“Do you know how fast you were going?” The question came from a Virginia State Police officer.
“Yes sir, I was going 70,” (which was 5 over the speed limit).
“No, you were going 82.”
“No sir, I was looking at my gauge, and it said 70.”
“Well, your gauge is wrong, and you might want to get it calibrated.”
Okay, I thought, he’s going to let me go. He knows it wasn’t my fault, and he’s going to let it slide…
My thoughts were interrupted by his follow-up “I need to see your license and registration.”
WHAT?! It wasn’t my fault! Surely he isn’t doing this!
“Are you going to give me a ticket?”
“Eighty-two in a sixty-five is reckless driving. I won’t charge you with that since your gauge is off, but I have to write you a ticket. Didn’t you notice you were going a lot faster than everyone else? Maybe you should have paid more attention to the other vehicles on the road.”
With that, I was given my first speeding ticket. I was looking at what I thought was a reliable gauge to convey my speed, but I should have been paying more attention to the people around me. I fear sometimes we are guilty of the same in our spiritual lives.
The nagging question
How do we accurately gauge our relationship with God?
- Bible reading?
- Bible knowledge?
- Church attendance?
- Ministry involvement?
All of these are fine, and we should take inventory of these areas in our lives every now and then, but these gauges can be very difficult to read and not always accurate. For instance, consider these questions:
- How much Bible reading and Bible knowledge is enough to justify a “good relationship with God?”
- How much do you have to pray?
- How often do you have to attend church? Sunday morning, evening, and Wednesday night? What about the churches that had “revival meetings” this week, and your church didn’t? Are they closer to God? If you didn’t go, are you farther from God because you could have gone but decided not to?
- How many ministries should you be involved in? How do you know you’re involved in enough? How do you know you’re putting enough effort and time into them? What if you’re putting too much time into your ministries at the cost of neglecting your family?
- How much should you be giving? Is 10% enough or just the starting point. Did J.C. Penney have a better relationship with God than anyone because he gave 90% of his income to God?
Please don’t misunderstand me -all of these things are very important factors in gauging our relationship with God. However, there is one gauge that seems to be more telling, accurate, and biblical, yet it’s probably the most neglected.
The neglected gauge: Relationships
There are so many things to love about Jesus’ teaching (obviously), but one of the things I love most about his teaching is that he simplified everything. We have so over-complicated Christianity, no one really knows what it means to be a Christian anymore. How did Jesus tell us we could easily gauge our relationship with God? By our relationship with others. (We’ll look at some examples below.)
Consider what Peter said, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7, ESV).
The obvious implication is that my relationship with God cannot exceed my relationship with my wife. (Does any other husband find that frightening?) Let’s take a look at some other examples.
Reading the gauge
1. How we treat others is how we treat God
In Matthew 25:31-46, we find Jesus discussing judgment day. He goes on to tell those being judged that they either mistreated him or treated him with kindness. Both parties ask when this happened, and Jesus replied, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me…Truly I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (vv. 40 & 45).
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18).
We find in 1 John 3 a simplified explanation of how our relationship with others is an accurate picture of our relationship with God. The concept is carried over into chapter 4:19-21 when John says, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (Emphasis added)
If you see yourself as better or more spiritual than your peers, you see yourself as better than God and have become a judge of God (see James 2:1-13 & 4:11-12).
Do you treat those around you with kindness, love, and grace? Do you give love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness to others as God gives to you? Do you love people where they are or do they have to meet certain criteria before they qualify to be recipients of your affection? Do you help those who are in need if you are able?
2. To be at odds with our brothers and sisters in Christ is to be at odds with God
Consider Jesus’ words, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
See 1 Peter 3:17 above.
God puts so much emphasis on our relationship with others that he says our relationship with him cannot be right if it isn’t right with others. WOW!!! That’s huge!
3. Our treatment of others is the testimony of our love for God
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).
To be called “sons of your Father” was a way of saying “you will be like your Father.” By loving our enemies and showing kindness to those who mistreat, slander, and persecute us, we are showing the world what God is like.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Applying the principles
Do you value relationships with others? God does; he sent his son to die on the cross to have relationships with broken (not perfect) people. Do you pursue relationships with others or do you run from relationships? God pursues relationships. He did not wait for you to come to him; he went after you.
I have often found that I “feel” the presence of God most vividly when I am praising and worshiping him with other believers. Why? Because I am literally in the presence of God. We are the body of Christ. The people beside you in the pews are the manifestation of God; they are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19), where the manifest glory of God resides.
Have you ever not wanted to gather with the body of Christ on Sunday, but you did anyway? Most likely, you were glad you did when it was over. Were you glad because the message spoke to your heart or the songs were inspiring? Maybe, or maybe you can’t remember what you heard or sang, but you just “felt” better. Why? Because you had been in the presence of God. It’s no wonder the writer of Hebrews urged us not to neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Pretty mind-boggling, huh? Yet, so simple.
Do you feel a million miles away from God? If so, it might be because you have no relationship with other believers. If God values relationships with others enough to send his son to die on the cross, certainly we should value them enough to make a phone call, send a note, or invite someone to dinner.
I want to challenge you to take that first frightening step to pursuing a relationship. I believe you will be amazed how much you will grow in your relationship with God. If you are at odds with someone, make the relationship right (if possible) so that your relationship with God will not be hindered.
God bless you in your journey of growth.