A semi-regular attempt (in other words, as I have time) to explore the interaction between God and the adolescent world, especially the connection between theory and praxis (otherwise known as practical theology). Primary emphasis will be given to the role of the church (and especially the emerging church) in this process.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Do I Really Need God?

I taught a class at the seminary last month titled "The Life of the Youth Pastor." As part of that course, we spend the first half of the class focused on the inner life of the minister, especially dealing with issues of formation.

During the class I spent a ton of time reinforcing the idea that focusing on the inner life of the minister is absolutely crucial if we want the professional life to be successful. I especially stressed the idea of creating balance between the inner and outer (professional lives).

In the three weeks since I taught that class, I've come to believe that I may be the world's biggest hypocrite. Do I believe in balance? Do I believe in the necessity of prayer in my life? And do I believe in practicing various forms of spiritual disciplines to assist me in my growth? Do I believe that I really need God? Of course.

But do I? Sometimes I wonder. For all my talk about creating balance, the last few weeks of my life have been anything but balanced. I find myself increasingly drawn into the busyness of life (school responsibilities, dissertation, speaking engagements, church responsibilities, mentoring students and others, etc.), rather than taking the time to slow down, stop, and take time to actually listen to God.

I recently read the book Far From Home by Joseph Stowell, former president of Moody College. Stowell so beautifully expresses my own feelings these days:

"I have found that busyness for Him has not drawn me closer to Him. In fact, in some ways it creates a false and treacherous sense of spirituality. It causes one to assume that spirituality is a performance; that intimacy with God is a business arrangement. It creates a flat and dull sort of Christianity that begins to turn our hearts cold and even sour if we are not careful...I know I need Him--my problem is that I find it easy to lose touch with the reality and ramifications of that knowledge."

I resonate extremely well with Stowell. Early on in life, my sense of need was apparent as I was part of a family that, at times, literally had to pray our next meal in. As I started my ministry career, my insecurities as a minister and public figure kept me very aware of how much I needed Him. Each new church or assignment that my wife and I were called to challenged my sense of self-sufficiency.

Through all of this, God has abundantly provided. He has given me gifts that enable me to be fruitful in my ministry. He has provided finances to adequately cover expenses. I have been doing ministry long enough now to know the ropes and to enjoy what God has built me to do.

And yet, I know that all of these things, in some way, threatens my sense of need for Him. I find that I am becoming increasingly self-sufficient, and my self-sufficiency is what keeps me from trusting God. I don't want this.

Stowell summarizes this feeling when he writes, "In all of this soul-searching about longing for Him and needing Him, I have been and continue to be deeply committed to God. I believe I would die for Him if necessary. I have had the unexpected privilege of being used by Him in ways that I never dreamed or expected. Yet this longing in my soul is real, and I am realizing that my tendencies toward independence and self-sufficient are debilitating my ability to get closer to God. What it all comes down to, I guess is this: If I don’t believe I need Him, I probably won’t desire Him" (Far From Home: The Soul's Search for Intimacy With God, Moody Publishers, 1998, pp. 12-13).

I am becoming convinced that when my spirituality is characterized by self-sufficiency rather than God-sufficiency, I find that I rarely feel the need to depend on God, nor is my soul consumed with a passionate desire for Him. Instead God becomes a celestial father, there to meet my needs, but not really impacting my life. It seems that I find myself longing for Him in the tough times instead of cultivating a daily, ongoing, deepening relationship to Him.

I know that I, and maybe some of you, are more like the camel than the deer. Rarely sensing our need for God, we go for months without really desiring Him. In fact, for some of us, life has had long stretches of religious activity without any real sense of dependence on or desire for God. The problem is that we weren’t built for life in a spiritual desert. We were built for regular satisfying access to the refreshing presence of God in our souls. That's what I so desperately want.

As we enter into this Lenten season, my desire is to spend these 40 days acknowledging my lack of dependence on God and in so doing, discover, for perhaps the first time in my life, how to really depend on Him in every aspect of my life. My prayer for these 40 days is, "God strip me of my self-sufficiency and make me totally dependent on you."

May this Lenten season be a time of grace in our lives as we learn to totally depend on God.


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