I am a Christian. Could you help me with a question I have? How does one go about having a close relationship with God? I find it really hard to pray and read the Bible daily and when I do, to be honest, I find it more of a chore than a pleasure and that saddens me because I don't want to feel that way. I feel like I've lost my first love and I don't know why. I feel guilty for feeling this way and neglecting to spend time with God because I know it's a sin. But I feel so lost and I don't know what to do.
How do we have a close relationship (or communion) with God? Well, to begin with, let me encourage you to not let your feelings be your guide. Don't feel guilty about your feelings. As a Christian you are redeemed by the blood of Jesus and all your sins have been forgiven. Yet, as Christians we still exist in and among the fallen world. Even our bodies remain fallen, and as such our emotions suffer the consequences of the fall. Even now, our human bodies groan for the resurrection when we will not experience the consequences of the fall anymore: "And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Rom. 8:23, English Standard Version) So, feelings are not always a dependable guide for your relationship with God.
Now, God gives to his children good things for fostering their relationship with Him. And I can think of three important things right off the top of my head—Word, Sacraments, and Prayer, which are also three spoken of in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 88:
Q. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ commicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ commicateth to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments , and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation. (See also Questions 89-107.)
And by "Word" I do mean more than your private devotional time during the week (although that is a good thing). I mean specifically the Word of God preached. You see, Paul says to Timothy that the Word of God is practical, and it should be used:
16All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17, ESV)
And Paul goes right on to tell Timothy how he is to put the Word to use and make it profitable to others:
1I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Tim. 4:1-2, ESV)
See, when you sit under the faithful preaching of the Word, God speaks to you. He communicates to you. And he accomplishes work in you:
10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isa. 55:10-11, ESV)
Can you imagine a relationship with someone in which you never communicated with them? That would be no relationship at all, would it? So, when you listen to God speak to you through the preached Word, you can be sure that your relationship with him is growing, your feelings notwithstanding.
Now, naturally, there is no relationship where the conversation is one way. So, God provides a way for you to come and speak to him. And that is through prayer. And when you speak to God in prayer, you are likewise building your relationship with him. Paul puts it like this:
6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7, ESV)
What you can do is replace your anxiety with prayer. When you feel anxious, or guilty, or burdened about your time with the Lord, you can replace those feelings with prayer. Just talk to him. Tell him how you feel. Tell him about your guilty feelings. Tell him about your anxiety. And with thanksgiving in your heart for what he has done for you in Christ make your requests known to him. And he himself promises that "the peace of God" will guard your heart and mind! What an awesome promise! Especially in light of the kind of access we have to God. The author to the book of Hebrews puts it this way:
14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16, ESV)
You should never feel too ashamed or intimidated to come to God through Jesus. Are you weak, or burdened and heavy laden? Well, Jesus sympathizes with that! He knows what you go through. And when you struggle in your relationship with God, through Jesus, you can come and find help in your time of need. God will not turn you away. And that is a relational promise!
Now, lastly, don't forget about the sacraments; especially the Lord's Supper. Concerning the supper, Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:16, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?"
Remember what I called relationship at the very beginning? I called it "communion." To have communion with Christ is to have a relationship with him. When you partake of the bread and the cup, you have communion with Christ. You have a relationship with him, you have fellowship. It's not that the bread and the cup have some magical properties to them, it is not that (as the Roman Catholic Church teaches) somehow the wine become the real (physical) blood and the bread becomes the real (physical) body of Christ. But when you partake of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper by faith, you identify with Christ and all his people. He, by his Spirit, assures you of what he has done for you on the cross (in other words, he assures you of his love for you). He speaks to you through visible tokens or signs. He comforts you. And he strengthens you for your walk with him throughout your week.
Now, one last thing. I'm not saying that you should ignore Bible reading during the week. Bible reading and prayer during the week are important. But if you finding that it is becoming "stale", mix things up a bit. Move to a different book of the Bible. Or, try reading a good devotional book—may I suggest John Owen's Communion with God? Maybe get the Bible on cassettes or CD's and listen to them in the car as you drive or, if it would distract you from your driving, do it at some other time or let someone else drive! Or perhaps get some sermons on cassette or CD and listen to them. Your devotional time doesn't necessarily have to be long; maybe start with a few minutes of listening or reading, and just 5 minutes in prayer, and see how it goes.
I realize this answer is lengthy, but I hope it is helpful. May God bless you and your covenantal relationship with Him.
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