(Author’s note: This is the fourth and last installment in a series discussing why Christians worship God. On this blog, the first installment may be found here, the second here, and the third here. On the author’s blog, the first installment can be found here, the second, here, and the third, here.)
Intimate Worship: Our Response To God As Companion
It was very difficult to write this last installment about intimate worship. Imagine trying to explain, after 30 years of marriage, exactly why you love your wife. It’s hard to say, exactly; and then, you can’t express it without exposing a part of yourself that’s usually reserved only for her. Worse, you feel certain that some who don’t understand will belittle your description, because it will be difficult for them to understand how such a relationship is even possible. That’s what I’m facing here. I’m exposing an intimate part of my soul with the expectation that it will be despised. Worse, I know my expression is going to fall far, far short of the reality, because it simply can’t be expressed in words. This is not easy.
There is far too little written of the individual Christian’s relationship with God. So little is written, and it’s often so vague, that people who have not experienced it have little idea what we even mean by it. Not only that, but I have only a small idea that what I mean by it is similar to what someone else means by it. I know there are elements I have in common with other believers, because I hear them speak of it from time to time — answers to prayer, conviction about particular weaknesses, encouragement in various forms. But there seem to be some parts of my relationship with God that not all other believers experience; and likewise, there are some things others say about their relationships with God that go deeper than what I experience. It seems that because everyone is different, God addresses each of us individually. It seems that some parts of our relationship depend on our willingness to go there.
And yet, this is the central fact of Christianity — that each of us may draw close to God through the agency of Christ, and become His friend, confidante, and disciple.
All of us Christians have in common that God addresses our character, and changes it dramatically. He arranges the combination of events and information in such a way as to identify changes we must make to our character, and He causes us to change by way of circumstances. This is a long-term process; it begins on the first day one becomes a Christian, and continues unabated for decades; or at least, that’s what has happened to me.
God also provides encouragement at intervals along the way, letting us know how He feels about us. It’s not just information that we apply to our particular circumstances; reminders of particular lessons arrive at the moment when they’re most needed, and we become aware that God knows how we’re feeling, and knows precisely what we need to hear. He sends friends to us when we need them, and assistance. The man who has the skills to repair our stove appears just when we need him; a job comes open at just the right time; we hear a chance word that settles the secret worry of our heart. Most Christians that I know experience this providential timing of events, and divine provision for their needs.
Underneath all this, we learn general truth from reading the scriptures, and from interacting with other believers, and come to understand the framework within which we live in Christ. There are moments when what we read is precisely the thing we needed to remember, but most times we’re just building gradually on an existing foundation of truth and understanding.
And then, there are individual quirks regarding how God gets our attention and communicates, and these are different for everybody. My wife, for example, sees significance in colors. When God has something to say to her, she notices a particular color that stands out, and over the years she’s come to associate specific colors with specific meanings. Also, when God wants to get her attention, she loses something; she might misplace her car keys, for example, and whenever she finds them, the location where she finds them and the nature of how she misplaced them will give her insight into some problem she’s facing at the moment. I don’t experience either of those things, although because I know her, I pay attention when she loses something. I know God’s trying to get my attention when I hear the same phrase several times during the same day, and the phrase usually indicates the general tenor of the message. I had a friend a while back who was a pastor, who used to know he was supposed to call a specific individual if he heard that individual’s name three times on the same day. As soon as the man’s name came up the third time, this fellow would drop what he was doing, pick up the phone, and call; invariably, the answer he’d get would include “How did you know I needed to talk to you?” A lot of Christians tell me of this sort of interaction between them and God in their lives, but it’s different for every individual, and some do not experience anything like this.
All of the interaction I’ve described goes on subtly, without fanfare. God is seldom ostentatious; He does what He needs to do to get His point across with a bare minimum of disturbance, and He leaves no tracks. Nature is the stationery on which He writes His notes to us and the pen with which He writes them, so communication almost always occurs as something about which one could say “It’s just a normal event” or “It’s just a coincidence,” and it never comes with an audit trail. So those who never experience it, think we’re just making fanciful illusions about ordinary events; and yet, for those who do experience it, God’s communication is constant, persistent, unmistakable, undeniable, and always, always deeply meaningful.
In all of these things, the Christian life is like a marriage. God is present at all times. One learns to speak to Him constantly, and in turn, He speaks periodically to specific items that need adjustment. The constant interplay of prayer and answer gradually becomes a backdrop to life that is very much like the companionship of a spouse or a beloved friend. One becomes used to a constant undercurrent of conversation with God. One comes to rely on it. One falls in love with Him.
Beyond this, one develops a deeply seated sense of gratitude, because God is so constantly meeting our needs in such profound ways. This affects different people differently, but their expressions about it all have a ring to them that’s similar to all the other expressions. In my own case, I have a strong sense of what my life would have been like without His intervention. I’m a recovering sex addict; I doubt that I would have lived as long as I have, or else I would have become a hopeless pervert and ruined myself and others. I can’t think about this without tears of gratitude, so I keep it in the background most of the time.
Those who have not known God, or those whose experience of the Church has been completely about practicing religion and religious habit, have no idea what I’m talking about. For those of us who have experienced God in significant degree, though, our love for God is very much like our love for our parents, or for our spouse, or for a lifelong friend; only, coupled with those feelings is the additional feeling of gratitude, because this friend, this spouse, this parent, is infallible. He’s always right, always accepting, always trustworthy, and always profound. We owe everything to Him.
To speak of commanding our love is absurd. For the Christian who has learned to love God, there’s no question of command. We offer our love and gratitude unstintingly. How could we do otherwise? He’s our whole life. What else is there?
It is this constant, inner gratitude and affection for God that constitutes the last sort of worship I’m going to write about; this is the intimate communication and devotion between God and His beloved. To know and to adore are the very center of God’s being, the thing that identifies Him most accurately, the thing that He does simply because it’s who He is. Those who come to know Him, adore Him back in like manner. To know fully, even as we are fully known; this is heaven, and the eternal life, and true worship.