Last week… One of the most important questions that we can consider in our lives is that of what kind of relationship we are having with God. If our lives are part of something intended… then nothing matters more than considering our relationship to the great Intender. .. that which transcends our material and time bound experience.
Yet as we consider that question we can realize that there is an even more fundamental question: What type of relationship does God want to have with you?
This may be the most important question we could even dare to ask. Because the relationship you end up having with God will not simply be a matter of what you desire… but of what God desires.
> Here is the remarkable news: God desires you to become His friend.
You may recall from last week…
James 2:23 (GW)
"Abraham … was called God’s friend.” (c.f. 2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8 )
Abraham is the one who God first calls out … calls out from all the religious worship… and makes himself known to. And because Abraham chose to trust God … he is the first to be called a friend of God. And God said that through the lineage of Abraham… God would bring forth a suffering servant to redeem all. Jesus comes in the fulfillment of that divine promise… and declares that God’s reign / kingdom is now at hand… breaking in. And as he shares the love and leadership of God… shortly before he is crucified… he explains to his followers…
John 15:15 (MSG)
“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.”
The creator of the universe is eternal… all powerful… and desires us to be His friends.
God wants you to be His friend. It is a desire that lies in the eternal personal creator of all things. It is an unchanging desire.
In fact…God loves us in the same way that God loves God. The measure of the Father’s love (affection) for Jesus is the measure of His love for us. This is the ultimate statement of our worth.
John 15:9 (ESV)
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”
John 17:23 (ESV)
Jesus prays to God the Father… “…that the world may know that you … loved them even as you loved me.”
So why don’t we naturally develop that relationship?
Lots of reasons. I don’t want to simplify all that may be involved with what we face and feel in developing a relationship with God. But I do want to help us find some direction… and I think it begins with recognizing a little twist in disposition.
The Original Garden
Who was in control? > God
Who did they enjoy ‘walking in the cool of the day’ with? > God… they had companionship.
> They sought to be like God
"… you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Trying to be more than human they became less than human… alienated from the very source of their humanity.
They quickly seek to hide from God.
> They sought control… and lost connection….companionship.
I want to clarify the nature of the control being referred to. There’s nothing wrong with wanting some control over things…. if it is relative to the greater control which we entrust in companionship to God. But ever since the Garden, we have not operated as caretakers in relationship to God. We’ve no longer been the entrusted friends… but chosen autonomy.
It’s the difference between true response-ability and false control. The Scriptures don’t undermine ambition… but rather SELFISH AMBITION. The truth is that God is ambitious… and looking for radical world-changing revolutionaries…. Warriors of His love… BUT NOT KINGS.
There are no job openings in the Trinity. Creation offers no openings for the role of God. Rather God is looking for friends.
Our most fundamental longings have been corrupted… and become confused
We grasp at control… at the expense of connection… companionship
This is why Jesus says ‘look at the animals’… ‘look at the children.’ ? They reflect a trusting relationship. In contrast, as humans we reflect that which seeks to control instead of relate.
Illustration – Those who become the most consumed by control… are those who whose humanity seems most distorted… History reveals this … from Adolph Hitler to Howard Hughes. Those who were most seduced into god-like sense of independent control… deteriorated into a distorted and detached line of isolation.
- Notably they are generally men
It is our great deception that we can substitute control for connection / companionship
Consider this tendency amidst human culture. We have developed weopans that can destroy our entire planet… for the sake of power and control. We are consumed by the things we can create…. Buying what we don’t really need beyond what actually is satisfying us. And our pursuit of knowledge is driven with an illusion of control itself. Coupled with our culture of technology we live with the “false illusion that it is possible to control ourselves, others, other nations, and even creation itself. The illusion of our culture is the ability to be God, to know and explain everything. When we presume control through our knowledge… our scientific culture defines reality, everything that cannot be measured, understood or controlled is dismissed, and God cannot be measured, understood, or controlled.”
Jesus never embraced the power and control so many expected. Rather he named the demons and illusions, and allowed God to forever change our world. (Adapted from thoughts in The Catholic Worker, 9/15/90)
He tells our story in…
The Prodigal Son (Luke 15)
Wants control of his life… at the expense of love. He LONGS for control. Wanting inheritance… and ability to spend it now… meant wanting the father dead.
He speaks of a total rejection of his father…a disowning, which carries deep consequences. In essence… he exchanged his inheritance for his identity. His is leaving… not a place… but a position… an identity. He is giving up his birthright so that he can run his own life.
“Leaving home is, then, much more than an historical event bound to time and place. It is a denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God with every part of my being.” - Henri Nouwen
Father gives him all the goods because freedom was never really the issue… it’s always been there.
Comes to see that there is no one truly in his life when all else is gone.
Luke 15:17-18 (NIV)
"When he came to his senses, he said, ’How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father….”
The first son… had lost his identity… and tried to be God… and is left eating with the pigs.
How many of us live with the strange mixture of pride and shame,,, between that of being autonomous gods and that of disdained pigs?
Yet like that son… we realize we are not God… nor are we pigs.
LONGS for home. It’s transforming realization of what he really satisfies …a transition in longings.
I think that such a transition must take place for each of us… especially those who seem most enamored by superficial freedom…those of us who are most comfortable when we are in control.
(Interesting… been noted that the general tendency is for men to be more outward achievement focused throughout first many years of life… woman more relationally oriented.. but that at the age of about 45 to 55… the tendency shifts and men begin to turn toward home with a desire to find a more relational center.)
As Gordon Dalbey noted…"We spend the first half of our lives trying to become adults," as someone older and wiser once noted, "and the last half trying to become children."
As we "grow up," we respond to the demands of the world for jobs, money, and control. And then, one terrifying day, you wake up and realize the initial connection that you sensed was a part of life when you first began is lost. .
If someone asks, "What do you really want?" we panic. We’ve spent so much time and energy responding to external "demands" that you’re no longer able to respond to your internal needs.
Yet amazingly, graciously--amid the darkness we’ve wrought as ambitious accomplices in the world’s deception--the Father has provided a saving light reveals and reminds us who we are, where we come from, and in fact, where we’re destined.
Adapted from Gordon Dalbey (www.abbafather.com)
So the prodigal returns… planning only to return as a servant… maybe out of duty I can get back to some good food… that is the only after all… food… but … the Father comes bearing Himself… comes for relationship.
Luke 15:20 (NIV)
So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
He is restored in relationship. Gets rings ring, sandals, robe.
Is he the independent head of the house like he was when he set out on his own? No… he’s no longer the head of the house… but he has more authority than he ever had.
He is restoring to the son what matters most… relationship… the son has surrendered control… and discovers what matters most… connection.
Genesis 15:1 (NIV)
After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward."
And now he gains the true authority that flows IN RELATIONSHIP WITH God… not independent from it. The robe… sandals… ring… all symbols of extended authority.
Of course the story has a final part… the other older son..
Luke 15:28 (NIV)
"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.”
He boasts about how he has served father so well….and how unfair it was that the other son should gain such attention…and Father says he could always have relationship.
The older son had never really come home. He had lived outside in his own self-righteous pride. He wanted to maintain control in his own religious moral way. Like the older son… we strive to be good… but never come in from the field… never really come into the home of our Father’s love… never join the party.
The life of autonomy… can look rebellious or religious. The religious can become it’s own means to try and control the moral world… often exchanging rules for relationship… knowledge for trust.
I’m again appreciative of the dialogue that the great ethicist John Kavanaugh … shares with Mother Teresa…
When he went to work for three months at "the house of the dying" in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, "And what can I do for you?"
Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. "What do you want me to pray for?" she asked.
He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: "Pray that I have clarity."
She said firmly, "No, I will not do that."
When he asked her why, she said, "Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of."
When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, "I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God."
> He was a man who wanted to take hold of what is right… clarity…to control the matters of moral order… but he is redirected towards relationship.
And what does the Father say?
"You are with me always."
“The father’s declaration of unqualified love eliminates any possibility that the younger son is more loved than the elder. Without trust, I cannot let myself be found. Trust is that deep inner conviction that the Father wants me home. As long as I doubt that I am worth finding … I cannot be found. - Henri Nouwen, "The Prodigal Son"
And the tragedy is reflected in those words… ‘he refused to go in.’
The story begins with a son who claims a false autonomy by wishing his father to be as dead. Yet as the story continues… as the father declares the reason for celebration… it is because the son who was lost… who the culture would have understood to have been the one deemed dead… had come back. It was the son who was dead and is now alive. We may deem God dead… but it is we who are dead in our separation.
Will we refuse to go in?
We’ve trying to get back in the garden of God’s presence and love ever since.
The restlessness and emptiness in our souls does not need to be extinguished or escaped, but rather incorporated into our discovery of God and the delight we find only in Him.
As a father, I want to have a quality of relationship that includes friendship. Am I in control? Yes to a degree… but ultimately in terms of relationship we are not friends until they WANT to come home. … until they submit their false and limited control… and choose to trust.