One of the best, most enlightening things that ever happened to my husband and me was discovering the Enneagram Test! While neither of us runs our lives or excuses behavior based on the outcomes, knowing each other’s “numbers” (a rough parameter for personality type and ways of seeing and reacting to the world) helped us to better understand each other’s brains and how we function. This in turn has helped us give each other a lot more grace. Things we used to see as thoughtless, rude, or downright insensitive we now recognize is just friction where we transmit information and respond to it differently. Recognizing all of this fundamentally changed the way we relate to each other—and for the better!
Knowing how to relate to those around us on a personal level—based on how each one is uniquely and wonderfully made—is crucial to fulfilling God’s instruction that, as much as it’s in our power, we live peaceably with all people (Rom. 12:18). It’s difficult to be at peace with those you don’t know how to relate to, because that understanding—or lack of it! —shapes your interactions and how you come across to them. When we know how to relate, on the other hand, it eases misunderstandings, sharpens our awareness of what’s going on around us, empowers us to better serve one another, and helps us experience a fuller, more Christlike life overall.
The same is true not just in how we relate to people, but when it comes to relating to God—and how He relates to us! It’s a common need in relationship for those involved to know where the framework lies. We want to know what makes the other party tick so that we can honor and respect each other, and vice-versa; we want to know that we’re known so we feel safe around the other person.
Our relationship with God is no different. Much of Christian history has, intentionally or otherwise, obscured the basics of how God relates to us and how we should relate to Him. Nowadays if you ask fifteen believers how they think God relates to them and how they related to Him, you might get fifteen variations of an answer, all ranging from similar in perspective to wildly different!
But there are a few fundamentals that bear noting, and I want to address them now. Hopefully this framework, brief though it may be, will help give you a clearer scope of how God relates to us and how we should relate to Him!
How God Relates to Us
This almost goes without saying! It’s only by His infinite patience that God can continue to reconcile us to Himself despite how many times we fall short. And that’s the truth! As many times as we mess up, stumble back into sin, and make mistakes, His mercies are still new! He encourages us to forgive just as He forgives us, and to give grace as we’ve received it, because one of the fundamental ways in which He relates to us is from a foundation of great patience.
With High Expectations
God asks nothing of us He knows we can’t do. His high expectation of our conduct comes from knowing that through Christ in us, we are fully capable of putting off our “old man” nature—the one that sought after only the comforts and desires of the flesh—and putting on the “new man” nature that denies the pleasures of this life for an eternal perspective. Because of this, He gives instructions on how to conduct ourselves, what to do and what to avoid, which can seem fairly daunting in some ways. But never forget He does this knowing even better than us how capable we truly are of denying ourselves and living for Him!
God doesn’t relate to His children with a “do as you please” attitude. While we certainly have the free will to do so, like any parent with a rebellious child, God can and does guide and even discipline His children with a firm hand when they go astray. While many like to say God is all about grace, that grace is not an excuse to just conduct life however we want. When His children stray, God often leads them back with a firm hand. This correction can sting, just as it does when our earthly parents reprimand us, but with God this is always done with a view toward leading us down a better, safer, more productive path.
Above all, God relates to us with love. Everything else in our relationship with Him—including the patience, expectations, and discipline—all comes from that place of love. God’s love for the world was the incentive for Him to make the most difficult decision anyone ever could—to send His child to death—so that everyone, you and me included, would have the chance at everlasting life (John 3:16;Rom. 10:9-10). If that doesn’t scream LOVE, I don’t know what does! Love is selfless and sacrificial and always thinks of the other first, and God modeled that for us before we ever even reciprocated that love. This is such pure, perfect proof that He relates to us from a foundation of perfect, unspeakable, immeasurable love!
How We Should Relate to God
With Worship & Praise
It’s a part of human nature to give praise, and even worship, to what we deem worthy. That’s why God above all others is worthy of our worship, and why He instructs us to worship and serve Him alone! We should be honoring Him with the tremendous praise and worship He is due for everything He is, has made, and has done for us. The Psalms alone abound with this subject, making it clear through many of the 150 installments just how crucial praise, worshiping, honoring, and revering God is in how we relate to Him!
Jesus told his disciples that if they loved him, they would keep his commandments. Similarly, we show our devotion to God by relating to Him with obedience. It’s one thing to give lip-service to our relationship with God, but if we say one thing and do another—like claim to follow Him but do none of the things He instructs—then we’re just lying to others and ourselves. Living in obedience is a huge part of how we relate to God…and it’s crucial in part because it can be so difficult! We show a great deal of our devotion and dedication to God when we serve Him at the times it’s toughest!
This notion has caused quite an opinionated divide in Christianity! There are some who say we should only fear God, making up the extent of how we relate to Him, while others claim there’s nothing to fear about Him at all. The truth actually lies in the middle; no, we don’t want to live in terror of God and serve Him just because we’re afraid of being blasted to a sniveling speck if we don’t. But we also need to have a healthy respect and yes, even reverent fear of the awesome, almighty power of the One who made the universe from nothing—the One who spun us into being with just a breath from His nostrils! Just as there’s a level of worship and obedience that comes with knowing and honoring who God is, so too there’s a level of humble fear. We must never take for granted or neglect to respect the sheer magnificence and power of the One we serve and are in relationship with!
Just as God relates to us from a place of love, this is also how we should relate to Him! When love is our guiding light and the motivating factor, it propels us beyond the expected or required and into a selfless, giving relationship with the one we love. In the case of God, when we relate to Him from a place of love as opposed to obligation or resignation, we’re far more likely to honor Him, extol Him, keep His decrees, and serve Him wholeheartedly. We need to cultivate that love by being in active relationship with Him, giving and receiving, to better understand and grow that bond; this is how we experience the fullness of who God is and all we can be in communicative, loving, grounded love as we relate to Him!
Am I Relating Well?
Of course, these are just a few examples of how we can and should relate to God! There are so many more, like living with humility, surrendering to His leading, actively seeking to live in His calling and commission on our lives, and more! And there are plenty of other ways He relates to us, as well—as a Father, a shepherd, a commander of armies, a rock and refuge… the list goes on!
Relating in healthy, honoring ways is fundamental to any relationship. We have to truly invest our time and energy in relating to God in such ways if we want to serve Him and others well and reap the rewards both in this life and the Age to Come. One thing that’s beautifully encouraging is we can already trust that God is relating to us in the right way—it’s part of His perfect nature! So we know we are not being taken advantage of, taken for granted, misunderstood or misused. But can we say the same in how we relate to God right now?
It’s something for each individual to consider in their own “prayer closet” and spiritual walk: Am I relating to God in a healthy way? I think we can all see by now, it’s crucial that we do; having this sort of healthy relationship with God will maximize what we can give to Him, what we receive from Him, and what we spread to others in this life—both by example and in word and deed.