Soul Food

Developing a Deeper Relationship with God

Having a relationship with God has been foundational in my healing and health journey. For me God is not just some entity in a far off dimension or universe. He is a part of my everyday life. He has guided me through terrifying circumstances and great disappointments. He has blessed me even when I didn’t notice that I was being blessed. He has taught me many hard lessons and truths about myself that I didn’t want to see. I guess you could say that I have a personal relationship with God, but I didn’t always.  

Partly, I didn’t know how to have a relationship with a God I have never seen or heard, and partially I wasn’t willing to open the door to God and give him control over my life. Slowly, based on how desperately I needed him, I would open the door for Him to be in my life. God always showed up. Maybe not immediately, as I have had to learn how to wait for His timing. But if I truly wanted and looked for Him, then God would make Himself known.

Finding a Church

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Jeremiah 29:13

In the midst of unhealthy relationships, I was desperate for a healthy one. I began attending church in Cleveland, OH during my clinical fieldwork experience at the Cleveland Clinic. I was so lucky to have that experience. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in that church. The minister was so intelligent, socially relevant, and flooding the listeners with truth and love. I haven’t always been able to connect to different churches or religious leaders. It has been hard for me to find a place that touches my soul and feels like home. Now in Buffalo, NY, I attend an awesome church at First Trinity Lutheran Church that has programs to serve the community, goes on several mission trips a year, and has a growing congregation. My church is alive! Pastor Chuck’s sermons bring tears to my eyes almost every service.

I encourage people to not give up, if a church sets you off or doesn’t feel right for you. If that’s the case, try another church, and maybe even step out of your denomination. I have been to catholic churches, lutheran churches, methodist churches, presbyterian churches, home churches, non-denominational, etc. Just don’t give up looking.

Tips:
What helped me was looking for a church that felt “alive,” or in other words they had:
-Various programs, groups, activities, and outreach opportunities

– A fairly large and diverse congregation

– The minister/priest/pastor touched my heart with his or her sermons

Serving

“For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

Even though I was very sick for four years and nearly bedridden for two of those years, I was determined to feel like I still had a purpose on this earth. If God was keeping me alive, then I was going to find a way to be useful. My church had a kind of “volunteermatch,” where you assessed your spiritual gifts and thought about how to serve the church and community. I started with very flexible, simple tasks that I could do while I was sick, without putting demands on myself. I marked Bibles with popular verses for new members, and I wrote notes to homebound members on a monthly basis.

Tip:
– Ask your church staff how you could give to others. Often times, making notes in a Bible for someone else was just the way to get me to start reading it. Also, the encouraging note I would write to someone who was home-bound, was actually encouraging me too. I felt God communicating with me through this work.

Reading the Bible

“It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”  Isaiah 55:11

There is no substitution for God’s own words, from His own mouth. There are millions of self-help books written by people, but there is only one book written by the One who created us. Eventually, that peaked my curiosity. What did it say? I started slowly with the YouVersion Bible App reading devotionals that pertained to whatever area I wanted answers in. It helped me to get a knowledge of God’s character. Eventually, that wasn’t satisfying enough. I wanted the words from the source, and not someone else’s thoughts about it.

I began to read the whole Bible chronologically. Never in a million years did I think I would do such a thing. I thought the Bible is too long, too boring, and not relatable. That’s just not true. I love the New Living Translation (NLT) life application study Bible, which reads really easily. In small doses of a reading plan, it doesn’t feel long. It only takes me 15 minutes a day. Shockingly, it is also very relevant. When reading through it and reviewing the context, I can imagine how I would feel in any of the situations and relate them to my own experiences. The impact is different when I read one verse at a time; in that, it is not as powerful, nor is the depth of understanding brought to the surface. If ever I feel really conflicted and confused about what I am reading, I ask my trusted Pastor to try and clarify the best he can. For me, God’s words in the Bible are truly living water, in that they replenish my soul.

Tips:
– I suggest starting with the YouVersion Bible App and figure out which version you like reading the best. I like the NLT, the New International Version (NIV), and The Message.

– If you are really struggling with historical context and questioning the Bible’s relevance, I suggest reading a Francine Rivers’ book. Either “A Lineage of Grace: Five Stories of Unlikely Women Who Changed Eternity” or “The Mark of The Lion Trilogy.” These books brought Biblical times to life for me, and made me want to read the Bible for myself.

Praying

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Philippians 4:6

I had been taught to say my prayers at dinner and bedtime, and the Lord’s prayer at church. It wasn’t until I was in a home church in Denver, Co that I actually learned how to pray. I was with a group of all different people; ages, sexual orientation, gender, and denomination. But the people who led it were pentecostal. It was a pretty special thing, in fact life changing. I had never seen people pray like that. We would all get on our knees and actually cry out to the Lord together and at the same time. At first, I was so overwhelmed and distracted. I think I even giggled, because I was nervous.

They actually taught me that the Lord’s prayer is a guide or template on how to pray. The Lord’s prayer was intended to be a guide to insert our own thoughts and words into. As we do this, we are to lay out our lives and our hearts to God, and feel deeply. Essentially, prayer is our heart’s cry to the Lord. This kind of praying was different. I could feel the Holy Spirit. I saw prayers being answered like never before. It set my faith on fire!

Reading the Bible more, also enhanced my prayers. Praying the actual words of God is powerful. His words are powerful. If you want to go to war over anything in your life; restoration of a relationship, healing, anxiety or depression, death or loss, financial troubles, etc., I suggest praying the words of God over your life. It is transformative.

Tips:
– Pray the Lord’s pray as a template for you own words.

– Use the scriptures to guide your prayer, and in your actual prayers.

Trusting God and Surrendering Meditation by Rush Podcast

Listening to Worship Music

“Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.”  Matthew 22:37

In my darkest of days, worship music lifted me out of my suffering. I would lay in bed all night suffering and listening to worship music. The songs became etched in my mind. When I would pray to God, he would answer me through the song lyrics that I knew (they would just pop into my head after asking a question). For me, music became a deeper way to connect to God.

Playlist “Going to War Over Suffering”:

Zach Williams “Chain Breaker”, “Fear is a Liar,” and “Survivor”

Natalie Grant “More Than Anything”

Lauren Daigle “Trust In You,” “My Revival,” “Everything,” and “Rescue”

Bethel Music (Live) “It is Well,” and “You Make Me Brave”

Morgan Harper Nichols “Grateful,” and “I Can’t Save Myself”

Rita Springer “Defender”

Casting Crowns “Just Be Held”

MercyMe “Even If”

Brain Johnson and Jenn Johnson “You’re gonna be ok”

What I Have Learned

As a recovering, “I can do everything myself and on my own” kind of person, I have learned that I am nothing without God. When life backed me up against a wall with my illness, and everything that I thought would sustain or protect me could not; I realized who was in charge. I learned how to surrender to God’s will. Tony Evans puts it like this, “God will often delay carrying out His promises until He sees a heart of surrender” (2014). He goes on to explain that:

To experience all that God can do for you as ruler…over your life,
you have to knowingly and willingly surrender to Him. That means
He gets to call the shots. He gets to have the final say in your decisions.
You consider His perspective as you make choices and decide how to
use your time (Evans, 2014).

When I finally surrendered to God and stopped carrying the burden of my illness, I realized that God’s love for all of us is unbelievable. He forgives us constantly and continuously, He will rescue us from ourselves and others, He will kick down the door to find us when we are lost and alone, and He will never stop pursuing us. We are that valuable and precious to Him. That’s why I need to have a relationship with the Lord!

References

Evans, T. 2014. The power of God’s names. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House
Publishers.