And now let me unlimber a platitude the size of Texas: “You need a personal relationship with Jesus.” Sorry. I had to say that. The entire idea of Christ as a Person calls for it.
I realize the personal relationship angle has come to mean some misleading things. Personal for instance, might denote “individually determined,” like the personal-sized toothpaste and deodorants you buy at the drug store. In other words, Jesus gets tailored to my convenience and needs. “Personal” has also come to mean selfish, where God is about me, for me, and close to being me. “Personal” could mean isolated, such as the private island paradise that can only be accessed by water plane. Under those circumstances, you don’t need or want anyone else involved with your Christian life.
Believers like to burrow into these rabbit holes from time to time. Tragically, some forget to climb back out of them.
There’s a better way to describe personal relationship.
First, personal means direct. I’ve heard some people say, “My pastor would die if he saw me doing this!” Of course there are others who wouldn’t like your beer bong stunt, either, like folks at church and your Christian parents. It’s a good thing none of them saw it.
But when you live life only in front of other people, you’re really saying there are forty miles of telegraph poles between you and Jesus. True personal relationship eliminates go-betweens. “There is no mediator between God and man except the man, Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Paul further nailed it. He said, “It is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Truly, Jesus died for the whole world (1 John 2:2), and shed His blood for the church (Acts 20:28), but Paul could also say, He “loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Jesus shed His blood for all of us, yet He doesn’t have a personal relationship with a crowd. He loves you and me.
Second, personal means portable. For instance, you may feel distant from the presence of God without the eight-piece worship band, without a surrounding wall of Jesus talk and church coffee. But everywhere you go, and whatever mundane thing you do, Christ is immediately with you. This includes the non-Sunday morning setting—in your cubicle at work, in the library at school, on the couch in front of the television, on dates Friday night, and during long sessions on the internet. As David said, “Where shall I flee from Your presence?” (Psalm 139:7). The answer is, “Nowhere.” This personal portability creates tremendous opportunities for fellowship on the fly—communing with God through tiny, short prayers, one-phrase praises, thanksgiving under your breath, fragments of Bible verses. He is personally with you, everywhere.
Third, personal means consciousness of God. When I’m not aware of God’s presence, I do a lot of things differently. I compare it to the way some people behave when the boss is present, and the way they act when he’s out for the day. Even if you can’t see him through that big mahogany office door, the awareness of his presence alters the atmosphere, including how many personal calls get made during work hours.
Our awareness of the presence of a supremely holy, righteous, fair, loving God is the biggest game-changer of all. Peter said, “Because of consciousness of God” (1 Pet 2:19 NIV), it is possible for us to suffer differently than we normally would. Instead of breaking out the colorful profanity, and the threats of legal proceedings, we handle it in a godly way. Bottom line: God influences me on the personal level.
Fourth, personal means experiential. I’m sure you’ve heard the illustrations about reading cookbooks without ever baking a pie, memorizing a menu without ordering any of the food, skimming a thumbnail bio, but never meeting a person. We don’t have to fall into these disconnected extremes with God. Peter speaks of the reality of experiencing Christ in the here and now, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet. 1:8). Because Jesus is personally available, you can develop a robust devotional life. “Oh no,” you say, “Does that mean reading the Bible, praying, and stuff?” Well, try to have a personal relationship with somebody you know nothing about or never speak to. Wouldn’t that be kind of silly? Remember, devotional practices are directed toward a Person, and not for the sake of “doing the Christian thing.”
Fifth, personal means accountable. My finger naturally points outward, away from me. It’s frozen in that position. Yours, too. This defensive posture deflects responsibility: “If the situation hadn’t been so difficult…” “If the church hadn’t been so judgmental…” “If my spouse wasn’t so temperamental…” Yet we will all give a personal account to God one day (Rom. 14:12, 2 Cor. 5:10). I am responsible for my own life—the life I live, the ministry I should develop, etc. At the judgment seat of Christ, I will not be able to pull the Freudian maneuver of digging my parents out of mothballs, and blaming them for anything. Check the scene in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Jesus begins addressing the church, then descends all the way down to the individual. That is the bottom line: “He who”…”he who”…”he who”…” Accountability occurs at the personal level. Personal means I realize the buck stops here. My Christian life is mine.