I hadn’t gotten past the introduction in the current Audible book I’m listening to “Vertical Church” by James McDonald when I had the thought “Too often we allow horizontal relationships with others to be a substitute for the vertical relationship with God.”
Immediately one might think of spouse or children in this role, but my thought went a little bit deeper. My kids and spouse would be the first to argue that I haven’t put them before God. Sadly, too often in my life, I put everything else before them. While I have realized that and make every effort not to now, it is an area that I am quick to speak to with others. It is easier to correct on the front side than undo the damage on the backside. I know that from personal experience and professional education.
Along the line of substituting horizontal relationships, much of my Christian walk I put service to others before, not only my family, but often before God. It is so easy to fall into the pattern of “the ministry of service to others” and forget that the ministry is supposed to flow out of the relationship with God. I love serving others. I believe that is what God has not only called me to do, but blessed me with the resources, talents, and gifting to do so. It flows naturally out of who I am, because that is who God designed me to be.
There are times I am seeking God so much for myself that the overflow of that vertical relationship with Him, spills out into the lives of those I help. I see doors open, connections made, miracles happen that speak only to the glory of His manifest presence. There have been times that He has spoken through me, sometimes with divine wisdom and other times with human knowledge a word at the right time that brings revelation and transformation in another’s life.
However a few years ago, I realized that it was easier for me to quickly fall back on the resources God has placed in me to help others than to seek Him for guidance in best helping others. At first it came as a condemnation; as I allowed God to speak to my heart I could see it wasn’t a condemnation but a refining. Helping others in their need makes me feel good. The more people I help, the more other’s would praise the service. I was allowing the horizontal relationship of helping to fill a need that only God was meant to fill. I was seeking validation from man, when only God can tell me “well done, faithful servant.”
A deeper revelation came as I allowed God to work in that area in my life. I realized, I was serving to “earn God’s approval.” At the time, I couldn’t see that motivation, but as I allowed God to search my heart He was able to show me. I knew God loved me without question. I also knew the life I lived and the people who were impacted by my witness when I walked away from God. I knew the failures I had, and deep down felt like I had to make them up to God. I served out of my heart’s desire, but I didn’t set boundaries in service because I needed God to see I had changed. I was using horizontal relationships because I didn’t feel I was worthy of the vertical relationship.
For a time, I had to allow God to work on my heart and step back from service. I had to let Him renew my mind and realign my heart before I could really step back into the plans and purpose and the desire He placed within me. I had to allow Him to show me where service has to originate, and that my help comes from Him before it can flow to others. It is still a process not to fall back into old patterns, but a journey that I am willing to travel.
As I finished thinking about where God had brought me from, I thought about another area where I was seeking horizontal relationship (although not with others) over vertical relationship. I know God had to start me where He had already done the work before He called me on where I am now.
I have been doing some emotional journaling over the past few months, answering some truly soul-searching questions. One of the things that I am learning in the process is that I have allowed a very unhealthy horizontal relationship with food to be a substitute for the vertical relationship I am called to have with Christ. I have used food to comfort me when I am sad, sooth me when I am mad, and as a celebratory feast when I am glad. If there is something I don’t want to deal with, I have drowned out the emotions with food, even while dealing with the scenario I don’t want to face. Food has been my comforter, even through Comforter is a role of God. Food has been my first defense even through God is my Defender. I now have to allow the grace of God to help me change that relationship and walk towards the vertical relationship that He called me too walk.
Maybe you can identify. I think at times we all have a tendency to seek out a horizontal relationship. Sometimes this is done because of insecurities, fear, ease, or because we are not ready to make changes in our life that we know will come from seeking that vertical relationship with God. He loves us enough to accept us where we are, but He never wants to leave us there. It can be easier to drown those feelings in horizontal relationships with people, activities, alcohol, drugs, food, television, exercise, fill in the blank. If you are open to allowing God to reveal it to you, He will show you what you are trying to fill His space with.
God desires a relationship with every person. He wants to be our go-to before anything else. There re times I get it right, and many more that I get it wrong. However, He keeps drawing and as I draw close to Him, He draws close to me. It is a promise and available to all. Seek the vertical over the horizontal, God can make all the horizontal relationships better when the vertical relationship is the primary goal.