The last thing you want in any relationship is to experience a moment of sudden realization that causes you to say, “Who are you? I feel like I don’t even know you!”
In Matthew 7 Jesus talks about people who try to do all the right things, but they miss the essence of a relationship with Christ. As they ask to enter the Kingdom of God, Jesus looks at them and says these haunting words: “I never knew you.”
How do we avoid reaching this point in our relationship with God? The same way we avoid reaching this point in a healthy dating relationship. Allow me to explain:
Good communication is a vital element of a healthy relationship. You cannot possibly have a good relationship with someone without talking honestly and often with that person. Although you will have times when you don’t feel like talking with your significant other, you cannot hope to make progress until you do.
This is just like prayer. Communication with God is a vital element of a healthy relationship with our Creator. Just like a dating relationship, if you want to stay in love with God, you have to keep that line of communication open and engaged. Will there be times you don’t feel like talking to God? Sure! But just like dating, your relationship won’t make progress until you start talking again.
And don’t forget—when you’re on a date, you can’t be the only on doing all the talking. This is even more significant when it comes to God! You must listen more than you talk.
Do you remember when you started dating someone and you couldn’t wait to hear more about that person? You’d ask all about their family, where they were born, how they got to where they are today, what their passions and interests in life are. You wanted to know everything there was about this person’s story, so you continued to ask and learn and ask and learn some more.
It’s the same with Scripture. You want to know God well? Spend time with God’s story. Ask and learn, and then ask some more and learn some more. Find out about where God’s people came from. Find out about God’s passions and interests. Find out what has led God’s story to where it is today.
Just like you can’t have an intimate knowledge of someone without knowing their story, you have to know God’s story in order to know God and to open yourself up to being known by God in return. You have to spend time in Scripture learning and appreciating God’s story.
Think about the result: the more you learn someone’s story, and the longer you’re together with that person, the more it becomes your story as well, doesn’t it? In the same way, the more time you spend with Scripture, the more familiar you become with God’s story, the more if becomes your story as well.
Think about the first time you met your girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s best friends. You can learn a lot about someone you’re dating by getting to know the circle of people with whom they surround themselves and spend the most time!
This is just like the Church. We can learn a lot about God by spending time with the people God calls his children. Will we like them all? Probably not, but that just goes to show us even more about God’s grace and love for all humanity.
And just like a rocky time in your dating relationship when you go to your significant other’s best friend and beg, “Please help me understand this!” we have the Church around us to turn to in those rocky times of life when we can’t understand God.
A staple in any healthy relationship should be words of affirmation. The obvious go-to is “I love you.” Simply telling someone you love them affirms their role in your life. But even more than those three words, healthy relationships involve constant affirmation and encouragement, telling your significant other how amazing they are, how proud you are of them, how much you want to be like them because they inspire you.
And the cool thing is, as much as our partner receives from our words of affirmation, they also serve to remind us of that person’s value in our life. It is nearly impossible to pay someone a compliment without reminding yourself how incredible they really are.
This is what we experience when we gather to worship. When we worship God together through music and song we are lifting our words of affirmation toward our Creator—and it’s not for God’s benefit, but it’s for ours! It serves as a reminder to us just how incredible God is.
Any good marriage counselor will tell you that reminiscing is a great strategy toward reconciliation between two spouses. It’s really difficult to remember the good times of a relationship without re-experiencing at least a sliver of those original feelings.
When Megan and I were in college we had the privilege of studying abroad in Florence, Italy. One evening, we ate at this phenomenal little restaurant called Aqua al Due. As we were leaving, we were surprised to see a sign that said, “Please visit our other location in San Diego, CA!”
Following our return to San Diego—where we were living at the time—we celebrated our anniversary at the San Diego location of Aqua al Due. I’ll never forget how fun it was to reminisce about our time in Italy while we were not only enjoying a great meal together, but we were enjoying the same meal that brought us straight back to those memories.
This is exactly what happens with communion. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper together, we are reminiscing over a meal that brings us straight back to the memories of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That habit of participating in this meal of remembrance keeps us intimately tied to God. Through communion we receive God’s grace and any brokenness in our relationship can experience God’s healing and forgiveness.
The last way that loving God is like dating is through sacrifice. A healthy relationship is built on the idea that the other person’s needs are more important than my own. Without losing our own individuality, identity and value, good relationships thrive when each partner is constantly seeking ways to out-serve the other.
This is like fasting. When we fast, we give something up; we sacrifice something to spend more time listening to God. We fast so that we can spend selfless time with our Creator because we recognize that God’s desires for our life are so much more important than our own. And when we do, our relationship with God is strengthened.
Communication like prayer.
Story like Scripture.
Community like the Church.
Affirmation like worship.
Reminiscing like communion.
Sacrifice like fasting.
John Wesley called these means of grace. They are “acts of piety” (as Wesley said) that keep us in love with God. The minute we begin to neglect the intentionality it takes to stay in love with God, the minute our love begins to feel stale… just like it does in any relationship.