He Went In To Stay
Six cues to feeling at home with God.
Approaching the village to which they were journeying, [Jesus] made as if to move further on. They urged him intently, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening, and this day has now set.” So he went inside to stay with them. — Luke 24:28–29
For many years, growing up in a particularly fundamentalist church, I found it difficult to feel right before God. As mentioned previously, there exists in our psyche a deeply held chain of perception:
How I see God is how I see me. How I see me is how I see others. How I see others is how I see the world, and its future.
Naturally, if my perception of God is compromised, then everything “downstream” begins to suffer. Fortunately, in my twenties I had a personal encounter with his fatherly, loving heart which began to fundamentally change my view of him, a process that has (happily) never stopped.
Two realms present themselves in the matter of cultivating God’s presence — the inner, and the outer. Both are needed. The outside sort involves your neighbour, something recently dubbed plesionology, and poignantly illustrated by Jesus:
The King will say to them, “Amen, I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
But today I want to focus on the inner — the direct spiritual relationship formed when a person realizes, “Abba, Father!”
As children in his kingdom family, co-heirs of a New Covenant built on forgiveness and mercy, what kind of attitude should we have toward God? Well, as modeled in the aforementioned chain of perception, I believe we first need to know his attitude toward us.
1 He is no movie star. Jesus doesn’t need you to prepare a proper atmosphere or lifestyle before he is willing to move in. Or, for him to like you. Not only did he never make a person he didn’t like, he carries into the bond his own supernatural environment. In other words,
2 He packs his own lunch, for two. This is because he is not intending this to be a transactional relationship — that is to say, if you do for me, I’ll do for you. No, what he brings to the deal is from the best possible position — a self-sufficient, benevolent king representing a realm of unending supply. That way he doesn’t just leave if you make a wrong turn. And no pre-nups! God’s perfect law is thoroughly unconditional, in the sense that to receive it, you need not bring anything to the table besides a mouth and a hunger.
“For the one who has gazed intently into the perfect law, which is one of freedom, and has stayed there next to it, becoming not a forgetful listener but instead a doer of work — this one will be blissful in what he does.” (James 1:25)
What is this perfect law?
3 Relationship with him is uncomplicated. Perfectly, refreshingly so. It is as simple a thing as a best-friendship. No trauma, so no drama. Having dealt with his wounds in Gethsemane, and the crucifixion long behind him, Jesus is unequivocally enjoying the life his once-for-all-time suffering has been steadily producing in the world for the last 2000 years. Therefore, although he sees clearly to the depths of your heart, he does so without snap judgments or grudge-holding.
Richard Wurmbrand, the renowned pastor imprisoned in Communist Romania, shared this illuminating story:
[In prison], one of my constant spiritual exercises was to imagine as if in a picture that I was surrendering all my life to Christ: past, present, future; my family, my church, my passions, my secret thoughts; every member of my body. I confessed my past sins to Christ without reserve and saw Him wipe them out with his hand.
Often I wept.
In the first days I spent much time searching my soul. It was a mistake. Love, goodness, beauty are shy creatures who hide themselves when they know they are observed. My son had given me a lesson on this point when he was five. I had reproved him, “Jesus has a big exercise book, and one of the pages bears your name. This morning he had to write that you disobeyed your mother. Yesterday you fought another boy and said it was his fault, so that went down too.” Mihai said, after thinking a minute, “Daddy, does Jesus write only bad things we do, or the good things as well?”
My son was so often in my mind! I remembered with delight how he had taught me theology. When I read from the Epistle to the Corinthians, “Examine yourself to see whether you are holding to the faith,” he asked, “How should I examine myself?”
I replied, “Thump your chest and ask, ‘Heart do you love God’” I gave my chest a blow as I spoke.
“That’s not right,” said Mihai. “Once the man at the station who hits train wheels with a hammer let me try, and he said, ‘You only give them a little tap in case they break, not a big thump.’ So I don’t have to give myself a thump either to see if I love Jesus.”
Now I knew that the quiet ‘Yes’ of my heart when I put the question, “Do you love Jesus?” was enough.
4You do not have to pretend. Ever. He doesn’t, so you are free to be yourself. Just don’t be surprised when what it means to “be yourself” changes over time. But you knew that. Hillsong wrote a lyric:
You love me as you find me,
(But) Your love’s too good to leave me here.
5He responds when you invite him into the things you are doing. He in turn will invite you into the things he is doing. This gives life an almost Edenic sense of expectation and adventure.
6 He lives to empower you. As the gospels show, Jesus does not utilize traditional leadership methods of coercion, manipulation or control. While, admittedly, this makes certain prayers appear unanswered, his intent is on growing you into maturity by way of free choice. God designed the universe to favour strengthening over safety, and how this strengthening is accomplished — by experiential failure or wisdom (the two most common avenues to growth)— is up to you. One way to measure maturity is, if you do fall, time how quickly you get back up and are back at it again.
Okay, so if that’s true, what’s the deal with unanswered prayer anyway? One thing you can do is really look at what you are praying for. Often God’s answer is not what you expected. T.D. Jakes describes it like this:
You pray for a table, he’ll give you a tree.
For example, are you praying for:
Business or ministry success?
He will take away your fear of failure and need for worldly success (the idolatrous kind). He will birth creativity and out-of-the-box ways of discerning and meeting people’s real needs.
Your family to be saved?
He will take away your fear of representing Jesus and open your spiritual eyes to your family member’s true value. He will birth greater love for them inside you.
He will take away your fear of stepping out in faith and introduce you to the realm of commanding mountains. He will birth in you a hunger for the power or “virtue” of the Holy Spirit and how to flow in it.
See the pattern? God is firmly in the business of making mature men and women. His answers empower us beyond our usual routine and promote supernatural growth, something very much like what psychologist Lev Vygotsky called the zone of proximal development.
The more I learn, the more I discover just how vast a landscape of histories, languages and cultures are featured in the Bible. It’s not easy! Where do you start? That’s why I made a deck of ultra-convenient cards unlocking a rooted understanding of the world’s most treasured book, one card at a time. And, while you’re at it, become a patron and get all kinds of useful New Covenant merch sent to you.
N E X T → Reconciled At His Touch, Part 1
The True Golden Chain ← P R E V I O U S