The Christian Life Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
My church starts every year with a prayer and fasting event, which has become an anticipated event for many of us. As we ask each other what we’re praying for, one request I often hear is deeper intimacy with God.
But just how can we draw close to God in a more consistent way, and not the typical “new year, new me” way that fizzles out after a month (or a week)?
It’s really all about habit-building. When we set goals, we often picture the end goal we want without thinking about the “building blocks” and “stepping stones” needed to get there. Sometimes we’re subconsciously looking for a shortcut, a fast track. But when it comes to God and us, it’s a relationship, a journey of a lifetime, that we need to diligently go through every day.To paraphrase a well-known quote, “The spiritual life is a marathon, not a sprint.”
So, here are some foundational building blocks that I’ve gotten over the years, and ones I go back to every time I think about how to get closer to God:
Purposely carve out time in the day to be with Him
In our age of instant gratification, the way we rely on the quick turnaround times of fast food joints and coffee shops can spill over into how we relate to God—we may tend to approach Him like a barista who’s ready to bless without any mess.
Early on in my faith, I was taught that God is a friend and source of blessings, which led me to focus mostly on what I could get from Him. This showed in my quiet time—how I would do a quick reading of a verse and short devotional, then say a superficial prayer that started with “Thank you God for this day” followed by a long list of requests.
In short, God wasn’t really someone I looked forward to spending time with; He was just there to meet my “needs”.
With the help of a mentor a few years later, I was able to better understand my relationship with God and the importance of spending quality time with Him. It’s like any relationship we treasure—we want to nurture it by giving more effort and time.
Even as John 1:1–3 tells us that Jesus is God Himself (which means He already knew God!), He still made sure to spend time with the Father while He was on earth. The Gospels have many records of Jesus intentionally retreating from crowds to be alone with God (Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35, Luke 6:12).
More than setting aside time, Jesus showed us how He spent that time through intentional prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, Matthew 26:36-44, John 17). What’s so different about His prayer life was that He prioritised His Father’s will above all.
Like Jesus, we must set aside quality time to be with our Father and to know His heart, so that we’ll be moved to put His agenda first (John 4:34).
I always remember the advice my mentor shared years ago: “If something’s important to you, you don’t find time. You make time.” This fundamentally changed my perspective on quiet time with God and helped me decide to do it first thing in the morning. He deserves to be prioritised, and I cannot give Him the attention, adoration, and devotion due Him if all I’m offering is scraps of my time.
As I spent time studying the Bible, I learned to put in extra effort to understand the context of the verses and how people in the Bible related to God; these made me see how God is holy and just, yet gracious and compassionate. The more I came to understand who God is, the more motivated I became to prioritise Him in my life.
Meditate on the verses or passages
Joshua 1:8 tells us to meditate on God’s Word so that we may be careful to walk in His ways and experience the blessings of obedience. To meditate requires intentionally carving out time and mental space (and doing it on a regular basis) so you can think more deeply about what you’ve read.
Meditating can become an afterthought these days when everything is calling for our attention. What I’ve found helpful is identifying those sizeable pockets of time where I’m not working, like during my commute to work, or lunch breaks, to think about the passage I read that morning. I also try to find a quiet corner, turn off my notifications, and put away my phone so I can focus. Sometimes I bring out my Bible to re-read the verse or chapter and try to pinpoint keywords that I find striking.
But what if you’re not used to staying still and your thoughts tend to wander? I know someone who immediately drifts off into Never-Never Land the moment they hit the bed.
So far I’ve found that talking out loud to God (in a private place, of course) helps me refocus. Whenever I sense that my thoughts are drifting, I would talk to God aloud; I’d tell Him how my day was, who or what bugged me, what I’m struggling with, or anything else that was on my mind. The same goes for Bible reading—reading out loud helps me concentrate.
One passage that I learned to meditate on is Matthew 28:18–20, which is a key passage for my church. I saw how Jesus first established authority in verse 18 before giving further instructions in verses 19 to 20. It was important for the disciples to understand where the authority to teach would come from, and in fact, to recognise that this is a command from Jesus, not merely a suggestion.
As I pondered on the implications of this command, I came to see how it mean that I’m not just an attendee of Sunday services, but an active follower of Jesus, tasked to lead others to Him. And if I’m to teach others to obey, then I need to learn for myself what the commands are and actually obey them.
Finally, that Jesus gave this mission to the disciples as a group means that they were to do it together, and so I’m also called to do this together with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Do what the Bible says
“If you love me, keep my commands” John 14:15 (NKJV).
It’s easy to picture intimacy with God as just spending quality time with Him and meditating on His Word, that we forget an uncomfortable yet important part: obedience. The Bible tells us that being God’s friends (which is a very intimate relationship) means we obey and follow Him (John 15:13-15).
Thinking about the connection between obedience and intimacy always reminds me of the stories of Abraham, Moses, and Mary. When Abraham obeyed God’s call to leave his home country, he saw how God protected and provided for him, including blessing him with Isaac in his old age. After Moses obeyed God’s call to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he witnessed God’s work through the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and the many provisions in the wilderness. Mary obeyed God’s call to be the mother of Jesus, whom she gave birth to and raised, and through this, she became part of the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies.
As these people obeyed, they were blessed to experience God’s goodness for themselves and those around them.
In my personal life, I’ve experienced how intimacy with God involves a stretching of my faith, where I obey Him by taking just the next step that He’s laid out for me, and trust Him to make things fall into place in His time.
Following my meditation of Matthew 28:18–20, I could see how discipling others may be daunting, and would entail a huge sacrifice. I’d have to give up a certain amount of time every week to reach out to others instead of just holing up in my room with a good book or video game on weekends.
But I also knew that it was pointless to keep reading and meditating on what God had said if I wasn’t going to obey.
So I signed on to be a group leader. And while it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, the past 12 years have been truly fulfilling, seeing young men come to know and love God. Being a leader has also helped me grow as a child and follower of God. It motivates me to be accountable to my own leader and co-disciples. I’ve seen how important being in the community is, as it enables us to comfort, rebuke, and encourage each other.
Becoming more intimate with our Lord is more than just a resolution or a token prayer request when others ask us about our spiritual goals. It’s a life path we must actively pursue. While it can be tough to go out of our comfort zones, getting to know God deeply is a wonderful blessing and reward.
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