A personal relationship with God is much more than just going to church or even reading our Bibles. We were created for relationship with God. In fact, that is our primary purpose in life.
In the Bible, God often uses metaphors or word pictures to describe our relationship with Him; for example, a shepherd and sheep, a father and child, a vine and branches—and a bride and groom.
Although the Bible contains 66 books, commentators have often noted that it is really one book with a consistent theme. It is a love story. Like every love story, this one has a beginning, some ups and downs, and a dramatic conclusion.
“Miserable!” That was the only way to describe how I was feeling that day. My husband had had to travel—again!—And there I was alone with our four children. Finances were low, my health was bad, and my teenage daughter was going through a crisis. I prayed—oh, how I prayed—that Jesus would make things a little easier to bear!
Looking out my window at a grove of trees swaying in the gentle breeze, I recalled other times when Jesus had encouraged me to hold on until He could work things out.
In Luke chapter 15, Jesus told the following story:
When I was a little child, Jesus was like Santa Claus to me. I knew He could see if I was naughty or nice. If I wanted something, I could ask Him for it and be really good in hopes of receiving it. Like my classroom and Sunday school teachers, He was someone to listen to and obey.
When I was older, I realized He was a Friend. I knew what I needed most of all was a friend who could help me navigate my young life. He became my Savior when I understood my need for forgiveness and asked Him to come into my heart.
It is said that there are three artists that give us music: God, who gives us magical wood to make the instruments; the instrument maker, who after months of labor awakens the music dwelling in the wood; then the musical maestro, who liberates the music from its woody confines to set the listener free.
I witnessed firsthand an illustration of music’s redemptive power when I visited a women’s prison in Uganda. In some cases, these women were pregnant or lived within the prison walls with their children in tow, as there was no one else to take care of them.
As a child, I often heard the saying, “Prayer is not the least you can do, but the most you can do.” I thought that any situation could be solved with earnest prayer. When my dad told nine-year-old me that our family friend Jim was diagnosed with cancer, I decided that I was going to pray really hard for him to get better. Jim had a wife and three children in elementary school—surely God wouldn’t be so cruel as to remove him from so many people who were depending on him. Every day, I set aside 10 minutes to pray for Jim. At first, there were encouraging signs that my prayers were being heard. The tumor was getting smaller, and he was feeling stronger. My prayers were working!
My good friends Frank and Lisa were manning a stall with various gospel books on display. They were also giving out tracts to those passing by. One man stopped, looked at the table, and exclaimed, “Oh, Christian stuff!? I’m an atheist!” My friends just smiled and struck up a conversation, without confronting him on that basis. They spoke about art (the man’s sister was an artist) and hiking, life, and the economy, and just generally tried to be encouraging and positive.
One day, while browsing in a bookshop, I came across an encyclopedia with a section of Bible-related articles. I was curious to see how a secular scholar might depict the great men and women of the Bible, so I began to read some of the short biographies—the prophets Daniel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah; King David; Samson; the apostles Matthew, Peter, and Paul.
I was 21 when I read the Bible for the first time. Someone had suggested I read the Gospel of John first, but I knew so little about the Bible at the time that I didn’t understand the Gospels were four separate accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. So I started at what seemed the more logical place, at the beginning of the New Testament, with the Gospel of Matthew.
Life is a constant stream of contradictions—things to hold on to, to let go of, to fight for, to give up. We’re told to try harder, to give ourselves a break, to loosen up, to make better choices, to just say yes, to just say no, to settle, to not settle. And to make matters worse, there’s always someone saying something like “just listen to your heart.” Right!
You do well to take time with Me first thing in the morning, for without Me, you wouldn’t go far. I am wisdom, I am strength, and I am love.
As I told My disciples, you can find rest for your spirit and strength for the day in Me.1 It can be a temptation to carry on in your own energy rather than taking the time to pause and enter into the realm of My Spirit, but that’s not how you will be the most effective. I have promised to renew the strength of all those who wait on Me.