Back in 2007 when I first made my Facebook profile, I distinctly remember pausing a bit when I saw the “religion” options. I scrolled through them and felt like I didn’t really fit into any of those neat little categories anymore.
I’m pretty sure I settled on “Christian/other” and then in the About Me section cleared it up with a one-liner: “It’s relationship not religion”.
You see, it was around that time that I discovered The Life Model. I was learning to interact with Jesus and develop a growing Immanuel Lifestyle at that time, and this recognition and protection of “relationship” was becoming clear to me and felt really important.
I had spent most of my life before this trying desperately (and failing miserably) to live up to a set of rules associated with religion, and frankly, I was tired of it.
But as I learned to step out of the framework of “religion” and into a real interactive relationship with Jesus, things began to change.
I discovered that Jesus really cared about me. I found him to be interested in my thoughts, my attention and my feelings. And it felt wonderful!
The more time I spent in His presence, the more I also noticed that my desires were changing. They actually started lining up more with those “rules” I had been trying to live up to when I was being “Christian”.
Relationship with Jesus seemed to have side effects! The first side effect I noticed was heart changes that made the “rules” into things I actually desired. Less and less was I wanting or enjoying those things that the Bible had warned me against.
This was a pleasant surprise. Realizing this benefit came WITHOUT striving was like a breath of fresh air.
So, I continued growing my relationship. Pretty soon I began to discover another side effect: HEALING.
The more I turned towards Jesus and pursued relationship- the more old wounds began to be uncovered and healed in His presence. Instead of going after healing and begging Jesus for it- I went after Jesus and in the context of relationship- healing occurred.
You see, when I approached Jesus, to be with Jesus, He connected with me in all my emotions. He would meet me in today’s joy and in today’s pain. Sometimes during our conversations, He would remind me gently of when I had felt similar pains long ago. In these moments He was able to change my experience in the past in a way that was no longer painful. He exchanged my pain for His peace right in the middle of both old wounds and new ones.
It seems that Jesus knew exactly what my brain needed to fully process painful things.
You see, as I simply spend time with Jesus, building joy and learning to quiet and feel Shalom (God’s peace), my brain is building capacity. This capacity is a lot like muscles.
Jesus knew that my muscles were small and I couldn’t lift heavy things.
But as we spend time together, my muscles begin to grow. My brain’s capacity muscles get bigger in the presence of God!
Eventually my muscles grow so much that I’m able to lift heavier things. Which means, now Jesus can take me to more and more painful places for healing.
You see, back before my muscles had a chance to grow, when I tried to “go after” the healing of a big painful memory, I would end up straining and getting stuck, or getting hurt even more! I finally realized that this was only happening when I was the one “leading”. Jesus never took me to places that were too big for me.
It’s interesting to me how this side effect grew my trust as well. Knowing that Jesus won’t lead me to places where I’ll get stuck builds my trust. The more I trust Him, the more frequently I want to interact with Him because I’m not afraid of being overwhelmed.
And like I said before, the more I interact with Him in joy, the stronger my muscles get!
Now that my muscles are bigger, Jesus knows I can handle the more difficult things. He is gentle as He leads me to those places and assures me that He is my spotter – and can loan me some of His capacity if I get tired. But like any good spotter knows, you don’t even put heavy weights on the chest of someone who has no chance to lift it on their own.
So, you may be wondering why I decided to look at it this way. Why am I calling heart change and healing side effects instead of benefits?
It’s because I want to be clear that both of these things are not the goal. Healing and heart change are not the purpose of relationship.
When we confuse this, we become seekers of something other than God. It’s a totally different way of thinking.
Like going to the gym because you want to be with your trainer rather than because you want to get into shape! This means you’ll still want to return even after you’ve reached your goal. This means you’ll still want to go to the gym even when you’re sore and in pain. This means you’ll still want to go to the gym when you’re satisfied with your fitness level. You’ll want to go to the gym to see Him- and it won’t be because you’re afraid of not going.
So, yes, relationship with Jesus has great side effects. But I promise, His intended purpose is good all by itself.