Call it "devotions", "secret place", or "quiet time", our hearts always seem to struggle to maintain time alone with God. If our weak heart and the devil's distraction is not enough, our modern society and culture is also geared to pull us away from solitude. As I wrote about last month, there's enough trinkets, toys, new models, new movies, and new things coming out to numb us to our boredom. Sometimes we find it almost impossible to find that "alone" time with the Lord because there's always one more person to network with, one more email to send, one more phone call to make, or one more item on the to-do list. Then when we actually do have that free moment, we are too tired to open our Bibles and actually talk to Jesus. I know we can all relate to that in one way or another!
I believe one of the biggest roadblocks to a vibrant inner life with God is believing that He is mechanical and not relational. In other words, we see the secret place as the means to earn God's blessing instead of the place where we spend time with our friend, irrespective of what He gives or does not give. Much has been said in the body of Christ in recent years about rightly relating to God as our Heavenly Father. This is a great first step to break out of the "mechanical" mold. However, we must also not forget that God has not programmed us like a robot to automatically love Him. Like any of our other earthly friendships are deepened, our friendship with Jesus requires time and effort from us to bloom into genuine love. We do not earn righteousness before Him (as a legal position), but we do bear all the responsibility in strengthening our relationship with Him (our living condition). Though He was never separated from relationship with His Father because of sin, Jesus exemplified the secret place in His own life, leaving the massive crowds and even His close friends to spend time in solitude and prayer (Matthew 14:23; Luke 9:18). He told us to follow His example:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others...But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
(Matthew 6:5-6 ESV)
This is the general point I am trying to make: Growing in a friendship with Jesus is immensely practical. We lean into His work on the cross where He showed us the full extent of His love (John 13:1) and washed us from our sins in His own blood (Revelation 1:5). Our repentance and His work changed our legal position before Him that we might come before Him and know Him as a son or daughter knows their father. But our living condition is dramatically affected by that which we do (or don't do). Affecting the amount of love we feel from Him and back towards Him is a dignity He has bestowed upon us and will never undertake Himself. We cannot do God's part, and God will not do ours.
Luckily God has not made our part so mysterious. As with any other relationship, the main way we grow in friendship with Jesus is simply by talking to Him, talking with Him, and talking about Him. Let me explain what I mean with three points.
- Pray. In prayer, we talk directly to Him - not merely reciting prayers or liturgy (though this certainly has benefit) but actually opening our heart to Him and talking to Him as we would a friend. Like King David did, we pour out our heart to Him, remembering that He isn't shocked or surprised by what we discover in the deep recesses of our hearts. We keep a set time each day to talk to Him and use a prayer list of personal needs or scriptures to help keep us talking and avoid distraction.
- Read the Word. In reading the Scriptures, we talk with Him. I distinguish this from talking to Him only in that the Bible provides us with the most relevant, important conversational material in our growing friendship with Jesus. In the Scriptures, He has revealed Himself, His plans, and His heart to us. There will never be anything more relevant in our friendship with Him than that which He has already spoken to us in His Word. Having a reading plan will keep the conversational material fresh every day.
- Embrace godly fellowship. In being intentional about spending our time with others who are seeking the Lord, we talk about Him. The more we dialog with others who are seeking to relate to Jesus rightly, we will be provoked and provoke others to do what Jesus Himself called "the one thing needed" - to sit at His feet and hear His words (Luke 10:42).
We must not measure our growth from one day to the next, and must not gauge the depth of our friendship with Him by our fleeting emotions. Like the growth of a child, the growth of our friendship is not perceptible day by day. However over a year, two, three, five, and ten, it is much easier to measure growth. This is why the Apostle Paul told Timothy to remember his walk with the Lord was like a farmer, athlete, or soldier (2 Timothy 2:3-7). Why? Each of these occupations requires extraordinary focus and perseverance to see a harvest, win a race, or be victorious in a war. In gauging my friendship with Him, I like to ask myself several questions: do I miss him more than I did at this time last year (Matthew 9:15)? When no one is looking do I have a resolve to obey him more than I did at this time two years ago (John 14:21)? Do I know His story and His words and do they move my heart more than they did five years ago?
These things may seem like something out of a class for new believers, but in our fast-paced, microwave culture we must remind each other of them often. May the Lord give us grace to give our time, energy, and focus in to the most lasting, joy-filled friendship we can ever cultivate!