The Discipline of Relationship, Part 1

Anyone who enjoys a great marriage knows that a good relationship takes hard work.  It doesn’t just happen; there are talksome things that must be done to nurture it.  Let’s call those things… disciplines. If I am going to be a good communicator with my wife, I am going to have to learn what good communication looks like and I am going to have to practice it.  I may need to read a book on communication or go to a marriage seminar.  The point is that I don’t drift into good communication.  It is not natural for me to do so.  I have to practice it and that takes discipline.

Our relationship with God also takes discipline. That is what devotions are all about.  Devotions provide the practice necessary to nurture a relationship with the Lord.  Through devotions, I practice listening to his voice and responding to it.  I practice talking to him in prayer.  And I practice worshiping him.  These are not natural things to do, so I have to discipline myself to do them.

Devotions, however, are not the totality of the relationship with God.  They are only a means of nurturing that relationship.  I don’t wait until I go to a marriage seminar to communicate with my wife.  The seminar, however, will provide the discipline needed to be a better communicator with her all the time.  Likewise, devotions help me be in relationship with the Lord every moment of my life.

For years I went to a gym and practiced gymnastics for hours.  I wasn’t only a gymnast when I was in the gym.  I was a gymnast all the time.  Practice helped me become a better gymnast, but I ate, drank and slept gymnastics all my waking hours, and even in my dreams.  My mind was always rehearsing routines.  I was conscience of my every part of my body.  I was a gymnast outside of the gym.  Practice was the discipline I needed to become a gymnast, but it was not the totality of being a gymnast.

My point is that devotions are necessary to develop a relationship with the Lord – they are not the totality of that relationship.  It is not natural for us to have a great relationship with God.  We must nurture it through the discipline of devotions.

How is your relationship with God?  Are you getting to the “gym” regularly?

Why Devotions Are Not Enough

I recently learned something I wish I had learned years ago.  I should have known it; it is everywhere in the Bible.  It was in my theology – that is, I had it in my brain.  However, it never worked itself into my life.  Because of what I recently learned, my life will be forever changed for the better.

I learned that spiritual growth requires more than a personal relationship with God.  It also requires me to process life devoson a deep, heart level with safe people.  Not only do I need a strong devotional life, which is what this blog is all about, but I also need others to help me incorporate God’s work in my life.  I need people who will walk with me through life.  I need people who will empathize with my pain, my hurts and my losses.  I need people who will celebrate victories and will be a support team to help me become more like Jesus.

Until recently I believed that Jesus was all I needed for navigating life.  I really thought my personal relationship with him was sufficient.  In fact, if I admitted needing others in my life, that would be dishonoring to God.  For example, when my son was born prematurely and died after two days of life, I went to God alone with my pain.  I found Psalm 139:16 and reasoned that if God had ordained those two days of life before my son was born, then I would consider them a gift.  To grieve the loss of more days with my son would be to dishonor God’s gift.

What I know now is that I needed some safe people who could have come alongside me and grieved with me.  Grieving isn’t dishonoring to God; it is healing.  I missed out on the full extent of God’s grace because I ignored my loss.

Were my son’s days ordained by God? Yes. Were they a gift? Yes.  My personal relationship with Jesus was not the problem; my devotional life was strong.  My theology was not the problem; it was just incomplete.  What I failed to understand was that when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-15), God was once again incarnate in the world.  Now he is not just incarnate in one man – Jesus, but he is incarnate in his church – the body of Christ!  I knew this theologically, but now I know it experientially.  Finally, I am beginning to experience the healing power of bringing my losses to other Christ-followers who will share in my grief and will extend God’s grace to me.  I love it that I can be 55 and still not too old to learn life-changing lessons!

The point is this: a strong devotional life is a must for spiritual growth, but so is a strong, community of safe believers.  Continue to nurture your relationship with Christ through the disciplines of Bible reading and prayer, but don’t neglect building a community of safe people through whom God can extend his grace to you.  My devotions will work bigger changes in my life when I process life with others, inviting them to walk with me on God’s path.  For a much better understanding of this, read How People Grow by Henry Cloud & John Townsend.

What does your community of safe people look like?

Salvation’s Kiss

Scripture

Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.   Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.  (Psalm 85:9-10)

Observation

Psalm 85 recalls how in the past the Lord has restored the fortunes of his people (vss. 1-3).  He forgave their sins and set aside his anger.  The psalmist is now asking the Lord to do so again (vss. 4-8).  He pleads for the Lord to revive them one more time and with his unfailing love to grant them salvation.  In verses 9-13 he states his confidence that salvation is near for those who fear the Lord.  Salvation brings four attributes of God together: love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace. The psalmist describes them as embracing and kissing.  This is a poetic word picture of salvation.  It affirms to us that no matter how separated we are from God, all who fear him and call on him will feel the warmth of this embrace.  Where there is salvation, God’s glory dwells.

Application

Sin separates me from God.  He is righteous and faithful.  He will do what he has to do to cause me to turn from my sin.  He may even display his anger toward me as a way of getting my attention.  When I acknowledge him and turn from my sin, his righteousness and faithfulness wrap around me from one side and his loving-mercy and peace wrap around me from the other to give me the warm embrace of salvation.  That is when I experience the fullness of the Lord’s glorious presence and pleasure.

Prayer

Lord God, you are holy, just and right.  I do not deserve to even be in your presence.  Yet, you have loved me and have brought me into your presence.  You are loving and merciful.  Thank you for moving toward me.  Thank you for embracing me with the embrace of salvation.  I love you.

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