Releasing the Lover

apr14

I had a conversation last month with someone trying to explain his rekindled passion for following Christ. He talked with fervor, “Life just works better when you do it God’s way. He is the answer to my deepest longings and needs. I feel most fulfilled, peaceful, and happy when I am obedient to Him.”

I heard him, but wanted to challenge him to take things a step further. “But as we grow in relationship with God,” I countered, “hopefully we fall more in love with Him, and begin obeying out of love for who He is, and a desire not to cause Him pain, rather than for what we get out of it.”

My friend looked at me blankly. “Yeah,” he responded, “That’s what I said.”

I didn’t press the point, but I left the conversation slightly dissatisfied that I hadn’t helped him see the difference between obedience that flows out of self-gratification, and obedience that is motivated by reverence for God.

I was reminded of our exchange this past week as I talked with a pastor friend and his wife. “Many in my profession,” he explained, “think our job is to impose a set of rules or a certain lifestyle on our congregations. To teach them how to behave according to certain standards. But the way I see it, every Christian is, at the core, a lover of Christ, and my job is to help them grow in this relationship, and release them to love Him.”

Now, I struggled with this a bit, pointing out that I have been a lover of myself since I was born. This goes pretty deep. Even my decision to follow Jesus was out of a sense of self-preservation, because I had heard about hell and didn’t want to go there.

As the conversation continued, however, we talked about how Paul, in his letters, called the Christians “saints” even though they were behaving in very un-saintly ways. It’s that “old self/new self”, “already-accomplished-although-it’s-still-in-process” type of thing. While we must acknowledge, grieve, and repent every time the old self-lover rears its ugly head, it is important to live out our true identity as passionate lovers of Christ.

The more I thought about it, the more the concept captured my imagination. Better yet, it thrilled my heart. How refreshing not to think of Christianity as a set of rules, expectations, and duties. How liberating to move beyond the obedience that expects God to reward us for our good behavior. To stop approaching God for what He does for us, and begin to truly love Him for the breath-taking Being that He is.

I am, at the deepest core of my being, a love-sick seeker of God. What a difference it would make if I woke up every day with this truth firmly entrenched in my mind and my heart. What joy, as I overflowed with the experience of being loved and loving in return. Moving past external performance, I would look for new and spontaneous ways to pour out the fullness of my heart to my Beloved.

The truest thing about you and about me is that we are lovers of God. It’s what we were made for. And once we truly believe this, it changes everything.

May you, may I, be swept up in this passionate relationship, and find the freedom and courage to release the lover inside.

Question: How does it affect you to think of yourself as a lover of God?

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Busyness: the Need to Achieve

Oct20

I recently overheard a woman describe how her family had helped her while she recovered from surgery. “They did everything for me, took over all my responsibilities.” Then she continued, “I felt so worthless—I finally had to get up and do something useful.”

Her statements reveal the second lie that I believe keeps us so frantically busy. For most of us our self-worth is tied up in what we accomplish, what we do.

This idea is reinforced in every facet of our society. In the workplace, in school, in sports and hobbies, and even in the home we are encouraged to excel and achieve. The mantra goes something like this: the more you acquire, the more you produce, the more you succeed—the more you are praised, valued, emulated.

One would hope to find something very different within the church system. However, we have actually amplified this compulsion to over-achieve by spiritualizing it. Verses such as “Whatever you do, do it heartily…”, “…make the most of every opportunity”, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” leave us in fear of wasting time, doing anything half-way, or showing weakness. While we reject striving for material gain or personal glory, our faith all too easily can become performance-based.

The danger is that it is tempting to confuse a life full of church-going and Christian activity with a vital, growing relationship with God. Others looking on will certainly make that assumption. And we can deceive ourselves, thinking, “My service pleases God and proves my love for Him.” Secure in our religious busyness, we often settle for shallow, fleeting experiences of God. Usually that’s all we have time for! But as Richard Foster put it in his book Prayer, God “…aches over our distance and preoccupation.…He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence.” (pg. 1)

I think it is very telling that when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) It wasn’t about doing or performing. It was about relationship, about being.

The thing about getting deep and knowing someone on an intimate, heart level is that it takes time. A lot of it. And it doesn’t actually look like much is being accomplished. One author, in his attempt to get to know Jesus more personally, began meditating on passages about Jesus’ life. The problem, as he states it, was, “I wanted to judge it by what I got out of it. When I did, it often seemed to be a dreadfully inefficient spiritual practice. But productivity and efficiency miss the point. What God wants is simply our presence… That is what friends do together—they waste time with each other.” (David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself)

In our fast-paced, results-oriented world, we often have trouble stopping long enough to truly commune with God. To sit still and hear Him. To open our hearts to Him in a vulnerable way and experience His passionate love in return. The inactivity chafes, the quietness is uncomfortable. It is hard to measure progress or find tangible results.

But gradually something does happen. Our sense of significance begins to take root in and grow out of this supernatural relationship; our value comes to be based solely on the fact that we are loved by the God of the universe—unconditionally, dizzyingly, consumingly.

And then, as Myra Perrine writes in her book, What’s Your God Language?, “When we live our lives…knowing the truth that we are already loved as much as we will ever be… then we will not constantly be trying to get it right, striving to do it better, working hard to please God and secure His love… We will be at peace knowing we are fully known, fully wanted, and fully enjoyed.” (pg. 148)

In other words, we will be freed from the lies of performance and achievement. We will find our worth in the arms of God alone. We will learn what it really means to be at rest.