At the beginning of each year, I spend some time with God – seeking direction on priorities and choosing three or four words to give direction to the coming year. The words help set the direction for the year. My words for 2012 were Deeper, Wider, Higher, and Lower. (You can read more about them here.) Those were great words and, as we enter 2013, I don’t think I’m finished with them. So I’m keeping them for another year!
But lest you think I’m cheating, I am also adding another word: With.
I have been reading Skye Jethani’s new book: With. In it, he does an insightful job of distinguishing ways that we approach God - living our lives over him or under him or from him or for him. But in reality, God calls us to live life with him. Our desire isn’t to be what we get from God or even what we can do for God. It is simply to be God and a life that is lived in relationship with him. He is to be our value and our focus and our desire. Jethani writes:
“But LIFE WITH GOD is different because its goal is not to use God, its goal is God. He ceases to be a device we employ or a commodity we consume. Instead God himself becomes the focus of our desire.”
God’s desire, throughout history, has been this relationship with us. Jethani writes:
“… from the beginning in Genesis straight through to the end of Revelation, God’s focus and desire has been to be with his people. He walked in the garden with the man and the woman…. And the crescendo of history in Revelation celebrates the reunion of God and humanity: ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’”
So it is not surprising that, at Christmas, we celebrate Immanuel – “God with us” – and rejoice in the fact that the Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1:14)
In fact, as you read through the biographies of Jesus, you see that he lived his life on earth with God – walking and talking and serving in constant communion with him: “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19)
When Jesus called the twelve apostles, he called them that they might be with him. (John 3:14) And he called those who followed him to a life of remaining in him – of being with him:
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:4-5, 7
This theme is carried throughout the New Testament. In Acts, the enemies of the Church are amazed at the courage of the early Christians and recognize that, though they were “unschooled”, they had been with Christ. (Acts 4:13) And the Apostle Paul desired above all to “know” Christ with not just an intellectual knowledge but an intimate and personal knowledge. (Philippians 3:10) Jethani notes:
“Paul, the most celebrated missionary in history, did not make this mistake. He understood that his calling (to be a messenger to the Gentiles) was not the same as his treasure (to be united with Christ). His communion with Christ rooted and preceded his work for him.”
After more than 30 years in ministry and leadership, I’m beginning to learn this lesson. My first call is not to achieve a mission, but to walk with God. It is not to be more effective, but to know him more fully. To know his heart. To hear his voice. To follow his lead.
But that is not always the natural flow of my life and it is easy to try and cover a lack of being with God with a flurry of spiritual activity. So I want to give more attention to it this year. It will take more than reading the Bible for a few minutes every day and mentioning a few prayer requests. But it will be worth the effort. Not for what I accomplish. But for the one whom I will come to know.