CREATED FOR RELATIONSHIP
When we open the very first chapter of the Bible, we are introduced to an incredible Creator who is brilliant and powerful and a visionary—a God who loves beauty and order and who is completely good. Out of His great love, He creates a vast universe that is incredibly complex and relentlessly inspiring. Then we come to the climax of the story—the creation of the first man and the first woman. They—and they alone—are created to rule over this new creation and to walk with God in the Garden.
As we discussed last week, this experience of God’s Presence is truly what we were created for. This relationship is the soul-quenching water of the Spirit that Jesus offered to the Samaritan woman at the well. Like cool water on a hot day, this relationship with God is the only thing that can satisfy the deepest thirst of our souls. As St. Augustine once wrote,
Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds it’s rest in thee. St. Augustine
As Christ-followers, we often hear the gentle whisper of the Spirit calling us to this deeper relationship—like the one our first parents had with God in the Garden. But it’s so easy for the distractions of life to drown out His voice and to settle for something less. But Jesus didn’t come for something less; He came to bring us life—and life to the full! And the essence of this new life is knowing God. This is why Jesus said:
This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:3
This is God’s vision for our lives—to walk in His Presence and experience this life-giving relationship with Him. But remember, this relationship doesn’t grow automatically. We have to pursue it.
Of course, there are many ways to pursue God, but three of the most important can be compared to the three legs of a three-legged stool. Each of these three legs plays a vital role in our spiritual growth and transformation.
The first leg represents large group weekend services where we gather to pursue God together through worship and the Word. The second leg represents Life Groups where we pursue God in a small group setting. But there’s a third leg on this stool—and this is the leg that is most often neglected. This is the time we set aside to pursue God one-on-one.
For most Christ-followers, it’s this third leg that represents the biggest challenge. As Christian psychologist Dr. Archibald Hart writes in Healing Life’s Hidden Addictions,
Most of us are strongly attached (some to the point of addiction) to activity and people. We don't like being alone or having nothing to do. Our adrenaline level drops uncomfortably low when there is silence and no stimulation. So, we reach for the radio or TV and bring the world to us if we cannot be with it. . . .But there can be no spiritual vitality without some degree of solitude. Dr. Archibald Hart
Most of us sense this need intuitively. Deep inside, we know it takes more than powerful weekend services and stimulating Life Groups (as important as both of these are) to build a deep and personal relationship with God. We know we need time alone with God to build a close relationship, because that’s how all close relationships work.
As vital as these alone times are, learning to make them a priority in our busy schedules does not come naturally for most of us. Building a “rhythm of relationship” with God takes time, motivation, and self-discipline. On top of this, there is always the resistance that comes from the Enemy whenever we try to pursue a closer relationship with God. He is keenly aware of the importance of this alone time in the life of a Christ-follower and will do whatever he can to derail it.
In his book, Wild at Heart, John Eldredge shares his own personal experience in this area:
The Enemy will try to jam communications with Headquarters. Commit yourself to prayer every morning for two weeks and just watch what'll happen. You won't want to get up; an important meeting will be called that interferes; you'll catch a cold; or, if you do get to your prayers, your mind will wander to what you'll have for breakfast and how much you should pay for the water heater repair and what color socks would look best with your gray suit. Many, many times I've simply come under a cloak of confusion so thick I suddenly find myself wondering why I ever believed in Jesus in the first place. John Eldredge
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you are not alone—and this study is for you.
God has created us for a deep and personal relationship with Him. And He is pursuing you!
The goal of this study is to help you discover how to connect with God in a consistent way that truly refreshes you as you learn how to build a regular rhythm of relationship with your Creator.
And remember—God is searching for people like you—people who want to know Him in the Spirit and in truth.
What things in your life get in the way of your alone time with God? Can you relate to John Eldredge’s experience with prayer?
Do you ever find yourself longing for a deeper relationship with God? Do you ever hear “the gentle whisper of the Spirit” calling you closer? If so, how do you respond?
What kind of relationship do you want with God? What would it look like? Take a few minutes and jot down some of your thoughts. Then write a prayer asking God to show you how to pursue this kind of relationship and what needs to change in your life to make this happen.
START WITH WHY
Every January, thousands of highly motivated men and women across the nation announce to their family and friends that this is finally the year they are going to get in shape. They find a gym, sign up for automatic withdrawals and start working out. But chances are, they won’t succeed. By February, many will have already fallen by the wayside and by spring, most of them will have dropped out of the race all together. According to some statistics, as many as 80% of these highly motivated people will have disappeared from the gym altogether.
I think we can all relate to this. We’ve all made plans at some point in our life to make some sort of significant change. Maybe it’s not working out at a gym, but perhaps it’s eating right or working less or responding to difficult relationships in a new way. Whatever the change, it’s usually harder than it seems. Often, we fail and fall back into our old ways shortly after starting out.
The question is why?
There are a lot of reasons for these failures in our lives. However, one common issue is that we assume enthusiasm is enough to help us achieve our new goal. We plunge in headfirst—without investing enough time thinking through the reasons why we want the change. Of course, we do think about this at a certain level. We want to work out so we can get into shape. We want to start eating right so we can lose some weight. We want to work less so we can spend more time with our families. But we often don’t take the time to ask the why questions at a deeper level. For example: “Why do I really want to do this?” “What’s driving this decision?” “What will my life be like in five, ten, or twenty-five years if I make this change?” and, “What will life be like in five, ten or twenty-five years if I don’t?”
When it comes to creating lasting change, we need to start by asking these deeper why questions—and to keep on asking them until we discover reasons that are both radically honest and deeply compelling. Then we need to write them down and review them often. If we don’t, chances are we will fail to make lasting changes in our lives.
The reason for this is that change is hard. It’s often much harder than we think. It requires time and energy and sacrifice—especially at first. If we don’t have an adequate answer to the question why, the cost will always be too high.
This is true when it comes to spiritual disciplines too.
If you’ve ever tried to establish a regular “rhythm of relationship” with God, you’ve probably discovered that it’s much harder than it looks. Creating a small window in our schedules to pursue God—say 15-30 minutes a day, 5 days a week—doesn’t sound that hard, right? Many of us could do that by simply cutting out one TV show a night. But the reality is, in the context of our busy schedules, even this small change can be ridiculously challenging—especially when we are first getting started.
In his book Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders describes how difficult this is in the area of prayer:
Prayer is the most ancient, most universal, most intensive expression of religious instinct. . . .It is indeed the Christian's vital breath and native air. But, strange paradox, most of us are plagued with a subtle aversion to praying. We do not naturally delight in drawing near to God. We pay lip service to the delight and potency and value of prayer. We assert that it is an indispensable adjunct of mature spiritual life. We know that it is constantly enjoined and exemplified in the Scriptures. But in spite of all, too often we fail to pray. J. Oswald Sanders
This is so true. We know in our minds how important this time with God is—and yet we often fail to take the practical steps to make it possible.
At the end of this lesson, you will have some time to think through your own personal why’s—the deep and compelling reasons why you want to spend time with God on a regular basis. But for now, let’s take a look at three of the most universally important reasons we all need time alone with God.
Life is hard. It’s easy to get discouraged, worn down, and lose God’s perspective and vision for our lives. We all need times to disconnect from the distractions of life and reconnect with our Creator — so we can be renewed. Over time, as we develop our rhythm of relationship with God, these “quiet times” will become like a rest stop on the road of life—a place where we can stop, get refreshed, and renew our strength before we hit the road again—refueled by the Holy Spirit. As King David writes, “He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:3 KJV)
God has a vision for our lives. It’s an epic vision of deep and radical transformation. But, for this transformation to take place, we need time alone with God. The Apostle Paul describes this process of transformation. He says,
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
Did you catch that? God has a vision for our lives. It’s good, pleasing and perfect. But, to experience this vision, we have to be transformed—and that requires the renewing of our minds. This can’t happen when we are always rushing around at ninety miles an hour! We need regular times to slow down, read His Word, listen to His Spirit, and reflect on what He is showing us.
As Mother Teresa writes,
We need silence to be alone with God, to speak to him, to listen to him, to ponder his words deep in our hearts. We need to be alone with God in silence to be renewed and transformed. Silence gives us a new outlook on life. In it we are filled with the energy of God himself that makes us do all things with joy. Mother Teresa
If our goal is to pursue a deep and intimate relationship with God, the first thing we need is time alone with Him. This is just how close relationships work! We need to create unhurried space in our lives where we can listen for God’s voice—through His Word and Spirit—and share our hearts and thoughts in an increasingly honest way.
In his book Too Busy Not To Pray, Bill Hybels describes the role this time plays in building an authentic relationship with God:
Authentic Christianity is not learning a set of doctrines and then stepping into cadence with people all marching the same way. . . .It is a walk—a supernatural walk with a living, dynamic, communicating God. Thus the heart and soul of the Christian life is learning to hear God's voice and developing the courage to do what he tells us to do. . . .Embarrassingly few Christians ever reach this level of authenticity; most Christians are just too busy. And the archenemy of spiritual authenticity is busyness. Anyway you cut it, a key ingredient in authentic Christianity is time. Not leftover time, not throwaway time, but quality time. Bill Hybels
So, these are three of the most universally important reasons for spending time alone with God: Renewal, Transformation and Relationship. But these are certainly not the only three! You need to spend some time discovering your own reasons and remember, they need to be both radically honest and deeply compelling. (For example, if at this point in your life, you are not very motivated to spend time with God, that’s where you need to start your honest conversation.)
Answering these questions will take time, honesty, and grit. Be sure to write your answers down. This might seem unnatural to you, especially if you aren’t in the habit of journaling. However, your written answers will serve as a source of motivation for you. When you start to lose your vision (as we all do), you can go back to what you’ve written—when your mind was clear, and your motivation was high. When you are tempted to give up during the early days of this journey, you can return to your journal pages to strengthen and sustain you.
This is vital because—when we lose our why, we lose our way.
Can you think of a time when you decided to make a significant change in your life and started out with the best of intentions, but fell short of your goal? Why do you think this happened? What derailed you?
Today we highlighted three of the most compelling reasons for spending time alone with God: Renewal, Transformation, and Relationship. To find your personal Why, use the following questions as a guide.
Why do you want to spend time alone with God? Be as specific as possible and remember to be radically honest!
Use your imagination. How might your life be different three months from now if you were to start (or continue) spending time with God on a regular basis? What impact might this have on every area of your life? How about in one year? Five years? Twenty-five years?
What specific things will be missing in your life in three months if you don’t start (or continue) spending time with God on a regular basis? What impact will this have on every area of your life? How about in one year? Five years? Twenty-five years?
Write a prayer to God based on your answers to these questions. Remember to be radically honest, and if you sense Him speaking to you in any way, be sure to write it down!
JESUS THE MODEL
Yesterday we learned if we want to build a rhythm of relationship with God, we need to start with the question why. For the Christ-follower, there are many compelling answers to this question, but one of the most important is that Jesus modeled this rhythm for us in His own life.
When you study the life of Jesus, one of the things that stands out is how important His time alone with His Father was to Him. One example takes place early in His ministry. His schedule was starting to heat up. Larger and larger crowds were coming from greater and greater distances to hear Him teach, to be healed, or to witness a miracle. But, in the midst of this increasingly hectic schedule, Jesus responded by withdrawing frequently to spend time with His Father. This is how Luke describes it:
The news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:15–16
Did you catch that? The crowds were growing. Jesus’ popularity was soaring. His schedule was demanding. But He responded by withdrawing to lonely places—often.
Not occasionally. Not when He had extra time. Not when people didn’t need Him. Often.
Just think, if Jesus—the model of perfection—needed time alone to pray and process His life with His Father in order to stay on track spiritually, how much more do we need this in our own lives!
In the very next chapter of Luke, Jesus says,
A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. Luke 6:40, NIV84
In other words, the whole point of following Jesus is to become like Him! But if we want to become like Jesus, we need to do the things He did to pursue God in His own life. And this starts with spending time alone with God.
As we saw in the story above, this was not easy or convenient for Jesus in the midst of His busy schedule. In fact, we see throughout the Gospels that often the only way He could spend time with the Father alone was to get up really early while it was still dark (Mark 1:35), or to stay up very late when everyone else had gone to bed (Mark 6:45-49). These details highlight what we already know about Him—pursuing His relationship with His Father was His top priority.
We see this pattern throughout Jesus’ ministry—from beginning to end. As John Ortberg writes in The Life You Always Wanted:
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus went into the wilderness for an extended period of fasting and prayer. He also went into solitude when he heard of the death of John the Baptist, when he was going to choose his disciples, after he had been involved in healing a leper, and after his followers had engaged in ministry. This pattern continued into the final days of his life, when again he withdrew into the solitude of the garden of Gethsemane to pray. He ended his ministry, as he began it, with the practice of solitude. . .
Jesus taught his followers to do the same. John Ortberg
If we want to pursue God and be transformed to become like Jesus—if the student is to become like the teacher—we have to listen and follow our model. This starts with making space to withdraw, to escape our busy schedules, and to seek our Father, as Jesus did.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus made this time alone with His Father such a priority? Why do you think these times were so important to Him?
What do you think might have happened if Jesus had not made these times a priority?
Have you ever wondered what Jesus actually did or learned during His times alone with God? In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah gives several fascinating prophecies about the coming of the “Servant of the LORD” who will one day save his people from their sins (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). In one of these prophecies, the Servant himself is speaking:
The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. Isaiah 50:4
What does this suggest Jesus was doing during these alone times with His Father?
Write a prayer asking God to help you to listen to His voice and withdraw—even in your busiest seasons of life.
THE POWER OF HABIT
Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz are high-power consultants who have coached world-class athletes and Fortune 500 business leaders all around the world. In their book The Power of Full Engagement, they write,
A growing body of research suggests that as little as 5 percent of our behaviors are consciously self-directed. We are creatures of habit and as much as 95 percent of what we do occurs automatically or in a reaction to a demand or an anxiety. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
What this means is that our daily habits—for good or for bad—truly shape our lives. This applies to our spiritual lives too.
Researchers have also found that certain habits—called “keystone habits”—are more powerful than others. These “super-habits” start the beginning of a chain reaction. Like the first domino in a row of dominoes, these habits trigger a series of other positive changes in our lives. For example, researchers have found that for some people, working out on a regular basis can lead to a series of powerful changes in their eating habits, their general health, and their mental state—which in turn impacts their relationships, their career, and their finances.
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes how keystone habits work:
Some habits, in other words, matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. These are “keystone habits” . . . Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. Keystone habits say that success doesn't depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers. . . . If you focus on changing or cultivating keystone habits, you can cause widespread shifts. Charles Duhigg
This means if we can harness the power of keystone habits in our lives, we can change—well, everything! So, what does this mean, when applied to our spiritual lives? It means that if we can create a rhythm of relationship with God in our lives, it can become a “keystone habit”—leading to a series of positive changes that permeate every area of our lives. Perhaps the act of creating a “quiet time” will help you reflect on your life and stay on top of your priorities—which in turn will impact many areas of your life. Maybe your times with God will give you new insights on how to improve your relationships, discover your calling, develop your gifts, and manage your finances.
Like most positive habits, keystone habits are extremely hard to initiate. They take time, energy, and self-discipline. However, the great thing about them is, though they are hard to start, they are relatively easy to maintain once they are in place. In fact, in time, they can take on a life of their own and require very little thought or effort to sustain.
As Christ-followers, it’s easy to think that spiritual habits will be different from others in our lives because we are deeply passionate about them. However, most of the time this is not the case. This is why it is vital we understand how habits work, because when we first start to create this new habit of meeting with God, it may be challenging. It isn’t easy to reorganize your schedule, set your alarm, and then crawl out of a warm bed to spend time with God before work. It can be very challenging to turn off the TV or stop gaming an hour earlier to clear out time to spend with God in the evenings.
On top of these struggles, when we first start to meet with God, it often doesn’t go smoothly. Sometimes, when you’ve been running hard in life, it can be very challenging to slow down and connect with God. Your mind may wander, and you may not know what to read; prayer may be awkward, and time may seem to drag on. And hardest of all—you may not sense the presence of God right away. However, if you show up consistently, offer yourself to God, and keep going, this will change over time. What was hard at first will begin to morph into a natural life-giving rhythm.
What this means is when we first start to meet with God, our top priority should simply be consistency. Don’t worry too much about the quality of your time with God. Focus instead on the quantity and the consistency. Over time, the quantity will give birth to quality.
In his book Warfare Prayer, C. Peter Wagner explains how this process works:
Experience shows that the quality of prayer usually follows the quantity, not vice versa. As you develop a personal prayer life, do not be overconcerned with sleepiness or daydreaming. Quality will come over time. I once heard Mike Bickle say that if you set aside 60 minutes for prayer you may begin by getting 5 good minutes. But then the 5 become 10, the 10 become 20, and the quality increases. C. Peter Wagner
So, our first step is simply to show up—consistently. And when you do, offer yourself to God. Give the time to Him. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you and to lead and guide your time together. And remember, you are not alone on this journey; the Holy Spirit is with you. He understands the challenges involved in creating a keystone habit—and He will be with you every step of your journey. And don’t forget—the Father is seeking people like you who want to worship Him in the Spirit and in truth.
Have you ever intentionally created a new habit in your life? If so, what did you learn about what it takes to create a new habit?
Have you ever tried to create the habit of spending time with God alone on a regular basis? If so, how did it go, and what impact did it have on your life?
Imagine you have taken the time to build a regular rhythm of relationship with God on a daily basis. What other habits or relationships in your life do think would be directly impacted in a positive way?
Write a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you as you create this new keystone habit in your life.
THE GREATER WORK
This week, we’ve highlighted several compelling reasons to pursue God one-on-one: to be renewed and transformed, to connect with the Father, and to follow Jesus’ model. These are all solid reasons, but there is one missing element we need to explore further.
Often as Christ-followers, we think of prayer as something given to us for our personal growth—and it certainly is! However, prayer is also a powerful tool God has given us to partner with Him in His work on Earth. Prayer acts like a bridge between God’s Kingdom in heaven and His Kingdom on Earth. This is why Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer:
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10
Jesus explained more about this to His disciples the last night He was with them—right before He was arrested. He made this promise:
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12
As amazing as this promise was, what He said next was even more startling. He went on to say,
I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:13–14
Not only does Jesus promise His followers would accomplish even greater things than He had accomplished on earth, but He also tells them the way they would do this is by—you guessed it—prayer. They would ask and He would answer—and together they would do greater things than He had done so far.
Jesus went on to teach something very similar three more times before that evening was over (John 15:7, 16; 16:23-24). (When Jesus repeats Himself, it’s important we make sure we listen!) Jesus wanted His disciples to understand how their new post-resurrection relationship was going to work. He was about to leave, but He would still be with them by His Spirit. Moving forward, the way the Kingdom would advance was through their ongoing conversation about what they were doing together. The plan was not for them to spend a few years with Jesus—only to go off and do ministry in their own power. Jesus is telling them here they are to be partners with God through prayer.
The same is true for us today; prayer truly is how we get things done in God’s Kingdom. God has designed prayer this way so we can make a difference. As Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy,
Prayer as kingdom praying is an arrangement explicitly instituted by God in order that we as individuals may count, and count for much, as we learn step by step how to govern, to reign with him in his kingdom. Dallas Willard
The implications of this are staggering. On the one hand, Jesus is giving us the authority to use His name to unleash the power of heaven on earth. But, on the other hand, He is giving us a tremendous responsibility. When we don’t make use of this privilege, things that could have happened and should have happened, will not happen—simply because we didn’t take the time to ask. As the Apostle James writes,
You do not have because you do not ask God. James 4:2
In the life of the Christ-follower, there are so many reasons why it’s vital to create a rhythm of relationship with God. But one of the most important is that—without prayer—we can’t accomplish the greater things He has promised us. But with prayer, God can do even greater things than we can possibly imagine.
As Oswald Chambers writes,
Prayer does not fit us for the greater works: prayer is the greater work. Oswald Chambers
Have you ever thought of prayer as “partnering with God” to bring His kingdom to earth? Is this a new paradigm for you? What are your thoughts about this?
The Apostle James clearly says there are certain things God is willing to do, but won’t do, simply because we haven’t asked. Is that a new thought for you? What are the implications for your life?
What are some of the things you would most like to see God do in your family, friends, church, workplace, campus, nation or the world right now? Are you asking Him to do these things?
Throughout our lives as Christ-followers, there will be times when God does not answer prayers in the way we expect. According to James 4:3, what is one possible reason this might be the case? What are some other possible reasons God may choose not to answer a prayer exactly as we have asked?
Write a prayer asking God to help you partner with Jesus to bring about His kingdom through prayer.