How can I stay motivated in my relationship with Jesus Christ?
A reader of my blog asked, How does a believer keep his motivation? I understand the motivation of the new believer, but how does one stay motivated in day-to-day living, year after year?
Another way of putting that question, in biblical terms, is, “How do you keep from losing your first love?” (Revelation 2:4). When you come to know Christ and put your faith in Him, Jesus changes your life. You’re excited about Him, and everything in life is a contrast to what it was before. But over the long haul, how do you keep that motivation going? How do you sustain a Christ-centered life?
I think the answer to that is really how you sustain a relationship with any person. When Nanci and I first met and started dating, there was an excitement to our relationship and we had our first love. But you begin to realize that over time certain things will change, and the tendency is to start taking each other for granted.
What do you do about that? You make sure to cultivate your relationship by spending regular time with that person. Even when our girls were small, Nanci and I would have a date night and go out together. The two of us would sometimes go on vacations alone. We called on a lot of babysitters who were people from the church, or our kids would stay at our friends’ homes, or with grandparents. We really believed that the best thing we could do for our children was to have a strong marriage and to enjoy our time together.
So how do you spend time with God? By opening up His Word and spending regular time there. I know that believers used to talk a lot more about daily devotions and time with God, but I think many people started feeling like, “That is just a check-off the box, superficial kind of Christianity. I don’t want to just think, ‘Okay, I had my quiet time. So now I’m okay, and that’s all it takes.’”
Well, of course that’s not all it takes. But I would argue that it is a significant part of sustaining our relationship with the Lord, because I need to spend time in God’s Word every day. During the days when I don’t, I really see a difference in my eternal perspective (and my lack of perspective).
So, I would encourage you to spend daily time in God’s Word. It can be a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year type of program, or one of many programs that provide daily readings of both Old and New Testament passages. You can go online and look at devotional books that help lead you through Scripture. There are also Bible-read-through groups with a weekly study where the Bible itself is the textbook. The participants have all read through the same portions of Scripture, and anybody can share anything they want from those passages. This helps some with the accountability because you’re asking each other, “How did you do in your daily reading?”
Time in prayer should be integrated into your time in the Word. I confess that when I set aside time in prayer and it is all without reference to God’s Word, I can get sort of lost. So what I will do is pray Scripture, sometimes out loud to myself as I read.
I’d recommend reading in Colossians 1 where Paul prays for the Colossians, and then repeat the things he prays for: the knowledge of God’s will, a greater Christlikeness, conformity to His image, and a greater thankfulness of heart. I pray those things for myself, for my children and grandchildren, and for Nanci.
Praying is talking with God. Even in times when I’ve been dealing with serious depression, one of the things that has kept my spiritual life fresh and my relationship with the Lord intimate (not that it’s never been stale, because there have been times of staleness) is that I’ve kept going back to the Lord and just talking to Him as my Savior, my Lord, my God, my Judge, and also my Friend.
In my novel Safely Home, I talk about a chair that Li Quan and his family have in their home that nobody has ever sat in. Their guest Ben Fielding can never understand why because it’s the best chair in the house. It is only late in the book that someone finally explains to Ben what this chair is and why it sits empty when they eat dinner, or why someone might sit on the floor when the chair goes unused. It’s because the chair, which was made by Li Quan’s grandfather, a master craftsman, represents the presence of Jesus Christ.
There have been times when I’ve prayed, “Lord, I just want to sense your presence.” I have gotten down on my knees with a chair in front of me and said, “Lord, You are just as present as if You were physically sitting in this chair. You used to sit in chairs. As a carpenter, You used to make chairs!” (I’m not creating an idol or saying He really is physically sitting on that chair—He’s not. But I’m saying He’s there and every bit as real as if He were sitting in that chair.) I say, “Help me sense your presence as I pray to You right now.” I visualize Christ sitting in that chair and look to Him and talk to Him. And again, that’s not idolatry because Jesus did really become a man—He’s the God-Man. We don’t know exactly what His body looked like, but He had a body and now has a resurrection body which He’ll have forever.
Another thing I would say is, believe with all your heart that God has orchestrated your day and has divine appointments for you that you don’t yet know about. For example, on a given day I might be going to play tennis with a teenager, but I guarantee you I’ll meet or see somebody else as well. We may go out to dinner because he has questions about the Bible, and I’ll connect with someone else, perhaps our waiter or waitress, and give them a gospel booklet. God has your day planned out and that’s what makes the Christian life exciting—trusting that God knows what is going to happen today and is going to give you opportunities to represent Him.
All of these things help us stay passionate about the Lord so that we don’t live a Christian life of drudgery where we wearily put one foot in front of another, thinking, “I’m going to try my best to be obedient.” Instead, a better cry is Paul’s from Philippians 3: “I want to know Christ.” He’d known him for thirty years, but he wanted to know Him better every day.
Our relationship with Christ needs to be a love relationship, and although we certainly want to be obedient and need to obey Him even when we don’t feel like it, we’re nonetheless daily asking God to be present in our lives. We can trust He’ll answer that prayer because He has promised us, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). As we pursue knowing the Lord Jesus Christ, may we sense the very presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives.