We make and execute many plans in life, such as plans to lose weight, plans to get married, plans to get a job, plans to finish certain projects and tasks at work, or plans to get our marriage back on track. But what about a plan to develop our relationship with God? If that area of our lives undergirds and helps to make sense of all the others, we’d be remiss not to plan and be strategic about developing and growing in our relationship with God.
It may sound strange to plan for a relationship. Planning sounds too formal, structured and rigid, and that’s the last thing a relationship should be, right? If you think about it though, our lives are full of distractions that clamor for our attention. Without a deliberate effort to make room for things that are important to us, it is easy for other things to fill the void.
That’s why successful married couples make time for date night to give them space to catch up. Otherwise, they’d be like ships in the night even though they live in the same house. If parents don’t make time to sit with their kids to hear about their latest art project (for example), that time could easily be swallowed up by yet another meeting or email that’s awaiting a response.
Consider that tech-wise families maintain deep and meaningful relationships with one another by delineating when and how to use their entertainment and other devices. So yes, we do need to plan for our relationships to flourish. The same goes for our relationship with God.
Who is God to us?
There are several interesting images out there that depict our relationship with the God of the Bible – that of a parent and child, a king and his people, a shepherd and his sheep, vinedresser and a vine, husband and wife, and so on. Some of the threads that run through these images are intimacy, proximity, and care/protection.
God nurtures us and wants us to flourish in life, and he is working toward that end. He was willing to send his Son, Jesus, into the world to die for sinners, demonstrating his love for us.
These images all emerge from the Bible. There we get the clearest picture of who God is so that we can enter into relationship with him. This is why one of the first steps in getting to know God and who God is to us is to get a good Bible.
What is a good Bible?
There are many translations of the Bible out there, from loose translations to ones with a more formal style. Paraphrases such as The Message Bible are more fluid and colloquial in how they express things, while translations such as the New American Standard Bible and Revised Standard Versions are more formal in their expression; there are many options out there.
Find one that has a style you find easy to understand and start there. After all, the point is to understand what is being said so that you get to understand who the God of the Bible is. If you are a first or even second English language speaker, the New International Version or English Standard Version are some of the easier to understand.
If you are the type to journal or doodle, there are Bibles out there with loads of extra margin space and blank pages for you to write your notes, highlight things that stood out to you or to pose questions for further reflection.
We are living in a time where we also have electronic versions of the Bible that bring together many different translations. An app such as YouVersion, for example, brings together all the translations of the Bible in one place, including translations in languages other than English. Find what works for you.
Who are you?
The other part of the process of building our relationship with God is getting to know ourselves. This is an important step. Some people find it easy to pray for hours on end; others are heavy on the cognitive aspects of reading texts; some are visual learners and prefer communicating and expressing themselves through art of all kinds.
Understanding this will help you to see where you naturally gravitate, and what may best help you thrive in your relationship with God. Don’t make things unnecessarily hard for yourself; lean into your areas of strength.
Having said that, you should not get too comfortable. Instead, try to grow in those areas you maybe aren’t well-versed in. If you typically come at something from one angle, you usually only get to see that one angle. If you try something different, you may be surprised and see something different.
Tips for Growing Your Relationship with God
In addition to knowing yourself a bit better, you need to plan how you’ll go about this in a way that works for you. Make time every day to read the Bible and pray. For those with auditory preferences, there are audio Bibles you can listen to on the go, such as on the drive to work or while you work out. You can even listen to people singing the words of the Bible, especially the Psalms.
There are also loads of sermons and podcasts available on various platforms, and audiobooks to help you dig deeper into these life-giving practices. For those that prefer looking at the written word and working through a topic systematically, Bible reading plans are also out there in abundance (YouVersion has reading plans for specific topics like anger, relationships and much more).
Some prefer to take time out in nature or isolation to meditate, with a journal or musical instrument in hand to help them reflect on what they’ve read in the Bible or heard in a sermon. Whatever you choose, it needs to be sustainable. Like any relationship, consistency is key.
Consistency is key, as noted above. If you’ve created space in your schedule to commune with God, you need to keep at it. To help you along, perhaps set modest goals to get started. When you’ve built regularity into your routine, go from there.
It’s no use starting off by saying you want to read the whole Bible in a week if you struggle with reading. Start small, with maybe a book or a chapter in a book, Again, there are many plans out there to help you get started and help you set achievable goals.
Join a community.
For many, the thought of joining a community to learn more about God may be daunting or seem completely unnecessary. However, loving God and getting to know God are community activities. The life Jesus wants for his people is one lived in community and not in isolation.
Have you ever noticed how many statements in the Bible are “one another” statements? “Love one another.” “Forgive one another.” “Live in harmony with one another.” “Admonish one another.” “Be servants of one another.” “Bear one another’s burdens.” “Comfort one another.” “Build one another up.” “Be kind and compassionate to one another.” “Be hospitable to one another,” and so on. As Charles Moore put it, “Virtually none of the above exhortations make sense unless we share life together and are committed to one another”.
Our love for God cannot be expressed without reference to other people. This may be something new for you. The apostle John, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, said in one of his letters: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not love God, because God is love…We love because [God] first loved us. if anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:7-8; 19-20).
Our love for God is seen in our love for other people.
It makes sense, then, to join a community of people who are similarly on the way, people who love Jesus and want to worship and know Him more.
In this space, we can learn from others who are on the same journey and maybe have been traveling it longer than we have. There we can practice the many “one another” that God commands His people, and in that way, demonstrate our love for God.
Christian Counseling for Spiritual Development
If you’d like to meet with a Christian counselor to discuss more ideas for growing in your relationship with God, strengthening your spiritual development, or finding accountability in your walk with the Lord, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors in the counselor directory.
“Group Therapy”, Courtesy of Kylie Lugo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Devotions”, Courtesy of Samantha Sophia, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “The Road Ahead”, Courtesy of Vlad Bagacian, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Worshipping”, Courtesy of Stefan Kunze, Unsplash.com, CC0 License