Friday, November 23, 2012

The Activities of Intimacy

     Last week I promised to write this entry about the "activities of intimacy." It's important, as I said last week, that we get the motivation right first, but there are actions involved deepening our relationship with God (or with anyone, for that matter). What are some of those actions? Here are a few thoughts.
     First, one of my favorite things to say to people about their relationship with God is, "If you turn your relationship with God into a human relationship and it looks odd, you need to question how you are going about it!" What I mean by that is that even though a relationship with the God of the Universe has many obviously unique qualities about it, at its heart it's still a relationship and is built in the same way any healthy relationship is built. 
     If I want to get to know someone and deepen my relationship with him/her, I have to hang out with that person, listen to that person, share my heart with that person, care about what that person cares about, etc. So what do these things look like when we put them into practice in our desire to deepen our relationship with God? Perhaps it's easier to say what it shouldn't look like: "Having devotions," checking off the Scripture reading for today, going over the prayer checklist are shallow and often feeble attempts to build a relationship with Papa God. This is where my little suggestion comes into play. What would my wife think if I spent time with her every day in the same place in the same way covering the same things, etc., like some believers do with God? What would my best friend think if I listened to him via a checklist, reading, for example a certain number of emails or listening for a certain length of time then moving on to other things? What would I as a parent think of my sons if they came to me with a checklist of things to ask for? I think you get the picture.
     Now I am not saying that there shouldn't be intentionality in our times with God. I am not suggesting that we can't have some "routine" in being alone with God or similar activities. There are, in fact, several things in my walk with God that are quite routine and very intentional. I always present myself to God in the mornings and choose to sit with Him until the awareness of His presence overshadows everything else. I always journal my thoughts (and His thoughts) on a daily basis. I often lift concerns for others into His presence for His answers and for His counsel. I do seek to discover Him in the pages of Scripture as He leads. I guess the difference is that I view my times with Papa as a "date" rather than a duty. And I when I read Scripture I am seeking to get to know the Promise-Keeper more than I am looking for promises, and I am longing to meet the Prince of Peace rather than find 10 principles for having peace. I also find myself in conversation with Him throughout the day rather than relegating my relationship with Him to a set time and place with a checklist in hand. I trust you can see the difference here. And I hope you don't hear me implying that I have this down pat! It's important for you to know that it's taken a while for God to lead me to this shift from religious activity to activities of intimacy, and I am still a work in progress. But I am living proof that a highly "religious" and duty-oriented "Martha" can become a Jesus-captured, intimacy-addicted "Mary." If it can happen for me, it can happen for you if it hasn't already.
     It's also important to know that our uniqueness as individuals means that God will customize and personalize how He relates to each of us in ways that best fits how He made us. For example, some folks find that being outdoors in natural beauty helps them to draw close to God, but others find that being outdoors distracts or otherwise hinders their relationship with God. Some folks find that music helps them quiet down and hear God's whispers. Others find that it pulls them away from inner stillness because they start singing along! My point is: find what best works for you in terms of building awareness of God's love and grace, find what works best in terms of how you "hear" Him and let Him lead you deeper into those kinds of activities. Remember that Papa is far more eager about this than you ever could be! My sense is that anyone who chooses to stop "doing things to be a better Christian" and starts living in a way that builds a trusting relationship with Papa will find their own unique "activities of intimacy." That's certainly my prayer for any and all whom Papa brings across my path!

Pursuing the Pursuer,

Tom, One of Abba's children

Friday, November 9, 2012

Responding to the Great Initiator

     Last week, as I began my multi-part answer to Tony's question about intimacy with God, I wrote the following: "The word 'responder' implies action. But it's a different kind and type of 'action.' A response to another's initiations is different from my effort to initiate something, but it's still a response and involves activity. But it's a very different kind of activity, motivated by a very different understanding of the why of that activity." I also said I would have to expand on these thoughts later, so today is the "later," at least for the question of motivation.
     It's probably obvious that motivation varies depending on how we view a relationship with someone. We can all think of stories of one-sided or lop-sided love where only one partner was fully engaged and participating. But surely that's not true for our relationship with God, right? In reality, of course, the answer is "No!" But what about our perception of God's role in our relationship? Most of us would deny that we view God as reluctant or "playing hard to get," but the behavior of many believers says otherwise. I often find a striving and anxiety in many "seekers of God" that is totally out of line with a mutually passionate relationship, and I am convinced that the reason for this is that many folks really don't know God as the fiercely loving and pursuing God that He is. 
     As we experience the truth about God's love in our hearts, our motivation shifts from one of fear and frantic desperation (hoping we might find Him if we work hard enough, are sincere enough, etc.) to one of desire and expectancy that stirs us to go to any length to find Him. We find ourselves "waiting in ambush" for the God who is already after us! (There's a reason why "wait" in the Bible means "wait in hopeful expectation," isn't there? It gives us a picture of us waiting in ambush for a loving Daddy rather than chasing heartlessly after a rather disinterested God who plays "hide and seek.")
     I won't talk about the activity of intimacy until next week, but please note that any action that flows from healthy motivation is even more focused and intense than action that's motivated by fear. Unhealthy, fearful motivation ("I hope He loves me," "If I can just make Him love me...") can never lead to a healthy relationship because we are attempting to build a relationship with a distorted image of God rather than with God Himself--you cannot have an intimate relationship with an illusion! Furthermore, we simply will not be able to allow our hearts to fully embrace One we fear more than we love and trust. On the other hand, if "I know that I know that I know" that I will find infinite love waiting for me, I will gladly allow the Lover to love me and will passionately pursue my Pursuer. Looking for the One we know adores us and desires us far more than we desire Him changes everything, and it opens the door to intimacy beyond comprehension. We can forever drown in the depths of His love--there is no end, not ever. Song of Songs 3:4 captures some of this, I think: "I found the One I adore, my Beloved! I caught Him and fastened myself to Him, Refusing to be feeble in my heart again." (Brian Simmons, The Most Amazing Song of All by King Solomon- The Passion Translation.
     So my friends, if we really do grasp that God is the Initiator and is actively and fiercely pursuing us in order to be good to us and "love on us," it changes everything! But how do we get there? One thing that has helped me immensely is Papa's frequent reminder of the many love-infused times I had with my sons. The two pictures on this blog are snapshots of many, many fun and love-filled times that Jon and Josh and I enjoyed. I think of many walks down the beach, times going fishing, wrestling on the floor, etc. I also think of times when my love was fierce and aggressive: a time when I rushed down a hill to pluck Josh out of an anthill--nothing would have stopped me from reaching him! I think of how my sons were hesitant to tell me about anyone "messing with them" because of how fiercely I would move to protect them! My sons knew that I was fierce and unrelenting in my love for them (I still am), and God has used the images of my life with my sons many times to show me how to respond to Him. He is infinitely more loving and fierce in His love for me than I could ever be, even though I cannot imagine a love stronger than the love I have for my family!  
     But lest you think I write as one who has all of this down pat, I will tell you that even writing these words today has caused me to "repent" and adjust my view of Papa. How easy it is, this many years into this journey, to revert back to pursuing a God I believe is rather distant and committed to making things hard on me! (But the good news is that He still comes after me/us in my faulty perspective and attitude--amazing!)
     And so I return to new motivation, responding to the Initiator because His love for me makes anything else worthless! I close with a "response" to the Lover of our souls from the Song of Songs (4:6)--another quote from Brian Simmons' Passion Translation that I think expresses well the deep motivation that comes from seeing our Lover as He really is: "I’ve made up my mind. Until the darkness disappears And the dawn has fully come, In spite of shadows and fears—I will go to the mountain top with You. I will climb with You The mountain of suffering love and the hill of burning incense. Yes, I will be Your bride."

Wandering in the depths of His love...

Tom, one Abba's dearly loved children

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Great Initiator

     I promised Tony, a former student of mine and fellow pursuer of God, that I would write a blog answering the following question from him. The question was prompted by, among other things, reading my article "Intimacy and Mission." (Which I put in blog form back in April 23 and May 7, 2007). Here's Tony's question (or sort of question), which he signed as one "Desperately desiring to live in intimacy with God that overflows."
     "Tom, tell me we really can do these things, we really can love God and be loved so much, and that we can live there and lead others to this promised land where we are compelled by Christ's love and the power of God flows out of and through us as naturally as it did for Jesus when he walked among us in human form. Tell me we can walk with the Father, being one with him, doing what he does, saying what he says, knowing his heart and sharing it. I want to believe, help me with my unbelief."
     Yes, Tony, it is not only possible but is God's deepest desire for each of His children. But I certainly can't answer your question in a few brief paragraphs. I also realize that any answer I give will take an indirect route to "Yes, it's possible." So this will be the first of a series, and it will be in some ways a summary of various things I have said before. So here goes...
     I think one of the first and most important steps for me in this journey was the huge and growing epiphany that God is better and "gooder" than I ever imagined. At the core of an intimate walk with God is getting to know Him as He really is, and this, at least for me, has resulted in a total paradigm shift in terms of who God is which resulted in a huge change in how I relate to Him. It's almost as if everything I previously thought about God or had been taught about God had to be turned upside down. 
     One big example of this revolves around the question: who is pursuing whom? It was a huge "ah ha!" moment for me to realize that I was the one being pursued rather than the one pursuing. It's as if one day in my hot pursuit of God I stopped trying so hard to catch Him, and He crashed into me and overwhelmed me--He caught me. I am still caught up in wonder at God's fierce and unrelenting pursuit of my heart! I discovered that, rather than my being the initiator in this dance of intimacy, He is the initiator and I am the responder.
     In some ways, of course, this should not be a surprise, given how often we see God as the pursuer in Scripture. Beginning in the Garden after the fall ("Adam, where are you?"), and continuing throughout the biblical record, it is abundantly clear that God is always the initiator and the pursuer. Abraham was worshiping idols and not looking for God, Moses was tending sheep and not looking for God, David was also tending sheep and certainly not planning to be King of Israel, Peter and Andrew were cleaning their nets and not planning to be two of the Twelve, Saul of Tarsus was certainly not planning to become a follower of Jesus! And then there's the whole of the redemption story: God pursuing his wandering children to the point of paying the ultimate and infinite price in order to reconcile them to Himself (Romans 5:6-8 and 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 are two of many passages related to this). I think you get the point: God is the Great Initiator in everything, and that certainly includes living in intimate relationship with Him.
     Why is this important? Just this one facet of the new paradigm changes everything! If God is the pursuer, then my focus is shifted from trying to trusting, from running to resting, from moving to being still, etc. My focus is shifted from what I am doing and how I am doing it to the One I say I want to meet! And it gets better, of course, as we realize that we really already have what we are chasing. Believers are already in Christ, already seated in the heavenly realms, already hidden with Christ in God, already face to face with God, already fully indwelt by God the Holy Spirit, etc. Remembering these things and really letting Papa show us what they mean are huge keys to the door to intimacy, at least they have been for me. And discovering all of this (or more accurately, having it revealed to us) is like returning home after another hard day of pursuing God only to discover that He was in our living room waiting for us the entire day!
     But does this mean that we just helplessly wait until He decides to bring us closer to Him? I don't think so. The word "responder" implies action. But it's a different kind and type of "action." A response to another's initiations is different from my effort to initiate something, but it's still a response and still involves activity. But it's a very different kind of activity, motivated by a very different understanding of the why of that activity. It's more about discovery and realization than about frantic effort. But this topic will expand too much for me to go further in this entry, so I will have to continue some of this next week. For now, I close with a paragraph from my journal very early in my own journey into the Secret Place life. I trust you can hear the changing of paradigms that I was experiencing along with my awe and wonder. Maybe reading it will awaken something in your heart to help you respond to the Great Initiator as He pursues you, and help you to believe that yes, we can have face to face intimacy with God! (Written on July 3, 2004, the day after my first Secret Place encounter with Papa).
Can we, can I, Abba, hope to have a relationship with you like Moses—“face to face”? Surely the answer is “yes,” and for all believers, not just a few. 2 Corinthians 3:7ff. seems to indicate that we all can have “unveiled, face-to-face” intimacy with you because of the new covenant and by your Spirit.
Oh, Abba, what have we been missing?!! We have feared subjectivity and error so much that we have cut out the heart of what Jesus died to give us: true face-to-face, communication-filled intimacy with you!
But my heart sings at what I am starting to see. Show me all that you choose, Abba! Show me more!
The implications of this are huge! We have inadvertently—with good intentions—cut out the heart of the Good News. No wonder your people are burdened and powerless. No wonder they resort to legalism. They think that they are alone! For most of us, walking in the Spirit means filling our minds with Scripture then hoping that we will guess what you are saying.
We need not fear deception or imbalance if we keep our balance via Word and Spirit! The Word isn’t a substitute for Your Spirit or vice versa; the Word informs and gives clarity and depth to your speaking voice.

Responding to the One in Hot Pursuit of my heart,

Tom, one of Abba's little children