Christianity is easy to fake. Following Jesus is easy to turn into a habit. A ritual. Even a performance.
I should know.
I have known Jesus as my Lord and Savior since I was 5 years old. I have attended church often three times a week since I was born. I know, from hearing it countless times, that I should be spending time reading the Bible and praying every day. I know that my walk with the Lord should permeate every aspect of my life. I know the drill, how it’s supposed to work, what I’m supposed to say.
So much so, that sometimes, I just let myself lazily drift into doing without really being.
I can’t lose the gift of salvation that God has given me in His grace, but when I am not wholeheartedly seeking God’s face, when I am not really being a disciple, it gets harder and harder to hear God’s voice, to feel His presence, to know Him. My relationship with God starts to feel distant and hollow, and any service I do just comes from an unwilling sense of duty.
For the last couple of weeks, that’s exactly where I have been. I could still talk about God, I still went to church. I even still read my Bible most nights, although not with much focus or conviction. In one of those readings, God even brought me to the passage that says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5), which Jesus called the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37.
Yet, it wasn’t until I heard a sermon that explained what I was really doing, what I was turning my relationship with God into, that I finally got on my knees, confessed before God, and begged for His help to fill me with the passion for Him that I so desperately missed. That sermon helped me to really realize what Matthew 22:37 meant for my life right now.
The pastor preaching the message said that there are two kinds of relationships – personal and impersonal. In an impersonal relationship, we can list all kinds of surface facts about someone – what they like to eat, their hair color, their family members… – but in a truly personal relationship, we know that person deeply because we have walked through things with them and have taken the time to get to know them.
The same can be said of our knowledge of God. We can take the time to get to know Him personally, or we can just be content knowing facts about Him. Even when we have known God for years, we can let our relationship with Him drift into the impersonal.
In John 15:4, Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”
Abiding with Jesus implies more than just knowing about Him. It implies a connection, time spent, energy invested. The picture that Jesus paints is of a branch that is fully connected and receiving life from the vine. We need to be plugged into that life-giving vine in order to grow, in order to bear fruit.
It all goes back to those verses in Matthew 22, in which a lawyer asked…
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
In other words, our very first priority is to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our mind. This is at the heart of every command and every direction that God has ever given. But loving with all of our heart and all of our soul and all of our mind? That is an all-consuming love that defines every piece of who we are and every minute that we live. And since it is a command, it is a love that we can work at, a love made of actions and purposeful attitudes.
These past couple of weeks, I had filled my calendar up so much that I was drained at the end of every single day, so I kept pushing time with God off and off, until it was often off my schedule. My mind was so filled with this and that that I hardly thought about God at all. And when I talked about God with others, I talked about things I knew about God, but I never felt like God was actually doing anything in my life.
It was the epitome of an impersonal relationship.
I had distanced myself from God. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. Now comes the work of going deeper, of defining my life again by God’s love for me and my love for Him. Now, with God’s help, I can step back into that beautifully personal relationship that the God of the Universe wants to have with me.
What a joyful relief!