The Pursuit of Knowing God Together
“We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him; and when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure.”
I am constantly reminded of how much of a gift my community is to me. This week I received an email from a friend inviting a group of us to fast with him on behalf of another friend who was seeking the Lord in a time of transition and uncertainty. There have been various points in my life where I have taken spiritual disciplines more seriously than others. It’s usually because I’m reading a book about spiritual disciplines and think, “Ah..yeah..I should do this.”
In high school, I remember telling my mom very proudly that I was going to fast. When she asked why I told her that I forgot to eat breakfast and was considering skipping lunch so I could probably make it until dinner. She very gently reminded me that’s not how you do it.
Our Desire to Feel Close
I’d say this is a pretty common pattern for most of us. We want to draw close to God, we want to practice the moments that will bring us closer to him, but our pursuit of these moments seems flawed even from the get go. For me - I’m often pursuing a feeling of being close to God. It’s a sort of equation I’ll make up in my head: “If I fast and deprive myself of food, I’ll feel something spiritual. I bet God will show up, and I’ll learn something.”
So when I opened my friend’s email, I had to process through where I was while I was reading it. I know my temptation is to jump in head first because I love anything with a group. I know my propensity is not really to think about the discipline but focus on the act of getting it done ‘right.’ I also know I have my ‘shame grid’ that I see everything through - such as seeing ‘not joining in’ as shameful and making myself feel bad (i.e. “Why didn’t you fast with those guys? You didn’t have a good enough reason not to...you should have…”).
Encountering God in Community
My point in sharing this with you is not to say that we have to have pure motives to move forward with any discipline - how impossible! But I don’t think I can begin to pursue God as well when I don’t know where I am first, and I think this pursuit as a community is part of what helps me get there.
When I’m searching for God through disciplines with a group, I believe I’m more likely to encounter Him outside of my own concepts of Him. It takes the onus off of me to have a singular ‘experience’ and instead I get to be wrapped up in what God is doing in front of me (or in me, or through me, or in spite of me!) I sometimes get caught up in thinking it’s always a linear progression from one spot to the next - we’re all moving from point A to Z, and if you’re stuck on point E that’s okay but work harder...the rest of us are near point T! And I miss the beauty of everything in between.
A few years ago, I invited a few friends to read through the Bible with me in 90 days. It was my second attempt to do so, and I told them if we did it together I was more likely to keep up with the reading. It quickly turned into an 180 day reading….then a 365 reading...then an “I guess I’m not doing this anymore” reading.
It’s easy to see this as a ‘failure’ or another lesson in how accountability doesn’t work. But I think that misses the point of our pursuit of knowing God together. No major revelation came out of that time, but I do remember a few conversations where some of my friends who had joined with me were encountering God in Scripture in a way they had not before. We knew God more, and I think we missed that at the time.
The Process is More Important Than the Result
Instead of our communities being about holding each other accountable for checking off spiritual disciplines, I’d like to see us be more open to the experiential continuum that exists in our more spirit-minded brethren. Don’t panic; I’m not going all mystical on you (yet) - but I think there is a lot to learn from the use of a discipline as a community not to necessarily push each other into accountability, but to experience something about God together. If doing it as a group helps you do it as a form of accountability - that’s great, but it cannot take the place of what happens in the process.
I’m trying to prepare myself to fast this week. Not because I have to have it all together before I do it...not because I want to show my friends I’m super spiritual...not because I think God will owe me something if I do it “right”....I have to prepare myself so I can get out of the way and allow my heart to know God.
What spiritual disciplines can you engage with your community this week to pursue knowing God better?