How do you know if you have a strong relationship with God or not?
If you don’t feel like you are growing in your relationship with God…
If you don’t feel like your prayer is changing you or making much of a difference in your life…
If you ever feel like God is cold, heartless or distant…
Then your relationship with God could definitely use some TLC. 🙂
Let’s see if we can diagnose what might be causing your difficulties…
Note: Don’t get depressed if you find yourself fitting into a particular category. Each of these problems are very common and every single person has probably experienced each one at some time or another. You are not alone. But, just because they are common does not mean that they are not extremely detrimental to our relationship with God. Usually they are most damaging because we don’t even know they are there. You may experience any number of these problems – most likely all of them to a certain degree. The key is not to “freak out” but to just take the recognition of the problem as the beginning of the solution! The sooner you can start working on whichever one is your particularly greatest affliction, the sooner you will see genuine and tangible improvements in your relationship with God.The recognition of a problem is the beginning of the solution!
Lack of Silence
The Lord speaks in a whisper (1 Kings 19:12). In order for us foster closeness with God we must foster a spirit of quiet. This is not necessarily the quiet of avoiding your busy life to sit in solitude on a mountaintop somewhere or to spend your whole life in a church. It is more about learning how to find a level of mental quiet, despite the busyness. Hearing God above the noise and amidst the noise, if you will.
How to foster a spirit of mental or interior silence?
This is an interior quietude that allows you to experience a connection with God no matter what is going on around you. It is like a clear communication channel, one that does not easily succumb to distraction or get drowned out by the “static” of everyday life.
Mental silence takes significant time to build up. It is like working a muscle you didn’t know you had (because most of us don’t even know this level of inner quiet is possible). It takes a while to “find” the muscle and then some more time even to really hone in how you can work on it and make it stronger.
Techniques that can help in this area:
- Fostering exterior silence
This is what most people think about when they think of silence. This is turning off the television or the radio. This is tuning out of texting or social media. This is stepping away from heated, or even simply empty, conversations. This is taking that one extra moment to notice the fresh air after a storm and just taking a deep breath. This is relishing each moment of peace, from the drive to work in the car or the quick bathroom hideaway to the miraculous moment when all talk suddenly seems to cease at once. In “normal” people’s eyes this is an awkward moment, but for the person looking to grow in their love for silence it is a chance for your soul to breathe. Wait for your moments of silence. Seek them out. Revel in them.
- Seeking to spend time with God alone and undisturbed
This is your version of Christ’s “going to a deserted place to pray” (Luke 5:16). This is getting to know Him better so you can truly “recognize His voice” (John 10:27) so as to better hear Him “above the noise”. This is taking slightly larger increments of time – 1 hour, 3 hours, a weekend – to spend them specifically with God. This is getting away to nature by yourself just to walk and contemplate. This is sitting in the back corner of a church with your eyes closed and your hands open on your knees. This is hiding in your closet from your kids. Even if it is just for 5 minutes, it is 5 minutes dedicated to the most fulfilling person in you life!
- Use a prayer journal
Prayer journals, like the one I describe here, are very good to help you slow down your thoughts, eliminate distractions, as well as increase focus, clarity and openness. They are especially good for people who are very busy and experience large amounts of stress. They help you really get to the core of what matters most and usually help people face themselves and God with greater honesty.
- Called to Quiet: Building a life of interior and exterior silence
- Listening to God in a World full of Noise
- How to use a Prayer Journal – The Uncomplicated Way
Lack of openness
When you are thinking about your relationship with God, you need to remember that you are in a relationship with a being outside yourself. Often we think that God needs to fit inside the box we want to put Him in. We want Him to agree with us. We want Him to come around to our perspective or to convince Him of something. We want Him to see things our way so that He will give us what WE want. We want to somehow twist everything we read or everything He says to fit our own preconceived agenda. But this is a serious problem.
Do you think a healthy human relationship could survive on those terms? Even the most secular (non-religious) person out there would probably agree that such a relationship would be completely one-sided, selfish, manipulative, controlling, and probably borderline abusive.
Why do we enter into relationships with other people anyway? Typically, we find the other person interesting. We like that they are DIFFERENT from us. We enjoy our similarities, but we also want someone to learn from and grow with. We are interested in their opinions and their tastes and we are respectful of them.
If we treat other human beings this way, it should be obvious that God, of all people, is deserving of at least equal respect. Why, then, do we treat Him like we do?
Signs that you might have this problem:
- Stubbornness or Persistence in wrongdoing – an attitude of “I know I’m right and, no matter what, no one is going to convince me otherwise”. Or “I’m going to prove I know what I’m doing or die trying” – This attitude is wrong because it presumes that you believe you do not believe in the fact that you are human or capable of being wrong. It proclaims to God’s face that you think you know better than Him (and if you think about it, is that really what you believe?)
- “Praying” and yet never growing, never changing, never having your “prayer” impact your life.
- Getting angry with God for prayers “not answered” or not answered “right”.
Note – if you just realized you have this problem – don’t get too depressed thinking you are the most horrible person ever to exist because you just realized how you have been treating God your whole life. Notice that this problem is man’s classic problem from the dawn of time. This is, once again, the sin of Adam: wanting to be “like God” (Genesis 3:5). Just note, that no matter how much we want to be like God, or how wise we think ourselves – the more you think you’ve got it all together, the less you probably do.
Lack of Faith
“Oh, ye of little faith…” (Matthew 8:26)
This is a very common and very debilitating problem. In the Gospels, people were not healed on the basis of their merit, or their money, or their status, but on the basis of their FAITH (Your faith has saved you.)
They looked for a way to take the man into the house where Jesus was. But they could not find a way to take him in because of so many people. They made a hole in the roof over where Jesus stood. Then they let the bed with the sick man on it down before Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the man, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5:18-20)
Note the faith of the Syrophoenician woman who believes the Lord will heal her daughter even though she is not of Jewish descent. (Mark 7:24-30)
To the Roman Centurian who asked for the healing of his servant, Jesus says, “Nowhere in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:5-13; John 4:43-54)
If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains… (Matthew 17:20)
Think about it. What does a lack of faith say? Lack of faith says, “I can’t”. Lack of faith says, “it’s not possible”. Lack of faith won’t try. Lack of faith has no hope. Lack of faith stays crippled.
And He was unable to do many miracles there because of their lack of faith (Matthew 15:38).
Why? Because lack of faith puts limits on God. It presumes that God can’t or won’t help. It presumes that He doesn’t care or doesn’t love enough to notice or help us: “do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). It shows a gross lack of knowledge of who the person of God is and what He is capable of. It is literally insulting to who He is in His essence.
It does not, as we might think, “motivate” Him in some underhanded, manipulative way to try to prove Himself to us as if He needed to show off in order to earn our esteem. This would be like the Pharisees, as Christ was hanging on the cross, taunting “If you are the son of God, save yourself” (Matthew 27:40, Mark 15:30, Luke 23:37, John 18:28). and Him (probably) thinking in reply, “If you don’t already know who I am, than nothing I do can possibly convince you, except maybe staying here and “finishing” this as it is meant to be.” I’m sure when we try to “challenge”Him with our lack of faith, He responds similarly.
Telltale sign of struggle in this area: FEAR
FEAR in our daily lives. Fear of the future, fear of the unknown, fear of “drowning” in whatever storm you are facing at this moment. Fear of pain, fear of hardship, fear of death, fear of making right or wrong decisions… Whatever it may be, if you are afraid, you might want to look to God for greater Faith.
“Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:23-25)
Lack of Effort
I challenge you right now, ask yourself:
Do you REALLY make an effort to have a strong relationship with God? Do you want this? What are you willing to sacrifice to make it happen? Is there any part of you that you are holding back? We are afraid that if we offer everything to Him that He will consume everything. Logical, no? Yes… but it’s not necessarily the case.
Often, He just wants us to be open to sacrificing whatever it takes just so that He can tell you He doesn’t need it and that you can keep it. For example, when He asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, was He really asking Him to sacrifice Isaac? or, was He just asking Him to be open to giving up LITERALLY anything and EVERYTHING… Just so that God could gift back to him the thing he wanted most. He will truly send an angel to stay your hand before you truly “lose” everything that you hold dear, if , of course, what you hold dear is truly what is best.
You could be reluctant to offer God your work because you want to control it. The human psyche makes us want to know what is going on and be “in control” in at least one area of our lives. But no matter how good you are at your job, or how much time you dedicate to it, you will always be imperfect. You will always need help. You will always have more to do, more to grow. You will not be able to keep up the “perfect” charade for long.
You might be reluctant to offer God your plans. You might think that if you give them to Him, He might change them. You might think that He wants to spit on them and stomp them into the ground, but I promise you, He doesn’t want to do that! He would never disrespect your heart like that. He loves you too much! He might just say, “I’m so glad you love these plans, because it means you will REALLY love this even better idea” or “*wink* I gave you those plans. Glad you like them! Now, let’s do it, together!” Just show Him! The only thing that could go “wrong” is that your plans could get even better!
You could be reluctant to offer God your entertainment, justifying it to yourself by saying: God couldn’t possibly want something as trivial as my entertainment, could He? or, What does my entertainment have to do with God anyway? Or, If I give away my entertainment, I will never have anything fun or relaxing in my life ever again! But we are only playing games with ourselves. We are only trying to convince ourselves that we shouldn’t feel guilty about how we spend our time, because, after all, it is OUR time, right? Or is it?
You could be reluctant to give God your sexuality (gender, orientation, or habits) – for similar reasons… but mostly, probably, because what could God possibly want with the most private part of my life? The most “private”, most “trivial” parts of your life are exactly what He wants the most, because it means you are truly all His. It means that you have held nothing back. It means that you are closer with God than anyone else. This is why “God our God, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14), He pursues us like a bridegroom. His deepest desire is to be let into the private recesses of our heart, our life, our time, and our being.
- 17 ways to make time for God
- Are you too busy for God? – Take the Martha and Mary Test
- Overcoming perfectionism – How to invite God into your Mess
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