(Some time ago I was asked a question about my understanding of a relationship with Jesus. This series of four posts will give a basic explanation of what I mean by that phrase.)
Most of us have such poor relationships with the people in our lives that it really shouldn’t surprise us to realize that we struggle with the idea of a relationship with Jesus. Even the best relationships are susceptible to risk, suspicion, and betrayal. Spouses hurt each other; parents manipulate; friends betray; and on it goes. We have learned to hold even the most important relationships at a distance.
Not only is it not supposed to be that way, it will not always be that way. Those relationships suffer the damage caused by sin. The day will come when our relationships are no longer affected by sin and we shall “know as we are known”. I don’t really know just what that means, but I think it is a reference to intimate and good relationships all around. Until that day, we can’t learn much about a relationship with Jesus on the basis of our relationships with people.
So, what do we do? Here’s where I will lose some people. We have to look at the longing of our hearts. What does your heart long for? What do you need? Set aside the old teaching that your heart is wicked and deceitful. That’s right teaching only for those who have not been given a new heart in Jesus. If you are in Christ, you have a new heart with right longings and Jesus does lead you and minister to you through your heart. So, what does your heart long for?
Let’s step back even further. You may not know what your heart longs for. You only know what hurts. So, let’s look at that. We want to be able to trust someone, right? It hurts to be betrayed. There is no pain like the pain of giving yourself to someone only to have that person betray you. I don’t have to explain that. Almost everyone has experienced the feeling of betrayal – by a spouse, a friend, a parent, or someone. It hurts very deeply. There is a desire in us to have someone to depend on, someone who will be the same tomorrow and the next day. We need that consistency in order to make sense out of life. Ask anyone who has been betrayed and they will acknowledge that the betrayal jerked something out of the foundation of their world.
Someone to trust. How about someone who accepts you? We know the hurt of rejection. Some are rejected because of their appearance or their family background. Some are rejected because of past failure. Some are rejected just because others make themselves feel better by rejecting someone. Whatever the reason, it hurts. We long for someone to accept us. Because of that, we hide much of the truth about ourselves. We even hide the hurt we feel when we are rejected. Suppose there was someone who would accept you no matter what. Would that be something you would like?
Someone who accepts you and someone you can trust. But not just anyone, right? There might be someone who accepts us, but if that person isn’t good it makes us wonder about ourselves. We don’t want someone who simply says that he or she doesn’t care what we do. We want someone good, someone who is inherently good, with goodness as part of their identity. Someone, honestly, higher than we are. That may sound strange, but I believe it is a fundamental need of the heart to be accepted by someone who is better than we are.
Someone who is inherently good. Someone who accepts me. Someone I can trust. Yes, I need these – but I need more. I need someone who honestly loves me. All of these can be done at a distance, but love has to be close. We might know someone who fits, for the most part, all three of these things, but with whom we have little real relationship. We can’t honestly say that person loves us. Love means active involvement in life. Love gets “down and dirty”. We need someone who loves us when we fail; when we don’t smell so great. We need someone willing to make personal sacrifices for our good. Does that sound self-serving? Of course, but that is the need of our hearts.
Connected with this idea of love is the need for presence. Our heart needs someone near. A parent or spouse who is far away offers much of what a person might need, but the heart longs for someone near. We need to talk with this person. Too many people know what it is like to live with someone who isn’t near. The heart shares its needs through communication. Someone who will talk with us.
One more: none of this is of any real value if that person can’t do something about our struggle. The most loving person still lacks something if he or she can’t do anything about our situation. Oh, the love still helps. It does make a difference just to know that someone cares. But it isn’t enough to satisfy the need of our hearts. We need someone strong, someone who can change things. Our hearts know the lack of hope when there doesn’t seem to be any way out.
Now, I could probably come up with more, but you get the point. Even though our earthly relationships are poor imitations of what our hearts need, our hearts do still know what they are looking for. Why? Because God has designed us to find this relationship only in Him. It is part of the way we are made. From the beginning, we were made to be in relationship with God. It appears to me that a primary part of the image of God is that relationship which He enjoys within Himself and desires to share with us.
(more next Wednesday)