(From "The Simple/House Church Revolution" Book. The entire book can still be downloaded here.)
Having discussed the core principles of walking out our life and ministry with Jesus, we want to remind ourselves that there is only one core value: to live in intimacy and devotion to Jesus Christ.
Jesus did not invite us to follow a religion of rules, nor did he mandate an order of service or church structure to follow. He did ask us to follow him. Out of that flows all of the life, joy, and power that we need to live fully in him and for him.
Confessing My Religiosity
Though I have sought to be, first and foremost, a lover of God, I have found that I have often fallen into patterns of religious thinking and action as a replacement to intimacy with him. It is my confession that at times I have:
• Reduced my Christian walk to a routine devotional time and a rote church service attendance.
• Become more concerned about being accepted by my fellow church-attending peers than bringing joy to God’s heart and purposes.
• Cared more about being seen by others as a worshipper than actually being in God’s presence.
• Shown more concern for the success of church programs and projects than for the people involved whom God cherishes.
• Been more concerned about being “right” than about loving rightly.
Fortunately, God has a wonderful way of allowing my religious world to crumble so that I can be wooed back into deep, heartfelt relationship with him. Only because of this grace am I able to return again and again to the place where my soul resonates with the song-writer who wrote: “Just give me Jesus.”
God Pursues Ever-Deepening Intimacy With Us
The experience of intimacy with God does not have an end-point. It grows throughout our lifetime and is always initiated by his ability to draw us deeper.
We often begin by knowing God as our Forgiver. Our experience with the cross of Jesus Christ brings us into an encounter with God’s grace that initiates in us a deep, loving response toward him. Brennan Manning expresses this well:
We also learn to know God as our Father. As God continues to draw us into his heart, we become acquainted with his deep, parental passion toward us. This changes the way we see ourselves as we recognize that we are deeply cared about for who we are, and it builds our trust in him as we become aware of his constant care and attention.
Yet there is always more, as Jesus informs his disciples that they are to be his friends. We discover that there is no end to the depth of relationship that God desires with us and offers to us. Although we make many mis-steps on the journey into intimacy with Jesus—faltering, hesitating, becoming religious and proud, distancing, retreating—God never gives up on his quest to be close to us.
Solitude and Listening
If I were to point to one great need for us, as God’s people, who desire to experience a deeper intimacy with God, it would be the need for more solitude out of which comes a more available listening heart. Henri Nouwen speaks to this:
Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone on the mountain top? It's important because it's the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you "my beloved daughter," "my beloved son," "my beloved child." To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being...
Solitude is where spiritual ministry begins. That's where Jesus listened to God. That's where we listen to God.
No Replacement for Intimacy
While this book is not a devotional, we are reminded that all that is life-giving proceeds from intimacy with Jesus. We can put into place models, principles, good ideas, plans, strategies, or structures, but if our life is not centered on the pursuit of Jesus, it will all be dead religion. Conversely, if our life is rooted in abiding and resting in the presence of Jesus, then ministry, service, joy, and goodness will overflow from us without effort. He will naturally bubble up through us.
When all is said and done, we want to renew our hearts to:
• Love God with our whole hearts.
• Follow Jesus with undivided attention.
• Listen to Jesus’ word and voice in every situation.
• Be passionate about God’s purposes on the earth.