...to be called His friend

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I had something of an epiphany while driving home this beautiful summer evening. I've been reading Brother Lawrence. I know...what took me so long, right? I'm just now getting to some of the classics I should have read years ago, but never had ready access to..."Passion and Purity"-Elliot (among others of thiers), Hudson Taylor's biography, and now Brother Lawrence. And doggone...these are worthy reads! Brother Lawrence's ideas on spirituality are disturbingly simple. --Just do your best to always keep your thoughts on Him, be in continual conversation with him, and do all that you do from the motive of love and adoration for Him. Therein lies the blessing, joy and fulfillment we each seek...according to the Brother. Heartache and trials are to be understood as nothing more than opportunities given by a loving Savior to draw closer to Him, and so we can rejoice in them, even look forward with longing to them. Now this seems sort of twisted at first glance, but I can't deny that it's very soundly biblical. ("Consider it pure joy my brethren whenever you face trials of many kinds").

Do read Brother Lawrence...it's a small book called "The Practice of the Presence of God", I haven't time to fully explain his thoughts here. But here is an idea that he repeats often:
"I have quitted all forms of devotion and set prayers but those to which my state obliges me. And I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to God; or, to speak better, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with God, which often causes me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them and prevent their apperance to others."
-and another
"Sufferings will be sweet and pleasant to us while we are with Him; and the greatest pleasures will be, without Him, a cruel punishment to us...
Be satisfied with the condition in which God places you; however happy you may think me, I envy you. Pains and sufferings would be a paradise to me while I should suffer with my God, and the greatest pleasures would be hell to me if I could relish them without Him. All my consolation would be to suffer something for His sake."

I know he's right. I've experienced that whole bit about God causing me "inner joys and raptures so great I am forced to use means to moderate them and prevent their appearance to others." I remember too a friend once describing a similar experience of such great joy and intimacy in simple conversation with God that he had to leave the room so as not to be obvious. I loved hearing that God related to him that way too, because until then I just thought I was wierd. (Well...that may be true too). I've begun once again to make a practice of constantly lifting my thoughts and turning them in conversation to him...instead of what I usually do these days...turning my thoughts on myself and my desires. And as never before, I now find a way to look at my sufferings as a gift, an opportunity to lift my soul in hard circumstances to Him.

And it works.

Inner and outward joy has been my immediate result. Intimacy with the lover of my soul and dare I say it...rapture, even? And I remember that yes indeed, I've been here before. There was a time when for no reason but for the Love of Him, I loved Him and we communed this way. It was in a time before I knew true sorrow and suffering. It was a hard and disciplined practice then, but it's infinitely harder now.

The whole "suffering" bit is difficult to swallow, but you know how truth has that different sort of ring to it. That rings true. And I started questioning Him about it. What is that? Why did there have to be suffering? Why should I have to go through what I have and somehow find my way back to Him again on the other side of suffering? Why would He make it so backwards...suffering is where deepest joy with Him is found. Why not make it straight-forward. Joy is good, Suffering is bad. Joy is God, Suffering is satan...wouldn't it be easier to embrace Him, love Him that way? Why would he make it difficult to understand and so hard to do? And He asked me this,

"What would you do if it were you, Jennie? What if you had all the power and money in the universe, what would you want?"
Well, I'd want deep, true relationships, of course.
"How would you get them?" came his question.
That gave me pause. Power and money tend to corrupt us and taint others in their relationships to us, even if we remain untainted by them. I could force relationship, but that's not the kind any of us want. Could buy them, same problem. How could I get deep, true relationships? And then His approach started to make some kind of sense. Maybe I'd make it a little bit hard to know me. Maybe I wouldn't immediately pour out my wealth and influence on those I'd like to have as friends. Maybe I'd be a little bit hard with them to see what's really in them before I trust my heart to them. If they were devoted to me in my hardness and longed with joy for an opportunity to walk with me through sorrow, then I may actually have a friend who could bear the weight of my power and influence...maybe.

That's when He said. "I am a jealous lover." And He just let it rest on my soul to see if I would take it in.

The last 4 years of my life have seen both my life's greatest joy and deepest sorrows. A precious gift given by this "lover" of mine was taken by the same hand and while I've remained faithful to him, I've been so confused. Until today when I remembered having had an intimacy with my God like what I'm just now coming back to...this intimacy that Brother Lawrence is insisting I strive toward. The last time I remember being this close to Him was not before the suffering. It was before His gift of joy and a beautiful fulfillment of my heart's desire. I made the classic blunder! Out of ignorance...I didn't understand that the intimacy we had was to be maintained at all costs...even if it meant giving the "gift" back and saying..."thank you sir, but I dare not, for I may love it too much." I wonder if I'll find a way to that kind of strength and fidelity in my friendship with Him now? Certainly not by my own abilities. Lord grant me now your character and strength, for mine falls short, is my prayer.

He wanted friendship with me, but He needed to know what was in my heart...or, he needed me to know what was in my heart. And He needed me to find what at last I've found...a joyful longing for the fellowship of suffering with and for Him. What blessing and favor wouldn't you pour out on that friend who wants you not for your blessing and favor, but for their love of you? That friend who wants not your riches but a share of your sorrows so as to make them lighter for you?

Oh to have that kind of friend.

I think today i get why sometimes He makes this so hard!