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12. Developing your friendship with God

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OUR DAILY BREAD

L`OSSERVATORE ROMANO

 He offers his friendship to the godly.

Proverbs 3:32 (NLT)

Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.

James 4:8 (NLT)

 You are as close to God as you choose to be

 Like any friendship, you must work at developing your friendship with God. It won't happen by accident. It takes desire, time, and energy. If you want a deeper, more intimate connection with God you must learn to honestly share your feelings with him, trust him when he asks you to do something, learn to care about what he cares about, and desire his friendship more than anything else.

I must choose to be honest with God

 The first building block of a deeper friendship with God is complete honesty-about your faults and your feelings. God doesn't expect you to be perfect, but he does insist on complete honesty. None of God's friends in the Bible were perfect. If perfection was a requirement for friendship with God, we would never be able to be his friends. Fortunately, because of God's grace, Jesus is still the `friend of sinners."'

In the Bible, the friends of God were honest about their feelings, often complaining, second-guessing, accusing, and arguing with their Creator. God, however, didn't seem to be bothered by this frankness; in fact, he encouraged it.

God allowed Abraham to question and challenge him over the destruction of the city of Sodom. Abraham pestered God over what it would take to spare the city, negotiating God down from fifty righteous people to only ten.

God also listened patiently to David's many accusations of unfairness, betrayal, and abandonment. God did not slay Jeremiah when he claimed that God had tricked him. Job was allowed to vent his bitterness during his ordeal, and in the end, God defended Job for being honest, and he rebuked Job's friends for being inauthentic. God told them, "You haven't been honest either with me or about me-not the way my friend Job has.... My friend Job will now pray for you and I will accept his prayer."

In one startling example of frank friendship, God honestly expressed his total disgust with Israel's disobedience. He told Moses he would keep his promise to give the Israelites the Promised Land, but he wasn't going one step farther with them in the desert! God was fed up, and he let Moses know exactly how he felt.

Moses, speaking as a "friend" of God, responded with equal candor: "`Look, you tell me to lead this people but you don't let me know whom you're going to send with me.... If I'm so special to you, let me in on your plans.... Don't forget, this is YOUR people, your responsibility.... If your presence doesn't take the lead here, call this trip off right now! How else will I know that you're with me in this, with me and your people? Are you traveling with us or not?...' God said to Moses, `All right. Just as you say; this also I will do, for I know you well and you are special to me.”

 God doesn't expect you to be perfect, but he does insist on complete honesty

Bitterness is the greatest barrier to friendship with God

Can God handle that kind of frank, intense honesty from you? Absolutely! Genuine friendship is built on disclosure. What may appear as audacity God views as authenticity. God listens to the passionate words of his friends; he is bored with predictable, pious cliches. To be God's friend, you must be honest to God, sharing your true feeling, not what you think you ought to feel or say.

It is likely that you need to confess some hidden anger and resentment at God for certain areas of your life where you have felt cheated or disappointed. Until we mature enough to understand that God uses everything for good in our lives, we harbor resentment toward God over our appearance, background, unanswered prayers, past hurts, and other things we would change if we were God. People often blame God for hurts caused by others. This creates what William Backus calls "your hidden rift with God."

Bitterness is the greatest barrier to friendship with God: Why would I want to be God's friend if he allowed this? The antidote, of course, is to realize that God always acts in your best interest, even when it is painful and you don't understand it. But releasing your resentment and revealing your feeling is the first step to healing. As so many people in the Bible did, tell God exactly how you feel.

To instruct us in candid honesty, God gave us the book of Psalms-a worship manual, full of ranting, raving, doubts, fears, resentments, and deep passions combined with thanksgiving, praise, and statements of faith. Every possible emotion is catalogued in the Psalms. When you read the emotional confessions of David and others, realize this is how God wants you to worship him-holding back nothing of what you feel. You can pray like David: "I pour out my complaints before him and tell him all my troubles. For I am overwhelmed."

It's encouraging to know that all of God's closest friends Moses, David, Abraham, Job, and others-had bouts with doubt.

But instead of masking their misgivings with pious clichés, they candidly voiced them openly and publicly. Expressing doubt is sometimes the first step toward the next level of intimacy with God.

I must choose to obey God in faith

Every time you trust God's wisdom and do whatever he says, even when you don't understand it, you deepen your friendship with God. We don't normally think of obedience as a characteristic of friendship; that's reserved for relationships with a parent or the boss or a superior officer, not a friend. However, Jesus made it clear that obedience is a condition of intimacy with God. He said, "You are my friends if you do what I command."

The word Jesus used when he called us "friends" could refer to the "friends of the king" in a royal court. While these close companions had special privileges, they were still subject to the king and had to obey his commands. We are friends with God, but we are not his equals. He is our loving leader, and we follow him.

We obey God, not out of duty or fear or compulsion, but because we love him and trust that he knows what is best for us. We want to follow Christ out of gratitude for all he has done for us, and the closer we follow him, the deeper our friendship becomes.

Unbelievers often think Christians obey out of obligation or guilt or fear of punishment, but the opposite is true. Because we have been forgiven and set free, we obey out of love-and our obedience brings great joy! Jesus said, "I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!"

Notice that Jesus expects us to do only what he did with the Father. His relationship with his Father is the model for our friendship with him. Jesus did whatever the Father asked him to do-out of love.

True friendship isn't passive; it acts. When Jesus asks us to love others, help the needy, share our resources, keep our lives clean, offer forgiveness, and bring others to him, love motivates us to obey immediately.

We are often challenged to do `great things" for God. Actually, God is more pleased when we do small things for him out of loving obedience. They may be unnoticed by others, but God notices them and considers them acts of worship.

Great opportunities may come once in a lifetime, but small opportunities surround us every day. Even through such simple acts as telling the truth, being kind, and encouraging others, we bring a smile to God's face. God treasures simple acts of obedience more than our prayers, praise, or offerings. The Bible tells us, "What pleases the LORD more: burnt offerings and sacrifices or obedience to his voice? It is better to obey than to sacrifice."

Jesus began his public ministry at age thirty by being baptized by John. At that event God spoke from heaven: "This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him." What had Jesus been doing for thirty years that gave God so much pleasure? The Bible says nothing about those hidden years except for a single phrase in Luke 2:51: "He went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them" (Msg). Thirty years of pleasing God were summed up in two words: "lived obediently"!

I must choose to value what God values

This is what friends do-they care about what is important to the other person. The more you become God's friend, the more you will care about the things he cares about, grieve over the things he grieves over, and rejoice over the things that bring pleasure to him.

Paul is the best example of this. God's agenda was his agenda, and God's passion was his: "The thing that has me so upset is that I care about you so much-this is the passion of God burning inside me!" David felt the same way: "Passion for your house burns within me, so those who insult you are also insulting me.

What does God care about most? The redemption of his people. He wants all his lost children found! That's the whole reason Jesus came to earth. The dearest thing to the heart of God is the death of his Son. The second dearest thing is when his children share that news with others. To be a friend of God, you must care about all the people around you whom God cares about. Friends of God tell their friends about God.

 I must desire friendship with God more than anything else

The Psalms are filled with examples of this desire. David passionately desired to know God above all else; he used words like longing, yearning, thirsting, hungering. He craved God. He said, "The thing I seek most of all is the privilege of meditating in his Temple, living in his presence every day of my life, delighting in his incomparable perfection and glory." In another psalm he said, "Your love means more than life to me.'

Jacob's passion for God's blessing on his life was so intense that he wrestled in the dirt all night with God, saying, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."" The amazing part of that story is that God, who is all powerful, let Jacob win! God isn't offended when we "wrestle" with him, because wrestling requires personal contact and brings us close to him! It is also a passionate activity, and God loves it when we are passionate with him.

Paul was another man passionate for friendship with God. Nothing mattered more; it was the first priority, total focus, and Ultimate goal of his life. This is the reason God used Paul in such a great way. The Amplified translation expresses the full force of Paul's passion: "My determined purpose is that I may know Him-that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly."

 The more you become God's friend, the more you will care about the things he cares about

The truth is-you are as close to God as you choose to be. Intimate friendship with God is a choice, not an accident. You must intentionally seek it. Do you really want it-more than anything? What is it worth to you? Is it worth giving up other things? Is it worth the effort of developing the habits and skills required?

You may have been passionate about God in the past but you've lost that desire. That was the problem of the Christians in Ephesus-they had left their first love. They did all the right things, but out of duty, not love. If you've just been going through the motions spiritually, don't be surprised when God allows pain in your life.

Pain is the fuel of passion-it energizes us with an intensity to change that we don't normally possess. C. S. Lewis said, "Pain is God's megaphone." It is God's way of arousing us from spiritual lethargy. Your problems are not punishment; they are wake-up calls from a loving God. God is not mad at you; he's mad about you, and he will do whatever it takes to bring you back into fellowship with him. But there is an easier way to reignite your passion for God: Start asking God to give it to you, and keep on asking until you have it. Pray this throughout your day:

"Dear Jesus, more than anything else, I want to get to know you intimately." God told the captives in Babylon, "When you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I'll make sure you won't be disappointed.”

YOUR MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP

 There is nothing-absolutely nothing-more important than developing a friendship with God. It's a relationship that will last forever. Paul told Timothy, "Some of these people have missed the most important thing in life-they don't know God.' Have you been missing out on the most important thing in life? You can do something about it starting now. Remember, it's your choice. You are as close to God as you choose to be.

 THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

 Point to Ponder: I'm as close to God as I choose to be.

Verse to Remember: "Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you." James 4:8 a (NLT)

Question to Consider: What practical choices will I make today in order to grow closer to God?

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