What does it mean to have a relationship with Jesus? - Suzie Gray

Good question. It’s hard enough having a relationship with family, friends, girlfriend or boyfriend etc on earth, let alone with the immortal, invisible God. And how do we know that Jesus wants to have a relationship with us anyway?

Even though Jesus doesn’t appear by name in the bible until the New Testament, the bible is full of examples of God wanting to have a relationship with us from start to finish. One of the best examples is right back in the Garden of Eden, where people lived before the fall- before our sin mucked everything up. The bible tells us that God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, Pretty amazing stuff- to have God physically present with you all the time. Then, as lots of us know the story, Adam and Eve did the one thing God told them not to, and that close relationship was shattered in an instant. But it’s really interesting to look at what happened when God found them out, the first time God came to the Garden after Adam and Eve had disobeyed him. He didn’t appear in a big black cloud or a lighting bolt or all the other things God could do if he got really annoyed. He called out to them ‘Where are you’?

Now, this is God we’re talking about- he knew perfectly well what had happened, and he knew perfectly well where they are- they hadn’t somehow managed to pull the wool over His eyes. But this shattering of the relationship that Adam and Eve’s walking away had caused had hurt God so deeply, it was a real cry from the heart- a cry of pain and suffering and all sorts of other things that I can’t put into words. God was saying ‘You’re hiding from me and you never used to. You don’t want to walk with me any more and it hurts. This isn’t the way things are meant to be’.

We have the capacity to hurt God. That’s what our sin does- it damages our relationship with God- it’s us saying ‘I am more bothered about doing exactly what we want than being with you’ and puts us apart from him. He’s the source of all life, so when we walk away from him by deliberately cutting him out we die spiritually. But it also affects God- it grieves him.

All very well, you say, but what has Jesus got to do with all this? You’re talking about a relationship with God, not a relationship with Jesus-are they the same thing?

Even as Adam and Eve were throwing away eternal life and their close, loving relationship with their God, God knew what he was going to do about it. God knew that this breaking of the relationship was so severe that it twists the life that he gave us out of shape. We were originally designed to be immortal like God- death wasn’t ever meant to be part of the equation- we brought that upon ourselves by deliberately walking away from God and ignoring him. But God wasn’t prepared to leave us in death’s grip- he wasn’t prepared to let us be any less than He designed us to be, and, most of all, he wasn’t prepared to not heal the relationship between us and him. However, he knew that only He could do anything about it, and that it would take him to come down here, to live amongst us, to die for us and to beat death and rise again for us, for things to be put back the way they should be.

And yes, this is where Jesus comes in. God knew it would take himself to sort out this mess, and so he sent his Son Jesus. Now, this is one of these moments where our brains explode trying to work out how God the Father, God the Son (ie Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit can all be 1 God yet 3 people, and if I were you I wouldn’t bother to try to work it out. After all, do you really want a God you can understand? But just take it from the Bible (via me!) that that’s how it is.

And so God sent his son Jesus to save us and to heal the relationship between God and his people. Now, if I want to persuade someone I try to look flash, to do something impressive and showy so people believe what I’m talking about. But thankfully God is much wiser than me, and so Jesus appeared as a human being, as a baby that didn’t look any different from any other baby. OK, there were clues that he was special (shepherds, wise men, angels, all that kind of thing) but the point is that as well as being fully God he is fully human. He is one of us. Through Jesus’ incarnation- Jesus being born as a baby- God reaches out to us, to try to win us back.

You see, the only way you can have a relationship with God is through Jesus. The bible says that when Jesus was baptised just before he started preaching and teaching, there was a voice from Heaven saying ‘This is my son, who I love- listen to him!’. In other words- this is the real McCoy guys- this is the one that can sort your problems out. Jesus said ‘I am the way the truth and the life- no one can come to the Father except through me’. He wasn’t being funny about it- it’s not like he was being selfish or a control freak or anything- but it is simply not possible to have a relationship with the immortal, invisible, invincible, all knowing all seeing God unless you do it through His son who became one of us. You can’t relate to someone that big- your head can’t get round it and it’s just not possible.

It’s a bit like my relationship with my cat Monty. Now I love Monty dearly and my whole family does have a habit of planning everything round him, but, at the end of the day, he is a cat not a human being. He is not the same as me- I’m bigger than him for a start, so I can pick him up when he doesn’t particularly want to be picked up, and when I try to tell him things he doesn’t understand me. We can’t have a relationship that is anywhere near equal. And it’s the same with us and God. That’s why even though Jesus was always talking about His Father he didn’t say ‘Go to God’ he said ‘Come to me’ He knew we needed someone like us to relate to. God, through Jesus, deliberately reduces himself to human size- he enters our space- so we can have this relationship again.

But that wasn’t enough on it’s own. Sin- our walking away from God, the twisting out of shape of the life within us- hadn’t been dealt with. And so Jesus gave his life on the cross to pay for the one that we have twisted out of shape so badly. He wasn’t only prepared to be born as a human for us, to put aside the wonder and glory and power that he shares with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit for us, he was prepared to die for us. Even that wasn’t enough. For Jesus to restore our relationship with the Godhead, with all 3 persons of the Trinity, he had to rise again so that once more we would have the chance to live forever. You see, God is life, and it’s very difficult for someone that’s immortal to have any kind of relationship with someone that’s dead. The bible says that by walking away from God we walk away from the source of life and we die spiritually- we become mortal. It means that God and us just aren’t in the same place anymore. But Jesus rose again- Jesus beat death, so, if we accept him as our rescuer- we get our eternal life back. Yes, our bodies die, but the bit of us that is really ‘us’- the bit made in the image of God- will live forever with Him.

You see, loads of you all the time talk about your relationship with God, and that’s good. But perhaps you should think about talking about your relationship with Jesus, as it’s only through him that you can have a relationship with God the Father. He puts God in our space, makes God like us, pays the price for our disobedience and wins us back our eternal life all for free. He does it all, and all we have to do is recognise what a good deal this is for us, and follow him.

So that’s the theory. What does a relationship with Jesus look like in practise? The thing about relationships is that everyone is different, as we’re all different people, and so I haven’t got any hard or fast rules to tell you- all I can do is tell you what it’s like for me. The bible describes our relationship with Jesus in lots of different ways, and I’ll go through a few of them and try to explain how that one works in my experience.

Jesus as Master and Lord

This one is fairly obvious. Jesus is God, we are not. It is good to keep this in mind always! Jesus rescued us when we couldn’t help ourselves- we owe him everything. And there are times when I become very aware that he’s Lord- usually when I become aware of some screw up I’ve made or when I think he might be telling me to do something that I’m not that keen on. Sometimes it’s in worship when I get a glimpse of things in their right perspective and I see that’s he’s completely glorious and big and powerful and I’m very small indeed. However much I don’t like it sometimes, experience has shown me that Jesus is God and I am not, and also that things work out much better for me when I keep him as Lord of my life. That means doing what he says, and always remembering that he is in charge.

Jesus as friend and brother

This is really amazing. In a way, we expect God to be God, to be powerful and in charge, we don’t expect God to be our friend. Just before Jesus was crucified Jesus told his disciples that he called them friends, as he’d told them his Father’s business, ie he’d let them know what God was doing. This still holds true for us today. Jesus wants to be our friend and brother, he wants to walk through life with us, he wants to stick with us through thick and thin, he wants to help us through the hard times, he wants to celebrate with us in the good times, he wants to cry with us through the bad times. The gospel accounts about Jesus’ life on earth show that he did all this- when his mate Lazarus died he cried with Lazarus’ sisters, when the disciples came back all excited about the things they had seen through his name he got all excited with them. He said, just before he went back into heaven, I will be with you always. And I’m sure many of us have got examples of when we’ve known God with us. I got made redundant a few years ago and it was really stressful and horrible- but I knew Jesus was with me. Don’t ask me how- I just did. When I look at you lot bouncing up and down like manics and singing your little hearts out at Soul Survivor I know Jesus is there, with and in all of us. When I was writing this, I knew Jesus was with me, mainly because I didn’t have a clue about what I was going to say until I sat down at my computer and the words starting coming out.

The bible describes our relationship with Jesus in loads of other ways, as employer and employee, as shepherd and sheep, even as lovers. But one thing I would say. Jesus is always your friend, but he’s also always your Lord, and I can guarantee that you’ll spend the rest of your lives trying to work that balance out.

In a way it’s a bit like my relationship with my boss Gillian. She’s great- full of energy and life and fun, only a bit older than me, we care about a lot of the same things, and we get on really well. We text each other- she’s a real ideas person so what usually happens is that she sends me some wild idea she’s had, usually down the pub with her mates, and I text back telling her she’s nuts. But, at the end of the day she is my boss. At work I’m accountable to her for what I do, and if she tells me to do something that I don’t think is a good idea, I can argue, but if she still wants me to do it I have to. Now this picture only works so far, as however great Gillian is she’d be the first to admit she’s not as great as Jesus, but you get the point.

So how do you have a relationship with Jesus? Well, how do you have a relationship with anyone else? It’s much the same- except you do have the slight complicating factor that you can’t actually see him (mind you, with the amount of time you lot spend relating to each other via MySpace and MSN messenger that should be much easier for you than for me!) It’s all about spending time- and for different people that means different things. So do whatever works for you- praying using words, listening to music, watching the stars, doing art stuff- whatever helps you connect. And (I know it’s hard sometimes) try to read your bibles, to read the great stories of the people of God and what Jesus did when he was walking on earth.

Another big way that you can have a relationship with Jesus is by having a relationship with his people. The bible called Jesus’ church his body, and it’s the nearest thing he’s got to a physical body walking around on this earth at the moment. So meeting up with other Christians, however you do it, is really important, not just so you can listen to God together- it’s more than that. Part of your walk through life with Jesus is your walk through life with other Christians. It’s their arms Jesus will use to give you a hug when things are going bad, it’s their laughter Jesus will use to laugh with you, and it’s their cheers you will hear, as well as Jesus’ from heaven, when stuff goes well and you do something that will please him.

Now, I’m not claiming for one moment it’s easy- I have good times and bad times as much as anyone. There are times when Jesus is so real for me it feels like he’s practically visible. Times like this, he’s with me in even the silly little stuff-he finds parking spaces for me that I can actually get in, he talks to me through the bible, through my friends and through random thoughts that pop into my head, he cheers when things go well. There have been times when I’ve felt his arm round my shoulders.

But it’s not always like that. There are plenty of other times when I wonder why I believe any of this Christianity stuff at all, when it all seems like a dream from the past, when I can’t feel him with me, when things go badly and I don’t feel his comfort, when I can’t hear his voice. And I bet I’m not alone- everyone goes through times like this. Every relationship of whatever kind you ever have will go through good patches and bad patches, and your relationship with Jesus is no exception.

Now, of course sometimes relationships suffer because someone does something wrong. And the major difference between your relationship with Jesus and your relationship with anyone else is that you can guarantee it’s your fault not his. God is holy and pure and won’t get near evil, so if we sin, we walk away from God by doing something that he can’t look at him and we damage our relationship. So, if you’re going through a dry patch, it’s worth doing a quick ‘audit’ of your life, to think back to see if you’ve done anything that could have distanced yourself from Jesus. If so, confess it to him and that’s it- sorted, end of story. And then pick yourself up and carry on - don’t let the devil beat you up over it. Jesus’ death completely sorts out our sin and our forgiveness is complete- however hard that is for us to accept sometimes.

However, sometimes we haven’t done anything wrong and we still feel Jesus is a million miles away. And it’s at times like that, when things aren’t good, when we find out what we’re made of, when we find out how serious we are about following him, and how real our faith is. Because, when it comes down to it, when it feels like he’s not there it’s our feelings that are lying to us, he hasn’t abandoned us. He promised he would never leave us, and that’s that- period. The bible describes faith as being certain of something that we don’t yet see for a reason- the author of that particular bit was letting us know that we can’t rely on our own resources to know God- to have a relationship with Jesus and to know his presence- but we have to rely on what He has said.

So, if you’re going through a dry patch and you don’t think you’ve got anything in particular to confess, talk to your Christian friends, get prayer and support from them, and basically sit it out- wait for things to get better again. Because, I can promise you, they will. And hindsight is a wonderful thing- sometimes you’ll look back and find out he was there all along, just not where you were looking.

A relationship with Jesus is the easiest and the most difficult thing in the world at the same time! There’s so much to say here- the whole topic of ‘how can I hear from Jesus’ is enough for a sermon on it’s own. And it’s not always easy- it’s hard to take the time and the effort to work on a relationship with someone you can’t see! But it’s completely worth it, not just to make sure you go to heaven- it’s worth it for this life too. When you have a relationship with Jesus you become more ‘you’- more of the person that God designed you to be, which is more like him. You can see things as he does, and life is suddenly in Technicolor. You get to take part in the greatest adventure that ever was by following him. And it’s worth it.

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