The Basics of Growing in Your Relationship with God.
From The HOPE Study Guide
THE BASICS OF GROWING IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
Coming into a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ is a wonderful beginning – but it is just that: a beginning. While it may be the end of the journey called “coming to faith,” it is only the start of another journey that might be called “growing in God.” The apostle Paul claimed that “knowing” Jesus Christ was the great goal of his life. He said, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
Paul saw growing in God as an undertaking that would consume him until death ushered him into God’s very presence! So how do we come to know our great, saving God, and to grow in Him? There are many ways, but time has shown that a few are key. Our knowledge of Him cannot help but grow as we study His Word, communicate with Him in prayer, share life with other believers, tell others about what God has done for us, and follow Him daily in faith and obedience. We’ll examine each of these briefly in turn.
1. STUDY GOD’S WORD
You would never expect a child to grow into a healthy adult without proper nourishment. Children eat to grow. Likewise, the Word of God is the spiritual food that nourishes every growing Christian. The apostle Peter encouraged Jesus’ followers to, like newborn babies, “long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Peter 2: 2-3). Just as there are many styles of eating – there are also many ways to “take in” God’s life–giving Word. Consider these to begin:
- Reading your Bible daily. Many plans exist for reading a portion of the Bible each day. If you are a new follower of Christ, you might begin by reading a few verses of the gospel of John daily until you have finished the book. Then move to another gospel (Matthew, Mark or Luke), or one of Paul’s “missionary” letters like Ephesians or Philippians. You might also find a “devotional” Bible which selects portions of scripture for you to read daily, and includes thoughts to consider on that particular passage.
- Reading through the whole Bible. Some Bibles are published with guides for reading the Bible through in a systematic way. If your Bible does not contain such a guide, you can easily find one. Several are available at http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2012/12/27/reading-the-bible-in-2013/.
- Discovering God’s Word is filled with promises for you. Memorize and meditate on His promises. Again, some Bibles will have at least a partial listing of God’s promises in their reference section. Others are available at no charge: http://bible.org/article/selected-promises-god-each-book-bible.
- Studying the Bible in a group. Studying God’s Word together with other Christians is a wonderful way to grow in insight and in community. Seek out a leader in a Bible–believing church in your area and ask about group studies that might be available to you.
In every instance, the emphasis on Bible study should not be simply academic, or study for study’s sake. You are studying not to gain “head knowledge” but to know more deeply and fully the God whose saving plan has included you. You are a part of His story now!
2. COMMUNICATE WITH GOD
Prayer is simply communication with God – and it is so important. It may seem at times like one–way communication, but it is not. Prayer involves speaking to God and listening for His voice in return – as He speaks through His Word, through His servants, and through the still, small voice of His Holy Spirit. Through prayer we thank God for His goodness to us, confess our sins, praise Him for who He is, and make requests of Him. It is in regular prayer that we grow in our relationship with God and mature in our faith. The Bible says we should pray about everything, and that we should pray “without ceasing.” Truly, nothing is too small to take to God in prayer. He is the Lord of all life.
- Get in the habit of spending time each day with God. Learn to listen as well as to speak. Some people call this time with God a “quiet time” – but it may not be quiet at all. You may pray aloud, sing praises, or read aloud prayers from scripture during this time. The important thing is to set aside a time for God that will not be compromised, even if it is just a few minutes of undistracted focus every morning or evening.
- Keep a prayer journal. Recording your prayers can help you see how God has led you, and to praise Him for His faithfulness in giving not just what you ask him for – but what you truly need. Be sure and share answered prayer with others, too. God’s faithfulness to you can be used to build someone else’s faith as well!
- Study what Jesus taught about prayer in The Model Prayer at the end of this study. When Jesus’ disciples said “Lord, teach us to pray,” this is what Jesus offered in response. Many people say this prayer in a rote, or routine way – hardly thinking of what the words mean. As you study this prayer, consider each part of it, and what it says about God’s constant care and concern for you.
- Train yourself to maintain a running dialogue with God throughout the day. Some call this “practicing the presence” of God. Simply remind yourself that God is with you all day, every day – and that you are free to speak with Him about anything, at any time.
3. FELLOWSHIP WITH OTHER BELIEVERS
As we have studied, when a person comes to Christ, he or she becomes a part of His Body, the Church Just like a physical body, every member of this spiritual body has a specific purpose, a special identity And just as a finger cannot fulfill its function apart from the hand, so an individual Christian will never fully know and experience his or her identity apart from relationship with a local church body. Fellowship is essential to Christian growth, and we are warned against forsaking it (Hebrews 10:24-25). In community or fellowship with other believers we learn things about God and ourselves that may not be learned in any other way.
- As you begin your journey of faith, find a church near you that clearly teaches: a) faith in Christ as the way to know God and receive eternal life, and b) the Bible as the Word of God.
- Find out how you can serve the Body through that local church so that God can use you and grow you.
- Be faithful in your commitment to a local church. Not only do you need the church – your church needs you!
4. SHARE YOUR FAITH WITH OTHERS
When a tree that was created to bear fruit stops bearing fruit, its fruitlessness is a strong indication that the tree is not healthy. Just as a healthy tree bears fruit, so a healthy Christian bears fruit by sharing the life–giving truth of Jesus with others. The life that God has given you will become eventually stagnant if you keep it to yourself, and never speak of it to others. As you pass on what God has given to you, He will fill you afresh. Sharing your faith is vital to the Christian life – not out of guilt – but out of joy and enthusiasm for His saving goodness to you.
- Ask God to help you make a list of people with whom He would have you share your faith. Begin praying now for the right time to do so in each case.
- Look for daily opportunities to share. Ask God, “Have you prepared this person to hear what I have to share?” Be willing to take a risk. The results could be more exciting than you know.
- Familiarize yourself with the Knowing God section of this Study, so that you may comfortably be ready to give an account for the hope that others will surely see in you (1 Peter 3:15).
- Practice sharing your faith journey in a simple, conversational manner. You never know when God will give you the opportunity to tell your story!
5. LEARN TO TRUST AND OBEY GOD BY DEPENDING ON GOD
It has been said that all true knowledge is the result of obedience; everything else is just information. If you really want to know and experience God, then you must trust and obey Him – depending on the Holy Spirit whom you have received from God. Obedience for Christians is not optional. Although our sins are forgiven, we may not continue to deliberately sin with impunity, presuming upon the grace of God. We can be sure that God will not give us more revelation and understanding until we have been faithful with that which He has already given.
As we trust and obey God, we are changed more and more into His likeness. This is called “sanctification,” and it is the intended result of salvation for every man and woman. God’s goal is that “Christ would be formed”in His sons and daughters (Galatians 4:19) – and this process is not automatic, but rather the result of what one writer has called “a long obedience in the same direction.”
HOW DO WE PARTICIPATE IN THIS PROCESS OF SANCTIFICATION?
- Learning God’s Word. The Bible is the primary way that Christians learn how to obey God. We read it both to learn from it, and to be supernaturally changed by it – because it is a living book with the power to change us! (1 Timothy 3:16-17)
- Spending your time alone with God, ask Him to show you any area of your life in which you are not obedient to His Word. If there are areas with which you struggle that seem to routinely get the better of you, seek the counsel of an older, wiser Christian who may be able to walk with you in your struggle and hold you accountable.
- Learning to listen and respond to the Holy Spirit of God on a moment by moment basis. This is a practice that grows easier with time, but you can and must begin to know and respond to the One that Jesus called “the Comforter,” and whom He sent to walk beside us.
- Trusting Christ to complete what He has begun. In the same way that you, by faith, trusted in Christ for your salvation, learn to trust in the Holy Spirit for the power to obey God on a moment by moment basis. The just are not only saved by faith, the just live by the faith that saved them! (Philippians 1:6)