I've always believed in God, but some people I know are always talking about having a personal relationship with God, and I'm not sure what they mean. Is this different from just believing in God?
Yes, it can be — because simply believing that God exists, or even that He cares about us, isn’t the same as knowing Him as our friend.
Let me use a human example to illustrate this. I notice from your letter that you are married. At one time, you probably didn’t know your future husband even existed — much less what he was like. But then you heard about him, or perhaps saw him for the first time — and from that moment on you believed he actually existed. But did you know him and have a close personal relationship with him? No; that took time, and eventually it took the form of a personal commitment — the commitment of marriage.
This is similar to our relationship with God. We may believe God exists — and that’s an important first step, for the Bible says that “Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). But it’s only the first step! We must then turn to Him and by faith invite Jesus Christ into our lives — and when we do, God forgives and saves us, and He also comes to live within us. Now we know Him in a personal way.
The greatest discovery you will ever make is that God loves you. He loves you so much that He sent His only Son into the world to make our forgiveness possible. By a simple prayer of faith say “Yes” to Jesus and invite Him to come into your life today.