“How to Make your Relationship With Jesus Personal”

Quiet Time Coaching Episode 15: "The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend." Exodus 33.11

Our friendships are personal. No two are alike. Jesus offered his followers friendship,
 
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends..” John 15.15 (NIV11)
 
What about your relationship with Jesus? Is it personal? Is it unique? Or is it a cookie-cutter friendship? One where you are trying to fit your experience of walking with Jesus into a mould someone else invented?
 
What does it mean to make our relationship with God personal? We’re going to look at this today because of something that happened last Sunday.
 

Jesus meets us where we are

The most recent sermon in the Watford church of Christ focussed on the Bible’s teaching about grief. We were looking for material to help grieving friends.
 
Among other passages, we looked at John 11. Lazarus dies. Jesus goes to comfort the grieving sisters, Mary and Martha. I’ve preached on this passage many times and written about it in my book. But I have missed something. Jesus treats Mary & Martha differently. They both come out to see him. They both accuse him with these words,
 
“If you had been here, my brother would not have died”, John 11.21 (Martha) & v32 (Mary).
 
However, they approach Jesus differently. Martha comes out straight away. Mary stays at home. Martha discusses the situation with Jesus. Mary does nothing more than state her accusation. With Martha, Jesus discusses the next life, his identity and belief. With Mary, he weeps.
 
The women are different with Jesus. Jesus is different with them. It’s personal.
 

Careful with the comparisons

Do you see your relationship with Jesus as personal? Do you see him treating you as you are? Not what you are ‘meant’ to be? Are you measuring yourself against others?
 
Taking inspiration from other people is fine. The example of others is helpful:
 
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13.7
But comparisons are odious. I spent a good part of my years as a Christian feeling that my relationship with God was inadequate. I did not pray long enough, loud enough, intensely enough, and so on.
 
The guilt piled up until I realised Jesus did not want to have a relationship with me defined by how others connected with him. Instead, I was invited by God into a relationship with him that was personal, and would develop over time.
 
How can we develop the personal side of our walk with Jesus? There are many ways, but here are three that I have found most helpful so far.
 

Power up the personal

  1. Try new things: Follow rabbit trails that interest you. Bible verses, characters, themes, book ideas. Try lighting a candle, going for a walk, experimenting with set prayers.
  2. Learn from others: Pray with people (see Luke 11.1), listen to podcasts (including this one!)
  3. Bring your whole self to God in your prayers: Read David’s Psalms (Psalm 18.1; 22.1). He was one never shy of being himself with the LORD. God seemed to appreciate it (1 Samual 13.14).

Conclusion

There is no ‘standard’ for a QT. There is no checklist. But there are ways to learn, to grow.
 
No quiet time has to be perfect – nor can it be. It needs to be authentic. The three practices above will deepen your personal walk with God. Persevere in them and you will experience a more and more personal and therefore satisfying relationship with God.
 

Question

What helps you to make your relationship with God personal? Do you have any tips for me? Are there any examples, verses, in the Bible?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of quality quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

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Emmanuel in Extremis

Why did Jesus come? Fundamentally? We’re on the cusp of Advent and thinking about the promised arrival of Messiah. Did he come to give the Romans a taste of their own medicine? Was he sent to vindicate the Pharisees? Could he be a latter-day King David? Might he make us all happy?

Some in Israel hoped for at least one of these outcomes, possibly more than one, and perhaps others I’ve not enumerated. Jesus was going to disappoint a lot of people. People with an agenda, who wanted him to do things for them. Here’s why this is on my mind…

Yesterday I spent a day being spiritually, theologically and intellectually stimulated by “Catalyst Live”. Held in Reading Town Hall and operating a little like TED talks for thinking Baptists (that wasn’t the official tag line, and I’m not a Baptist, but I was thinking), the short lessons centred loosely on the topic of global mission. We can’t talk about mission unless we reflect on why Jesus came.

In particular, a talk by Sam Wells focussed on the question at the top of this article. Why did he come? Sam’s assertion is that he came to be with us, not to do things for us. If that’s right, it tells us a great deal about how we are to express our discipleship. One line (paraphrased) from Sam’s talk , “The cross revealed that Jesus would rather be with us, than with the Father.” Of course Jesus did many things for us (died for our sins etc.), but his love for us led to him being with us – even in death. Sam’s sentence reminded me of what Paul said, 

“I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Phil. 1:23-24 NIV11)

The Apostle was clear on what was better for him, but chose what was better for his friends. Discipleship led him to be with people. If we’re too focussed on what we want to do for people, or feel we can achieve for them, we may do good, but miss the point. If God is about relationship and love, then He does not need to ‘fix’ everything, and indeed never will in this life. Our role as followers of Jesus is not to fix people, but to be with them, showing the love of Jesus, hoping they will then want to know the God we know. Then, whether everything gets fixed or not, we will be with God together. 

If Emmanuel, God with us, stayed with us to the end, preferring human death to heavenly relief, going beyond commitment to extreme sacrifice, then we can be confident of God’s love for us. As we go out to be with people, in their mess, stress and distress, we’ll stand a good chance of convincing them of God’s love for them. That’s why Jesus came – to be with us.
Malcolm Cox

“Who’d be a hater?”

hateeg 300w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Lk14.001-768x576.jpeg 768w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Lk14.001.jpeg 1024w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Lk14.001-285x214.jpeg 285w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />My next sermon text is Luke 14.25-35 (Sunday 10.30AM, Laurance Haines School, Vicarage Road, Watford). What do you think of the first two verses?

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25–26 NIV11)

There might not be a more controversial, hard-to-accept verse in the entire Bible.  What does it mean to ‘hate’ in the way Jesus intends? How can Jesus talk about hate in any positive sense?  Didn’t he tell us to, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27 NIV11) It’s in the same gospel. Is he contradicting himself? Well, we’ll look at this in more depth on Sunday, but for now let’s consider the following issues.

First, the word, “hate”. We need its cultural context. According to Kealy, Hebrew, “had no suitable words to express different shades of meaning. Thus words such as “love” and its opposite “hate”…were used to express the idea of preference.”¹ Hence we should not see this as a a call to literal hate, but more one where a preference of one over the other is involved.

But does God never hate? Yes, He does. He hates insincere worship:

“Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:14 NIV11)

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.” (Amos 5:21 NIV11)

With this understanding we can surmise that Jesus is saying, “Are you ‘all-in’? Are you ready to be fully committed, truly sincere?” This fits the following two parables (we’ll look at these in more detail another time). We cannot be divided in terms of who is first in our affections: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13 NIV11)

If we are to love all people (and loving our enemies must include our families even if they are also our enemies!), Jesus cannot be asking us to literally hate our families. So, what does he mean? Perhaps it is that the love one of his disciples has for him must be so strong  that the highest other human love is hatred by comparison (see also Matthew 10:37). In other words, Jesus comes first. Always. In everything.

Such an interpretation does not weaken the command. On the contrary, it strengthens it. We are called to a radical reordering of priorities. Our devotion to Jesus is so total and complete, so wholehearted and genuine that observers will see love for friends, family and things as hatred in comparison. This is not so much a call to remove love for family as a call to ensure love for Jesus is so hot that all other loves we have are cold by comparison.

How do we sustain this love? Recall that eternal life is on offer: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25 NIV11) As well as many other great and special promises: “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29–30 NIV11)

More reflections on this passage will be coming later in the week. But, for now, what are your thoughts on this passage? How do interpret the “hate” Jesus is talking about?  How do explain it when talking to other people? I’d like to hear your ideas. Please drop me a line via email, or leave a comment on this blog

God bless,

Malcolm

 

¹Kealy, C.S.Sp, Seán. Freedman, David Noel, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, eds. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible.