“How do I build a relationship with God?” is a question I'm often asked, and it's tempting to make the process more complicated than it needs to be. This post is revised and updated from its first appearance in 2014.
“Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into the thing that has them…They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.” ~ C.S. Lewis
Don't make it complicated!
If you have a desire to build a relationship with God, that is the essential first step. That sets your intention and focus. The rest is a matter of taking regular baby steps towards God and being open to what happens.
A dear friend of mine used to say, “If you want to shoot ducks, you have to go where the ducks are.” I'd suggest this is saying the same thing that C.S. Lewis expresses much more eloquently in the quote at the top of this post. If you want to build a relationship with God, you have to go, metaphorically, to where God is and place yourself in His presence. Only in that way can you receive the gifts He wants to give you.
God is always present but never pushy
God is not going to knock you over to get closer to you. We have the freedom to invite Him into our lives or not. You're not likely to wake up one morning with the certain feeling that you've become friends with God (though that could happen). Like human relationships, it usually takes an investment of time and attention and caring, and it's up to you to take the initiative of moving closer to God—of placing yourself in His presence and just abiding there. It's rarely dramatic. You might not even feel anything at all at first. But when you do this over and over again, the emotion and belief will follow, and you'll begin to trust He is with you and is guiding you.
Apply the KISS principle
Don't make this hard – the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid) comes to mind. Think of building a relationship with God just as you would a relationship with anyone else. Suppose you wanted to get to know a certain person better. The way you would do that is the way you can approach your relationship with God:
- Take the time to touch bases with God, acknowledging and giving thanks for His presence.
- Invite Him to come close — to sit with you at your heart's kitchen table and just hang out.
- Talk: Some days this will feel like pouring out your heart. Other days, it will be casual chit-chat. Occasionally, all you'll be able to manage is, “Here I am, Lord. Please be with me.” Between friends, it's all good.
- Listen: Remember to make it a two-way conversation and expect to hear from God, just as you would from a trusted friend. God wants you to know how much He loves you. He wants to offer support and guidance to you. If you don't take the time to listen, you won't hear His “still, small voice.” For me, this communication from God comes in any of various forms: thoughts, feelings, music, reading, nature, other people, or circumstances. Sometimes I only recognize God's voice in retrospect.
- Make contact throughout your day. Being in touch with God doesn't have to be only during times of meditation or prayer. It can be while you're on the run, when you're in the midst of activities, or when you have a moment's break. Malcolm Boyd wrote a wonderful book back in the sixties whose theme is still relevant today: Are You Running With Me, Jesus?
- Take action when you hear God's voice. If you feel God is guiding you or telling you something, take action on it as soon as possible. The insight you receive may only show you where to take the next step, but once you've taken that step, the following step will appear in front of you. Even though there is electrical power in your house, the light doesn't turn on until you have flipped the switch to harness that power. God's power is waiting for you to remember to flip the switch.
I believe in the notion of the Trinity—that God is three-in-one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—so when I go to Jesus in prayer or when I feel the power of God's Holy Spirit, it is all God to me. If you identify with one form more than another, by all means, use that in your visualization of God.
Make these six steps regular practices, and expect it to take time. You'll find yourself gradually learning to recognize God's voice and beginning to trust it. One day, you'll realize you're in a relationship with God that is treasured and invaluable in your life. Don't confuse the emotion with the reality. Even with earthly friends, some days you feel closer to them than others. True friendships surpass the day-to-day vagaries of emotion.
Besides the insights of Holy Scripture, the books below by Hannah Whithall Smith, Catherine Marshall, Philip Yancey, and C.S. Lewis have all been meaningful to me in understanding how to build a relationship with God.
What resources or practices have helped you feel closer to God?
“According to a natural law, we grow like those with whom we associate, and the strongest character always exercises the controlling influence.” ~ Hannah Whithall Smith
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