Sitting in my favorite spot at the dining room table the other morning, an aromatic whisper of freshly brewed coffee rose from the nearby cup telling me to take a sip; wake up Pat, you got to get going, it reminded.
As my weekday morning ritual is, I make my way from the bedroom to the bathroom, from the bathroom to the kitchen, then to the dining room table where I turn on my laptop and log on. I stagger over to the carafe lovingly filled and left by my wife who is by now already behind her desk, fill up my cup and have a seat in front of the computer.
She hates the old laptop being on the dining room table, though; pointing out the nice roll top office desk in a room, only 50 feet or so away, that could use a friend. She accepts the unorthodox way I do what I do, though, or more realistically, she tolerates it.
Anyway, I sat there thinking to myself, “Why is it so difficult for people to believe they can have a relationship with God?” Having been a believer for 54 years, an avid student of the Bible 46 years and an ordained minister 33 years, I have asked that question dozens of times. What’s the problem? For an atheist the answer is simple, they don’t believe there is a God – but what about the others? Men and women, boys and girls who accept a divine design and a divine architect behind the design – acknowledge he is God, but struggle to think a relationship with him is remotely possible.
Lifting the coffee cup to my lips, I blew a cooling wisp of breath over the steamy brew and started to take a sip when the words of my old philosophy professor popped into mind as a teacher holding up a flash card in 1st Grade Math class. Setting the cup back down on the table I typed,
“To engage in philosophy is to think about how we think about what we think about.”
Five minutes passed, ten, maybe fifteen; I just sat there in a trance-like state staring at the words on the screen, lost in thought. All at once, a jolting voice went off inside my head snapping me back to consciousness saying, “You’re asking the wrong question.”
As a student of philosophy, you learn to think critically. To do that, you must ask the right questions. Anyone involved in research understands this; the detective examining the evidence collected at the crime scene, the attorney examining the witness in the courtroom, the scientist examining the slide beneath the microscope, the medical doctor examining you. Asking the right questions will most always lead to the right answers and the right answers will produce the right results. When the question is wrong, however, frustration is sure to set in. Our best efforts at solving the problem(s) we wrestle with or finding the answers we seek elude us.
Just ask your pastor. He is a critical thinker with passion for discovering and relating biblical truth. As he prepares the message, he will bring on Sunday. Hours are spent in prayer and looking over the text he intends to address. Chances are, he will go over each word, word by word, looking for a doorway that leads to the objective God has impressed on his heart.
Nineteenth-century preacher, Charles Spurgeon said, “I take my text and make a beeline to the cross.” What he meant was all scripture leads to Jesus. Whether the Old Testament looking ahead or the New Testament looking back, Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of the Bible, the focal point of everything written, all roads found within it’s pages converge at the Cross and lead to the one who hung on the cross paying the ultimate price for our sin. Spurgeon saw it as his heavenly assignment to examine the text thoroughly and critically being careful to find that road then take his listeners to Jesus. Your pastor does the same.
The coffee had cooled enough to make it maneuver past my tonsils without turning them into crispy critters. It tasted good and was welcomed by the caffeine troll that needed its morning fix before allowing my brain to wake up and catch up with that voice in my head that continued to pound away like a tribal drum in the Amazon; “You’re asking the wrong question.”
“Okay, Lord,” I said out loud, “I give up, what is the right question?”
“Perhaps the better question should be,” a now less intrusive voice said; “Why do people think they cannot have a meaningful relationship with me?” It took a minute or two for me to catch up but as I processed what I had just heard, it made sense. People do want a relationship with God, but they feel unworthy, undeserving like they have no right to ask God for anything, much less a meaningful relationship with him. Once, when beholding the majesty of God; gazing upon his holiness Isaiah the prophet said he saw him “seated on his throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). No doubt trembling uncontrollably, the only words his quivering lips would allow from his mouth was, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips. . .” (Isaiah 6:5).
“I have no right to be here,” seems to be the old prophets feelings; “I am undone and not worthy to see what my eyes behold,” his heart told him. Isaiah wasn’t the only man in the Bible to judge himself unworthy, though. King David once felt that way too. In Psalm 8:4, he asked, “What is a man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Why mess with me, why bother, why waste your time, seem to be his sentiments. John the Baptist thought likewise saying, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the straps on your sandals (Mark 1:7); Then there was the Roman Centurion in Luke 7:6, are his thoughts not similar? He said to Jesus, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” However, I suppose Peter best sums up the way most of us have felt. Once when Jesus came near he fell at his feet saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).
But the good news of the gospel is summed up in Romans 5:8 which makes this declaration: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NIV).
No, we are not worthy, no one is. All have sinned and fallen way short of God’s righteous standard. “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead” (Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT).
In Jesus we share the same heavenly Father, we walk in common with him – his father is our father. Thus Scripture tells us, Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11). As followers of Jesus, we have access to God, and he wants us to take full advantage of that access beginning a meaningful, productive and intentional relationship with him. How does that happen? Pretty much the same way we develop relationships in life.
Out of curiosity, I recently polled my many Facebook friends asking them to list what they believe to be the three main ingredients in developing a successful relationship. I emphasized they not think spiritually in their response. The top three answers given were:
Interestingly, the same ingredients most believe are the necessary components in an earthly relationship are the same ones needed in establishing a healthy relationship with God.
First, there must be communication. Psychologist and author, Rollo May once said, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” Nothing could be truer. Where there is a desire to have a relationship with God communication is not only invaluable; it is essential. How do we do that? We communicate with God through prayer and reading the Bible.
When we pray God hears, and he responds to us through his written word (the Bible). Now that’s not to say God can’t, or doesn’t speak audibly. Although I have not heard his audible voice, that doesn’t mean he can’t speak out loud should he choose too.
Secondly, we must trust God. As the time we spend communicating with God grows, so will our trust. The more we read the Bible, the better we will understand who he is and discover the good he wants for us. We will find him to be all he said he was, and he will do all he said he would do – we can trust him. The negative thoughts toward him we may have harbored down deep, the towering questions that have many times left us perplexed will all melt into insignificance as we come to understand he does know what’s going on, and he does care – yes, we can trust him.
Lastly, there must be respect. We must learn who we are and who he is. God is sovereign, and that means he’s the boss. He owns the company, and he has the right to call the shots. When I surrendered my life to him, I handed over the title to me to him. He welcomed me into the company and provided me with a company manual (the Bible) I have found explains in vivid detail, step by step, everything I need to know to be successful in my relationship with him.
As I have utilized the manual, applying its guidelines in my day-to-day duties, it has worked out quite well. Admittedly, I haven’t always agreed with everything in it, but as I go ahead and do it anyway, it really does work.
Today, the relationship I have with the boss is the most important relationship in my life. For through the relationship I have with God, my other relationships are stronger, healthier, deeper and much more meaningful than I would have dreamed possible.