Last week I finished reading Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What (the writer best known for Blue Like Jazz) and it got me to thinking – which is always trouble for me. The book is about (sadly summed up by me) his struggle with Christianity (and more specifically evangelical spirituality) as being so formulaic. I have personally struggled with that for over 20 years, and still do, so what do I normally do when I am struggling: I write.
But it is not a formula…and neither is there some special ‘quickie’ secret formula for getting closer to God. It is a relationship. It takes time, talk, closeness, and trust to build any relationship. And Jesus never once gave us formulas. He gave us Himself…as the ultimate representation of God and just how much God loves us and what lengths God will go to show us that love.
When Jesus healed the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years, he did not say to her, “well, if you pray 3 times a day, tithe 10 percent, and don’t smoke cigarettes or drink wine, I will heal you.” No, Jesus related to her…as a human being. And knowing she had come in fear, He said to her: “Daughter…your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be free from your affliction.” Jesus immediately established a relationship with her by calling her, ‘daughter,’ and calmed her by telling her to ‘go in peace’ (note here that in Hebrew the word for peace, shalom, means the total wholeness and well-being of a person) and to be ‘free from her affliction.’
In short, Jesus loved her as a person, related to her as a daughter of God and not as some statistic or formula, and healed her because He loved her. Every time Jesus healed someone, it was to reveal His love for them and to glorify Father.
Jesus was all about relationships, no formulas to be found anywhere.
When we treat God and God’s Word as a self-help manual, we turn it from a relationship and a relational book into a manual for our betterment, to find the perfect mate, to build the perfect church, to justify doctrine (over love) or to find the secret to happiness. In short, we turn it in a sappy, set-up-for-failure that leaves us ever more wearied than we already are and farther from the God Who pines for us more than we pine for Him.
If you go into a ‘Christian’ bookstore the aisles are lined with Bibles for every persuasion, with books that have titles such as The Secrets to a Happy Life…How to Find a Good Christian Husband/Wife in 3 easy steps…the formula for biblical prosperity…the four spiritual laws…evangelism in 5 easy steps. There are thousands of Bibles: for teens, for executives, for men, women, recovering addicts, and single moms…the list goes on. But the sad fact is it seems we have grown, especially in America, to love our formulaic self-help Bibles more than the God Who reveals Himself in it.
Getting the point?
Receiving God’s love (and I mean letting it sink into our lives and very beings like water to a dry sponge) and giving that love freely is not as simple as a “1-2-3 formula.”
What is ‘easy’ is that God has put within us a perpetual hunger for Him, and in turn waits for us to come to be with Him. God is jealous and zealous for our love, to love us, be with us, teach us, lead us, and transform us. And getting to know God is not an historical event. Loving God is a daily, dynamic process – a lifelong journey filled with all the messiness, joy, crap, and beauty life has to offer. And God is always knee deep in the thick of it with us whether we believe so or not.
God created us to love: Him first and our fellow travelers following suite. Jesus is called Immanuel (God with us…or more aptly, God with you) for a reason! God wanted to be with us so badly He draped Himself in flesh and came into this spiraling terrestrial ball and spent His entire earthly life loving, healing, forgiving and showing us what it means to be loved by and to love Him.
No formula there. No perfect blueprint. No instruction manual. Just a loving God coming and pitching His tent among us because He loved/loves us more than we could ever fathom.
God created us for love – Himself – so that we could share in the circle of love that is the Trinity. God wants us to enjoy and be enjoyed. And it is impossible to enjoy anything or anyone we do not love, so enjoying God is in truth loving God. As the catechism says, our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever! And I get the sneaking suspicion that when we are indeed enjoying God, that in and of itself, gives great glory (and pleasure) to Him.