My blogging lately has not followed my personal devotions. The first chapter of Joshua had already been written about at length earlier in June long before I’d even finished the book of Deuteronomy. I confess that today, my thoughts are not in the book of Joshua either. Instead, my thoughts are straying toward the concept of how we approach God in our prayertime. Scripture would appear to have multiple conflicting admonitions about this, but when you stop to consider them all, they tend to break down into several valid relationship types.
As I’ve mulled this over, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are at least 5 or 6 relationship types mentioned in the Scriptures regarding how God and man do or don’t interact:
1) God as Creator and mankind as the Created. (Genesis 1, 2) In this relationship, we have something akin to a boat builder and his boat. The shipwright dearly loves his boat and will do anything to maintain it, look after it and keep it safe. The boat in turn dutifully takes the shipwright anywhere he wants to go, braves the waves, and sits obediently in its berth at the dock. There really isn’t much interaction between the two, and the boat seems to take far more than it gives. transferring that over to mankind and God, God is most definitely our Creator and as such loves us dearly, being willing to do anything necessary to look after us. We as His creation tend to go on our own merry way often paying Him no mind and taking for granted everything God does for us. This relationship tends to be very one-sided.
2) God as King of the Universe and mankind as aloof and distant. (Jeremiah 6:30, Romans 1:28, Titus 1:16) In this kind of relationship, there is deemed to be no interaction between God and man period. Generally, this is because mankind has so completely turned their back on God as to cause God to hand them over to their own devices as spelled out in the Scriptures. They fall into ruin repeatedly until they have finally fallen into hell. This relationship can only be defined as one of existence. There is no relating going on at all between the two parties.
Neither of these two types of relationship are considered ideal by God, and although we have examples of them in the Scriptures, God yearns for more than either of these!
3) God has master and mankind as slave, servant, or vassal. (Exodus 21, Leviticus 25:53, Psalm 116:16, Proverbs 14:35, Proverbs 17:2, Proverbs 29:21, Matthew 10:24, Matthew 24:46, Luke 12:45-47, Luke 17:9, 1 Corinthians 7:22 )This relationship was the first kind introduced on a mass scale to the people of Israel as they left Egypt. In this relationship, mankind is to obey everything handed down by God as Master. God uses this relationship to illustrate healthy treatment of slaves and servants not only in Moses’ day, but later on in the historical writings of the Scriptures as well. Today we use the illustrations God gives for this relationship to encourage employers to treat their employees well. There is still a measure of distance in this relationship, but the slave, servant or vassal can eventually reach a point of appreciating their master and grow to love Him for all He does for them. They can find themselves responding to that love by wanting to do more for God and seek to be found following His ways in greater measure. Love for the person in this relationship with God is shown by doing and keeping.
4) God as Friend of mankind. (Exodus 33:11, Deuteronomy 34:10, 2 Chronicles 20:7, John 15:5, James 2:23, James 4:4)We see this kind of relationship displayed in the Scriptures between such men and Himself as Abraham and Moses who interacted with God “face to face”. Proverbs says there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, and Jesus Christ told his 12 disciples that He no longer called them servants, but friends. This kind of relationship has been characterized by the human friends standing up to God at times and acting very bold almost to the point of disrespect occasionally. As David did, they sometimes get mad at God and pour out their frustrations, joys, tears and anger. God respects those who allow Him into their lives in this fashion, but all of the examples in Scripture still had an element of respect toward God as well, and full knowledge that He could, in His choosing, destroy them equally as much as those He had to deal with already.
These last two relationships are far more intimate than the other four. Because of their similar natures, they are listed together at the end here.
5) God as Father. (Isaiah 9:6, Matthew 5:45, Matthew 6, Matthew 7:11, Matthew 12:50, Luke 6:36, John15:10, Romans 8:15, 2 Corinthians 6:8, Galatians 4:1,7 ) There is a verse in Proverbs that says if a master raises a servant delicately from a child, that servant may be treated as one of the family and be privy to part of the inheritance. Over and over in the Scriptures, God is seen calling to His people, longing to take them into His arms as a father does his child. Although God taught the Children of Israel to initially come to Him as slave to master, God wanted so much more than that. That relationship type was merely the introduction to allow God to show His people a) what He expected of them, and b) how much He longed to look after them through their obedience. But that was supposed to be only the beginning. Everyone needs friends, and God was and is happy with those who choose to be friends with Him, but again, God wanted something so much more than even friendship. Scattered throughout the Bible then, are references to God wanting us to come to Him as children, to have the faith a child has toward their earthly father, but instead aiming that same childlike faith toward God as Heavenly Father.
This is a difficult relationship to build, especially if a person has gone from point 1 to point 4 and missed point 3 in the middle. Without a basic understanding of the obedience requested by God, the idea of coming to God as a respectful child is hard to do. Scriptures in the New Testament talk about coming boldly before the Throne of Grace to find help in time of need. They talk about bringing our requests with thanksgiving. They talk about coming humbly before God. None of these are actually contradictory methods of approaching God at all. When seen from the perspective of a child to a parent, we see this in action every time a child comes bounding up to ask for something. They are cheerful, they aren’t demanding, and they are hopeful that their request will be granted. Occasionally their request can’t be granted and then we see two types of children afterward: The type that cheerfully accept the decline and go off to do something else, and the type that get upset and try various efforts to still get their way, from bargaining to demanding to manipulating, etc. Sadly, we see far too many spiritual children of the Father falling into the second type just mentioned. Not only do they begin bargaining or demanding, but they come up with lists of steps to try to either appease God to get their way, or manipulate God to get their way as if He’s a machine that has certain steps to follow before it will spit out the desired bag of chips.
6) God the Son as Heavenly Bridegroom. (Isaiah 49:18, Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah 62:5, John 3:29, Ephesians 5:17-33, Revelation 21:2, )Also scattered throughout the Old and New Testament is God’s desire to take mankind not only from slave to friend to child, but from child to bride and wife. This is the most intimate of the relationships mentioned in the Scriptures. In this relationship, we have the illustrations of a respectful submissive wife being watched over and looked after by a sacrificial and loving husband. The way in which friends speak to each other no longer applies in certain situations, and mankind as the Bride of Christ is wise to remember that if they would not talk to their own spouse a certain way, they should not approach God that way either. In this relationship, there is a transparency and vulnerability that doesn’t exist in the other relationships at all. In this relationship, nothing is hid from God by the Bride, and God is able to confide in the Bride in ways He can’t engage in with the other relationships, even that of the friendship.
As Christians, those who have given their hearts and lives over to the One Who is now Lord of their lives, God longs for us to pass through these various relationship types until we are finally able to move into the final relationship, that of the Bride of Christ. Each relationship has it’s unique and useful points to the Christian and therefore should not be scoffed at or derided if a person comes across someone who relates to God differently than they do. It is not wrong for a Christian to be in any of the 4 final relationships, and it may even be that God knows which type of relationship they will best thrive at. This is yet another reason why not all who are of Christ will be of the Bride. But that final relationship is the one to strive for as it is the Bride of Christ that will go up in the Rapture of the Church. God knows what each of can handle, and gives us the appropriate guide in the Scriptures to show us how He longs to relate to us at each level of our growth in Him.
These thoughts have been going around my head this summer as I watch others around me enter into new chapters of their faith walks with God. I found myself wanting to correct them a couple of times, and after the second time realizing that they may be in a different relationship type at this time from myself and not to get tied up in knots over it. They are growing and excited about their growth and all that God is doing in, through and around them. Just because I am in a different relationship type doesn’t make theirs invalid, nor should my relationship with God be invalidated in their eyes. But if I have learned anything about human development, it is this: when we learn something about our own relationship with God, it is far too easy to assume others don’t know or are not living it as we are, simply because they are in a different place than we are in their own faithwalk.
Because God has been teaching me how to live as the Bride of Christ, I wouldn’t dream of walking up to God with the same chutzpah that one who is in the friendship stage would use. A wife simply doesn’t walk up to her husband and make what can come across as all-out demands. She walks up to her husband in a respectful manner, not timidly, but boldly, understanding that he is head of her household and has the ability to give the same responses God gives: yes, no, or wait. It is interesting that at the Bride/Bridegroom stage, everything learned in the slave/master and child/father relationship types get wrapped into this one along with many of the elements of the friendship relationship. It is a difficult relationship to explain, as it combines so many elements of the others. God is calling to His Bride in these last days more and more. It can be scary leaving one relationship type to enter another, but God calls us to grow toward Him in every-increasing intimacy and relationship. The point for me in all of this, is to encourage rather than correct those that are at different stages from myself.