Recently, I joined the Renovaré Book Club because I have found there a community of like-minded souls seeking spiritual reformation through the practice of 12 classic disciplines. The second book in their line up is, Being the Beloved, written by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Even before I signed up for the book club, I bought and downloaded the audiobook and listened to it twice! But that’s a story for another time.
This story comes from the first book in the line up called, Beyond Loneliness – The Gift of God’s Friendship, by Trevor Hudson. The premise of the book is that God longs to be in an intimate friendship with us, and it’s this friendship that transforms us. One of the “friendship exercises” that Hudson presents is for us to meditate on God’s question to Adam in the Garden of Eden, “Adam, where are you?” We were to spend some time with that question and then write a letter from God inviting us into friendship.
I wasn’t intending to write the letter, I was just journaling, but that didn’t stop the Holy Spirit from showing up…
What if I have been pursuing a relationship with God with the wrong motives this whole time? I remember asking once if perhaps God’s desire is not to make a nation of holy people for the sake of holiness but for the sake of friendship. He is not raising up kids to be good citizens, He’s cultivating friends with whom to share life with.
What if my prayers for transformation have always been once removed from the intimacy that God truly desires with me?
Like a blind spot in my peripheral vision, I have failed to see that all my begging for holiness, power, transformation, and wisdom is exactly the same as praying for career success, true love, safety and security; even for material things like a new car, parking spaces, wealth, or good weather. The object doesn’t matter. I couldn’t see it because the stuff I pray for is “noble” character change. I thought I was praying in line with His will, but just like a new car or the chance to travel the world, God has always answered the same way…
“I’m not going to just give it to you, Todd. You’re going to have to earn it, because that’s part of the blessing of this life I’ve given you. What I want is to be part of the journey with you. I long for the intimacy of friendship with you. There will be blessings and accountability along the way, successes and failures, heartaches and joys. Trust Me with all that. Stop trying to control them through Me. I’m not your genie. I’m not your inside man. I’m your friend. As your friend I will suffer with you, rejoice with you, weep with you, and laugh with you.
“You will encounter Me most often among My other friends, but don’t be surprised to find Me in the most unlikely places. After all, I am in love with and pursuing the whole world.
“Todd, it hurts Me when you draw near only for the sake of what you can get out of Me. You want to be somebody significant, and you think you become that by drawing near to Me, but that’s not how it works. That’s not love, that’s manipulation.
“See, Todd, you are already somebody significant. I don’t have an agenda for your life that I’m trying to develop you for, one I’m constantly disappointed in you for not achieving. I don’t need anything from you. You are already precious in My sight. You are already significant in My story. I just want to be your friend. To bless you and be blessed by you. To share My world with you as you share your world with Me.
“The fact that you are willing to turn away from Me to pursue the things you want prove that your love is not for Me but for your own desires. As noble as those desires may be, you are still only using Me to get what you want.
“If you never traveled the world; if you never wrote a book; if you never became wise or successful; would you still love Me? Would you still long for Me? Enjoy My presence? Or am I only as good for you as the outcome of your life?
“You are Zacchaeus, leveraging every opportunity, cheating everyone around you for your own gain, climbing over everyone even to get to Me. Come down from there, Zacchaeus! I want to go to your house today. I want to abide with you today. Let My friendship transform you without expectations or judgements. When My transformative power comes upon you it will not be a burdensome task list, or some archaic quest to please the gods. It will be a joy, a release, a resurrection! It will not come from without, but from within where My Spirit dwells.
“My son, please, abide with me that your joy may be full.”