Relationships can be life-changing.
One of the most impactful relationships in my life was with a childhood friend who I was not very close to initially. Our families were friends, so we knew and grew up around each other, but we didn’t think we had much in common and didn’t really get along.
Because we weren’t close, I made a lot of assumptions about her. I was always jealous of her talents, style, and the attention she got from guys. Because I was jealous, I also criticized her personality, how she looked, and the way she acted around people.
As we got older, we ended up working at the same place and we started carpooling to work. Being stuck in the car together with nothing but time ended up being the best thing that could have happened to us. We started having honest conversations we might not have had otherwise.
We slowly started being real about what we felt toward each other. We both realized we had done things that hurt the other person’s feelings and we had affected each other in ways we didn’t realize. Then we started asking each other deeper questions about what was fueling our rivalry.
I learned in those talks that criticism, jealousy, and envy had gotten in the way of us developing a deeper friendship where we could care about and help each other.
We also started having spiritual conversations. My friend shared verses from the Bible with me and told me what she was learning about finding security in her relationship with God. I learned that my competitiveness and jealousy often came from not being honest with God about my own insecurities and fear of rejection.
This was one of the many truths I learned from my friend about relationships, closeness, and the power of vulnerability that have changed my life forever. Now, I’m forever grateful for that quality time in the car and the transformational conversations we had.
Building a life-changing relationship with God
Similar to this friend, God was someone I “grew up around” but wasn’t close to. I knew a little about him from church and school. But I was critical of the hypocrisy I saw in churches which made God seem unattractive and non-existent; as a result I wanted nothing to do with him.
Luckily, I had some good friends who taught me how to get to know God through reading the Bible and having honest conversations with him. These friends and the things they shared with me from the Bible helped me learn how amazing and life-changing a daily relationship with God could be.
Teach me more about you, how you work and how you move, so that I can walk onward in your truth until everything within me brings honor to your name.Psalm 86:11 TPT
This psalm is a prayer written by King David, expressing his desire to know God better and receive life-changing truths. As David knew, getting to know God is transformational; it changes everything within us.
Having a transformational relationship with God is more than just reading the Bible or praying or checking off the boxes you think you’re supposed to check off to be a good Christian. Being friends with God is life-changing. It’s impossible to know God intimately and stay the same.
Sometimes I doubt this and feel like I’m done changing, or there are areas of my life that I don’t believe can ever change. As a result, I settle for the ordinary and miss out on the unimaginable things God wants to do through and around me.
Fortunately, God shows us through the Bible how to develop and sustain a deep relationship with him that leaves us reimagining every aspect of our lives.
Here are five steps toward a transformational relationship with God that you can reflect on and pursue personally.
Set aside time for God
You’re my place of quiet retreat, and your wrap-around presence becomes my shield as I wrap myself in your word!Psalm 119:114 TPT
 And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you]. Romans 12:2 AMP
The first step toward a transformational relationship with God is establishing a quiet, focused time with him where we enter into the spiritual realm through reading the Bible and prayer.
How is this transformational? Well, this morning “quiet retreat” is essential because it gives us time to “renew our mind.” We get to examine the thoughts and beliefs that could be fueling an ordinary, limited life and replace them with God’s perspective and vision for us.
Currently, I’ve been attempting to navigate the stresses of graduate school and transitioning into adulthood. I find it very easy to compare myself to people around me and feel the pressure to be impressive or successful. The anxiety I feel from focusing on my status and image shows me how much I need a “quiet retreat” with God to calm my heart and renew my values.
The time I spend with God every morning teaches me that to him, my life is more than people’s opinions, how much I have, and how comfortable I can be. I know that I’ve spent genuine quality time with God when I walk away more secure, knowing and pursuing the great purpose he’s planned for me to live out.
Pause and reflect
- Do you set aside quiet, focused time for God every day?
- What are the values and attitudes you currently have that you need God’s help to renew?
- Do you walk away more focused on God’s purpose after spending time with him?
- Let God change your mind! Find 2-3 Bible verses on God’s will, purpose, and plan for you. Talk to God about these verses and choose to believe them.
Develop an awareness of God’s presence
Lord, even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have! You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way. Your authority is my strength and my peace. The comfort of your love takes away my fear. I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.Psalm 23:4 TPT
Not only do I love this verse because it rhymes, but it shows how even during seemingly hopeless times, God is always there. Connecting this verse to Psalm 119 in the previous point, it’s clear that an awareness of God’s presence comes the more we immerse ourselves in God’s Word.
The world often feels dark as I learn about tragedies taking place around the world. The increase of homelessness, loneliness, and mental health challenges in the U.S. alone is enough to elicit fear and sadness. On a smaller scale, the daily anxieties of my own life and circumstances can feel like a valley of darkness sometimes.
Amid bad news and chaos, I often find myself forgetting God and how he may be moving through it all.
One day I caught up with a friend and listed off all the things that I thought were going wrong in my life. It wasn’t until she asked me, “What do you think God is trying to teach you?” that I realized I had been venting my emotions without slowing down to reflect on where God was leading me.
So we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives, for we are his lovers who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose.Romans 8:28 TPT
The Bible says that God works every detail of our lives into something good. Having an awareness of God’s presence means slowing down enough look for ways he is moving on my behalf.
After this conversation with my friend, it was clear to me that I was not walking away from my times with God believing he cares and is actively weaving everything together in my life. However, the more I read the Bible and chose to believe God was near during difficult times, the purpose behind my circumstances became more clear.
I recently stumbled upon a song called “Fall Into Place” by the music group Couch, and the lyrics describe the difficulty I can feel trying to face uncertainties and challenges of life with faith that God will come through:
“So every day we think on what we’ve done
Laughing at our fears and fearing what’s to come
Hey, I know it’s hard It’s hard to find the peace in opportunities
Let it all fall into place”Fall Into Place – Couch
The kind of God-awareness that Romans 8 describes can bring us peace because we know God is actively turning our present dark times into “opportunities” to do the unimaginable (Ephesians 3:20).
This school year I’ll be student-teaching for the first time at a local high school. As I learn how to teach, it’s clear that the impact of the world and personal circumstances on students’ overall well-being is underestimated and overlooked.
Even now, students are facing a not-so-normal school environment resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic which has had significant impacts on students all over the country.
I’ve personally experienced how difficult it is to go through school during times of uncertainty. A number of times I’ve felt so overwhelmed by family tensions, friendship challenges, and fears of the future that staying focused and motivated to do work seemed impossible.
I believe God wants me to be a teacher who takes an interest in my students and brings much-needed compassion, patience, and love into the classroom.
With faith, I can see that God has been working through the different struggles I’ve had during school to help me become a better, more empathetic teacher. My relationship with God has to go beyond “having a quiet time” and help me be aware of how God is moving in my life every day.
Believing that God is present and caring makes every conversation, circumstance, and challenge more meaningful and purposeful; God is actively working to make everything fall into place.
Pause and reflect
- How aware are you of God’s presence throughout the day?
- Do you believe God is close and involved in your life?
- What aspect of your life do you need help believing God is going to use for good?
- Take time to write down the challenges or circumstances you’re facing, and pray for clarity on what God’s purpose is through it all.
- Pick 2-3 people in your life that you know are going through a hard time or need encouragement. Decide to pray for and care about them today.
Become aware of your spiritual condition each day
This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.  They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.  “But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence.  They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.Jeremiah 17:5-8 NLT
Our times with God and our awareness of his presence strongly influence our spiritual condition. Our “spiritual condition” can be described as the health of our relationship with and connection to God.
This passage in Jeremiah 17 illustrates that our spiritual condition can fall under one of two categories. Which one resonates with you?
- Put your trust in humans and turn your heart away from God: You rely on people to meet needs that only God can meet.
- Rely on human strength: You trust your own behavior, abilities, or good deeds to get by instead of trusting God.
- No hope for the future: You no longer see God’s possibilities because you reject whatever doesn’t seem possible for you
- Trust in the Lord: You rely on God and trust in his love for the real you
- God is your hope and confidence: You turn to God for guidance and comfort. You believe in what God can do.
- Never stop producing fruit: Our lives positively impact our relationships because of our connection to God’s love
When we spend time with God and allow him to change our minds, we become rooted in and sustained by his love. That enables us to love beyond what would be natural (1 John 4:19). This is what the scripture means when it says “never stops producing fruit.”
In my pride and self-reliance, I stop prioritizing my times with God and lose interest in the spiritual way God sees things. As a result, my definition of a “healthy spiritual condition” becomes warped and unbiblical. Not only does this leave me stunted spiritually, but even my idea of ‘fruitfulness’ becomes tainted.
The true meaning of spiritual “fruit” is the natural product of my connection to God’s love (Galatians 5:22-23) that is evident in my life and relationships. In my pride, I twist this into what I need to produce or do to prove myself to God and others.
However, what matters more to God is how attached and faithful I am to him rather than how impressive my performance may be. I may feel that God accepts me only based on what I do for him, but really I can’t do anything of value without him.
I am the Vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him bears much fruit, for [otherwise] apart from Me [that is, cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.John 15:5 AMP
This verse makes it clear that our unity with God is vital for our spiritual well-being. When something is vital, that means it’s necessary to maintain life such as food, water, sleep, et cetera. When I start to burn out, feel more distant from others, and get stuck, I know I’ve stopped relying on God.
It’s relieving to know that God only wants a close relationship where I listen and trust him! I don’t need to tirelessly try to prove my worth by my usefulness or keep up the façade that I’m fine. Instead, I can settle into God’s love and see the transformational effects he has on my security, outlook on life, and the love I can have for my friends and family.
Pause and reflect
- How would you describe your current spiritual condition?
- What does it look like for you to be “stunted”? What would it look like to be fruitful?
- Read Galatians 5:22-23 and take note of the fruits that God’s Spirit produces in our lives. Identify the ones you need God’s help to produce.
- Use a digital Bible to look up scriptures on those specific “fruits” and ask God to help you grow in them.
Choose to be aware of your heart condition
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.Proverbs 4:23 NLT
 And I will give them one heart [a new heart] and I will put a new spirit within them; and I will take the stony [unnaturally hardened] heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh [sensitive and responsive to the touch of their God],”Ezekiel 11:19 AMPC
The heart is the core of who we are, which includes all our emotions and desires. Since it is what drives us and allows us to feel, its condition has a significant impact on our relationship with God.
Even though I know God takes it seriously, I often choose to be unaware of the things that impact my heart and underestimate the consequences of refusing to share how I feel.
This looks like me avoiding emotions like sadness, anxiety, or hurt by keeping myself busy all day or watching hours of TV so I don’t have to feel them. When people ask me how I’m doing, I respond superficially with “I’m tired” or “good” instead of sharing what is actually going on.
When my heart is in this condition, it’s impossible to be inspired and moved by God. I can read the Bible and pray, but it won’t necessarily result in a transformational connection with God.
Fortunately, Ezekiel 11 shows that even when I choose to be unaware and apathetic, God can change my heart. All it takes is a willingness to let God do it, believing that he wants to be close and involved in my life (Psalm 37:23-24).
Here are some common emotions that I find myself ignoring or hardening to that have detrimental impacts on my relationship with God:
- Guilt (Psalm 32:3-4 NLT)
- Anxiety (Proverbs 12:25 NLT)
- Sadness (Psalm 6:7 TPT)
- Disappointments (Proverbs 13:12 NLT)
- Fear (Hebrews 10:38-39 TPT)
One time during a phone call, a close friend was going through a lot and started to cry while letting down with me. I had no idea how to react and felt uncomfortable. I was so unaccustomed to dealing with feelings that I felt like he must be overreacting. So, when he was done, I started laughing and said that he was fine.
Later on, he expressed feeling hurt and asked me more about my own heart since my response seemed pretty apathetic. Our conversation showed me how much I had hardened my heart to my own disappointments, guilt, and sadness, which made it impossible to connect with what he was feeling.
These kinds of interactions can happen in my relationship with God too when I don’t slow down to acknowledge what’s affecting me. There have been times when I’ve read the Bible for an hour but have walked away unmoved and uninspired because I had so much doubt, worry, and pain in my heart that I didn’t want to feel.
It’s times like these when I see my need for spiritual friends who understand the importance of the heart and are willing to have engaging conversations that guide me back to God and the Bible. While I’m often resistant to the help my friends want to give me, there’s no way I can maintain a soft heart on my own (Jeremiah 17:9).
The only way to develop a life-changing relationship with God is by having a heart that is influenceable and movable. God has plans and a vision for us that he can only communicate if our hearts are responsive to where he’s trying to take us.
Pause and reflect
- How responsive are you to the Bible and prayer?
- What emotions or parts of your life do you tend to harden to? Make a choice to start praying about these areas consistently.
- Pick 3 spiritual friends you can have engaging heart-conversations with. Pray together and make a decision to help each other keep a soft heart.
Build an emotional connection with God
God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears. Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him. When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot.Psalm 34:4-5 MSG
I think these are really encouraging verses, but the first time someone shared them with me I actually felt guilty and afraid. I couldn’t count the number of times I had held back my emotions from God while praying. I felt overwhelmed thinking this meant I would have to force myself to feel everything all at once with God.
However, God isn’t asking us to give full vent to all our negative emotions and leave exhausted after every prayer. What God desires is for us to share what we feel in faith, believing that he is listening, he cares, and he will help us (1 Peter 5:7).
Whether you’re one to cry or not, God just wants all of us to share where we are at, good or bad. Sharing who we really are — our excitements, pain, weaknesses, dreams — enables us to be attached to God and others.
Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises.James 5:13 NLT
God wants us to let him in on the hard and good times we’re having!
This year when I found out that my favorite music artist was dropping a new album, I was so excited I almost cried. One of the first things I prayed about with God that morning was how grateful I was for music and couldn’t wait to hear every song.
I realized afterward that I normally don’t tell God about the little things I care about, and this has kept me from building an even more intimate relationship with him. I’m learning that I want closeness in my relationship with God without the effort to be vulnerable with him.
Brené Brown, a researcher who has studied various topics within relationships and emotions, studied the impact of vulnerability. As someone who initially pushed this idea away, her intensive research led her to this conclusion:
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
Vulnerability is essential for experiencing an emotional connection with God. When we decide to let God know what we feel with the faith that he’s already met us “more than halfway,” opportunities for closeness and comfort with God and others present themselves.
Pause and reflect
- Are there any feelings you’re currently holding back from God?
- How could vulnerability with God change your life?
Like any relationship, getting close to God takes time. When we decide to prioritize learning who he is and sharing who we are, God will never cease to amaze us through the changes we will see in our lives.
Here are two decisions we can make to build a life-changing relationship with God:
- Spend consistent time with God, focusing on being emotionally honest in prayer and reading the Bible to grow in our awareness of ourselves and God.
- Move beyond a traditional once-a-day interaction with God to an all-day awareness and connection with him. This is what makes transformational change and growth possible in our lives.
For further study
- Read Acts – Take note of how the disciples’ relationship with Jesus led to extraordinary purpose.
- Character study: Peter – Study the life of Peter in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. Notice from this story how God transforms our lives and helps us fulfill our destiny when we choose to be close to him.