Friday, July 22, 2016

It's odd that after serving in churches for 37 years, 31 as an ordained pastor with a bachelor's degree in religion and a Master of Divinity degree from a well-known seminary, doctoral work in Community Pastoral Counseling, training and certification in several specialized ministries, having preached thousands of sermons, led hundreds of Bible studies, read so many theological books that I probably should participate in a 12 step program for theoholics...after all of that and more, I've found myself asking over and over again the simple questions: "God, what do you want me to learn in what I'm facing right now? What can I take from these moments/this experience that will bring me deeper into your will? That's what I ask myself.  Sometimes I'll feel the Spirit nudge me to ask someone else:  How's your spiritual life?  What's God doing in your life?  Where do you feel God's blessing and where is God pushing you to grow?  What are you hearing from Jesus?  How do you experience/encounter God?

These questions may be hard for some to conceive.  They are not intended to be intrusive or offensive, but intended to stir up the thought of one's relationship with God.  It's a question asked FOR God--almost as if God is saying to the person "hey, I'd like you to know me better and open your heart to me more.  I love you and want you to know it. I broke the mold after you, you're one of a kind, created in order for your heart's wings to spread fully and catch the wind of the Spirit and soar.  Let's work on that together.  I'm on your side.  Always have been, always will be.  And while I have your attention, I'd like your help in connecting with some of my other favorites.  You are perfectly situated and prepared to help me with that.  As you build trust and rapport with friends, family, colleagues, associates, neighbors--frankly anyone--I'd like you to tell about our relationship--yours and mine--and raise the idea that whoever you are talking with can have an amazing relationship with me too.  Don't worry, I've already been at work in anyone's heart that you may speak to.  I don't expect you to introduce the idea, just tend the garden a little, maybe water it, spread some fertilizer on it.
Before you do any of that though, your first priority is to lean more and more into me. Let me support you when you feel weak or strong, let me feed and nourish you when you feel hungry and malnourished, let me encourage you when you feel discouraged and whooped, let me be your shield when you feel overwhelmed and defeated.  Whatever the problem, don't worry, I'm already aware of it and I'm just waiting for you to ask for help.
Asking another about the state of their relationship with God may seem intrusive, but that's a defensive response, it's fear dictating the future, it's the ego scared of letting go control.  Some may think "that's private!" but it may be so private that they don't even know it.  Some may think "well, aren't you the spiritual giant" but that's being offensive in order to take the attention off of what they're afraid to admit.
There are a lot of ways to avoid growing spiritually (code for having a relationship with God--since we can't grow spiritually apart from that), but that shouldn't put off those who know the richness and necessity of growing spiritually from seeking ways to assist others in their growth.  Why would anyone refuse another starving person from knowing where a never-ending, free banquet is served?
So first, you need to enjoy the rich, spiritually nutritious spread God has provided, build up your strength and confidence. The deeper into God you grow the more gracious you'll be with others because the further you go the more you recognize that it's not you, it's God.  And that's the blossom of humility, which produces the fruit of gratitude.  If you keep it up (and you should, even when it seems nothing is happening) eventually you won't be able to contain the joy.  Remember David, the shepherd boy/king who wrote "my cup overflows"? That's what he was talking about.  For hearts that are willing, I just keep pouring the love and joy and grace in.  It sloshes and spills and overflows and puddles, but it's never a mess.
So go ahead.  Give it a try.  Invite me in.  Let's sit and talk.  No pressure.  No guilt.  Nothing to sign in blood.  My Son signed that contract already.  That's why I'm hoping to hear from you.

© 2016 Stephen Carl

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