Jesus and Life
In John 10:10, we have a record of Jesus saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (NIV). In the New Living Translation it says, “The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” and in the Message Bible it puts it this way: “A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” Jesus says that he came to give us life, and not just a mundane existence, but a full and abundant life. Does your life feel like that at the moment? The truth is that for many of us, life is becoming busier, more stressful and more complex. Often we lack the joy, the peace and the contentment that we know we really should have as followers of Jesus Christ.
An extensive study was conducted recently by a Christian research group called LifeWay Research. The study included an in-depth interview of 1,077 people to see how they felt about their lives. The overwhelming result was that the majority longed for a more SIMPLE LIFE, especially to four areas: time, money, relationship with God, and relationships with other people. Today we want to talk about our relationship with GOD.
People and God
The research study revealed that: the majority of people want to be close to God, desire a strong spiritual foundation to their life, believe it is important to live by the values of the Bible and know they should be discussing spiritual matters openly with other people BUT the same people said there was a big gap between their desires and the reality of their life.
Many Christians are unsatisfied with their faith and their relationship with God. They feel like something is missing. They are disappointed with their lack of spiritual depth. At times, their faith feels barren, shallow and even superficial. At times God seems distant rather than close. Most feel guilty about this, aware of their neglect of spiritual practices and their failure to be as close to God as they desire and know they should be. Others are faithful with spiritual activities but at times feel they are more like empty routines rather than life-giving practices. Still others find themselves busy serving God, like Martha, but wish they had more time to develop a greater intimacy with God, like Mary did (Luke 10:38-42).
Through the busyness of life and the tendency to be consumed by other things, God can seem more at the periphery of life rather than at the centre. Knowing God is important but do we really want to and if so, do we know how?
The Heart of the Matter
God desires a relationship with each one of us and by his Spirit he draws us to himself. Eternal life is to know God in an intimate and personal way – right here right now, not just in heaven when we die (John 17:3). Our hearts were created with a craving for this fellowship. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Pascal said only God is able to fill our “God-shaped vacuum.” We have a longing for God deep in our hearts and only God can fill that longing.
Unfortunately, our hearts are deceitful (Jer.17:9) and they wander off towards other things that we think will satisfy (Jer.2:13). Whatever we really love, we pursue. Our purpose in life is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:28-31). Only as we do these things will we experience the joy and satisfaction that life can bring. Becoming closer to God begins with hunger and with thirst, believing that only he can satisfy our deepest longings (Matt.5:6. John 6:35). It begins with a seeking heart that has an appetite to know God better (Ps.27:4). To love God means to pursue him and to desire him (Jer.29:11-14). It means to turn aside from other things that have distracted or seduced us and to run after God with all of our heart (Phil.3:12). God responds to seeking hearts (Jas.4:8).
Faith without works is dead (Jas.2:26). A heart desiring God will take action. There are some things we can do as an expression of our hunger to know God.
1. Prayer. Prayer is simply conversation with God. Unfortunately, we live in a world with so many loud voices screaming for our attention that we can often miss the voice of God. God invites us to talk with him at all times about everything that is happening in our life (Phil.4:6). He also longs to speak to us and to share his heart and mind with us (1 Cor.2:1-16. Rom.8:14). He is with us each moment of every day, whether we realise it or not and whether we feel him or not. By faith we can live with this awareness.
2. The Scriptures. The Bible is God’s word to us. They were inspired by the Holy Spirit and through them he seeks to speak to us today (2 Tim.3:16-17). One of the most powerful ways to build a strong faith and a close relationship with God is to take time daily to open God’s word and ask him to speak to us through his Spirit. As we read God’s word, we begin to know his heart and his mind. We begin to think like him. We begin to know him better. It feeds our soul (Matt.4:4)
3. The Community of Faith. God dwells amongst his people (Matt.18:20). Yes, he is with us at all times but there is a special dimension of his presence when we gather with other believers in whatever setting. Often we hear God through others. We need community to grow in our faith and our relationship with God. Our love for God is directly connected to our love for others and his love for us is too. God often speaks to us through other people. When we drift from community, we often drift from God (Heb.10:23-25).
4. Service. As we discover and use our gifts to serve others, God is pleased. We become like him through doing good works that benefit others.
If we engage in these kinds of activities without a heart after God, then they become merely religious duties that fail to produce life. We can become like the Pharisees who were very religious but who did not really know God personally. We are called to live a life of grace, knowing that God loves us and accepts us just the way we are. However, we must refuse to allow grace to become cheap by not living a life worthy of his calling.
If we really desire to be close to God we have to make room for him in our lives. Often our lives can become so filled with clutter that we are too busy for God. We have to ask ourselves what really matters and whether the way we are living our lives expresses our preferred values. Without God, we will never experience the simple life. Change requires an honest self-assessment then the courage to stop procrastinating. Our life is a reflection of our daily habits. Transformation often begins with taking some ‘baby steps’ and then following them up with consistency and faithfulness until we start to see real change take place. Making room for God will most likely require some elimination – even of good things. The principle of displacement says that if we want to add something into our life we may have to remove something else to make space for it.
God is calling us. He is knocking at the door of our hearts (Rev.3:20). Will we respond and open up our hearts and invite him in?
Sample Discussion Questions
1. What do you think are some hindrances to a close relationship with God?
2. Describe your own relationship with God? When did you feel closest to God and what was it like? When have you felt distant from God and what was that like? Where would you describe yourself now?
3. Read Revelation 2:1-7. Compare a person who is experiencing ‘first love’ in their relationship with God and someone who merely confesses to believe in God but whose belief does not really affect their life.
4. Read Luke 10:38-42. Discuss Martha and Mary as representing two aspects of our lives as disciples – productivity (tasks – doing) and spirituality (relationship – being).
5. How much time do you think the average person spends each week watching TV, reading the paper and surfing the Internet? How does this compare to the time we spend with God?
6. How can we as a Life Group encourage and spur each other on in our relationship with God?