Every endeavor requires assessment. Want to run a marathon? The first order of business is to determine your ability to actually pull it off. Maybe a bit of training is needed. You might want to check with your doctor to make sure your knees can handle the pounding. My favorite example is looking for a map when entering a new mall. Usually, the only way to make any progress is to quickly assess where you are on the map in relation to where you wish to end up. Just a simple check has saved me from walking in the wrong direction on many occasions.
Recently I embarked on a Journey of Prayer with a small group of people. The first few weeks of prayer revolved around our image of God. Initially, the question arises whether this is a necessary endeavor. The assumption is that God is God and when we pray, he is listening. So, why ask about our image of God?
In our work with Global Workers, we sometimes ask people to describe how Jesus looked at Peter after the denial. Some suspect disappointment, others suggest anger, I’ve even heard some say Jesus’ look reflected something akin to, “I told you so.” One intrepid soul suggested Jesus’ face was impassive, which is why Peter went out and wept so bitterly. As an aside, what do you think Jesus’ face communicated when he looked at Peter after the third denial? And, how would you feel if Jesus looked at you the same way?
Now, let’s dig a bit deeper. Unpacking a person’s story, it doesn’t take long to unearth how they see Jesus looking at them in their messiness, denials, and the like. Rarely is Jesus loving or delighting in them for no apparent cause. Instead, he’s unhappy in some way because they can’t get their act together, or learn to trust him more.
Ok, maybe God is upset with them (us) over sin and bad choices. At the same time, when we consider whether we feel hopeful, despairing, trusting, conflicted, loved, or shame when thinking about our proximity to Him, the conversation tends to change. Many I meet secretly dread the possibility that God is simply not pleased with them. So, their quiet time, service, Bible reading, et. al., are more about appeasing than loving and being loved. Envisioning God as being close both comforts and concerns.
Just knowing good theology is not enough. We have to take a penetrating look at the heart to determine how we actually feel about him at any given time of the day. We must direct our reaction/response to him in the moment to better understand how we truly view him and how we view our relationship with him. This call to careful reflection shows up in Augustine, a desert Father, Antony, and Calvin. Each commented, in their own way, how “One cannot know God without reference to oneself and cannot know oneself without reference to God.”
This venture does not always feel good. It exposes our carefully held assumptions about life and God. But this is not a bad thing. He already knows our view of Him. The invitation in prayer is simply to uncover truth (good, bad, or ugly) and place it before him.
And so we begin… learning to love God loving us.
Listen to this song by Olivia Lane here.