What do you do if you’re trying to do everything right and it’s not working? There’s no point in dismissing me here. You probably know what I’m talking about. You’re a pastor for crying out loud. You’ve devoted your life to getting this faith journey right and had the courage to step into the in-between spaces and lead people toward the light. What do you do when you’re burned-out and doubting? This is where I found myself after broadcasting the Bible aloud for 2,555 days in a row.
I’m a pastor’s son who found his way accidentally into the one thing I was trying to avoid—ministry. And once I took the leap I wasn’t playing around. I was all-in. I had wrestled the doubt to the floor and taken the leap of faith. I was following the faith recipe as best as I knew how. And yet, after seven years of traveling, writing, speaking, broadcasting, learning and being faithful it wasn’t enough. What do you do when you’re doing all the things you’ve been told are the pathway to a deeper relationship with God and it’s just not enough anymore?
This unsettling in my heart led me to sincerely look at my relationship with God. Honestly, what is that? What do we mean when we say we are in a relationship with God? Because everyone is talking about it. We’re preaching sermons that reference it every single week. It’s as if we cross the threshold of faith and someone hands us a gift bag that contains a relationship with God inside. Then we start talking about it as if it’s an assumed thing. But maybe it shouldn’t be. To say you’re in a relationship with the Almighty Creator isn’t something to reference lightly. It’s a far bigger deal than knowing a celebrity or even the president of the United States. And yet we throw this language around so casually that it’s cliché.
In searching for what a relationship with God is shaped like I had to dismantle just about everything I’d assumed about it. A relationship with God isn’t synonymous with belief, for example. We believe in a lot of people we’re not in a relationship with. And a personal relationship with Jesus can’t be entered into by proxy with a group of other people who believe the same things either. Try pulling that off in your marriage.
Slowly I began to realize that most of what I thought I knew about God were things that I’d heard from other people. And this is no basis for a relationship. It’s nothing more than hearsay. Heck, hearsay isn’t even admissible in court.
I had to start asking the hard questions. Things like, “What experiences and memories do I have with God that only He and I share?” Those kinds of questions start peeling back the layers. And underneath it all I realized that I’d made the terribly false but ever so common mistake in thinking that the more I could study the Bible and engage in Christian community and ingest copious amounts of Christian media the closer I was becoming to God. But this was nothing more than amassing an impressive arsenal of data about God and calling it a relationship. Data about someone isn’t the same as being in a relationship with them, though. If all I did was study data about my wife it certainly wouldn’t be much of a marriage.
I had to acknowledge that what I was calling a relationship with God would not work in any other relationship in my life and that was the key. We are made for relationship. It’s hard coded in our DNA. And at the center of it all we are made to be in a relationship with God. One that is always on and never off. One that is life-giving and collaborative. One that is holistically integrated into every thought, word, and deed. One that doesn’t use or abuse. One that invites both parties to come as they are.
We love the Gospel because it allows us to come as we are. It’s time that we reciprocate. It’s time we allow God to come as He is and stop trying to force Him into theological boxes or doctrinal containers that He’s not even interested in. It’s time we stop trying to create God in our image and move into a relationship with a God who has moved heaven and earth to be with us.
For more information visit reframebook.com
Brian Hardin is the founder of DailyAudioBible.com which has 150,000 daily listeners and 80 million downloads. He’s the author of Passages: How Reading The Bible In A Year Will Change Everything For you (Zondervan) and Reframe: From The God We’ve Made…To God With Us (NavPress). He also served as the General Editor of the NIV Passages Bible (Zondervan)