How Do You Approach God?

open hands2

When Sue read my book Return to Our Sensesshe told me she was at first stunned, horrified and appalled by my suggested approach to God. I talked about an intimate, loving relationship which seemed indecent and inappropriate. She had been taught that God was almighty, all powerful, and holy and in humble gratitude she felt she needed to grovel at God’s feet.

She told me that she slowly realized that she had a distorted view of God that was loveless and legalistic. It had placed her in a miserable cage, a self imposed prison from which she is slowly being unravelled.

Unfortunately Sue’s experience of God is not unusual. I grieve for the many sincere Christians who have been taught that God is holy but not loving, powerful but not caring, forgiving but not really forgetting. And as a consequence we live in fear of a God who judges our every action and always finds us lacking.

Part of my grief is because I too grew up with a legalistic and very austere God. My own journey toward belief in a loving, compassionate God was slow and at times painful, painful only because I had to allow God to transform my own hurts and insecurities to make room for the love and compassion God wanted to reveal in my life.

First my participation in a caring Christian community in which love was practiced. I continue to be inspired by the healing power of community. In spite of our imperfections which often mean that Christian community seems less loving than we would like it to be, we still experience more healing together than we ever will as isolated individuals. Second reaching out to help others. In healing others we often discover our own healing. Third, a willingness to change. Probably the most challenging step in discovering that God is loving and caring is admitting that our rigid, legalistic view of God is wrong. A God who makes lots of rules may not be easy to love but is much easier to follow than one who allows us the freedom of discovering and setting our own boundaries.

So how do you approach God? What has helped you to recognize the God who is love?

A Prayer of Praise to God

Sunset in Seattle

Sunset in Seattle

My thoughts this week have focused on the wonder of God whose love sustains all things and whose creative presence infuses all things.  I always  find that writing my thoughts down as prayers and praise to God helps move these ideas from my head to my heart.  Here is a prayer that I wrote as I meditated on this today.

Glory be to God on high

Glory to the three in one

Glory to the one in three

Before the beginning of the world

Creator, redeemer, sustainer

Beyond the end of the world

Father, Son and Spirit

Eternal one

Infusing all creation with your love

Indwelling one

Uniting us into one family

Comforting one

Leading us into all truth

Glory to you who are three

Glory to you who are one

Glory to you – God of Gods and Lord of Lords

Thank You Lord For Hearing Me.

Thank you God

Lord thank you that you hear our prayers,
Thank you that your spirit stirs within,
Thank you that you are at work,
Transforming, renewing, making all things new.

Tom and I have just returned from a wonderful few days with friends in Tsawwassen B.C.  It was a refreshing and renewing time. Throughout our trip I found Jesus words before the raising of Lazarus revolving in my mind: Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here. (John 11:41, 42)

I was struck particularly by the confidence of that prayer. Jesus knew that God heard him. He didn’t feel the need to shout or try to get God’s attention. He didn’t feel the need to persuade God to do something for him, he just acted in the confidence that God heard him.

How often I come to God unsure of whether or not God is listening. How often I come feeling that I need to convince God to listen to what I am saying and take notice – more like the psalmist who cries God hear my prayer. How often I question the seeming lack of response.

What does it take for us to live in that confident place of knowing that God hears our prayers?

First we need to come in gratitude – Jesus thank you is a heartfelt cry of gratitude to One that he knows as a loving and caring Father. Gratitude awakens us to the fact that God is already at work in the situation we are praying for. It opens our eyes to see what God is doing and molds our prayers to the divine will.

Second we need to come confident that we are praying the right prayer. I have often wondered why Jesus waited two days before coming to Bethany to see Lazarus. I suspect that he spent at least part of that time praying and asking God about what he should do.

Third we need to come with a sense of the presence of God deep within our being. So often we pray out of a sense of our own needs or concerns without taking time to centre ourselves on the presence of God and remind ourselves that the One to whom we offer our prayers can only, ever respond in the loving way.

Fourth we need to come expecting and looking for God’s answers. So often I pray a prayer and then dash onto the next thing, not taking time to notice and savour what God is doing in response to my request. We not only need to give thanks for the fact that God hears our prayers, we also need to give thanks for the answers.

I have a friend who keeps a prayer journal – jotting down his prayers, writing out his hopes and expectations for that prayer and then writing down the response that comes. He sees this as a way to more closely align his will with God’s. I think this is a wonderful idea but to my embarrassment I must admit that I have never implemented it.

In response to my reflections I wrote this short prayer which I am hoping it will also revolve in my mind and draw me closer to that abiding presence of God

Lord thank you that you hear our prayers,

Thank you that your spirit stirs within,

Thank you that you are at work,

Transforming, renewing, making all things new.

Ten Truths I Believe About God

Jesus enters Jerusalem

Jesus enters Jerusalem

Over the last few weeks I have spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of God I believe in. This is a practice that I like to do regularly, affirming my faith and my trust in God in the process. Here is a beginning place in my ponderings.

  1. YAHWEH is a God of love and goodness – this is the foundation of my faith. I don’t always understand what God is doing but I am more than ever convinced that, as Paul says, nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:31-39)
  2. In Jesus Christ God took on flesh and dwelt amongst us. He is not the only revelation of God in this world but he is the fullest revelation of God that we have and through him we can come to understand God more fully (John 14:6)
  3. God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us, an advocate who will never leave us but will lead us into the truths of God (John 14:15-21)
  4. God’s desire is the restoration and renewal of all things and this will be accomplished through the redeeming work of Christ our Saviour. (John 3:15-17)
  5. God is merciful and forgiving, desiring that all people will repent of the sins that distract and separate them from his presence and longing to draw all of us into a loving and intimate relationship with himself.  God, the good shepherd lovingly pursues and “sheep” that strays and does everything possible to restore each of us to a loving relationship with himself.
  6. God is just and righteous and and is working to establish an eternal world of peace and wholeness in which justice and righteous reign forever.
  7. God is faithful and true and will always fulfill what he has promised, though sometimes the fulfillment of these promises may look very different from what we expect.
  8. God is a God of abundance wh wants to and is able to provide lavishly and generously for all our daily needs.
  9. God is compassionate and caring, with a heart that aches for every suffering person in our world.
  10. God is a creator and not a destroyer, bringing into being all that is good and true and just.

What are the truths that hold you strong in your faith?

Can We See The Face of God and Live?

Held in God's hand

Held in God’s hand

A couple of days ago in my post Why Do We Hide From God  I said:

You cannot meet God face to face and live the Old Testament prophets often proclaimed. God’s greatness passes all comprehension. God’s love and holiness is beyond our imagining.

So my question this morning is – Can we meet God face to face and live? In some ways the answer is no. The light of God’s radiance is so blind, the revelation of God’s character so mind boggling that we cannot see and hear it and live. Fortunately God knows that and does everything possible to reveal the divine presence in such a way that we can face this revelation and live.

It is Jesus Christ, Word made flesh, that enables us to see God. It is the birth, the whole life, the words, the works, the death, the resurrection, the ascension and the ongoing revelation through the Holy Spirit that reveals who God is to us. I love this quote from Lord, Teach Us to Pray by nineteenth century Scottish pastor Alexander Whyte:

There is nothing, in earth or in heaven, to our imagination now like the Word made flesh…. The truly Christian imagination never lets Jesus Christ out of her sight. And she keeps him in her sight and ever before her inward eyes in this way.  (p249)

To meet God face to face we must constantly keep Jesus in our sight. We must lift our faces always to see the compassion and love in his face, to see the heartache and the suffering indelibly etched in his countenance, to see the grace and the forgiveness so lavishly expressed to us through it. Our hearts should ache with longing for this kind of revelation.

Perhaps however the God revealed through Jesus is still too radiant for us to look at face to face. Is it possible to read the Sermon on the Mount fully attentive to what Jesus is saying without looking away in shame because of how poorly we have followed these commands? Is it possible to gaze into Jesus face hearing him say “love your neighbour as yourself” and “love your enemies” without feeling we want to run away and hide?

If when we read the gospels we truly opened our eyes to see the God revealed in Jesus Christ, if we stopped to imagine that Jesus was actually standing in the room with us as we read these words what difference would it make? Or perhaps we need to imagine ourselves in the stories. Jesus healing the leper is our story. We feel the self-loathing, the despair, the uncleanness of our souls and hearts that separates us from God, but instead of crying to Jesus for cleansing we hide. Perhaps we feel like Lazarus in the grave or Mary Magdalene, or Peter disowning Christ, or Judas selling his saviour for a few coins. All of their stories are our stories and the true miracle is that each of these people had the opportunity to meet Jesus face to face. The unnamed leper, Lazarus, Mary and Peter were transformed. Judas could not face the revelation and turned away.

When was the last time you were fully attentive to God? When was the last time you felt God’s heart beating within you, sensed God’s upon you or heard God’s loving whispers? When was the last time you met God’s eye, repented of your sins and listened to the joy that rang through heaven at your renewal?

This morning I know these are questions I need to ask myself and I would encourage you to do the same.


Blown Off Course – The Faithfulness of God Never Leaves Us

This morning I came across this delightful video of what happens when ducklings are caught in a strong wind. What particularly impressed me was how unphased the mother was. She herded them back together and just kept right on going. I could not help but think of the ways that God so often works in our lives – we are constantly blown off course by strong winds, tumble over ourselves and each other in the midst of buffeting forces, but God doesn’t leave us or get distracted. He helps us pick ourselves up and gets us right back on course again.

Friendship and the Trinity by Lynne Baab

This is the last article in the series of posts by Lynne Baab.  I really appreciate these posts from Lynne based on her new book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World, .  I am looking forward to reading the book this week.

Lynne is the author of numerous other books, including Sabbath Keeping and Reaching Out in a Networked World. Visit her website for reviews and other information about her books. Lynne is a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister with a PhD in communication from the University of Washington, currently a lecturer in pastoral theology in Dunedin, New Zealand.

In the second half of the twentieth century, theologians engaged in a burst of writing about the relational Trinity. Stanley J. Grenz, in Rediscovering the Triune God: The Trinity in Contemporary Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001), uses the words “renaissance” and “rebirth” to describe the rise in interest in trinitarian theology in the twentieth century (p. x). He goes on to say: “By the end of the twentieth century, the concept of relationality had indeed moved to center stage. In fact, the assumption that the most promising beginning point for a viable trinitarian theology lies in the constellation of relationships among the three trinitarian persons had become so widely accepted that it attained a kind of quasi-orthodox status” (p. 117-118).

When Jesus invites us into friendship with him in John 15:12-17, he is inviting us to participate in the “constellation of relationships” among the three persons of the Trinity. The relationality of the Trinity isn’t just something we are called upon to emulate; it is actually something we are gathered into. This intriguing way of looking at our relationship with God, and also our human relationships, has some comforting and challenging implications for human friendships.

When we engage in any relationship – with God or friends or family members – we are not inventing the concept of relationship. Because we were made in the image of a relational God, we were created for relationships with God and with others. We have to take action to be a good friend, to be sure, but we don’t have to strain at it. We can relax a bit, in the knowledge that God created us for relationships, that God wants to help us be good friends and that we are not engaging in relationships on our own, as independent beings. We engage in relationships as participants in the love between the persons of the Trinity.

We can expect that a relationship with God through Jesus Christ will help us grow in our ability to nurture human friendships. God’s business is relationships. Love is the hallmark of God’s personality and priorities. As we draw near to that God, the Holy Spirit will help us to grow in love, which will spill over to all our relationships. God will help us forgive, share, reach out and show compassion and kindness. We can draw near to God and expect that over time, our ability to live in communal love with others will grow because of God’s Spirit at work within us.

As we grow in experiencing intimacy with the relational God who loves us from the soles of our feet to the top of our heads, and who knows through and through and loves us anyway, the more secure we will feel. That security will help us show love and affection in relationships. So many conflicts between friends grow out of insecurity and pride. The more we know deep inside that we are loved, the more we rest in the embrace of the God who loves us, the less we will need to bolster our pride and prove something to the people around us. As we receive love from God, we will feel increasingly peaceful and harmonious internally, and that peace and harmony will spill over into relationships with others.

Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World

Writing my recent book on friendship, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World, was an enormous privilege, because it gave me the opportunity to ponder the love of God and the way God’s love impacts our friendships. Truly our friendships help us rest in the reality that we are loved by God, and help us reflect that reality to others. Truly our friendships are a place where we are shaped increasingly into Christ’s image.

Immersed in the Love of God

last supper from

This is a very busy season for me and one in which I constantly struggle with how to maintain the balance between all my obligations and the spiritual practices that renew and refresh me.  This morning as I sat looking out at Seattle’s cold drippy day I must confess that I was feeling a little depressed.  I so wish the weather would warm up.  I function best in the 80 – 90 F range and this cold spring (one of the coldest on record) is not appealing to me at all.

However my quiet contemplation of God changed all of that.  Suddenly I felt myself immersed in the presence of God, my spirit lifted and immediately I felt I had the energy to get through the day.

How easily I could have forgone those minutes in God’s presence.  When I am busy it is easy to let go of the very things that give me life.  Praise God, the eternal and loving One who never lets go of me.  My meditation inspired this prayer which has stayed with me throughout the morning.

God may I sit in the place where you draw close,
May I find comfort in the tenderness of your embrace,
And rest content in the wonder of your love,
May I find peace in the certainty of your presence,
And never let go of the eternal and loving One who never lets go of me.

Son Drenched, God Intoxicated Practicing the Presence in New Ways

What does it mean to practice the presence of God in our world today?  How do we juggle the demands of frantically busy lives with time for devotions, church and fellowship groups?  Should we even try to make time for reaching out to our neighbours and those at the margins?

These are questions that all of us grapple with as we struggle to follow Christ authentically in our world today.  I am more and more convinced however that we go about practicing the presence of God from the wrong end.  It is not about spending more time in church or even reading the Bible, important as these may be, it is about allowing our lives to be open the transforming power of the Spirit 24/7.

To be truly holy people – intoxicated by the presence of God and drenched by the life of the Son, we must:

  1. Strive to be ourselves not what someone else wants us to be. Pharisaic rules and regulations have no place in people who have been freed by Christ.  That doesn’t mean that you don’t need regular scripture reading and church fellowship but it means that these need to be shaped around what makes you feel fully alive to the presence of God rather than around what someone else does.  What makes you feel alive in the presence of God?  It might be meditation or writing songs or painting pictures.  It might be having coffee with a friend or preparing a meal for a stranger.  If these make you feel close to the heart of God they need to be nurtured and strengthened.  What makes you feel alive to the call of God on your life?  These too are practices that need to be developed and encouraged.
  2. Be constantly aware of the world around you. Listening and looking for the activity of God, learning from the voice of God, wherever we are and whatever we are doing, are central to the lives of truly holy people. Much of who Jesus was and what he did resulted from his amazing awareness of people.  He noticed Zacheus hiding in a tree, he felt the unclean woman who touched him in the midst of a crowd, and he heard the anguished cry of a blind beggar above the din of those who shouted for his attention.    His sensitivity and insights meant that he could immediately put his finger on their deepest needs and respond in a way that drew them closer to God.  I suspect that in those moments he too came closer to God.
  3. Seek always for intimacy with the One whose nature is love and whose greatest passion is the inbreaking of the Kingdom of peace. So often our seeking after God is focused on what God can do for us and for our own personal comfort.  it is not about growing in intimacy with a God who cares deeply for our broken world and constantly reaches out in compassion and care.  This kind of intimacy comes at a high cost – in fact it costs us everything.   It cost Jesus and many of his early disciples their lives. It costs us our self centered, self involved lives.  But oh the joy that it brings, the joy of participating with God in the creation of a new world of righteousness and justice and peace.   This kind of intimacy doesn’t just transform us, it transforms our world.  And the closer we grow to God the more we crave it and we become more and more willing to give up everything else to attain it.

Spirituality of Gardening – MT Vernon, Seattle, Hood River, Portland and Beyond

It is still cold and wet outside but for many of us this is the time to plan and dream our gardens for the year. It is also a great time to think about how we encounter God as we dig, plant, water and harvest.  This year there are many opportunities to attend the increasingly popular Spirituality of Gardening seminar.

Explore the connection between community, spirituality and gardening. Prepare yourself for the growing season at this seminar by learning from a master gardener, connecting with other gardeners and taking a moment to recognize the spiritual in your gardening practice. Community and backyard gardening has been one of the major responses to our turbulent times but most people do not know how to relate their garden experiences to their faith. Yet the gospel comes to us in the midst of God’s created world.

I read about the death and resurrection of Christ in the Bible, but I experience it every time I plant a seed and watch it burst into life. I read about the faithfulness of God to Israel but I experience it every time I watch the rain fall and nourish the seeds I have planted. I read about the miracle of the fish and the loaves but I experience a miracle every time I am overwhelmed by the generosity of God’s harvest. In this workshop, we will discuss the wonderful ways that God and God’s story are revealed through the rhythms of planting, growing, and harvesting in the garden.

Spiritual insights, practical suggestions for backyard gardening and time for reflection will all enrich and deepen our faith as we explore new ways to connect to the God we love.

Full day seminars

Half Day seminar

Save the date:
Hood River Oregon April 30th
Portland Oregon May 1st
New York May 14th