How do I get closer to God?

Hey kiddo:

I've been thinking about your question from the other night and thought it might be a good idea to put my thoughts into writing so that you can refer to them in the future if you choose to. But first, I just want to commend you for being responsive to God's call on your life to know and love Him as He also desires to know and love you. I'm proud of you, kiddo. Here's my answer to your question, "how do I get closer to God?"

I tend to understand spiritual growth as occurring through three pursuits: Christ, Community, Calling (to be real with you, these are three terms used in my current church's vision statement, but I can't help but employ them all the time because they're so good).

Pursuing Christ

When you pursue Jesus, you are pursuing God because Jesus is God (John 14:9-10). Jesus also makes it clear that following Him can be a great sacrifice (Mark 8:34). As you grow in intimacy with Jesus, your interest in other ambitions will (should) decrease in terms of priority. Even so, try not to understand it as compartmentalization - all these aspects of yourself competing for attention and Jesus is merely one of them. Instead, as you grow in Christ, all the other aspects of your life are "caught up" in Christ as well. You'll be a better person, better boyfriend, better employee, better friend, more generous giver, etc. I'm going to send you a book I read in college called The Life You've Always Wanted by John Ortberg. It talks about the different habits you can do to grow in your relationship with Jesus. Here are a couple easy things to start you off:

  1. Spend time talking to God and learning how to listen to God daily. Typically this is referred to as prayer and meditation, but these terms can encompass a lot of different communicative habits. Begin with like two minutes of complete silence and just breathe deeply - it's harder than you think. Then, start telling God thanks for the good and hard stuff going on in your life. Ask Him to give you the eyes to see His involvement in your life. Spend a little time praying for others. You know how we tell people, "I'll pray for you"? Well here's when you do that 😂. Finally, close out with a favorite prayer or scripture, like the Prayer of Serenity or The Lord's Prayer.

  2. Read a few verses of The Bible every day. Don't get ambitious and overwhelm yourself - start small. The Gospel of John is a great book to start with. Or maybe reading a devotional like Jesus Calling can be helpful if you need a bit more direction. When you read a few verses, ask yourself these three questions: 1) what does this tell me about God?, 2) what does this tell me about myself?, and 3) what does this tell me about how I should treat others?.

  3. Embrace the hard stuff. I'm convinced that the primary way God grows us is through suffering (James 1:2-4; Hebrews 12:10; Romans 8:17, II Corinthians 12:7-10). Hard stuff reminds us that we're not in control and God is. That reminder is necessary because we have an innate tendency to be our own gods and just keep God in our pockets until we need Him. The focus that hard things can bring is a welcome gift as it can produce increased endurance and dependence in our lives. Though God does not delight in our suffering, He does delight in what our suffering can produce.

Pursuing Community

When pastors talk about community, most people just hear them saying, "go to church". But it's way deeper than that. We're part of an individualist culture, which means we focus on personal growth, personal responsibility, personal rights, etc (just realizing how individualist it was of me to put the "Pursuing Christ" section first). In an individualist culture, it's really hard to understand and apply biblical truths when we read or hear them because we tend to understand and apply them personally. But the books of the Bible are written by and for a collectivist culture, where people valued their identity as part of a community OVER their personal identity. You are part of the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:12-10), which means you have a role to play in this thing and, like believers of old, should see your collective identity as a Christian as more valuable than your individual identity as a ________. Here a few good habits:

  1. Find a group to worship with weekly. In a worship service, you're getting an opportunity to do all the stuff you'd do in your own time with God, but in a public setting with other believers. It's weird for individualists, but in God's mind it makes sense for family members to worship together, and you're part of His family. So we sing, pray, laugh, eat, and learn together. Also, make sure you're part of a faith community that preaches the Bible faithfully. A lot of churches today are pretty fluffy with the Bible and preach sermons that are more like motivational speeches meant to inspire you and convince you that you're awesome. On the other hand, some churches teach people in unduly harsh ways that utilize the Bible to advance an underlying ideological or theological agenda. We can talk more about this.

  2. Do life with a small group of people. You already have this circle, bro. But it's time to see the relationships you have with fellow believers go deeper. This means learning to be okay with hard things like confession, honesty, and accountability. But it also means awesome things like learning together, growing together, EATING TOGETHER, and all that. You just have to be intentional about the time you have together and invite the Holy Spirit into it. Don't hear me wrong; I'm not saying you can't have any fun anymore - lol. A lot of people make that mistake and feel like, if they're not discussing Jesus 24/7, they're sinning. Even Jesus would agree that's ridiculous. Look at His life with the disciples. They did life together for three years. In the Gospels, we're just reading the relevant highlights. What do we think they did with the rest of their time? LIFE, bro. Life. Hiking, traveling, laughing, farting, eating, drinking, talking, and experiencing what Jesus calls "life to the full" (John 10:10).

  3. Pursue heterogeneous community. This is more of a subsection, but do whatever you can to make sure everyone in your community doesn't look like you and think like you. Pursuing racially and ideologically homogeneous community is something Americans are famous for, sadly. It'd be awesome to see your generation break that unbiblical trend and learn how to be challenged by diverse community.

Pursuing Calling

If you read the I Corinthians 12:12-20 passage from the previous section, then you know that God has gifted you with specific talents and abilities. You may already know what they are or you may spend the rest of your life figuring out what they are. Both are great. Just know that a huge part of your relationship with God is serving others. It's really pretty amazing, kind of like our Mission Arlington days. God is doing this great, big, huge cosmic work of inviting the world into His love, and He lets His family members - you and me - join Him in that work AND gives us talents and abilities to position us in different spaces for that work. Here are a few habits:

  1. Remember that it's better to give than to receive. I wish people would remember this when they're looking for a new church home. When you're looking, don't just be thinking, "do they have good music?" or "do I like the pastor's sermon". We need to also think, "where could I serve here?" and "how could I use my talents and abilities to help out?". It's like what President Kennedy said in his inauguration speech: "ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country." That's how believers should approach choosing a faith community, among other things, some of which I already mentioned.

  2. Be a generous giver. Believers are responsible for supporting the work of God's Kingdom through their gifts - especially financial ones. The Bible's model for this is tithing, or giving 10% of one's income to the Church. Some people can't get on board with this, especially at first, so I'd recommend praying for God to show you an amount that you can be comfortable with for now. Don't let this be a deal breaker. But speaking as someone employed by a church, I can tell you that our ability to do the work of the Kingdom directly hinges on the resources we're given by God's people.

That's all I got for now, kiddo. I'm proud of you and excited about seeing you walk this out over the next few days and months. I hope this isn't overwhelming. Just remember this: God loves you just the way you are. But He also loves you too much to leave you that way. His love motivates us to trust Him and follow Him, knowing His way is better than our own. You'll be on this journey for the rest of your life, so it's okay to start small and slow. One step, then two, then so on. Before you know it, you'll look back and be surprised at just how far you've come. And you'll see two sets of footprints...

Love you, dude.

Grace & Peace,


PS: I stole that last line from a poem called Footprints.

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