Here are 3 concepts I've dropped from my life since June:
1. Learning or contemplation about God = a relationship with God.
2. Reading about God = relating to God.
3. Enjoying ideas about God = intimacy with God.
I had great joy & peace when doing those 3 things but there is something inauthentic about them, something I can't stand.
You can enjoy a person by learning about them, thinking about them, reading about them or from them, & enjoying ideas about them, but it is not direct. It is not a relationship. You don't have to know them. The closest is reading something from them, particularly if it is to you.
God is in us & always with us so..
When we learn about Him we can be learning from Him if we're learning truth.
When we enjoy thinking about Him it is sorta like talking to Him. Though I can attest that there is a big difference in thinking about God & directly thinking to (talking to) God.
You can take things in scripture as written TO you but that can get muddy fast. Obviously IF it is written to you in the bible it is to you in a universal sense, ie God loves all His children. There is nothing personal personal. Only the Spirit can introduce such a thing.
So a relationship with God can easily be imaginary for these reasons.
You can use the bible &/or facts/truth/ideas about God as a replacement for knowing God personally.
You can think about God without talking to God.
God is integrated with our spirits so the manner in which He relates to us is deeper, more frequent, & more complex than that of how we relate to other people. Because of this & God's invisibility/inaudibility we usually end up imagining a god who fits into our ideas about God. We try to create a relationship on our terms & thus end up with an imaginary friend with the real God breaking through to us whenever He can manage to. God sometimes breaking through & our imaginations about Him tend to be enough for us to minimally satisfy our qualifications for a relationship with God.
So to some degree, as far as I can figure, a "relationship" with God is like a relationship with ourselves. He is one with us, there for all of our thoughts, feelings, & experiences. While God is a person, "God is love" describes Him even better. "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us" (1 John 4:12). God is the giver of & a participator in every bit of love & joy & peace we ever experience.
It is Jesus the light who shines into our hearts allowing us to recognize God as the giver of all good things. But we have the option of closing our eyes. God won't open your eyes for you. And the complexity of what these figurative eyes are is staggering. God is the power of love & you have to let love. But love is patient & does not demand its own way thus you can't rush God's love or force it to come to you in a certain way. Learning to relate to God is personal & while there are necessary similarities our Father relates to His children differently. But that is when you get to the other side of the circle again. If He is different with all of us then we can easily justify our imaginations of Him. Having previously lived in confinement, shame, & fear thinking it was God's will & way for many years & seeing so many still do it I can easily say that you can imagine 99% of your god & never think once about that being a possibility.
Thus some say you have to have the bible tell you who God is. But twisting of the scripture is how most people end up knowing nothing about who God is. And the bible never claims that it will help you know God. Jesus said the Spirit would lead us into all truth & Jesus never once commanded or even promoted the reading of the scriptures.
Where does this all leave us then? As Jesus said, we become like the wind, blowing wherever we want to, being heard by those around us but never being pinned down. People cannot tell exactly where we've been & even we ourselves cannot tell where we are going. The wind concept Jesus taught is as far from the curriculum based, goal making, oath taking, charted out Christianity we've always known. Typical Christians are taught to have predictable routines that turn "relating" to God into a religious practice of "pray at this time & study this much." These hallowed practices are hallowable. They require no actual God or sense of reality, just a belief in a god & a perception of reality. Yet the wind is different every single day. So I guess this isn't something to "figure out."
Jesus essentially says, "You're free to do whatever you want, even lock yourself up, but staying free removes predictability. Staying free means the Spirit teaches you all things with limited use of men & books. Our Father is not hiding or pushing a grand goal. Yeah you'll learn to be loved & to love but this isn't about the learning, it is about the loving. If learning to feel my love & learning to give my love is your goal then you're missing the love altogether. You're trying to become something more when you are already everything to me. Our Father just wants to love His kids. That's not complicated, so don't complicate it. We're together, let's BE together. It's love. Love's free.. & so are you."