Editor’s note: The following is a report on the practical application of Skye Jethani's book, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011).

God made us to live with Him. In the Garden of Eden, the first human beings lived with God, enjoying the blessings of close relationships with Him. After they sinned and had to leave God’s presence, God still made a way for people to be with Him – by trusting in Jesus Christ for their salvation from sin. Jesus came to Earth as Immanuel (which means “God with us”) so that people could live with God once more.

Christians now have the profound blessing of God living with them in the form of the Holy Spirit. Yet too often, we don’t approach God as if we’re really living with Him. Instead, we live life over, under, from, or for God, missing out on the type of relationship He wants us to enjoy with Him.

Here’s how you can change the way you relate to God so you’re truly living with Him:

Stop living under God. If you’re living under God, you’re relating to Him primarily as a sinner. You’re thinking of yourself as a bad person who lives under the constant threat of God’s wrath and punishment. You work to figure out what God approves and disapproves of and then carefully live within those moral boundaries as much as you can. You hope to appease God through your morality, as well as by following rituals that you think may please Him. But there are no guarantees that God will rescue you from suffering if you do what God wants you to do, from living with integrity to supporting your church financially. Instead, God allows suffering to come into the lives of everyone – both the righteous and the unrighteous – in this fallen world (and God often uses suffering to accomplish good purposes in people’s lives). Also, God is most concerned about your internal state (what’s going on in your soul) than He is about your external actions. Recognize that you can faithfully adhere to religious rules and perform religious rituals, and yet still be harboring sinful conditions such as hatred, greed, pride, lust, and deceit in your soul. You can’t connect to God by living under Him. But thankfully, Jesus welcomes everyone (even the worst sinners) to rely on Him (rather than religion) to connect with God.

Stop living over God. If you’re living over God, you’re relating to Him primarily as a manager. You’re thinking of yourself as an autonomous being who tries to control your own life without God’s intervention. If you’re an atheist, you believe that you control your own fate entirely, but when life doesn’t turn out as you’d planned, you become frustrated. If you’re a deist, you believe that your fate ultimately depends on how well you implement God’s principles and instructions, and when you do what’s right yet still experience suffering, you become frustrated. But no matter how hard you may try to make certain outcomes happen in your life, you’re ultimately not in control – God is. Trying to take God’s place in your life by either denying His existence or marginalizing Him won’t lead you to the peace and joy that living with God will give you.

Stop living from God. If you’re living from God, you’re relating to Him primarily as a consumer. You’re thinking of yourself as a discontent person who constantly deals with the pain of unmet desires and expects God to give you what you want, when you want it, or you doubt His love for you. You seek God’s blessings and try to convince God to fulfill your expectations, and become disappointed when life doesn’t turn out the way you’d hoped. You don’t care as much about God Himself as you do about what God can do for you. But God is not a divine butler, a cosmic therapist, or a holy vending machine. While it’s true that God wants to bless you, He wants to do so in the context of enjoying a close relationship with you. Also, God knows what’s truly best for you, so rather than trying to dictate what you think He should give you, decide to trust Him to answer your prayers according to what’s best. Check your motives when you’re approaching God in prayer and make sure that you’re not too distracted by how much you want His blessings to pursue the biggest blessing of all: a closer relationship with God Himself.

Stop living just for God. If you’re living for God, you’re relating to Him primarily as a servant. While serving God is good, it becomes unhealthy if it overtakes the main way in which God intends for you to relate to Him – as a beloved child who goes through life with Him, regardless of whether or not you’re able to accomplish something great for Him. You’re thinking of yourself as a worker whose value as a person is tied to whether or not you’re able to accomplish God’s mission for you in life. If you don’t have the impact on the world that you believe you should have, you worry that you’re a failure who doesn’t deserve God’s love and fear that your life is insignificant. But real success comes from connecting to God through a relationship with Him, and your life will be significant no matter what you do or don’t accomplish for God, because your significance comes from the simple facts that God made you and loves you. Although it’s important to work on whatever God mission calls you to fulfill, it’s more important to make your ultimate goal pursuing God Himself. When you make your top priority living with God in a close relationship, the details of serving Him will fall into place properly, and you’ll experience peace and joy as you serve Him.

Start living with God. When you focus on living with God, you relate to Him primarily as a beloved child. Then you can see God’s beauty, grasp His unconditional love, perceive His glory, and experience His goodness. Strengthen your union with God by training yourself to be aware of His constant presence with you and communing with Him in prayer often. Have faith that you’re always safe in God’s care, place your hope in God Himself rather than in your circumstances, and let God’s love inspire you to wonder, new discoveries, and joy.

Adapted from With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, copyright 2011 by Skye Jethani. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com. 

Skye Jethani is an author, editor, speaker, and pastor. He is the senior editor of Leadership Journal, a magazine and online resource published by Christianity Today International. Visit his website at: www.skyejethani.com

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles. Contact Whitney at: angels.guide@about.com to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer. 

Publication date: August 20, 2012