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“Huge swaths of the Bible fit under this idea of loving God. We are to listen to him, learn from him, speak to him, relate to him, draw near to him, and apply what he says.”
As we continue our series on the discipleship pathway, we come to the first piece of the greatest commandment: Jesus tells us that we are to love God with our heart, soul, strength, and mind. In other words, the basic Christian life is walking with God in love.
Huge swaths of the Bible fit under this idea of loving God. We are to listen to him, learn from him, speak to him, relate to him, draw near to him, and apply what he says. Our days and nights are to be understood as part of a long walk with God in which we love him (because he first loved us).
When you collect these different ways we walk with God, you find they fit into three general categories: Bible (listening to and learning from God), Prayer (speaking and relating to God), and Heart Work (internalizing and applying what God says). These aren’t isolated categories; as in any relationship they overlap in significant ways. But identifying them by name can help us grow in our walk with God as part of the basic Christian life.
First, Bible: listening to and learning from God. For many Christians, the Bible is a place to find information about God. But the Bible isn’t just a place where God put information long ago. It’s also where he speaks today. In Psalm 119:10, the psalmist writes, “With my whole heart I seek you, let me not wander from your commandments.” Hebrew poetry is built on parallelism. While we expect the end of sentences to rhyme, they expected the end of sentences to be deeply connected (parallel to one another). So when we see the psalmist put God and his commandments in parallel, it’s a way of saying that we find the presence of God in his word. To be close to God is to be close to his commandments.
Like any relationship, good listening is key. If the Bible is not a book of timeless instructions but the very word of God then the basic Christian life means listening well to Scripture. We do this regularly in our deep relationships by paying close attention when someone is speaking, allowing ourselves to be drawn in, doing our best to understand what the other person is saying. This kind of listening is the foundation to knowing someone else. Therefore, this kind of listening is the foundation to knowing God!
We are never done growing as listeners, especially as those who listen to God. That means each of us have next steps. Some of us might need to find time to listen in the first place by carving out space in our schedules to read our Bibles. Those of us who read regularly might need to work on how well we pay attention, or how well we interpret what God is saying. No matter what, the basic Christian life means loving God by listening and learning from the Bible.
The second category is Prayer: speaking and relating to God. Like listening, prayer is a means of drawing closer to God in relationship. The people to whom we speak the most often and the most honestly are our closest friends. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus tells us to “pray to your Father who is in secret” instead of making a big show of our prayers in front of others (Matthew 6:5-6). A key insight here is that when we are in secret, we are honest. Instead of impressing others, we are free to honestly speak to our Father.
Like any good relationship, open communication is key. Our prayer life is meant to be humble and honest because the God we pray to is holy and loving. This means we aren’t to “heap up empty phrases” but put our thoughts, emotions, and requests before our Father reverently and openly.
We are never done growing in our prayer life, and so each of us have next steps. Some of us might need to find time to pray in the first place while others might need to put their rote, repetitive prayers to one side and begin the process of humbly talking to God about their fears and desires. No matter what, the basic Christian life means loving God by speaking and relating to him in Prayer.
Finally we have Heart Work: internalizing and applying God’s word. If you list the people who have affected you the most in your life, you are making a list of your closest relationships. In that way, every person you are close to leads you towards a kind of heart work: meditating on the things you have talked about and applying them in your life. The same is true of God, who asks us to “train ourselves for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7) and about whom the psalmist writes “I have stored your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). As we listen to God in the Bible and speak to him in Prayer, we will be hard pressed not to apply what’s been discussed in our life.
For example, in listening to the Bible you might hear God say you shouldn’t grumble. And in prayer, you’ve humbly and honestly admitted that you kind of like to grumble when things don’t go your way. As you listened more to Scripture, you heard God tell you (among other things) that His love is behind the circumstances of your day, and grumbling is a way of telling God he’s doing a poor job. You pray about that, and the conversation continues, maybe over the course of several weeks. As you think about the times you are prone to grumble, you find yourself planning to think differently when those moments arise again. And when new opportunities to grumble appear, you think, “This is what God and I have been talking about!" and begin to make new choices.
Of course, this is a very simple example. Nevertheless, our relationship with God will always involve working on our heart. Perhaps your next step is to think about heart work in the first place. Perhaps it is to grab hold of that one area of life that you know needs to change and begin to internalize and apply God’s Word. No matter what, the basic Christian life means loving God by internalizing and applying what He says.
When you put all of these together, you have a vibrant walk with God. Like the best loving relationships, it involves deep listening, open speaking, and deliberate change. As we walk with God this way, we are living the basic Christian life: loving Him with heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Next in series: Walking in the World >>
Brian serves the church by overseeing preaching and Sunday morning services at Cornerstone.
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