You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.Deuteronomy 30:20 NLT
Closeness with anyone, including God, requires choices: choices to love, choices to trust, choices to spend time together, and choices to open up our hearts.
Distance in relationships also involves choices, but these decisions can be harder to see. When we aren’t close to God or friends, it’s not usually because we consciously think, “I’m going to decide to be distant from them today,” yet we do make decisions every day that affect the condition of these relationships.
There’s an old story that’s attributed to Native American legends called “Two Wolves.” Many movies and books have quoted this in different ways over the years, but it can be summed up like this:
“There are two wolves fighting in each man’s heart. One is love, the other is hate. The one that wins is the one you feed the most.”
The Bible teaches a similar lesson when it comes to the choices we make:
No one can serve two masters. If you try, you will wind up loving the first master and hating the second, or vice versa. People try to serve both God and money—but you can’t. You must choose one or the other.Matthew 6:24 Voice
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.Galatians 5:13 NLT
Like the two wolves, we have a spiritual nature and a sinful nature. Making choices to be close to God feeds our spiritual nature; as a result, we become more loving and serving friends to the people around us. Making choices to focus on ourselves feeds our selfish nature, making us distant in relationship with God and others.
The more we actively decide to be close to God, the stronger our spiritual nature gets, and the easier it becomes to choose to love in relationships with people as well.
In this devotional, we’ll tackle four common choices we can make that distance our relationships without even realizing it, and how to choose closeness with God instead.
Am I choosing to take shortcuts or give God my best?
It is not a stretch to compare building a close friendship with God to building a building: both require thought, preparation, decision-making, persistence, initiative, and so on. As we make choices each day to keep building, we’ll see growth.
But what if you don’t really want to labor? In my nature, I don’t like to work hard. In college I was a good student, but I made a lot of choices to procrastinate. I would put off assignments until I was in a jam right before the due date, and stress and pressure would kick in and motivate me to pull all-nighters. As a result, I got the work done, but it wasn’t a rewarding process to say the least. I found myself anxiety-ridden, exhausted, and almost zombie-like the next day.
Listen: 6 Ways to Surrender Anxiety
Similarly, in my relationship with God, I don’t naturally like to work hard and sometimes I settle for minimum spiritual effort until I’m in a jam—a test, a challenge, or even an exciting opportunity that requires more faith than I have. The immediate pressure of the moment motivates me to pray and search for scriptures, but the experience is far from rewarding. I end up exhausted and depleted from frantically trying to find enough faith to get through my immediate circumstances.
A great passage of the Bible that describes finding the motivation to give God our best is 1 Corinthians 3:10-15:
Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw.
But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.”1 Corinthians 3:10-15 NLT
I love how this passage starts with “because of God’s grace to me.” It shows that the motivation to work hard at building is experiencing God’s grace—his incredible, undeserved kindness to us.
God freely showers us with love, even at our worst moments. His grace is shown most clearly through Jesus shouldering the pain and responsibility of each of our sins on the cross, canceling every charge against us as a completely free gift.
When we really understand this, like the apostle Paul did (1 Corinthians 15:9-10), our gratitude will motivate us to give God our best instead of settling for a route that seems easier or more comfortable.
Pause and reflect
- Do you choose to build your relationship with God by giving him your best? What does it look like for you to give God your best?
- What does it look like for you to settle for “minimum spiritual effort”?
Additional passages on this topic:
- Read the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:1-7 and Hebrews 11:1-6. Why was Abel motivated to give God his best?
- Read 1 John 4:9-10. What do you learn about God and why we choose to love him?
Am I choosing pleasure over intimacy?
What a person desires is unfailing love.Proverbs 19:22 NIV
Deep down, everyone desires unfailing love. The question is, where are we turning to fulfill that desire? Our relationship with God is actually the only thing that can satisfy it (see Ecclesiastes 3:11), but sometimes we substitute an intimate relationship with God for something quicker and much less satisfying: pleasure.
Pleasure isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but we will run into problems if it is our place of relief and our primary goal in life.
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.  For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.  And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.1 John 2:15-17 NLT
According to this passage, the “world” values:
- physical pleasure,
- things you can see, and
- pride in our achievements and possessions.
Don’t you know that flirting with the world’s values places you at odds with God? Whoever chooses to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy!James 4:4 TPT
Like this scripture says, we “flirt” with these values, which means to “behave as though attracted to or trying to attract someone, but for amusement rather than with serious intentions.”
When we start flirting with the world’s values, we may tell ourselves we’re just dabbling in something for amusement and don’t have intentions to commit our lives to it. Because we just “dabble,” we convince ourselves it’s not serious and don’t admit when we’re more attracted to something in the world than we are to God.
This verse makes clear that we can’t flirt with the world’s values and be God’s friends at the same time. The more we choose what the world around us values, the less we will have depth or intimacy in our relationships. The world’s values are all about ourselves (What makes me feel good? What makes me look good?) while God’s values are all about loving and serving others (see John 13:34-35).
Have you been “flirting” with pleasure, possessions, or pride? Have any of them started to become more attractive than being close to God?
To answer this question for myself, I try to slow down to reflect on what I prioritize:
- Where did I spend most of my time and energy today? Time usually reflects our priorities. What took up the most space in my schedule today?
- What did I feel and think about most today? The Bible tells us that where our treasure is, our heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). What did my heart treasure most today?
- Where do I turn when I need to relax, recharge, or find relief? The places we choose to turn for relief tell us a lot about where we find security.
- What do I feel and think about these priorities? Do my priorities bring me stress and guilt, or joy and fulfillment?
- How much of my daily life revolves around serving God? This could include spending time with God, engaging in spiritual relationships, or sharing my faith with others.
I recommend trying this for yourself. Some of our choices will be more obvious based on our actions and where we spend our time. But other choices to “flirt with the world” may be more subtle, so we’ll need to be honest with ourselves about what we really care about. We might be doing seemingly spiritual things, but we can learn a lot when we are honest about how we actually feel about them and what we value in our hearts.
Pause and reflect
- What gets most of your daily passion and energy?
- What can you identify that competes for your heart for God? Is it your own achievements, other people’s approval, or pleasure? Who or what most often rivals God for your time, energy, and heart?
Have I been choosing to trust myself or trust God?
“But the man was saddened at Jesus’ words, and he left grieving, because he owned much property and had many possessions [which he treasured more than his relationship with God].”Mark 10:22 AMP
The man in this story is often called “The Rich Young Ruler.” He ran up to Jesus wanting to know how to get eternal life. In the verses just before the passage above, we learn that he had been doing a lot of things right, obeying many of God’s commandments perfectly. He certainly seemed to be choosing to be close to God. Yet evidently he felt something was missing, and wanted Jesus to help him figure out what it was.
Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and goods, give the money to the poor, and then follow him. As we see in the verse above, the rich young ruler was saddened and grieved over this. He was not overjoyed at the opportunity to follow Jesus because there was something he treasured more than God: his wealth.
No matter how much wealth we have (or don’t have), we can still learn something about our relationship with God from the story. Having a close relationship with God takes trust. This wealthy young man could have responded to Jesus with trust, knowing that Jesus was good and had his best interests in mind.
Instead, he walked away from Jesus in grief. His wealth was a treasure to him; it provided something he felt he needed. Perhaps it provided a sense of security, ensuring that his physical and social needs would be met. Perhaps it provided a sense of self-worth, earning him status and good standing in the eyes of others.
Give God the right to direct your life, and as you trust him along the way you’ll find he pulled it off perfectly!Psalm 37:5 TPT
Choosing to be close to God involves giving him the right to direct our lives, and trusting him to pull that off perfectly. If there are areas in which we really don’t trust God, they will eventually cause distance between us as we resist his plans and his Word.
Pause and reflect
- What do you treasure more than your relationship with God?
- What do you think these areas reflect about how much you trust God?
Am I choosing envy or contentment?
God is truly good to Israel, to those who have pure hearts.  But I had almost stopped believing; I had almost lost my faith  because I was jealous of proud people. I saw wicked people doing well.Psalm 73:1-3 NCV
A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh; But envy is the rottenness of the bones.Proverbs 14:30 ASV
Jealousy and envy can cause us to lose our faith in God. They can rot us from the inside, which means they often go undetected. If we feel distance in our relationship with God, envy might be the culprit.
While jealousy and envy can seem like feelings we can’t always control, they are actually choices. We can choose to build our lives on gratitude, contentment, and compassion for the needs of others, or we can choose to be envious of and bitter toward the good fortune of others.
Envy is something we can often build our lives on, as it becomes a key motivator to why we work, achieve, or even quit in our lives (Ecclesiastes 4:4-6). Envy causes distance in our relationship with God because it makes us focus on everything we don’t have and makes us feel like God has dealt us a bad hand.
It’s tempting to feel justified in this envy and to feel like we can’t trust God to give us the things we desire. When I feel like others have something I don’t, I can think it is unfair, coming up with all the reasons why I deserve it more than they do. But like Proverbs 14:30 says, this envy doesn’t just stay in one place. It eats away at me, infecting the way I see God and all my relationships. I become mistrustful and cynical. There’s no peace or tranquility in my life. It doesn’t matter what good things I do have in my life; holding onto envy and bitterness means I’m never satisfied.
Instead of being envious, we can choose to be content regardless of our circumstances or what other people have.
Not that I speak from [any personal] need, for I have learned to be content [and self-sufficient through Christ, satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or uneasy] regardless of my circumstances.  I know how to get along and live humbly [in difficult times], and I also know how to enjoy abundance and live in prosperity.
In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret [of facing life], whether well-fed or going hungry, whether having an abundance or being in need.  I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose— I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.]Philippians 4:11-13 AMP
Envy and bitterness are challenging to resist, but when I choose to trust in God and gain my security and comfort from him, I am able to live with peace and fulfillment from God. Others may have more than me, my circumstances may not change, but I can be content when I come close to God and get strength from him.
Pause and reflect
- How do you see envy and jealousy in your own life?
- How can you choose to trust God with your life instead of choosing envy and discontentment?
What does it look like to choose God?
So as we become aware of all these choices that cause distance in our relationship with God, what choices can we make to get closer to him? Well, we need to understand who God really is. In the 1 Corinthians 3 scripture discussed earlier, we learn that Paul was able to build a foundation because of God’s grace to him. We can take this to mean that our choice to build a close relationship with God begins with connecting to God and his grace.
Some may feel the word “grace” sounds flowery and abstract. But in actuality, it points directly to what Jesus did when he died and came back to life. Grace is defined as the “free and unmerited favor of God,” and comes from the Latin gratia, which is also the root of the word “grateful.” This means that there’s nothing we can do to earn God’s love and grace; he gives it to us freely. Our choice to be close to him comes from a gratitude for that grace.
God’s grace was seen through the painful death Jesus experienced while still demonstrating his love and compassion toward the people that were killing him. And it’s that same love we experience when we see our sin and accept Jesus’ undeserved love.
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.  Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ  and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.  I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death,  so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!Philippians 3:7-11 NLT
When we really understand Jesus’ love for us, it’s motivating for us to choose him. Rather than making choices to distance, it is our daily choice to spend time with God and experience that grace that brings us closer to him and other relationships, because we’ll extend that same grace to our friends and family.
Paul is a great example of this in the passage above. Because being close to God was Paul’s singular focus, he was able to discern what mattered in his life and what didn’t. He was able to discard living for pleasure, achievement, or status because being in close relationship with God was so much more satisfying to him. He was moved by what Jesus had done for him.
How moved are you every day by what Jesus did? Here are 3 practical ways you can be moved by his grace to come closer to God:
- Read the Bible to understand and learn from God, rather than to fix yourself. When we look at Jesus’ story in the Bible and what he went through to bring us closer to him, we will understand God’s heart. This helps us learn to be more like him and have the faith to keep fighting, rather than trying to be perfect.
- Hebrews 12:2-3 NLT We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.
- Pray about how you see God’s love work in your life, then make decisions in your day based on that love. When we are grateful for God’s grace in our lives, we will make decisions in response to that love. This makes it easier to stop making choices that distance our relationships.
- Titus 2:11-12 NIV For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
- Let God’s grace influence your relationships. Seeing God’s grace and love in our lives should compel us to bring that into all of our relationships. Rather than letting deceit or bitterness distance us, we will look after each other and want everyone around us to choose to be close to God, too.
- Hebrews 12:15 NLT Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
- Acts 20:24 NLT But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.
As we make these simple choices each day, we will see our closeness with God grow and flow over into our friendships with people around us.