I Never Knew You

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ (Matthew 7:21-23 NLT)

For a long time, I didn’t really understand this passage. I didn’t understand how someone could call Jesus “Lord” and do things in Jesus’ name and still end up in hell. A few weeks ago I was walking in the park at lunch thinking about that, trying to understand what the passage meant, and realized the key: it’s all about relationship. Specifically, our relationship with Him.

As my friend Brian describes it, being a Christian is more like an arrow than a checkmark. Meaning – it’s not a “once and done” thing, it’s a direction, a continual decision that you make moment by moment, day by day. In this passage, we read about people doing things in Jesus’ name, completing tasks, going through motions. But what we don’t see is anything beyond those actions. Just because we do something in Jesus’ name, even if it’s a wonderful, compassionate, awe-inspiring thing, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we’re doing it out of a relationship with Him. And just like in human relationships (only moreso,) a relationship with Jesus isn’t just about actions, it’s about the motive and relationship that those actions are based on.

If we look at the substance behind a relationship, we see a lot of things, such as two-way communication, deepening knowledge of one another, spending time together, working alongside each other toward common goals, depending on, supporting, and encouraging one another, placing the needs of the other ahead of our own, etc. Merely completing tasks, even with the best of intentions, doesn’t indicate a relationship.

What does a relationship with Jesus look like then? Actually, a lot like a relationship between husband and wife is supposed to. Which makes sense – God designed marriage to mirror the deep, personal, intimate relationship within Himself, in a way that we could tangibly experience it. Our relationship with Him, then, involves pretty much the same things as my relationship with my amazing soon-to-be wife Christina.

For one thing, it involves regular communication. By regular communication, that doesn’t mean only talking to Him when we need something. If I only talked to Christina once every few weeks, we wouldn’t have a relationship. It’s the same way with God. Having a relationship with Him involves regular (aka several times throughout the day,) communication with Him – and not just about our needs, desires, and wants, but also about the regular stuff of our day, and being interested in His thoughts, feelings, desires, etc. We can communicate with God through prayer, reading scripture, thanking Him for what He does, asking Him for what we need, telling Him about what’s on our mind, asking Him for help, guidance, wisdom, and insight, asking Him how we can help Him, listening for His voice given to us through the Holy Spirit, observing ways we can help Him, etc.

For another, it involves spending time together regularly. Long-distance relationships are hard. Believe me, I know. And sometimes, distance dictates that you are just able to talk. But at the same time, it’s imperative to be able to spend time together regularly as well, because through that, we’re better able to get to know one another. It’s through the combination of the communication and the companionship that relationships truly thrive. It’s the same way in our relationships with God. While prayer is crucial, it’s not enough to just pray if that’s all you do. Prayer and communication are a part of a relationship – you also need to spend time together, both alone and with others, to truly build a relationship. With Christina and I, this means having regular date nights, spending time together with friends and family, etc. In our relationship with Christ, it means things such as journaling, walking out in nature to be alone with God, going to a small group, attending church, etc.

One of the core components of a relationship is a deepening knowledge of one another. If the interaction between two people stays surface-level, or goes only to a certain depth and stops, a relationship can’t grow and thrive. And without that deepening knowledge, we’re not able to build, maintain, and grow the trust, dependability, and foundation that are critical for a relationship to thrive. It’s the same way in our relationship with God. If we don’t get to know Him better, and don’t allow Him to know us better, when things get hard, the foundation won’t exist for us to be able to turn to Him. We have to be able to trust His guidance and wisdom, to know His character, when things become difficult or uncertain. That depth of knowledge is also imperative for us to know His heart, His desires, His hopes and dreams. And without that ever-deepening knowledge of who He is, we will lack the ability to do so.

Relationship also involves working towards common goals together. With Christina and I, we have both short-term and long-term goals in our relationship. This includes things such as planning our wedding, growing and deepening our marriage, starting a family, building our home, helping others by using the gifts that God has blessed us with for their benefit, loving, encouraging, and supporting one another, getting to know each other better, showing the love and truth of Christ to the world around us, helping our future children grow and mature, etc. In each of those goals there are individual tasks, some of which we perform by ourselves, and some of which are performed together. The tasks come out of the goals, and the goals come out of our relationship. Without the unity and the relationship, there’s just a list of tasks – the relationship gives the tasks meaning, purpose, and focus. It’s the same way in our relationships with Christ.

Especially critical in a relationship is for each member of that relationship to put the best interest of the other above their own desires, no matter what that means. A relationship with someone who’s self-focused and self-centered won’t last, and won’t be able to stand up to the stresses and strains of the world around us. Rather, by putting the best interest of the other person as the priority, we’re able to ensure that we’re not doing things based on how they benefit us, but because it’s the best for everyone involved. It also ensures that even when things get tough, we’re able to stick it out and depend on each other rather than walking away. In our relationship with Christ, that means that even if things are difficult, even if it means going in a direction contrary to where we’d like to head, that we trust Him. Because He truly does have our best interest in mind – not just for the time being or the situation at hand, but for all of eternity.

Relationship involves thinking of ways to delight each other, solely for the purpose of showing them how much we care and desire to bring them joy. This involves things such as observing things they enjoy, being on the lookout for ways we can help them, acting thoughtfully, and just generally trying to come up with random things that make them smile. In our relationship with God, this can involve things such as helping others anonymously, taking care of His creation, taking some time in our overly-busy schedules to deliberately spend time with Him, etc.

John Donne said that “No man is an island.” We can’t do it all by ourselves. We need others, just as others need us. In other words, a relationship isn’t one-sided with one person doing all the work. Instead, it’s a collaboration, a team, a partnership. We can’t do it all alone. King Solomon commented about how much we need each other in Ecclesiastes 4: we depend on each other for strength, encouragement, and support. There are times when we’re weak, worn out, discouraged, or whatever. When that happens, when we fall, the other is there to support, encourage, and help us press forward. It’s the same way in our relationship with Christ. While He never falters, fails, or gets discouraged, He is there for us when we do. When we grow weak, weary, discouraged, disheartened, dejected, or whatever, he encourages, strengthens, and supports us through our relationship with Him.

While this isn’t an all-encompassing, complete picture of exactly what a relationship with Christ looks like, hopefully it gives a good picture of what one encompasses. And like any deep human relationship, only so much moreso, a relationship with God is the most intimate, wonderful, breathtaking thing we can ever experience. It’s much more than a mere set of tasks or experiences – it’s a lifetime of close, personal, intimate knowledge between our loving Creator and His creation – that on the day when we stand before Him, we might see Him smile and hear Him say – “Hi Chris, I’ve been waiting for you! It’s wonderful to see you again, welcome home.”