By Steve Prokopchak
Her lifeless body lay bleeding in the middle of the two-lane county road. Her mother’s coat draped over her like an oversized hand-me-down. With a tear-soaked face buried in her hands, the little girl’s mother was kneeling beside the petite eight-year-old frame.
What material item might this mother consider in replacement for her daughter’s life? Specifically, what thing could provide gratification to this parent? In such a loss, is she thinking of the new car or the latest electronic gadget she wants to purchase?Are her thoughts focused on her retirement portfolio? What “thing” could satisfy the longing in this parent’s heart? I guarantee you, it would nothing else apart from the life of her child.
If you break life down into the simplest form, you will find some very basic needs. Physically, we need food, clothing, and shelter. We often focus on these needs the most, but they have little to do with lasting value. However, every other need in life centers around two well established, deeply entrenched needs: a relationship with God and a relationship with others. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus spoke, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In this article, we will look briefly at the first of these, our relationship with God.
Relationship with God and Consumerism
Author Rick Warren begins the book The Purpose Driven Life by saying, “It’s not about you.” It is funny how we’ve been trained by our culture, our schools, our shopping malls, and our banks that life is about us. We have been trained to be consumers and have been told that good consumers can have what they want, precisely when they want it.
Being a consumer myself, I recently had the experience of the handle of my new briefcase breaking. I contacted the company on the worldwide web and they sent me (the same day, I might add) a brand new replacement case. Can you believe it? What a great consumer-oriented company. They are trained well, consequently the consumer expects nothing but the best and most prompt service.
Consumerism has literally taken over life as we know it. We become consumers with our jobs, our governments, our families, and even our churches. Churches are bending over backward to please the consumer. We can experience shorter sermons, better children’s departments and youth groups, latte and Danish breaks, Coke machines in the lobby and the latest video and worship technology. All great stuff. I enjoy it, as do others. But where does it end? In time, the consumer begins to feel entitled to having their needs met in the exact way they feel they should be met. When this does not happen, the church-going consumer threatens to move on and often will become a consumer at another fellowship.
Would we rather plan a great seventy-minute service than pray to hear from God? Would we rather have chills up and down our spine and the latest technology in our Sunday services all the while never noticing the still small cloud in the corner of the auditorium? Is the Holy Spirit impressed with our consumer mentality? Would we recognize Him if He showed up? Perhaps an even more serious question to ask is, do we even need Him to show up? Has our need for the latest gadget replaced our need for our relationship with God? We will never experience relationship with technology or coffee mocha drinks.
I recently heard about a well-known minister who required a large sum of money to travel to a specific region and preach a sermon. I trust these persons are sincere in their service, but are we, in our consumerism, producing celebrities or servants? In a recent Time magazine article about Saddleback Church’s pastor, Rick Warren, titled “The man with The Purpose” (Time, March 29, 2004, p. 54), the question of marketing and commercialism is raised. Warren’s response is simple and to the point, “Too many ministers start out as servants and end up as celebrities…”
I have to ask these questions of myself. I write books and books are marketed. It costs to publish a book. What’s the difference? The difference is in the heart. There are gifted writers (of which I do not classify myself) who could write almost anything and sell their product. And there are authors who desire to see lives changed by their books. They want to see society change and have an effect on people by building Christ in the life of the readers (Colossians 1:28 “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ”).
Consumerism robs us of the life of God. It takes us from seeking Him, searching His heart, and wanting only what He wants to seeking what I want. Consumerism in the Kingdom of God is like thinking a prayer shawl will change your prayer life or blowing a ram’s horn will signal God like a dog whistle. Relationship with God just doesn’t work that way.
Time Honors God
The heavenly Father wants time with you. To honor Him is to give Him your time. In fact, in the Greek the word honor is translated “time” (pronounced tee-may).
Consider this: Is your life so filled up with time-saving devices that you have no time left for God? The computer is a time-saving device, as is the microwave and the hand-held electronic date book. We have lawn care services, restaurants to serve us our meal and machines to help us exercise. Do you have time left for Jesus? He longs for personal time with you. Have you brought consumerism into your personal relationship with God? One can spend hours in a Bible software program, but only minutes in the Bible. Healthy relationships begin on the foundation of a healthy relationship with God. If you have experienced ongoing unhealthy relationships, you have more to discover in getting to know the King of Kings – Jesus. To get to know Him, one must spend time with Him.
I can be as guilty as anyone when planning takes the place of praying. If I do not discipline myself to spend time with my Savior in the morning, it most likely will not happen throughout the day.
Did I mention the word “discipline”? Spending time with the Father does take discipline, and discipline requires obedience. Prayer begins as an act of obedience to the Father’s voice. Once the habit is established, prayer becomes a daily discipline of my life.
In the book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, by Jim Cymbala, he shares a very important key about the discipline of prayer. “Prayer cannot truly be taught by principles and seminars and symposiums. It has to be born out of a whole environment of felt need. If I say, ‘I ought to pray,’ I will soon run out of motivation and quite; the flesh is too strong, I have to be driven to pray” (1997, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 49). Establishing a healthy relationship with God means spending time with Him and prayer is one of the ways we can do that. Being “driven” to pray means I cannot personally function in life without listening to and talking with my personal Friend, Jesus. Our relationship is not one-sided. He has taught me how to relate to others.
A few years ago, I was on a bus in England headed to the Midlands. Beside me was a young man who said he was simply “traveling” throughout Europe. Eventually, we started discussing how we can have a personal relationship with God. This young man voiced that he was not convinced a personal relationship with God was even possible. As we conversed, he made mention that he was “in love.” I asked him how he knew he was in love. His reply was quick and to the point, “I just know. I feel it.” “That’s how I know you can have a personal relationship with God as well,” I replied.
Blockages that Keep Us From Hearing God
Do you want to spend time with God and grow in your relationship or are you afraid of getting that personal with Him? If there is fear involved, then there could be one of two blockages in your life. The first could be sin. In Genesis three, we are told that Adam feared meeting with his Friend, God, after the fall. Why did he fear? That emotion was never felt prior to man’s fall. Fear is a natural response when we sense we have disappointed God in some way.
When I was a child, my parents found something in the pocket of a piece of my clothing. They confronted me and I told them it was not mine. To this day, I am not sure if they believed me but I do know this: my natural, emotional reaction was to avoid them for a time. Fear, and specifically fear of punishment, separated us.
The second possible reason for fear that could keep you from wanting to spend time with God is a fear of authority. Perhaps authority in the past was abusive or rejected you. You have allowed these incidents to dictate what you think and believe about authority. While these beliefs may not be rational, they are true to you and they separate you from the One who desires you to be totally free.
Abusive authority in the mind of such a person is applied to God, because God is the ultimate authority in our lives. However, abusive authority robs us of a personal relationship with authority. An abusive husband is avoided by an abused wife. Even animals can recognize abusive caretakers. Recently, while in Africa, I heard a statistic that literally took my breath away. It was reported that in one particular country of East Africa, the spouse abuse rate was over 80%. Can you imagine 80% of households experiencing repeated domestic violence? This presents a vivid picture of authority gone awry.
Abusive persons are insecure persons who relate to power and control in order to feel good about themselves. This type of authority has never and will never be seen in our God. He has always had your best interest in mind. He longs for a personal, open, and honest relationship with you. He gave His Son’s life in order to open the door for this relationship. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
Ask God to show you what might be blocking your relationship with Him. Is it sin, fear, or is it a misbelief such as a lie from history? When He shows you, deal with it. Take it to His cross and allow it to die there. Then allow Him to bring new, life-giving, resurrection thoughts – thoughts that are built on the truth of His word and not our faulty beliefs that stem from a misinterpretation of life events.
The Cross Makes the Difference for Reconciliation
Before Jesus died on the cross, a believer had to access God through the priest and the blood of animal sacrifices. This atoning blood allowed one to enter into God’s presence. Since the cross, Jesus became the final sacrifice, our atonement, and our justifier. He was the only One who was just enough to pay the penalty for our sin.
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).
Our friendship with God, our relationship with the very Trinity is based upon this Bridge, Jesus Christ’s blood shed upon the cross. His sacrificed life made the way for you to have personal interaction with God. “Or if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:10-11).
John Piper in his book, The Passion of Jesus Christ, put it so well when he wrote, “God’s first act in reconciling us to himself was to remove the obstacle that made him irreconcilable, namely, the God – belittling guilt of our sin…He took the steps we would not take to remove his own judgment. He sent Christ to suffer in our place. The decisive reconciliation happened ‘while we were enemies.’ Reconciliation from our side is simply to receive what God has already done, the way we receive an infinitely valuable gift” (2004 Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, p. 61).
This is a life-changing, revolutionizing thought. The Creator of life wants to spend time with me! Can I spend time with Him long enough to hear His voice? I discovered when I had teenagers that it was important to meet them at their level by doing something they enjoyed. When the environment was right, they would open up and share their hearts. My job was to listen without judgment.
Have you found that environment before the Father where He can share His heart with you? Christians often comment, “I’m unsure of how to hear from God or how to recognize His voice.” May I suggest a book to read by a personal friend of mine, Larry Kreider? He has written an excellent resource on this very topic: Hearing God, 30 Different Ways.
I heard someone once comment “I became so tired of having a devotional time in the morning void of hearing God’s voice. Becoming more serious about this ‘silence’, I told God that I would enter this room every morning in silence and remain silent until I heard from Him. On the fourth morning He took me up on my desperation and the silence was broken.”
Restoration of our Primary Relationship
God’s motivation in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, was to have relationship with mankind. Starting in Genesis chapter one, God’s created man in His image. Man would bear the image of God so that communion with God would take place. In Genesis chapter three we are given the picture of God coming to commune with Adam and Eve in the Garden. That communion was broken by sin. Psalm 103, an Old Testament scripture, states it this way: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.”
In the New Testament, God’s design was to send His Son to live among man. The Incarnate One would become the God Man because the Father loved us so much. (See John 3:16,17 and I John 4:9,10). God wanted us to relate primarily to Him. Our relationship with God is our primary relationship. And since that relationship was broken through sin, He provided His Son to bridge the gap. Relationship would be restored through Jesus. When Paul was observing the people in Athens, he noticed that they were religious. They had a desire to worship God, but they simply did not know who He was. In Acts 17:24-28 Paul describes this most vital relationship:
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'”
Darrow Miller, in his book, Disciplining Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture, makes the following statement about the importance of relationship with God as our primary relationship:
“All of life is to be lived in relationship. Human beings cannot be understood apart from their kinship with God, others, and then themselves. Man’s primary relationship is toward the living God. To fully experience his humanity, man must be ‘before the face of God’…” (p. 90)
A Way for You
Through the first Adam, sin left us with the wound of a broken relationship with God. But, we can take heart. God brought healing to this wounded relationship through His second Adam, Jesus. “So it is written, ‘the first man Adam became a living being’ the last Adam, a life-giving Spirit… And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (I Corinthians 15:45,49).
Jesus Christ, the life-giving Spirit, the second Adam, heals the wound of a broken relationship with His Father through the cross. The primary relationship mankind is in search of is found at the cross of Christ. And that relationship is available to you today. Through the God/man relationship, all other relationships can come into divine order: the marriage relationship, the parent/child relationship, the friendship relationship and so on.
If you have not restored relationship with your heavenly Father, He has provided the way for you. Believe in your heart that Jesus is God’s Son and repent of your sin. You will never regret entering into this relationship, as it will be the most vital relationship you will ever experience. So vital, it will take you into eternity with God.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for creating me to bear your image. Thank you for your plan to have communion with me. While I have failed at this as the first Adam did, the Second Adam has paid the penalty for my wounded relationship. I now ask for complete restoration of that relationship through the cross of Calvary. I thank you, Jesus, that You have restored my communion with Your Father, who is also My Father. I ask your forgiveness of all my sin and trust you as my Lord and Savior.
About Steve Prokopchak
Steve serves on the DOVE International Apostolic Council and has been involved in the Christian counseling field for over 20 years. He earned a Master of Human Services from Lincoln University. He is the author of several books, including Called Together, a premarital counseling workbook. He also travels throughout the world teaching and imparting to the lives of many, especially leaders. Read more about Steve or catch up on his blog.