So I apologize in advance, because this will be a very long post, but one that is very dear to my heart, and NOT written by me. I believe it is written by my favorite speaker of all time, Mike Pilavachi. If you’ve never heard of him, I HIGHLY suggest you get your hands on anything you can by him. He was the mentor and youth leader to Matt Redman, and they together started years ago a conference in England, called Soul Survivor. When I was in high school, Matt and Mike would occassionally come to our Vineyard and lead our youth conference. They together started a Soul Survivor in Newport Beach, CA where our youth group would go out and be apart of the conference. One specific teaching that Mike did during one of those conferences has stuck with me until today….I know this little bit I have found on this specific bible verse he spoke about isn’t ALL he talked about during this teaching, but it still is so meaningful to my heart. SO, first, I’ve listed the bible verse, then comes the section from one of Mike’s teachings…I hope you enjoy…:)
I got out my ruler and drew a thick red line underneath the title “Why I Am Not a Christian.” I had just spent 600 words annihilating one of the five major world religions, and I felt good. The way I saw it, Christianity was for the old, the weak and the stupid. My essay explained it all perfectly, and anyone who read it would be forced to:
2. say that I was a 14-year-old genius, and
3. give me an A+ and let me off cross-country for the rest of the term.
Things didn’t go quite as I planned, and I later found out that 40 years before me someone else had also written an essay with the same title, but his was much better as he had a beard and was a philosopher called Bert. The other bizarre thing is that exactly one year after I had put pen to paper, I decided to spend the rest of my life doing whatever Jesus wanted me to do. Being a Christian—I had discovered—was not about following a set of rules, but about something far more powerful and exciting: friendship.
Life begins with friendship. God decided that it would be good to share things, so He spent a busy six days in the workshop. Later, once we had managed to completely miss the point about God, Jesus came down to reunite us to Him. Finally, the Holy Spirit was promised so that we might continue to be close to God, even after Jesus was crucified, rose again and went to heaven. God wants us to be His friends. In John 15:12-15, Jesus says something amazing after He told the disciples that the Holy Spirit was on His way:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
The disciples were Jesus’ friends. They weren’t servants, slaves or paid companions there to make Him feel popular; they were all mates. Friendship is nothing if we don’t let people see what we’re really like, and Jesus made sure that they knew everything that He had learned from His Father. He wept in front of them and told them about the things that made Him happy and the things that made Him sad.
The History of Friendship
Friendship is a relationship. Way back when He was surrounded by lots of nothing, God decided to create the human race—people who would be like Him—so that He could have relationship. He said “Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness” (Gen. 1:26) and got on with the business of making people He could love. Throughout the Old Testament we follow a story that has one main theme: God, the maker of heaven and Earth, yearning for a relationship with Israel, the people with whom He had made a special pact. The arrangement we have that is most similar to the pact God made with Israel is marriage. Back then, Israel agreed to love and obey their maker, and in return God would love, protect and care for them. This covenant was a unique agreement, but it broke God’s heart as Israel constantly fell short, turning away from a friendship with Almighty God. You see something of God’s sorrow in the book of Hosea, where God told the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute called Gomer. Hosea stuck by her and stayed faithful, but she carried on sleeping around (it says she lifted her skirt to every passing man). Thus, Hosea and God had something in common: The people they loved did not keep their promises. God told Hosea to say to the nation that they were little more than a whore, because they were unfaithful. God’s pain at this broken relationship was real, but He didn’t leave it there. He sent Jesus to become like His creation so that His creation might once again become like Him. Jesus became a man to take away the disease called sin, which had separated us from friendship with God. By dying on the cross, Jesus told us that we can be forgiven, that we can be friends with God again. None of this would be possible if God didn’t first love us, and our relationship is based on our response to God’s love for us, as John was keen to point out:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:7-10).
Like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo painted God’s hand stretched out to touch the hand of man, it is God who sets the ball rolling. Our role is to respond to His love, to the mercy He showed us when He sacrificed His Son. Our worship, our prayer, our reading of the Bible, our caring for the poor and our telling others about Him all comes as a response to His call to us. Christianity is all about knowing Jesus and being children of the Father, knowing Him through the forgiveness of His Son.
We see pictures of this all the way through the Scriptures. In John 17:3, in His great high priestly prayer, Jesus says:
Now this is eternal life: that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus
Christ, whom you have sent.
Eternal life is not going to Mars and turning left, passing through a hole in the space/time continuum. Eternal life is about a relationship with God, and this physical life is all about getting to know each other beforehand. Bearing in mind that this is why God made us, it is the most natural, normal thing that we as human beings can do. Because we were made by Him and for Him, our worship is vital and important because it is an expression of our love for Him.
A wonderful book in the Old Testament that works out the idea of this love relationship is Song of Songs. Christians have found it hard to know what to make of this book over the years, feeling that because it follows the progress of a love affair between two people, it might not be suitable for the Church. It has been a bit of a favorite of mine, although at first I liked it just because it used the word “breasts” more than once. Thankfully there is a bit more to it than snigger material for young boys, and it comes out as a great picture of the love affair between God and His people.
It is important to note that this is not a love affair of equals, but it’s actually about a king and his maiden. In the same way, we are not the equals of God. When we’re called the friends of
God, when the Bible calls the Church the Bride of Christ, we are most definitely not the leader.
After all, “The LORD confides in those who fear him” (Ps. 25:14).
We have a friendship with Almighty God, not a pet poodle. In this way, knowing that God is the boss takes the pressure off. If the friendship depended on our being good enough, we’d all be very, very alone.
Yes, but God Doesn’t Love Me
This may all sound fine in theory, but for many of us getting around to believing that God’s love is for us is about as easy as believing that God has a bus pass. Look around us and there are plenty of examples of how God loves, cares and yearns for His people. But look inside us and there’s little more than a bad smell and a load of broken promises. If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you might have just about convinced yourself that God loves you, but that He only loves you because He has to—and that really, whenever He thinks of you, He is totally unimpressed.
I love the passage where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and as He came out of the water a voice came from heaven saying, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17)
Can you imagine how great it must have been to have God publicly shouting from the skies, “This is my son—I love Him; I’m pleased with Him.” Sometimes I go into a little fantasy and imagine myself with a group of people when all of a sudden God clears His throat and points His biggest and most God-like finger down at me.
“That Mike Pilavachi is all right,” He says, His booming voice shattering windows. “I quite like Him.”
Then I imagine how everyone’s attitude about me would change. People would drop their shopping bags and point at me. “Wow,” they would say, “Mike Pilavachi; he’s God’s boy.” If that happened, I’d have T-shirts printed up that recounted the whole heavenly message every time I entered a room. Of course, the truly amazing thing is that it has happened (not the part about the T-shirt); God has said that He likes me loves me. Maybe it hasn’t been quite the publicity stunt I would have planned, but through Jesus He said it loud and clear. Jesus didn’t have to earn God’s love, and what God says about Jesus, His Son, He says about me and about you. God has said that He loves, likes and cares for each one of us.
Another reason lots of us have for finding it hard to believe in God’s love is that our own experience with our fathers has been rough. Lots of us find it hard to believe that God could be such a good friend because our friends have let us down. What’s the solution to all this? We need to get deeply into the Bible, because it’s there we find the truth about God. As we read the Bible, we hear God speaking to us through the stories of His relationship with others. What’s more, the Holy Spirit takes the words of the Bible and feeds them into our hearts, acting like a kind of high-grade spiritual fertilizer. That’s why it is good to meditate on God’s Word, taking time to think over the words.
Believing That He Does Love Me
One of my favorite passages to meditate on comes from a little book at the end of the Old Testament. It’s one of the minor prophets, Zephaniah, but don’t let that put you off.
The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing (Zeph. 3:17).
In the past, I’ve written this verse down and looked at it every day, feeding on the goodness it contains. I usually take it slowly, one line at a time:
The Lord your God is with you.
If you are a Christian, have given your life to Jesus and have made a commitment to Him, then the Lord your God is with you. That means He isn’t just there for you on Sundays, but the rest of the time too. When it gets to Monday morning and it’s time to get back to school, college or work, it might be harder to feel, but it’s true—He’s with you. And not just tagging along, asking to be looked after either . . .
He is mighty to save.
We need to remember that we have a powerful God with us, one who can make a difference to our lives. Imagine that you are walking with me down a dark alley late at night when a bunch of particularly violent-looking thugs appears from the other end of the alley. They stop us and begin to harass us. You’re frightened and weigh my chances: four violent men against me—the pastor who cries whenever one of his potted plants dies. You do the only sensible thing and run away.
Now imagine that you’re walking down that dark alley with Mike Tyson at your side (in the days when he could win fights). Instead of staring at the floor and crossing your legs, you may have a bit of a swagger as the gang of four approaches. If they ask if you want to make something of it, you might reply, “Yes, I would like to make something of it.” Then you could turn to Mike and tell him to eat as many of their ears as he wanted. God, in that situation, is more like Mike Tyson than Mike Pilavachi. God is mighty to save and big enough to make a difference in anybody’s life. Whether it’s saving us from our own sins or stepping in with miracles or guidance, God has the power.
He will take great delight in you.
By the time my meditation gets around to this bit, I’m usually getting hungry. Strangely, this helps as I take great delight in food, so it gives me an idea of how God feels about me. Just like me when I’m served up a full Greek meal, God becomes ecstatic when He thinks about us.
He loves it when we meet together to worship Him, and He loves it when we talk to Him on our own. To know that God loves to hear my prayers is a great inspiration for me to pray. It helps me to know that He reacts to my prayers and makes me think of it as being a conversation.
He will quiet you with his love.
I finally understood some of the meaning of this promise when I was browsing my way through the cheese section of my local supermarket. Somewhere around the Garlic Roule I saw a five-year-old boy looking miserable. Knowing that I didn’t have much of a taste for garlic at that age either, I thought nothing of it and went back to my research. Soon he began to sniff and I realized what was going on. A lady came up to him and asked if he was lost. At that, he started to bawl his eyes out, accompanying it with the sort of piercing sound that only five-year-old boys can make. Eventually an announcement came over the loudspeaker system: “Would the mother of a little boy who answers to the name of ‘aaaaarh’ please collect him from the Soft Cheese section?”
Soon, the boy’s mum was there, cuddling him and telling him that everything was all right. The boy kept on crying, but his mum kept holding him, telling him that she loved him and wasn’t going away. This carried on for some time until the boy stopped crying. His mum had made him still, peaceful and secure again with her love. She quieted him with her love. Most of us may not cry on the outside like that five-year-old boy, but we’ve been so hurt and broken by things that have happened to us that we’re crying on the inside. God says that He can be there for us. He will hold us close and quiet us with His love.
He will rejoice over you with singing.
I always thought it was our job to rejoice over Him with singing, not His job to rejoice over us. Partly it is up to us to thank Him for who He is and what He has done, but while we do hat, He goes wild over us. The Hebrew phrase that translates as “rejoice over you with singing” can be translated to mean “to spin like a top and let out whoops of joy.” It amazes me that God does that for each one of us.
This verse from Zephaniah perfectly contains the message of Christianity. God is alive, forgiving, interested, compassionate, loving and worthy of praise. This is the beginning of life. If we understand the truth of this, if we let it seep into our souls’ roots, we will find ourselves living the most outrageously full life imaginable. If not, it’s all just meaningless rules.
A few years ago I went on a trip to the Isle of Man to have a few meetings. Matt Redman and I stayed with a family who had three boys, the youngest of which was a six-month-old baby named Ben. As Matt, Ben and I sat at the dinner table waiting for the indigestion to fade, I was playing with Ben. Being a cuddly kind of guy, I know all the moves, and I showed him my full repertoire. I bounced a little, made noises, hung him upside down and balanced him on my chin, when suddenly I sensed something brewing in his diaper region. Immediately, I held him at arm’s length, twisting my head this way and that to avoid the smell. My arms soon started to hurt, so I passed him over to Matt. He soon figured out what was going on with the kid’s diaper, and before long he too was holding him as far away from his body as possible. Ben started to cry, unhappy at the combination of soggy diaper and stretched out upper body. His mum came in and took hold of him, cuddling him as close to her as she could, unfazed by the smell or the mess he had created.
God, I realized, does exactly the same thing with us. When we’re tired and miserable, unable to look after ourselves, and having all sorts of problems, God pulls us in close. Ultimately, that’s where He wants us—next to His heart.