3 Steps to Experience Deeper Relationship with Jesus

Kerry Plantz - Soul Care Counselor

 

Recently, I ran a half-marathon. For those of you who are not runners, a half marathon is 13.1 miles. To put that into perspective, it’s about 6.5 miles from our Spring Lake Campus to our Grand Haven Campus. Can you imagine running there and back… for fun? I can! Now, before you start to ask, “Why would anyone do that?” Or say something like, “No human should run that far.” Or my personal favorite, “You know, the Bible says, ‘The wicked run away when no one is chasing them.’” Let me help you understand why I love running so much. 

I love it because I have learned so much from it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a 5k or a half-marathon — one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from running is that it will always go better for you if you train for it. This might sound obvious, but no one should go out and run 13.1 miles without training. Our bodies weren’t designed to do that! There is a process and a method to gain endurance, strength, and pace over time. When I decided to run the half marathon, I signed up month and months in advance. Why? Because I needed to set the goal, then plan the steps to get there, and then give myself the time to accomplish it all. 

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Running, Training, and Our Relationship with Jesus

In one of his letters to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes this…

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So, run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So, I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Just as distance running requires us to have discipline and self-control, our relationship with Jesus require much of the same if we want to experience all the blessing He has for us here on this side of eternity. I believe many of us miss these blessings because we have forgotten or are unaware of how to train for the race we are running. We believe we are crushing it because we aren’t looking at pornography or we aren’t overeating or we haven’t watched a rated-R movie in our life or we don’t swear or we don’t murder. Yet we still feel empty, lonely, anxious, and uncertain in our life. And why? Because we aren’t partaking in the blessings of discipline in our life. 

The Difference Between Self-Control and Discipline

The dictionary defines self-control as “the ability to control oneself.” Think of this as restraint. This is where you say “no” to your fleshly desires. It’s the “put-off” of Ephesians 4 and the “I’ve been crucified with Christ, it’s no longer I who live” of Galatians 2:20. Self-control is when we override our feelings, our selfish desires, and restrain ourselves from our fleshly and worldly desires. 

Self-discipline, on the other hand, is defined as “correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement.” This is the “putting-on” of Ephesians 4 and the “It’s Christ who lives within me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” of Galatians 2:20. Self-discipline is when we are obedient to do the things God calls us to do, believing he will produce a good result.

From both personal experience and my time as a counselor, it’s become clear to me that we often over emphasize the importance of restraint and we misunderstand the heart of God’s commands for us toward self-discipline.  We have made God’s provisions of His disciplines a boring checklist alongside our other list of to-dos and we forget that God the Father gave his one and only Son so that we could have true relationship with him again. And we experience that relationship in greater fullness as we press into greater self-discipline over time. 

But it doesn’t happen overnight! 

I couldn’t just go out and run 13.1 miles in one day — I had to train and discipline my body to run 1 mile, then 2, then 3, and so on. We are in a race and Paul urges us to not run aimlessly, beating the air, but with intention, setting our eyes on the prize. And that prize is a deeper relationship with Jesus. Here are three steps to help you go deeper in your relationship with Jesus by being obedient to the things he has called you to:

3 Steps to Experience Deeper Relationship through Discipline

1 – SET A GOAL

Maybe you want to grow in your prayer life or you would like to be disciplined in reading God’s Word. Maybe your goal is to serve others or grow in your generosity. God has set out many things for us to be disciplined in as believers that are for our good. Pick one and be specific with God and others about your focus and aim.  What is the race you’re training for and wanting to grow in? People don’t change in fuzzy land. Set a goal and watch God meet you there!

2 – CREATE A PLAN

As I mentioned earlier, you’re not going to reach your goal overnight. You have to take it one day at a time, with active, intentional steps to get to where you want to be. I remember one year I spent almost the entire year focused on prayer — what it was and how God wanted me to enter into it. I set up a prayer room, started a prayer journal; I had times of fasting and prayer throughout the week and tried different kinds of prayers.  It was so wonderful and has changed the way I pray today for the better. I experienced the closeness of God as I found freedom to enter into his presence through prayer. It took some work to get there though. It took discipline to carve out time and write the prayers down and see Him answer them. But it was (and still is) worth it because prayer is a discipline God has provided for us as a blessing not a burden. Same with serving others, fasting, reading His Word, and so many more disciplines. They require us to obey and push our ourselves by the power of the Spirit into action. Once you have your eyes on a goal, create a plan and start to follow it!

3 – ENJOY THE JOURNEY

Don’t forget to enjoy the journey, even when it’s a little painful. Remember, God’s Word says that, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) Galatians talks about how we are either sowing to our flesh or the Spirit and the fruit that is produced out of sowing to the Spirit is life. Every day we wake up, we are sowing seeds. It’s easy to sow to our own flesh. It is much harder to die to self and sow to the Spirit. When we discipline ourselves to sow to the Spirit, God meets us there and produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.

The first few long runs of training were hard. There were a few that caused pain, and if I’m being honest and vulnerable right now, I’ll tell you that I landed myself in the hospital. But when I finally ran that race and crossed the finish line, I was ecstatic! I had done my best and achieved a goal and won a medal. In our walks with God, the reward of discipline is deeper relationship with the Creator of the world. It is intimacy with the Ruler of everything. While it might be difficult and painful for a season, it will always be worth it in the end.