I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Busily working for the church does not necessarily mean we are being nourished by the life-empowering feast of faith. Being actively involved in the church does not automatically mean we are spiritually growing. Our church work is a loving response of stewardship to serve God’s kingdom as a follower of Jesus. The work, however, can become so overwhelming that we miss the most precious gift the church has to offer. A relationship with God, framed by Jesus’ teachings, is the most transformative gift the church can give our long-serving, dedicated servants of Christ.
-The Rev. Dr. Dawn Davis from the introduction to the Revive curriculum
“Christianity is not about following rules, it is about having a relationship with Jesus.”
I might imagine this quote coming from evangelical brothers and sisters who speak often about having a personal relationship with Jesus. The quote actually comes from Pope Frances. In a homily preached on May 15, he went on to say that such relationship is not a matter of ‘things to do’ – ‘If I do this, you give me that.” He noted: Such a relationship would be “commercial” while Jesus gives everything, including his life, gratuitously.
The theme of relationship is embedded in the service of Holy Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer. The candidate is asked: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? Do you promise to follow him and obey him as Lord? Sounds like relationship to me.
I’ve been thinking about how we go about building that relationship. I compared it last week to a car trip, whether God is in on the side of the road, at the service station, in the car with us or maybe behind the steering wheel. That analogy, with its limits, triggered other parables from readers.
One friend said that church leaders, clergy in particular, often get “too caught up with the splash programming or community draw, forgetting that, as Evelyn Underhill notes, God is the interesting thing about religion.” He said it’s like hosting a basketball game and spending all the time on the concessions stand and lighting of the stadium, but just a smidgeon on the actual game prep.
The Rev. Dr. Dawn Davis said that the difference between knowing about God and being in a relationship with God is like reading a recipe instead of enjoying the meal. You can see more of her comments on relationship with God included above. Good stuff.
I myself often marvel that at museums, the gift shop is the most crowded room. Masterpieces go unnoticed. What’s that about? Instead of just experiencing, enjoying the beauty from a creative hand greater than ourselves, we try to possess it, capture it, maybe even limit it, control it. Is there any parallel with religious experience?
What would it mean to deepen a relationship with God? How do we experience such a thing? Experience is a big part of the journey of faith. Along with reading scripture, learning from our tradition, tapping into God-given reason, measuring it all against the wisdom of the community, some kind of experience of God is key to spiritual growth. Otherwise, why bother?
Sure, like anything, the notion of a relationship with God can go off the rails. It can become overly individualistic. You and me and God, and I’m not so sure about you. As in all things religious, we can use the notion to divide or separate if we so choose. Years ago, my sister jokingly (I think) gave me a bumper sticker that read: Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite. Again, scripture, tradition, reason, community can keep us on track.
All of that comes with practice, in both senses of the word. We practice in the sense that we get better, go deeper, the more we do it. That’s true of any relationship, growing as we attend to it. We also practice in the sense that we make it practical. We act on it, which is why spiritual practices matter. We do that through prayer, not only giving God our wish list, but sitting in God’s presence and listening. We do that as we attend to God’s word. It comes with a regular commitment to worship, letting bread and wine feed us. It comes with generosity, being a giver, being of service which is how we come to know God’s character, how we meet Jesus.
Take this week to think about what it means to have a relationship with the Holy One, the living God, with Jesus. What might you do this week to help that relationship grow?
Consider this great resource for personal spiritual growth during this pandemic (when many of us find ourselves sheltering in place).
RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.
Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor. Learn more at renewalworks.org