are tended to and to which we tend gives a picture for us to stay and play, care and share with God. I wonder how many people who never had a “home” cannot settle in with God the same way?
Jesus lived his life, ministry and death in the company of a network of personal relationships. Some were not comfortable, as with the Jewish leaders. His relationship with the disciples was problematic. Some were daring, as with women, lepers and zealots. He met people in gardens, houses, on walks by the sea, and in the synagogue. He met them in enemy territory (Samaria). He had friction within his family. He was frequently eating with people. He was not an isolated religious figure sitting inside a temple or on a hill. He was immersed in relationship.
In all these, Jesus did not forget his Father in Heaven nor his purpose on earth, despite the challenge within these relationships. I propose that if I keep God at the center of my relationships, instead of myself, I will be challenged in different ways than I intended. It will be a spiritual discipline which will make me more like Jesus.
The first example that comes to mind is in marriage, but you can apply parenting or work relationships. When my husband and I have a disagreement or a decision to make, do we make it based on what we want (which can be in opposition to each other) or do we make the remedy or solution revolve around what God wants of our marriage? It is a discipline to move the center of all such discussions around God and His priorities for us, individually and corporately. What impact does it hold to make decisions that bring us closer to God and not just to get relief or do what is easiest? What impact does the witness have to solve problems that demonstrate our trust of God in any dilemma or decision?
This thought process also includes any relationship I may have with an enemy. Jesus had the most powerful things to say about this kind of relationship. In Luke and Matthew, he challenges the people of his day and us with these relationship guides when it comes to an enemy: (Matthew 5)
- You have heard it said, “Do not murder,” but anyone who is angry (enough to murder) his brother with be judged by his anger.
- · In fact, anyone who calls another person names, “fool” being the highlight, may find himself with a day in court or in the fires of hell.
- · Don’t offer your gifts to God at the altar if your brother has something against you. Make it right with him first.
- · If someone sues you, make right the offense.
And then he pushes all the harder (Luke 6):
- · Love your enemies.
- · Pray for those who persecute you.
- · Bless those who curse you.
- · Be good to them.
- · Lend to them, expecting no return.
- Expect no compensation for their demands or thievery.
Ouch! That is not what today’s relationship books say. This set of directives does not make sense in Jewish law nor to our sense of justice. Jesus explains, “I have come not to do away with the law, but to fulfill it.” (Matt 5:17) He becomes the consummation of the purpose of the law. He has come to fill it with his presence, to show its deepest meaning, to have its strongest impact. It’s what we might call “the spirit of the law,” but much more because Jesus is now the ultimate goal. Jesus becomes enough for us. In dealing with our enemies, we are not to serve our own purposes nor do good to our enemies for their sake, but for the sake of Jesus. Basic law only serves to point to our deeper need for Him and His deeper truth.
That is what makes relationship a spiritual discipline we did not invite, but it is what we need - full relationship with Christ. It is daunting and not what I want to do. I may want to work on certain relationships because it makes life easier (me at the center). I want to appear at peace with my enemies (me at the center), but keep them at arm’s length so as not to enter any more difficulty than I have to, (me at the center). But with God at the center, the severest discipline begins. The discipline is defined differently, enacted differently and drives me into total dependence on and obedience to God...
Which is what He wanted all along.