By Peter Amsterdam
April 5, 2016
As we saw in the previous article (Fellowship with God, Part 1), having fellowship with God is key to becoming more like Jesus. It’s within this fellowship that we develop our relationship with Him, nurture our love and intimacy, and truly get to know Him. The more we get to know Him, the more we will desire to be with Him. Within the book of Psalms we find verbal expression of the desire for fellowship with the Lord.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you.2 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.3
One way Scripture expresses the bond we are to have with the Lord is a love relationship, a marriage. Rick Warren expressed it this way:
To get to know someone intimately and enjoy him personally, you must: Spend quality time with him; communicate meaningfully with him; observe him in a variety of situations. These same criteria apply in getting to know and enjoy God, too. Remember that it is hard to have a love affair in a crowd; you need to get alone with the one person. That is the way the Bible speaks of our relationship with God through Christ, as a love relationship. In fact, it is called a marriage; Christ is the Bridegroom and we in the church are his bride.4
Spending time alone with the Lord is the primary means of getting to know Him and building our relationship with Him. Ask yourself how strong your relationships with your spouse, family, friends, or coworkers would be if your communication with them was the same as your communication with the Lord. Would your loved ones feel you are spending enough time with them? Would they feel that the fellowship you have with them causes your relationship to flourish? Our relationship with God is our primary relationship, and to keep it alive and flourishing we need to spend time with Him, just as we need to spend time with others we are in relationship with.
Due to the God-given responsibilities that each of us has, it’s not usually possible to spend copious amounts of time with those we love. Because of this, we generally try to focus our attention and energy on them during the time we are with them. We want the time we have with those we love to be quality time. One of our goals in trying to become more like Jesus is to make the time we spend with Him quality time as well. With our busy days, this can be a challenge. It requires a commitment to carving out a specific time to spend with Him daily, and then using that time for connecting with Him heart to heart.
One key element of fellowship is mutual communication. It’s in listening to and talking with another that we get to know them better. Our fellowship with the Lord is no different; we must both listen to Him and speak with Him. The primary means of listening to God is through reading His Word, the Bible. He speaks to us through Scripture as we read it, think about what it says, meditate on it, and ask ourselves what it means to us and how we can apply that meaning to our daily living. He also speaks to our hearts when we quiet ourselves and listen to His still small voice.
The first element of quality time with the Lord is committing to meet with Him, preferably daily, and then disciplining ourselves to keep that commitment. Without the commitment and long-term discipline, the focus on fellowship will be a fleeting here today, gone tomorrow activity. The question to ask is: How important is God in my life? As the one who knows our heart and spirit even better than we do, our Creator is supremely important. Since He loves us, has made the way for us to be in communion with Him, and desires our fellowship, making a commitment to spend quality time with Him clearly should be a priority.
Most people who write about setting aside time for God say that the morning, before the busy day begins, is the best time to make this appointment. I have personally found that to be true, though I have read of others who set aside time in the evening for their fellowship with the Lord, while others spend their lunch hour with Him. I choose the morning, because by the evening, I am tired and not at my best. In my case, getting up early enough to take time with the Lord means disciplining myself to go to bed early, so that I have sufficient sleep and still plenty of time with the Lord. No matter what time you set aside for this fellowship, it takes commitment and self-discipline to keep to it.
There’s no set amount of time one needs to spend with the Lord, but you want to have sufficient time to read His Word, pray, and give Him time to speak to you. You’ll also want to allow time to write down what He shows you as you read, or what He speaks to your heart about. The amount of time you spend isn’t as important as the quality and what you do with the time.
It’s appropriate to begin time with our Creator by taking a few moments to be still, to acknowledge that we are entering into His presence, and to praise Him. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!5 It’s good to pray a short prayer committing the time to Him, asking Him to guide your time together, to take away any distractions or blockage you may have, and to open your eyes so you can take in the wonders of His teaching.6
Next, you will want to let Him speak to you through His Word. Since His Word is His voice speaking to you, it’s worth taking time to engage with it, reading slowly, even out loud, thinking about what you are reading, asking yourself questions about it to make sure you understand what it’s saying and what it means in your life. It can even be helpful to read the verse or passage or chapter twice or more, in order to fully focus on and absorb the point it’s making, what it’s telling you about God or about yourself, and how it relates to or affects you.
While not always necessary, it can help to better understand what God is saying if you read through a complete book of the Bible rather than a chapter here and a verse there. Reading through a complete book over a number of sessions gives the overall picture of what that book teaches. Sometimes it’s helpful to read through a whole book quickly to get the overall view and then read it again slowly, spending more time on each passage.
Reading Scripture and thinking about how what you have read can be applied to your life is different from studying the Bible. Bible study is considered a Spiritual Discipline, and is distinct from the daily reading of Scripture. The focus of such study is learning about God’s Word, rather than focusing on what His Word is saying to you personally; so it would generally be done at a different time, apart from your daily fellowship time. Your time of reading His Word is a time to connect with Him, to contemplate, to prayerfully meditate on what you’ve read, allowing the Holy Spirit to show you ways to apply it in your life. Of course, applying Scripture often calls for us to make changes in our lives, as the Holy Spirit challenges the way we think or act. And that’s what being more like Jesus is about.
As you reflect on what God’s Word has said, it helps to ask yourself questions: What does this passage teach me? How can I apply it? Is it showing me an area in which I’m sinning? If so, what am I going to do about it? Is there a promise given? If so, am I meeting the conditions for receiving that promise? If not, what do I need to change in order to be able to claim the promise? Is this passage giving either a positive example which I should follow, or a negative one which I should avoid? Does what I’m reading bring to mind things or people I should be praying for? The idea is to put thought into what you’ve read and seek ways to apply it and to bring about change in your life through it.
When asking such questions, be open to the Lord giving you answers and showing you ways to apply what His Word has shown you. And when He does, write it down. Keeping a record of what the Lord shows you through His Word is a very helpful but often neglected aspect of our fellowship with Him. When you keep a record of what the Lord speaks to your heart about, either through His Word, His still small voice, or the gift of prophecy, you can go back later and review it and see if you have followed through on what He’s shown you and used what He’s said to you personally to grow in your relationship with Him. If we don’t write it down, it’s so easy to forget it.
The next step, after listening to the Lord through His written Word, is to take time in prayer. This is your part of the conversation with God. Similar to starting the reading of Scripture with praise, it’s also appropriate to start our conversations with God in praise and adoration, giving Him the recognition which is rightly His as our Creator and Savior. Psalms 146–150, 1 Chronicles 29:10–13, and 16:25–36 offer great examples of praise to God.
We should also take time to thank and praise Him for what He’s done for us—for saving us, providing and caring for us, and answering our prayers. Think of specific things you can thank Him for.
Confessing our sins, asking His forgiveness, as well as seeking His help to turn away from them, also form part of our fellowship with Him. Becoming more Christlike means putting off sinful behavior, and part of that is confessing and turning away from and putting off our sins. Of course, He already knows our sins, but it’s our willingness to admit that we’ve committed them and to repent that brings forgiveness. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.7
We can and should petition the Lord for our personal requests, as Scripture teaches. Such requests may be for our physical or spiritual needs, or for coping with or overcoming life’s problems. It helps to keep a log of the requests you make and note when a prayer has been answered. Keeping track of answered prayer can be a powerful reminder that God loves you and He is involved in your life and is faithful to respond to your requests. And in cases where you see that He hasn't answered your petition, it can be spiritually healthy to go back to Him in prayer to see if He wants to speak to you about why He didn't.
Take time to intercede for others as well—family, friends, coworkers, people you are witnessing or ministering to, missionaries, your employer or employees, as well as for world situations and world leaders. You should also pray for those whom you don’t like or who don’t like you. You can consider praying for different people or categories of people on different days of the week.
Allotting time for your personal fellowship with the Lord—time dedicated to nurturing your relationship, to listening to Him through His Word, His Spirit, His voice—is vital if you want to be like Jesus. As we study His teachings, allow His Word to speak to us, convict us, challenge us, and change us, we are transformed more and more into His image and likeness. It’s in speaking to Him; sharing our hearts, burdens, worries, and fears; as well as our hopes, joys, and dreams that our relationship with Him grows. Interacting with the Lord, loving Him, spending time listening to Him, learning from Him, applying His Word, being in regular fellowship with Him, are all part of becoming like Him.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Psalm 42:1–2.
2 Psalm 63:1.
3 Psalm 73:25.
4 Rick Warren, Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods, 237.
5 Psalm 100:4.
6 Psalm 119:18 NLT.
7 1 John 1:9.