God with us – in our relationships

By Tiff Atkins

Emmanuel means God with us. If we think about this for a few minutes, it may just blow our minds. The God who created the universe is not distant sitting in some parallel universe. He is here, in our midst; close, involved, intimate, attending to every detail of our lives. He knows us and he loves us. How do we know this? 

The Christmas story tells us how God became a man, leaving his heavenly home to make his dwelling among us. Not as some pampered king, but as a vulnerable baby born into scandal and poverty, living a life and dying a death of service and sacrifice.  

If we have accepted Jesus as Lord in our lives then we also know he has promised his spirit who lives in us. God with us on a whole new level!  

God’s presence

The story of the Bible begins and ends with God’s presence: from God walking with Adam and Eve in the garden to the new heaven and earth where Gods’ people enjoy his presence eternally. For everything else in between, it is our sin which separates us from this divine presence but God continually works to bring his presence back to us. His redemptive purpose is to restore that presence and our relationship with him, and it is his presence by which this purpose is fulfilled.  

It is in God’s presence where we find our greatest joy and it is here where we find hope for our earthly existence, not least in our relationships with others… God with us in our relationships.

Transformation

You may have heard of Shane Taylor, the Middlesborough man once dubbed as Britain’s most violent prisoner. Shane went to prison at 19 for attempted murder and was then moved around a dozen prisons for assaulting officers and starting riots. He was a man with no human relationships, thriving instead on the fear and pain he inflicted upon others.  

That is, until he encountered the presence of God.  

In prison, Shane went along to an Alpha group because of the  free biscuits. Whilst there he made a desperate plea to God. “If you are real come into my life – I hate who I am; I hate who I have become.” 

Suddenly Shane could not stop sobbing. “I could feel a weight being lifted from me. In a split second I knew God was real and Jesus had touched me.” God with us, even in the darkest places. 

Shane, now a free man in all senses, is married with four children and regularly goes into prisons to talk to other inmates about how a relationship with God has utterly transformed him and enabled him to have meaningful and loving relationships with others. 

Heart change

And this is what God does, maybe not so dramatically for most of us, but he comes in close and transforms our hate into love. He lifts the burden of our sins, he forgives and thus enables us to forgive others and he changes our hearts so we are able to love unconditionally. These are all essential ingredients for our relationships with others and rely on the presence of God in our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

In FamilyLife, Agapé UK’s ‘at home’ ministry, we often talk about the love triangle of relationships: God is at the top, and a person at each of the bottom corners of the triangle. As we draw closer to God, we move closer to each other. Our proximity to God is key in our ability to forgive, love, serve and admit our own mistakes.  

So this Christmas, when our relationships can often experience extra tensions and stresses, invite Jesus in. Let God be with you in your relationships and know the joy, hope and peace this can bring.