A Pure Love of God

‘…all of these experiences and insights lead us to a pure love of God… We are not to retreat from society… Our experience of love propels us into the world in order to accomplish God’s work. Every social engagement, therefore, is an expression of our Christian beliefs.’

~ Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe, ‘Longing for God’

 My daughter came home from school last week singing:

“When I needed a neighbour, were you there? Were you there?

When I needed a neighbour were you there?

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter

Were you there? Were you there?”

It’s been decades since I last heard that song. It made me think. For a long time, when I have asked God what He wants me to do, often the only response has been, “Be a good friend.” This I have found continually baffling. Is that it? That can’t be all of it, surely?

When I heard my daughter sing, I wondered what would happen if I swapped ‘neighbour’ for ‘friend’.

When I needed a friend, were you there?

And suddenly the penny dropped. It makes a whole lot of sense. ‘Neighbour’, in my mind, despite my knowledge of the biblical description, is a somewhat vague term. My neighbour is the person who lives next door, someone I smile at and say ‘good morning’ to. My neighbour is someone who puts out our dustbin when we’re away and with whom I share the occasional friendly chat on the driveway or over the garden fence (the neighbours on the other side pretend we don’t exist and never even acknowledge our presence, even though we have lived next door for over a year now!).

So ‘neighbour’ has certain cultural connotations, despite my intellectual understanding of its use in the bible. ‘Friend’, on the other hand, I can understand: I can be a friend and I’m doing the work of God. This doesn’t mean I can use this as an excuse to only spend time with people I really like and consider it a job done, but it makes the idea of ‘love thy neighbour’ a little more accessible.

So this is what happened over this past week: Jesus tapped me on the head. I wondered how I could have missed it for so long, given that Jesus’ entire ministry was spent with His friends. D’oh!

Love your neighbour. And this is how you do it: be a good friend.

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

“But remember the root command: Love one another.”

John 15:11-17 (The Message)

Priorities

No matter where we start, our life with God must pass through the cross. In a day filled with all sorts of spiritual options, it is hard to recognise the enduring testimony of this uniquely Christian approach. The idea of the cross and the sense of sacrifice it entails call us to a path different from every other.

~ Longing for God by Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe

Prayer

‘Prayer is the deliberate and steadfast action of the soul’ wrote Julian of Norwich. At its most basic level, prayer is simply talking to God, but the nature of prayer – what it is, how it works, how it benefits us and others – has much greater implications.

Prayer tip #1: God is not a slot machine

There are some common misconceptions about prayer that are rarely spoken of within the Church, which is a huge shame. These misconceptions can lead to a sense of distance between oneself and God, diminished relationships with God and with fellow believers, a sense that God isn’t really listening or, worse, an idea that God is like some kind of heavenly slot machine who will give me what I want if only I can pray the right words, or have enough ‘faith’ (this is not faith – this is superstition, hence the inverted commas), or do the right things (this is living by rules instead of grace – also false). But God has never been a heavenly slot machine!

Right through the bible, from the very beginning, God communicates with His people on His terms – and these terms are always those of love, of relationship, not seaside superstition.

But now thus says the Lord,
    he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1 (NRSVA)

Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe write about Thomas Aquinas’ ideas on prayer in their book ‘Longing for God’. They write that he identified several problems or ‘mistakes’ about the nature and function of prayer:

  1. The world operates independently of God – in which case it would appear that God is utterly disinterested.
  2. Everything is fixed – if it is all already fixed, why bother praying?
  3. God changes His mind. ‘This belief arises out of our temptation to interpret certain passages inadequately, or our egocentric hope that God will soften the consequences we bring into our life by our own actions.’ 

Further, they say:

‘Prayer is not telling God what we think, or simply thanking Him for His provision of food and drink. Rather, it is our active, intentional effort to understand what God is doing and how we can join Him. Thus through prayer we become co-participants with God. God’s will sets everything in motion. Our will, directed by devotion and prayer, allows us to participate in His purposes.’ 

Longing for God, Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe

Prayer is a gift, a wonderful gift.

Humility is Strength, not Weakness

Humility… is a result of seeing ourselves properly. It involves recognising that our gifts and abilities need to be developed further. It understands that others have gifts and abilities as well. Humility allows us to see our role in the greater purposes of God’s design without feeling threatened by the achievements of others.

Foster & Beebe, Longing for God

LittlePeople

Happy are those who are humble; 

they will receive what God has promised!

Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; 

God will satisfy them fully!

Matthew 5:5,6 (GNT)

I think humility is always a good place to begin. This is a kind of motto for me, if ever I am confused or befuddled (which happens to us all more readily than we care to admit). In our me-obsessed world, humility is often confused with weakness or lack of confidence. It is neither. On the contrary, humility is not self-degradation at all but a recognition of the true value of myself and others as children of the Most High God. We are one in Him, so there is no requirement for pride. If I belong to God, I don’t have to be ‘better’, and I can never be ‘worse’. Comparison and all its ugly trappings are gone. Humility is freedom to truly be who God made me to be.