This one goes out to all my church kids who grew up in Sunday School and youth camps.
Do you remember all the great experiences you had during the high intensity services? After a youth camp, you’d be on a spiritual high. You would walk with your head held high and shoulders squared, feeling unstoppable and unashamed of your faith.
What if I told you those experiences were not reserved for just you? And what if I elaborated and said that there was something bigger and better than those experiences?
Those on-top-of-Mount Sinai experiences only lasted a few weeks. In the most routine fashion, things would go back to normal. People would stop going to church until the next “wave of revival.” And all the fire and momentum of the experience faded in the distance. It’s quite heartbreaking, actually.
I was reading 1 John 4:7-21 and something dawned on me. In the Message version, 1 John 4:7 says, “Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God.” In other words, all people, whether they are a Christian or not, are children of God and have already experienced some type of relationship with God, whether they knew it or not.
So wait, when the scripture says “everyone,” does that mean that this passage isn’t speaking to just Christians? Yes! Sometimes we think that the Bible is reserved for Christians only, but it’s not. It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s not the well that need a doctor, but the sick, remember?
But I digress, 1 John 4:7 highlights the fact that if you love (which includes pretty much everyone in the world), you are able to experience a relationship with God. Everyone has that ability. So although the youth camp praise breaks and Sunday School revivals seem revolutionary in the moment, they’re actually something that pretty much everyone can experience. Since God is the originator of love, everyone that acts in love has experienced God to some extent.
Mind-blowing, I know. But it gets better.
If we move on to verse 16, it says that “Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God.”
Aha! So here’s the difference between experiencing God and having an intimate relationship with Him: Confessing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. It’s simple. Anyone can experience God, but only those that confess and accept that Jesus is God’s Son (and their subsequent need of Him) can have a continual and eternal relationship with God. Relationship is how you sustain the experiences.
I don’t know about you, but I know that experiences can fade away. I’m thankful for them, but I don’t just want a taste of what it’d be like to fully know God, I want the whole thing. I’ll take a relationship over an experience any day.
But here’s the thing: Relationships take work. Real hard work. It’s not something you just try and then when it gets hard, you walk away. It’s not something that you see the results of right away either.
Sometimes talking to God seems like a real labor of love. Sometimes it seems like He’s not listening. Sometimes you just won’t feel like spending time with Him. And other times, you just won’t even want to claim Him in front of your friends. Get this: You might even go through seasons where you break up. You don’t think that what you have with Him is real and so you just take a break and ask yourself some really deep, thought-provoking questions. And it’s all okay!
Yes, I’m letting you know that it’s okay to doubt and it’s okay to fail – That’s how relationships work. If you don’t have rough patches, then how would you know for certain that you are in the right relationship? Like how would you relationship actually be “tested and tried?” It’s those relationships, that are the most beautiful. Those that have been through hell and back, but still end up together because it just seems right. Because the love between them is the realest thing they’ve ever felt. Because they’re the only person they can fully trust. Because even when they were a hot mess, the other person never left their side. And that’s why I’d choose a relationship every time. It’s a lot harder to sustain, but it’s the most worthwhile thing ever.