Just like any healthy relationship, we need to spend time together to really strengthen a bond. Our relationship with God is far richer and more tangible when there is a mutuality of giving and receiving.
In a book titled “Beholding”, author Strahan Coleman reveals how his prolonged journey through pain, depression and anxiety led him to some life-changing realizations about his experience of God. He began to see that his way of relating to God had become transactional—if I’m good enough, repent enough, come to church enough, do enough for God, then I earned the right to ask God for what I need or want in my life.
But when Strahan was ill for a long period of time, he could no longer “perform for God” as he puts it. Due to his illness, he was depleted physically, emotionally, financially, and had nothing to give. He also felt God wasn’t answering his prayers, wasn’t speaking to him in a way he was used to. And so it led him to question aspects of his beliefs about God: In particular he wondered “Does God love me as I am, even in the times I have nothing to give?”
Along the way of his transforming journey, he rediscovered the story of the prodigal son—a story Jesus tells to illustrate the unconditional love of God. A story exemplifying forgiveness and reconciliation. If you recall, the prodigal son had demanded his inheritance and left his family, spent it all, was broken in spirit, starving, homeless. From the gospel of Luke, here’s what happens next:
[the prodigal son says], How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and more to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” So, he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
Envision that scene when the father, upon seeing his wayward child at a distance, runs to greet and celebrate his lost son’s return home. He showers him with love, and in fact throws a huge party with the best food to celebrate his return. They are reconciled through the grace and love of the father, not through anything the son does to earn that.
The great invitation is that God is always here for us, with arms wide open to welcome us. He longs to spend time with his children. Prayer is a way we can “look upon God” and God looks upon us—a beholding of one another. God’s love is a reality that we can decide to receive and come to experience.
The best thing that we can do to bring God’s love from a theological concept in our mind, to a “knowing” of God’s immense love throughout our being, is to spend time receiving and returning God’s love. I heard it beautifully expressed once, as the need to shift our perspective of how we relate to God from that idea of being in a courtroom to being in a family room.
As we head into the summer, I’d like to encourage you to set the intention during this season to become more aware of the presence of the Holy in your daily life, and in so doing to find ways to deepen your experience of God. Prayer is one crucial way to “practice the presence” of God in our lives, and there are many styles and kinds of prayer you could try. I’ll be happy to send you some ideas to try out. Someone once said, “pray the way you can…not the way you can’t.” In other words, keep experimenting until you find some personally meaningful ways to connect with and experience God.
How incredible that in every moment we are tethered to God through the Holy Spirit. God is that source that can love us, forgive us, guide us, empower us, protect us, shape us, and more. That divine spark within each of us is our greatest treasure. In the gospel of Matthew, it’s written “where your treasure is, there is your heart.” I encourage you to find your way home to the heart of God.
(Excerpts from a sermon delivered on May 28th)