This may come as a shock to you, but Jesus is not as concerned about your moral behavior as you think He is.
I’ve never seen anyone have a genuine relationship with God, and not change for the better over time, but behavior modification was not the reason God sent Jesus to die on the cross.
It’s important you know this because it’s the most common trap Christians fall into. They trade the opportunity for a genuine, loving relationship with God for a list of rules. This list of “do’s” and “don’ts” is the filter they use to define their relationship with God. You can always tell when someone has been using a list of rules to try and have a relationship with God because eventually, they inform you of a rule you are breaking. Based on the set of rules given to them, there are certain things Christians just don’t do.
The only problem with that logic is every person God used to do something great in the Bible. Noah would get so drunk he would walk around his kids naked, Jacob pulled a con on his dying father, Moses killed a man and buried the body, David watched women bath from his roof, had an affair, got his mistress pregnant, and killed her husband. We could keep going and talk about the potty mouth disciples who abandoned Jesus when He needed them the most, or the apostle Paul, the terrorist. It doesn’t take 2 minutes to open the Bible and find people who had the heart for God struggling to live morally good lives. Obviously, as our hearts get more connected in relationship with God our actions begin to change, but if our focus is on “doing better” or “being better” more than getting to know God better, our focus is on the wrong thing.
I’ve seen it happen 100 times and it never gets old. The moment when someone finally realizes a relationship with God isn’t about “doing” more, but instead a personal friendship with no strings attached— their life is changed forever. That type of revelation is not something we can learn on our own, the Holy Spirit has to teach it to us, but when He does, there’s no going back. It’s like when my daughter Norah realized you could eat breakfast for dinner.
I took the family to waffle house one evening and even though I take the kids there often we had never been at night, so when Norah got out of the van and realized where we were she looked at me kind of puzzled, and asked “Daddy, are we allowed to eat breakfast for dinner?” I said, “We sure can” Her eyes got real big, and at the top of her 3-year-old lungs she screamed, “You have got to be kidding me! Incredible!” Like Norah, we all have moments in life when we learn something new or realize something that had been difficult to understand. My story is like that.
I’m a church kid. To say I grew up in the church would be an understatement. We spent more time at church than at our home. With that much access to the Bible I heard thousands of sermons and stories about God, and Jesus dying on the cross for my sins, and even though I committed my life to Christ as a teenager I wouldn’t say I had a strong relationship with God, I would call it more of an affiliation with God. I had an endless database of knowledge, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that I could have a personal relationship with God. To me, God represented an authority figure. My goal was to stay out of trouble and on His good side. Somehow I misunderstood the message and figured bad things happen to people who upset God so let’s try not to upset God. There was no affection, conversation, or passion. What I had was information, but I did not have a relationship. I’m not saying I wasn’t a Christian, but I was in a place, so many Christians find themselves, underwhelmed.
Over time, little by little, God revealed himself to me. Religion was slowly being traded for a genuine exchange with God. But it wasn’t until my mid 20’s I truly began to understand how God felt about me. What changed? I became a dad. For the first time in my life, God as my father made sense. I love my kids! My biggest fear in life is not that they won’t be successful or they won’t get into the right schools. I’m not even that concerned with their bad behavior or poor decision-making. My biggest fear as a dad is that one day they won’t love me back. The thought they would be afraid of me, or not know how in love with them I am, breaks my heart.
I’m not implying God is afraid, but He does desire for you love him back. God loves you, and I don’t mean He loves you like it’s an obligation. Sometimes we can feel like God has to love us like he doesn’t have a choice, but that’s not true. He doesn’t just love you; He likes you. God loves you so much that when he had to decide between killing his own son or letting you die, He saved you and killed his son. That’s why you can have a relationship with God because He loves you.
I love the part of the story in David and Goliath where King Saul, who is a tall, strong, muscular warrior tries to put his armor on little teenager David to go and fight, but David can hardly move in Saul’s gear. This picture is relevant for so many Christians because we are trying to have a genuine relationship with God using someone else’s playbook. Don’t misunderstand, there are timeless habits and disciplines that help us know God more, but I’m not talking about spiritual disciplines, I’m talking about personal preferences.
God wants a personal relationship with you, which means the relationship you and He have is one of a kind. God is big enough and powerful enough to have a one of a kind relationship with every single person who wants one. That means that some things that work for other Christians may not be ideal for you. You may go to a different church, read a different version of the Bible, dress differently, or have different moral standards, and that’s ok. Be warned, though; people won’t always approve. Christians have a bad habit of thinking everyone needs to agree with them, so when you don’t, be ready for judgment. I don’t want you to be different for different sake, but I do want you to find the unique details that make your relationship with God special.
I keep a prayer journal that has scriptures, devotions, and prayer in it. I try and get every person I meet to keep a prayer journal like me because I know how powerful it has been in my relationship with God, but I have learned that not everyone likes to journal, and that’s ok. I love to read too. I usually read 2 or 3 books every month, and most of the books I read help grow me closer to God. Even though I’ve tried to convince them, not everyone likes to read like me, and that’s ok! Surely there were people who had a genuine relationship with God before the printing press was invented, right? My point is, be careful you’re not trying to have someone else’s relationship with God, have your own.
If you find yourself, like I was, in a place where you’re trying to appease God instead of truly getting to know him, let me offer you a suggestion. Talk to him. You don’t have to get on your knees or close your eyes, you don’t even have to talk out loud if you don’t want to, but figure out a way to talk to him.
I visited a woman in the hospital once. We had never met, I was asked to go because the family had to deliver bad news, and they wanted a pastor in the room. The women was not a believer, and life had already been so cruel to her I can understand why she was skeptical of a higher power. She had already been in the hospital for over a month, and she wasn’t getting better, but that’s not why we were there. We were there to deliver the news that in the middle of the night her only son died in a motorcycle accident. She was just coming off some strong medication, and the doctors warned us that she would probably have to be told again in a few hours. Hearing the news once is brutal, having to hear it again because you can’t remember is unfair.
I’ll never forget that day in the hospital. The family told her, her son was dead and she began to shake and scream. She had to be held down. Fury was coming through her skin. After a few minutes, she calmed down, and one of the family members said, “This is Jason, he’s our pastor. He wants to pray with you.” I knew I would have to pray at some point, but I just didn’t know what to say at that moment. She looked at me in disgust and said, “I don’t want to pray, I hate God. I hate God. I hate Him. Why would he do this?” After a few seconds, I responded with the only advice I knew to give. I said, “You need to tell Him that.” She was confused. I said, “I’m serious. After everyone leaves tonight, and you’re laying here angry at God, tell him how angry you are. Cuss him out or flip him off if you need to, but whatever you do don’t stop talking to Him.”
Why do we think God is offended by a grieving mother’s curse words? I would argue that night was the most honest prayer she’s ever experienced.
Just talk to him. He loves you. He’s waiting by the phone.
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