Last week I shared insights from the book With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God.* In that blog I talked about the positions most of us take when we relate to God. In living under God, we try to do everything “right” and then hope/expect him to give us a good life. When we live our lives over God, we use the Bible as a user manual for life, or we ignore God altogether. When we look for things from God, we see him as a cosmic Santa Claus, there to fulfill all our consumer wishes. And, if we live our lives for God, we find value in ourselves only in as much as we can accomplish for Him. Some of us live in several of these positions, myself included.
Skye Jethani, author of With says that God never wanted us to live with any of these mindsets. Instead, God wants to live with us. That sounds great, but what does living with God look like? Jethani admits this position is difficult to imagine because it is so rare that we find a person who truly lives with God. In order to explain what this is like, Jethani uses a visual example. He talks about the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy. This mausoleum is considered the earliest and best preserved of all mosaic monuments. The building only has a few small windows, and when tourists first enter it, the incredible beauty of the mosaics are hidden from view. It is not until a light is turned on that viewers can see the astonishingly beautiful artwork wrought in millions of tiny mosaic tiles.
In a similar way, we are not able to see the astonishing beauty of living life with God until it is revealed to us. This is one of the reasons Jesus came to earth in the flesh.
Jesus is called Immanuel, which means God With Us. Jesus is the best example of someone who lives with God. Tweet This
In John 14:10-11 Jesus says,
“The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me . . .”
The postures toward God we usually take: under, over, from and for demonstrate our efforts to control our world in order to allay our fears. Those who live under God are trying to control God so He won’t bring tragedy to their lives. Those who live over God are trying to make everything right by following certain principles. Those who seek things from God are hoping they will not go without. Those who live their lives for God are seeking a sure-fire way to have significance in their lives. The sad thing is, none of these work.
We must accept the hard truth that control is an illusion. Tweet This
Again, Jethani turns to a physical example. He talks about the incredible freedom of a flying trapeze artist. For several moments, the trapeze artist is flying through the air holding onto nothing. How does s/he do it? It can only be accomplished because of the work of the catcher. Without the catcher, the flyer is soaring into space and is going to fall. In a similar way, we can only overcome our fears by knowing that as we fly through the air of our lives, God is there to catch us. Does this mean that nothing bad will happen to us if we walk with God? Absolutely not. Many of us have experienced great pain and tragedy in our lives. When we walk with God, we begin to treasure God above everything else in our lives – more than our family, possessions and reputation.
In addition, when we walk with God, we know that our life here on earth is only temporary. The minute we begin walking with God, our eternal lives begin. Yes, we will all face death, some of us sooner than later. But, if we are living with God, the moment we die we will see him face-to-face. This takes away our most powerful fear – that of death itself. As the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55:
“<In Christ>Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
In order to live happily with God, we need hope. Can we realistically hope that our lives will go smoothly and nothing bad will happen to us or our loved ones? No. Our sense of hope does not come from anything external (our jobs, children, houses, significance). Instead, it comes from our unity with God himself. If life with God is where we place our value, nothing that happens to us in this world has the power to derail us.
We also need to truly feel God’s love. This can be a challenge, especially for those of us who were raised by parents who abused or neglected us, or who were narcissistic. We often picture God the way we experienced our parents. If they were harsh and cruel, God must also be harsh and cruel. One way to feel God’s love is through prayer. But prayer is often unsatisfying. When we first begin trying to pray, we expend a lot of energy and get little return. As time goes by, it gets a little easier as we begin to relinquish control of our expected outcomes. In this stage, we begin to slow down and experience moments of refreshing silence. In the third stage, we enjoy longer periods of silence. We begin to find rest in entrusting ourselves to God to seek only his presence, rather than striving for a specific outcome. Finally, over time, we learn to completely surrender to God and seek union with him. At this stage, we are simply recipients of his grace.
Without times of silence and solitude with God, we never fully realize our worth. We keep striving for affirmation, praise and success, seeking to prove our own value. When we are silent before God, we stop seeking things God can give us, and we begin seeking his beauty and goodness. In that silence, we also discover that God delights in us! We begin to see that we are his beloved children. We can read about his love in the Bible, but it is not the same as experiencing it.
I am currently on a mission to feel God’s presence with me all day every day. I have spent time with him, praying, reading the Bible and journaling most mornings for over 20 years. That’s great, but then I usually go about my day without thinking much about God. This semester I have been learning that Christians through the ages have searched for and implemented “practices” that help them learn and grow. I have begun purposely focusing on God every time I walk up and down stairs. I walk many flights of stairs each day at work. Each time I go into a stairwell, I quiet my heart, breathe deeply, and say, “Lord, here I am.” Then, I remain quiet while I listen to what he might say to me. I have also been taking walks alone with God. I turn off my phone, go to an area I don’t often visit, and just walk. I talk to him some, but then I listen.
I don’t feel like I have perfected living life with God by a long shot. But, I do have a sense of his presence more now than I ever did in the past.
Question: If you were to do a practice that might help you live your life with God, what would that practice be?
I pray that this blog might help you discern what false beliefs you may have about relationship with God and spur your interest in beginning to live life with Him.
May He bless you as you begin your journey with Him.
Jethani, Skye, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011)