Phases of Relationship
I recently saw a Facebook post that really impacted me. Like everyone else, I see a lot of posts on Facebook, and most of them fade from my memory pretty quickly, but this one has stayed in the forefront of my mind for a few weeks now. It’s from a worship leader named Chris Burns (Check him out at burnsministries.com). The meme reads: “God didn’t save me to use me; He saved me for union. He isn’t building a business. He is building a friendship.” Chris goes on to write: “This changes everything… “Use me God!” We cry, “What’s my assignment, my calling, my destiny!?” Friendship. Union. His banner over me is love. He has brought me to His banqueting table. This all ends in a wedding. Heaven and earth. God and man. On that day He’ll not ask “did you complete your assignment and do great ministry exploits?” Your resume in life will not save you, only to KNOW Him. Did you learn to love? The goal is Jesus.”
This post hits hard at a major problem in modern Christianity. We have lost sight of our goal. We’re so concerned about what to do that we lose sight of the One we’re doing it for. The goal truly is Jesus. But if we are honest, we will admit that our relationship with Him is not always as strong as we would like for it to be. Our relationship with Jesus, like most others, runs through three main phases, and I think understanding the phases helps us navigate them more easily.
Phase 1: What Can Jesus Do For Me?
UPS used the popular slogan “What can Brown do for you?” from 2002 until 2010. It was a very simple slogan, but it was powerful because it answered the fundamental question of consumers, “What can your business, product, or service do for me?” In consumer-driven societies, we determine value by what something does for us. If you want someone to do business with you, you must first show them how it is beneficial for them.
For better or worse, this is also the case in our relationships. When we engage in a relationship, we are first interested in what the other person can do for us. Think about your qualifications when selecting a mate. You were probably interested in what he or she could do for you. I know I was. I needed to know, “Can she cook?” Yes, she looks good. Yes, she seems nice. But can she cook? And the ladies are also interested in what a man can provide. How many women ask, “Is he rich?” They want to know what a particular man can do for them financially.
We always start off asking what the other person can do for us. Whether we’re selecting a spouse, a dentist, a barber, a mechanic, or a real estate agent, the first thing we want to know is what they can do for us. Many people also ask this question of Jesus, especially successful people. They reason, “I’m healthy, have a decent marriage, and am relatively happy in life. Why do I need Jesus? What can He do for me?”
Some of the extra-righteous folks reading this can feel their blood pressure rising. “How dare someone ask what Jesus can do for them…” But before you criticize the question, think about its answer. He can save your spirit. He can heal your body. He can bless your soul. He can set you free. He can get you anything from anyone, anywhere, at any time. Ephesians 3:20 (NKJV) says that He is able to “do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or think.”
The truth is, Jesus can do a lot for you. So don’t become so “sanctified” that you no longer appreciate what He can do for you. Instead, consider Hebrews 11:6, which tells us that “he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. In other words, if you want to come to God, you must believe that He will do something for you. So it is perfectly fine to ask what Jesus can do for you, but your relationship with Him absolutely cannot stop there. You have to move to the next level.
Phase 2: What Can I Do for Jesus?
As we grow in relationships, we move past wanting to know what the other person can do for us and instead want to do something for them. We express our love by buying things or doing things for other people or saying nice things to them. For example, my wife makes me coffee some mornings just because she loves me. She doesn’t do this because I ask or need it, but just as an expression of her love for me. We also go through this phase in our relationship with the Lord.
This is a good thing! Scripture has much to say about our obedience to God and doing good works. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus tells us to “Seek first the kingdom of God.” In Matthew 7:24, He likens the man who hears His words and does them “to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” James 1:22 admonishes believers to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” And James 2:20 reminds us that “faith without works is dead.”
It is good to work for Jesus and His kingdom. We absolutely should do things for the Lord because we love Him, but this cannot be the end point of our relationship. Sadly, for many Christians, it is. They receive what Jesus has done for them and respond by doing things for Him. There is nothing wrong with either of those, but Jesus wants us to know Him more deeply.
Stage 3: Return to Your First Love
Think with me for a moment about those marriages that stand the test of time. These are marriages of imperfect people who, after years of gradual improvement, are no longer interested in what the other person can do for them or what they can do for the other person, but instead, are happy just to be together, in each other’s presence, and spending time with one another. These are the kinds of relationships we all aspire to, where both partners are filled with joy just by being with each other. It’s a beautiful picture of the kind of relationship Jesus desires with us.
Jesus, speaking to the Angel of the Church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:2-3, commended their works, saying: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” This would have been a great testimony, but Jesus didn’t stop there. He continued in Revelation 2:4, saying “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” What a stinging indictment! Those other things were important and praiseworthy, but they were not as good as being with Jesus. We must return to our first love, Jesus.
Consider the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42: “Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village, and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at the feet of Jesus and heard His words. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore, tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Notice Jesus’ comments about what Mary was doing. He said that “one thing is needed” and that it was a “good part.” What was this necessary, good part? Mary was sitting with Jesus and listening to Him. Meanwhile, Martha was “distracted.” In other words, she had placed her attention on the wrong things. Jesus goes on to explain that Martha was worried and troubled about many things. She was dealing with a lot of distractions. Like Martha, we also tend to get distracted from the things that are most important to us. Instead, we should choose the necessary, good part that Mary did, spending time listening to Jesus.
Every relationship goes through phases, but be careful not to get stuck on a phase. We must begin by focusing on what Jesus can do for us, and respond with gratitude by seeking what we can do for Him, but neither can be our ultimate goal. Instead, we must return to our first love and choose that good and necessary part -- spending time with Him. We do this by talking and listening to Him in prayer, expressing our adoration for Him through worship, reading His word, admiring His creation, being awed by His character, and enjoying just being in His presence.