I’m going to give it to you in great detail. Don’t get a fright, but read it slowly and carefully, and it will change your life!
When becoming a Christian, the number one focus of our lives should be God. We must get to know and understand God, even more, we must have a close personal relationship with Him, or being a Christian becomes a list of does and don’ts, as you’ve already mentioned.
You said in your question, “the list of things about what I should do beside studying the bible, praying and worshiping, is quite narrow”, and that is quite correct. That is how it should be. If we start out with a list of what is out, and what is in, your religion will become a checklist of what YOU have done. Christianity is all about what GOD HAS DONE!
We are totally incapable of saving ourselves, so a checklist of does and don’ts is useless, because what you do or don’t do, cannot bring you into the kingdom of heaven. The only thing that you can do, is to bring yourself into the closest position as possible to God, and let Him do the rest. Have a look at some of the Scripture passages below.
1 John 4:8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Philippians 2 12 … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
God is love. And in the “love chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13:5, it says, love does not seek its own. That means that God is focused totally outwards, He is more concerned about us than He is about Himself, especially our salvation. We see that with Jesus on the cross. He prays to His Father to forgive the very ones who are hammering the nails through His hands. He takes upon Himself your sins, and mine, and those of the whole world, since the time of Adam and Eve to the very end, and dies the death that we sinners should die.
Isaiah 53:4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. 11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
2 Corinthians 5:21 For He (God the Father) made Him who knew no sin (Jesus) to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
1 Peter 2: 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.
Hebrews 9:28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
His motivation is that He loves us so much that He wants each one of us to live with Him, in a close personal relationship, forever. That is love! And further, the sins we have done, are doing or still will do, make no difference to His love. He loves 100%, no matter whether we love Him or hate Him. We cannot make Him love us less if we are utterly sinful and reject Him, and we cannot make Him love us more, if we are His closest friends. And how do we measure God’s love for us?
Look at John 17:23, especially in some of the more modern versions, where Jesus tells His Father that He (the Father) loves us (you and me), as much as He loves Jesus. Let that sink in. You are loved by the Father as much as He loves Jesus! And of course, that goes the same for Jesus and the Holy Spirit. None of us deserves to be saved, for we are all sinners. But Jesus took our sins, died our death, and gives us salvation and eternal life, just because He loves us. That is grace!
John 17:23 (NLT) “I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”
Jeremiah 31:3 The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.”
Hebrews 13:5 …. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Ephesians 2 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of your-selves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
I’m sure your question at this stage would be, so how do I place myself as close as possible to this wonderful, awesome God? In other words, how do I start and grow, a close personal relationship with Someone who is invisible? It is actually extremely easy, and that is why we miss it so easily, in fact you have already mentioned it. You said, “studying the bible, praying and worshiping”. Let’s start with what a human relationship is all about. Say you have someone who you think would make a good friend, how to you become friends? Well, you introduce yourself, talk and tell the person all about yourself. Then you ask the person to tell you all about him/herself, and you listen and learn. You spend more and more time together, find all the points you have in common, and before you know it, you are best friends. Time spent talking, that’s it.
Let us start with prayer. We all pray, you will say. That is true, but what about, and for how long? Five or ten minutes in the morning, saying grace at mealtimes, and another ten minutes at night, is about average. And most of that is asking Him to do things for us. So how then should we pray? Prayer, it is said, is opening the heart as to a friend. In other words, put a pillow on the ground, get on your knees, and be prepared to be there a long time. Tell God everything, your hopes, sins, dreams, disasters, fears, everything you can think of. The funny thing is, God already knows everything about us, but we still have to do it, because it changes our hearts when we spill it all to God. And why should we be scared, if whatever you have done, does not make Him love you less?
Be prepared for the devil to try and sabotage your prayer life. He will put thoughts in your mind that are awful, and do it so cunningly, that you will think they are your own thoughts. Or he will make your thoughts wander, so that you cannot concentrate on what you want to tell God. So, before you start, tell God that this is your time with Him, and only Him, and ask Him to keep the devil out. Ask Him to be your fortress all around you, so that you are totally secure with Him, and the devil is outside.
That is just the start. The more time you spend with God, the more you will find that you become concerned for the salvation of your family, friends, and eventually, your enemies! So, you become an intercessor, someone who prays for God to spend extra special time with those people, drawing them closer to Him with His love. And as you see those change who you pray for, it will strengthen your faith, and improve your relationship with your heavenly Father and Friend. When you pray for someone to be saved, you know that you are 100% in God’s will, because His greatest concern for each of us is our salvation.
But the greatest and best part of prayer is praise and thanks. Normally, we do miserably little of this. We are great at asking, but poor at thanking and praising. We actually need to start each session of prayer with praising God for His great love and mercy to us, His patience with us who are such slow learners, and His constant forgiving, forgiving, forgiving of our sins. Praise Him for the plan of salvation, for the cross, for His willingness to take our sins and exchange it for His righteousness, for His resurrection which guarantees our eventual resurrection to eternal life. There is so much to praise God for, and we haven’t even started thanking Him! Every day there will be times when God steps in to help us, saves us from harm, gives us the words to say, stops us from saying hurtful words, answers our prayers, and much more. Thank Him for those things, so that we not only ask, but also thank.
So, we have spoken to God, and now we have to give Him the opportunity to speak to us. We generally have a pretty terrible view of God, due to the fact that the devil has had six thousand years to spread his lies about God. Most people believe that God is a horrible dictator, just waiting for us to step over the line of one of the many rules and regulations, to zap us. And not only punish us, but burn us for ever and ever in hell, while He laughs. What a terrible picture, and how could anyone love such a god? No, our God is love, He is full of mercy, goodness, gentleness, kindness, patience, forgiveness, joy, peace, self-control. No earthly parent could be more compassionate towards their children than our heavenly Father is towards us, even though we are born sinners. And we only get to believe it, know it and live as if we believe it, through letting God tell us about Himself, and show us how much He cares. And how does He do that, you ask.
God speaks mostly to us through His love letter to us, His Word, the Bible. That is why it is absolutely essential that we spend time every day reading and studying it. And before we open it, we must ask that God reveal Himself to us through His Word, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To read the Bible without inviting God to lead us, is fatal, which is why we have thousands of different denominations, each claiming to have the truth. Jesus said that He is truth (John 14:6), and that the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth (John 14:17), so only with the help of the Holy Spirit will we truly come to understand and know God, and what He tells us in His Word. When we find a verse or passage that particularly speaks to us, it helps if we could memorize it, because without a doubt, the time will come when you will be glad to have it handy, when the devil tempts or terrorizes you.
This is not the only way God has of speaking to us. He can speak clearly and audibly when He wants to, if He really wants to get our full attention. But this happens rarely, as His Word is quite plain enough as our Guidebook. He also speaks to us through nature, so it would be good to spend regular time looking at, and admiring, God’s creation, and thanking Him for it.
Another way in which He talks to us, is by putting thoughts in our minds, which are sometimes so amazing that we are stunned. When we realize that He is actually talking back, giving us details we never knew before, it will sometimes bring you to tears. We should be tuned in to Him, listening for His still, small voice, getting to know His unique voice in the constant noise around us. The Bible says that the Good Shepherd has sheep that know His voice and follow Him (John 10:4), which is exactly how we should live.
So how long should you spend with God each day? And when is best, and where? Plan to make this meeting with God a good habit, a forever thing. If God is to be number One in your life, plan to meet with Him when no-one can disturb you. That means in the nighttime, early morning preferably, to organize your day with Him before it starts. It will mean getting up earlier, but if that is a problem, go to bed earlier. He is your Creator, Saviour, Father, Friend,Lord of your life, after all! I would say that it would be good if you could try for an hour per day. Some would cringe at that, but if you look at the life of Jesus, and how He got up before the dawn, sometimes prayed right through the night, to stay in touch with His Father, why not? And just to be clear, we don’t do this to earn brownie points with God, but to get to know Him! And we get to heaven not by what we know, or even by what we do, but by Who we know! A close personal, intimate relationship with the King of the universe, is the key to eternal life.
Make it easy on yourself, and just kneel next to your bed for prayer. It’s right where you are, and it is easy to be there at the same time each day. Use an alarm clock, at least in the beginning, to make sure the devil does not make you oversleep. In time you will not need a clock, because God will wake you at the time He wants you to be with Him, and sometimes you will be saying, are you sure God, this is awfully early! But if God wants to talk to you, there is a reason, and He will give you strength for the next day, that is for certain! And in time you will look back and say, Lord, how did I ever get by with just one hour a day? And why did it bother me so to lose some sleep, when I could be close to my heavenly Father, growing our relationship? One hour is not the goal, it is the building of a good habit that will grow to a constant awareness that God is always with us, wanting us to talk to Him throughout our day. Our goal is God. To know Him is to love Him, and by beholding Him, we are changed into His image.
A special plea is that you give it time. Nothing worth having happens immediately. Some-times in the beginning, you wonder if this is really going to work. Is God that interested in me that He would want to spend time with me? Is He even listening? Just keep on doing it, building the good habit, opening up to God, and studying His Word, and one day you’ll find Him there, and then you will never want to let go! And when your relationship is growing well, don’t get casual about it and skip some days.
Remember when Jesus was lost in the temple at 12 years old? They forgot about Him for one day, and then it took three days to get Him back. Stick at it, every day, weekday or weekend, summer or winter. God is there for you, 24/7, all of your life, so never stop if you are really serious. It is the most rewarding thing to have a relationship with the King of the universe!
Once the relationship is established, God will show you what He wants you to do, where He wants you to go, what He wants you to concentrate on. When you look back, you will see that He has been changing you, cleaning up the messes in your life, giving you forgiveness for those who have done you wrong, and making you hate the sin that you fall into. And you will become more aware that God is with you, waiting for some communication from you, leading you in the path that He has walked before. The path will not always be easy, but with Him at your side, you have nothing to fear.
God bless as you work on your communication with God, and allow Him to transform you into the person He wants you to be!