My first two Advent Musings have spoken of the nearness of God. I’ve encouraged us to pursue intimacy with God this Advent. Intimacy with God can be a daunting subject. In this third post, I will dive deeper into practices that have helped me experience this “rooted-to-my-toes” nearness of God.
Redefine the Gospel
The gospel must be defined first and foremost as God’s eagerness to be near us because the gospel is Emmanuel, God with us. His human expression of God wasn’t limited to teaching and preaching. He healed the sick, He feasted with His friends, He wept with those He loved.
I had to start by re-prioritizing and in some ways redefining the Gospel. I put so much energy, thought, and prayer towards what I should be doing for God. My walk with God was focused entirely on my outer world. I had always known myself to jive with Martha in this way (Matt 10:38-42). This was a wrong ordering of things but I was unsure how to fix it. After much wrestling, I realized that I needed to stop doing for a while and simply know Jesus as a Beloved Friend. This is the most uncomfortable thing but it was the only way.
In order for the Holy Spirit to reside in you and be all He wants to be for you, you must learn how to partner with Him. This happens first in your inner world. Many of us grew up in churches where the outer world of serving and evangelism was the main focus. These are vital of course but they must be the fruit of a heart that first knows Jesus deeply. If we don’t realize how important sitting with Jesus is before anything else, we won’t have the truest gospel to share. The gospel is God’s nearness after all.
When I first started this “cleanse” of sitting with Jesus, I faced a lot of confusion and frustration. It takes time and work to navigate the pathways of your own heart and mind. I believed that Jesus wanted to speak to me but I had to first learn how to listen, and to listen I had to be quiet. I had to explore the rooms of my heart to create space for Him to reside there.
Get Out of the Way
The only thing standing in the way of our nearness to God is US. This is the most humbling, empowering truth in this journey. One practice Jesus gave me to get mySELF out of the way was to notice how my human interactions and daily practices reflect what I believe about myself and God.
To illustrate this I will tell you about something that frustrates Adam to no end. I am notorious for saying he can help me with something and then proceeding to take care of it myself or to ask him about it constantly until its completed. We have different time line expectations for a lot of things and I can be [a bit] controlling. What bothers him most about this practice of mine is that its telling him I don’t trust him.
This tendency started showing up when I was planning to move to Chicago last year, unsure of where I would be working. He had assured me he would be there to help but I insisted on remaining completely independent. When he was planning our engagement there were days I was beside myself with worry because I didn’t feel he was moving fast enough. Again, when we were wedding planning we would divide and conquer a list of tasks and I would find myself planning how I was going to accomplish his list if he wasn’t doing it quick enough. The question he began to ask me when these situations arose was a quiet, unaccusing, “Sara, do you trust me?”
Every time he asked I would cringe. “Yesssss,” was my sheepish response, as I was reminded again of how my actions are saying I, indeed, did not. I began to realize how much this posture was reflecting my tendency in [not] trusting God.
I cannot both say I trust Adam and continually makes plans for his failure. In the same way, my contingency plans are showing that I do not actually believe God to be all-powerful and moving in goodness toward me. Are my plan b’s calling God a liar? Is my scurrying around keeping me from seeing the answers to my prayers? If we’re actually waiting on a God Who’s understanding is unsearchable and Who’s power is limitless then we wouldn’t even consider needing a backup plan. If we’re hopefully expecting an infinitely loving God to come to our aid as our Eternal Defender then we would not need to also defend ourselves.
This doesn’t mean we are inactive. “Waiting on the Lord” takes a very active stance in translation in the Old Testament. Isaiah 40:31, “those who wait for the Lord” can be translated “those who expect, look for, and hope in Him.” It is still waiting but it is not a waiting that pursues all the backup plans and it is not a waiting that sleeps. It is a waiting that is daily opening our hands once again. Its a waiting that focuses on the face and activity of Jesus so that when He moves we will see it.
“You can never be separated from love but you can [certainly] live like you are” (“Heart Made Whole” by Christa Black Gifford), and most of us do, most of the time. Once I was giving myself time, space, and permission (permission is key) to learn to hear the Spirit of God inside me, I had to get really honest about these basic truths I was not believing. Often, lack of intimacy with God talk is pointed back at God: “HE is distant,” “HE is causing this or that,” “HE isn’t revealing Himself.”
Friends, the glory of the Lord has been revealed. “No eye has seen a God besides You, who works and acts on behalf of the one who gladly waits for Him.” (Isaiah 64:4). He is ever near and pouring out blessing; it is our perception that is thwarted.
Now of course I don’t want to start a blame game. “Stop blaming God and shame yourself instead!” Absolutely not. I’ve seen that side of the coin as well. In fact, I’ve been on that side more often than not: “Why can’t I just get it?” “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I figure out what my breakthrough is supposed to be?” “Why haven’t I had the experience with God that people are talking about?” Those very questions were my answer. Not to oversimplify but what I learned from how much I questioned myself was that I really didn’t like myself or trust myself. This was another belief that needed healing.
To say “God loves me” is one thing, to say “I am loved by God” is another. To make definitive statements about God is easy. To make definitive statements about ourselves in relation to God is not. To say with absolute certainty that God is all powerful is one thing. To say with absolute certainty that through that power and sacrifice I am valued and filled with the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is another. We deflect honor and value for ourselves and in doing so we deflect truth about God. We call Him a liar. He has called us “Beloved” but we have said we are not.
The Great Commandment
One of my favorite discoveries regarding biblical self-love came in college when I was reading CS Lewis on The Greatest Commandment. We all know it – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” It was those last four words that Lewis focused in on : “as you love yourself.” The ability to love and embrace oneself is assumed by this passage. I was astounded. The reason I struggle to love others is that I first haven’t first offered myself that safe space. If I was honest, you wouldn’t want me to love others the way I was loving myself. Annoyance and irritation toward others always stem from issues we’re dealing with inwardly – we’re annoyed at ourselves.
This was another humbling realization but also the most freeing. Admitting that I was my biggest problem put the power back in my hands because I’m the only one I can control anyway. This posture toward life can save us; it can save our friendships, our marriages, and our intimacy with God.
In summary, I encourage you to start your journey toward experiencing God’s nearness today by asking Him to show you what truths about yourself and Him you aren’t believing. My one goal for 2018 was to “be loved.” Without a doubt, the best and most uncomfortable resolution I’ve ever made.
Jesus came so we would know how personal His kingdom is. Emmanuel became one of us to show that He wants to be near. He wants to be part of the daily journeys of our hearts. He cares about the details. Sit with that fact until your heart embraces it. LET it be true that He wants to build His kingdom not simply through weekly community groups or 90 min services but through the intricacies of our hearts. Our HEARTS are the walls and streets and battle fields and festivals of His kingdom. That is where He wants to make His home. We are the body of Christ – the carriers of His promises to the world. It is in our hearts that the roads of Zion exist.
“Oh, brethren, be great believers! Little faith will bring your souls to heaven, but great faith will bring heaven to you.” – Charles Spurgeon
Open your heart to the kingdom being built inside of you. Let Love permeate to places it has never touched. It will become a fortress. You can be free from offense, fear, set free into Love in the safe haven that your heart was created to be. Jesus resides there now, but limits Himself to the places you invite Him into. He’s not a tyrant forcing His way in, but a loving Father who waits and then picks up His skirts and runs when He hears His children come stumbling home.