god talks to his friends - part II


It’s mind-boggling to think that God could speak a million different messages to a million different people, all at the same time, but it’s a theologically correct view of God that’s consistent with centuries-old conservative theology. He is the all-seeing, all-knowing, self-revealing God.

God talks to his friends. Friendship is a lot more than one friend telling another what to do. It’s being together; it’s being of the same heart and mind; it’s loving the same things. It’s doing things together, both work and play.

With my teenagers, I talk about music, what’s going on in their youth group, what’s up in school, the sports they love. I’m interested in what my kids are doing because I love them. My conversation with them isn’t limited to commands – “take out the garbage”. What a sour relationship that would be. Dallas Willard describes our interaction with God as a “freely cooperative relationship between mature people who love each other with the richness of agape love”.

My journal is a record of some of my prayers to God and what he speaks to me. In one journal entry, I asked “can you give me a word for this week?” He said “Wait patiently” – regarding things I was currently in processing in my life – family and ministry issues that were weighing on me. In another entry, he showed me a picture of a carpetbag like Mary Poppins’. It was as if he said: “You never know what’s going to come out of it. Your life will be full of more and more surprises”.

The expression “intimacy with God” is commonly used these days to describe close friendship with God. Many of our worship songs paint pictures of intimacy with God – hearing his voice, feeling his presence and knowing Him more deeply. How can we be ‘intimate’ with God?

Respect, reverence and obedience are at the heart of this intimate relationship. When applied to our relationship with God, ‘intimacy’ has a different shade of meaning than for human relationships. Intimacy with my wife, my kids and my mother, while similar in some ways, are all unique. And these relationships are all very different from my intimacy with God.

One of the most powerful books in Scripture on friendship and intimacy with God is John’s gospel. John is referred to as “the disciples whom Jesus loved”.
In chapter 14, Jesus promises to be intimate with his disciples – “the Father…will give you another counselor, who will never leave you” (14:15), “my Father will love them [the disciples], and I will love them. And I will reveal myself to each one of them”(14:21). These are great promises – God says he will be close to us!

But that’s only part of the story – Jesus only promises to be intimate with those disciples who obey him. In chapter 14, Jesus says the same thing three times in a row! He’s really trying to make a point here.

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you. 14:15-16

Those who obey my commandments are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them, and I will love them. And I will reveal myself to each one of them.”14:21

“All those who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and live with them. 14:23

For Jesus, true love for God is expressed in obedience. Usually we put the emphasis on God’s unconditional love - he loves us in spite of our failings. As true as this is, it’s not the whole story.

Jesus is saying to his disciples, and to us: “do you want to be intimate with me, close to me? Then do what I say. Do you want to experience my love, receive revelation from me? Then do as I say”.

A quick review of Scripture will bring to mind many people with whom God was intimate. God spoke to Moses, to David, to Paul and to many others. All of them were actively engaged in carrying out the King’s orders.

We have many songs these days about being in the Father’s warm embrace and being filled with His comforting Spirit. I love those songs. But in our culture of narcissism, we could be led to believe that intimacy with God is all about feeling loved. “If I can get a warm, fuzzy experience in worship then I have been intimate with God”.

But Jesus shows us another way. He shows us the true meaning of friendship with God.

“You are my friends if you obey me. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a master doesn’t confide in his servants. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 I command you to love each other.” John 15:14b-17

In this particular passage, there is a strong connection between being a friend of God and bearing fruit. If the energy of our life is devoted to obeying God (v. 14), and sharing God’s love (v.17), then Jesus calls us his friend.

I’ve joined up with Jesus and his cause – to glorify the Father. He gives me fuel for the journey by speaking to me in a myriad of ways. Dallas Willard says “Our union with God consists chiefly in a conversational relationship with God while we are each consistently and deeply engaged as his friend and co-laborer in the affairs of the kingdom of heaven.” (Pg. 56 hg, DW)

His speaking is not as loud and frequent as I would hope, but as I look through my journal and see what he has said, I see how strong and consistent his words are. Of course, his still small voice is only one way he speaks. His written word is alive and powerful, always available, and always relevant in directing my life. And the counsel of friends and elders is indispensable.