Last night my wife and I attended a spiritual small group in someone's home. We have never been there before and this group pretty much had known each other for a number of years at the least. It grew out of an experiment by the leader a couple years ago who desired to try to replicate something along the order of what is described in 1 Corinthians about New Testament church life. There were about a dozen people there and they were quite relaxed, at least with each other.
None of these people were familiar with our church or beliefs. That meant that we felt mostly like an observer there, though we too have a longing to see the true body of Christ connecting more intentionally no matter where they come from. My thoughts and feelings on relating to people outside my denomination on a spiritual level has changed considerably over the past years, but I still only feel comfortable connecting better with people who have at least considerable understanding and sympathy with what I perceive as the real truth about God and religion as taught by Scripture. Just saying.
As we sat around in discussion after the meal, the topic turned to the expectations that each person there had for their group; the desires they wanted to have fulfilled by coming each week. It was interesting to listen to various people with different personalities express their thoughts, even to the surprise of others who thought they knew them rather well. Shy people said that they wanted to be able to be more open and expressive while the leader, a gregarious and compulsive steering person – not unlike me too often – expressed his frustration at not being able to draw others out more effectively and to hold himself back in the process.
I shared with them what had happened a number of years ago when we were involved for a short while with a group of friends who were also experimenting with trying to bond with each other and connect with God more intentionally. One of the things that we did a few times just before my family was forced to move away from that area, had a tremendous impact on the dynamics of our group and the bonding that took place between us.
We had spent considerable time getting to know each other for a number of years and were all pretty much friends already outside the group. We had even traveled a considerable distance together to attend a convention concerning inner healing ministry and were all pretty much united in our desires for healing from the inner pains, memories and triggers that plague us all. In the spirit of shared beliefs and desires to put into practice what we were learning from various sources, we were trying to see how all these things could be applied to ourselves when we met together. But we were having only limited 'success'.
In this context, we started something different that had a powerful effect on our relationships with each other. When we met together in the evening at one of the member's home, all who were willing put their name into a basket and then we would draw out one name to see who would be the one to share that night. We decided to just have one person to have the entire evening so they could simply share the story of their life from the heart. We were not interested in just factual biography or historical data so much as we wanted to hear about their emotional and spiritual history. We wanted the person to feel completely safe, transparent and willing as possible to open up their heart to the rest of us so that we could better relate to who they really were and what they felt like deep inside. We wanted to know about their sorrows, their excitement, their trauma, their hopes and dreams, joys and fears.
As the person unfolded their story to the rest of the group, we wanted to allow them to be able to share without interference as much as possible. We kept the questions to as few as possible and only for clarification as they went along. Then as they finished up their story, we opened it up for us to ask a few more questions, both for clarification and to share our own resonance with what we were hearing. We intentionally wanted to affirm that person, share our own hearts and sympathy and feelings with them so that they could know that they were not alone, yet keep the focus on them and not shift it to ourselves.
It was understood that each person should not feel that they had to bring their story to a tidy conclusion. We know that all of our stories are in process so there doesn't have to be answers to all the questions raised in one's story. That was part of why we wanted to listen, so that may our lives might become part of the answers that God might be able to use to minister to their heart just as He uses others to minister to ours at times.
After this second stage we would bring the individual to the center of the room and all gather around them, lay our hands on them together and pray for them. In the context of just having heard about so many things we had never known or could even imagine about that person before, our prayers had new passion, new intensity and new insights as we sought God's blessing, affirmation and healing for this person's life, heart and soul. Needless to say, emotions were high, raw and real during these times together. And if anything happened during those intimate times of revelation, it was that there was a lot of bonding forming between all who were in attendance.
The concept and importance of bonding is something that I have been learning about only in recent years as I have gained a great deal from some who have become experts in these areas of spiritual life. In addition I am coming to see the vital importance of bonding and how Satan is doing everything possible to prevent or break down all of the bonding that God designed to unite us as families, communities and humans. God is in the business of trying to bind hearts to each other in love and compassion while the great counterfeiter is seeking to impose bonds based on fear and force, pride or greed. As with all of God's good principles, these have been imitated by counterfeit methods meant to deter and divert us from experiencing true fulfillment the way were were designed to live by God.
What came to my mind a few minutes ago was something I have not thought about before. As I recalled the powerful emotions of compassion, sympathy and bonding that we experienced as we listened to the inner stories of people's souls entrusted to us, it occurred to me that not only is this important for cementing the body of Christ together, but is the same process needed to bond us to the heart of Jesus.
How often do I just sit quietly and ask Jesus to share His story with me? Am I willing to sit and listen intently without interfering or measuring or judging or suspicion as I allow Him to unpack His secret desires, His emotions, His sorrows, pains, hopes, joys and dreams for His family? Am I so filled with theological facts and doctrines and theories about religion and God that they interfere with my just listening to Jesus quietly sharing about His own heart with me? Or am I so afraid of being deceived by spiritualism or some other conspiracy fear circulating among many that fear blocks me from letting my spirit open up to fresh communications from the Spirit of Jesus who longs for me to know Him at a far more intimate level than my external religion will tolerate?
I have seen fierce opposition on the part of some who claim to teach the truth about God, who view themselves as protectors of 'the truth', and yet who believe that we should become alarmed and suspicious anytime emotions or things regarding our spirit began to emerge. I have come under attack myself on occasion for even using the word meditation even though it is used frequently in inspired writings. There seems to be a strong tendency to criticize and condemn anyone who wants to connect with God at a deeper level than the cognitive, left-brain-heavy religion that seems to be so popular and the only one accepted by many self-styled experts of religion.
But I recoil from such attacks because they remind me so much of the negative, dark and suffocating religion of my youth that nearly extinguished all hope from my heart. Too many people are ready to dictate to others how to experience truth and seem to have a desire to dominate and control what people should believe or not believe. But such attitudes are foreign to the spirit exhibited by Jesus who did not chase after anyone to follow Him when they turned away. He neither condemned nor pursued them but simply accepted their tragic choice, even though it broke His own heart in the process. How often are we willing to give people that kind of complete freedom without a spirit of censure?
I see in the way Jesus related to people around Him a person who seemed much more open to embracing and affirming the affections and emotional side of people than the religious experts of His day that parallel religious leaders in our day. One of His strongest rebukes was in defense of a vulnerable woman, despised by the public but filled with irrational emotions that burst forth in a way that could no longer be hidden as she lavished her life savings wastefully on His body in a seemingly very inappropriate fashion. His defense of her affectionate behavior in contrast to the strict austerity of the religious elite could not be missed and in fact was the incentive that pushed Judas to go seal the deal which later betrayed Jesus into the hands of a violent mob.
I sense that this woman must have done just what I described above. I believe that she may have sat at the feet of Jesus and hung around Him every chance she could find to listen intently to every word. She watched His face and observed His body language, all to discern what was going on deep inside of Him, to get to really know Him. And because she was listening more carefully and emotionally than anyone else around her, she also was apparently the only person who took seriously His words about His impending death. The responding emotions that these words aroused in her was what compelled her to invest possibly everything she owned to express her affection for Him before it was no longer possible in person. In return, Jesus affirmed her attitude and actions saying that her demonstration was potentially the clearest example illustrating the kind of relationship He longed to have with everyone.
Theologians like to say that this woman did this because she had been forgiven of terrible sins more than anyone else. But I believe that may be only part of the story. This woman connected with Jesus far beyond anything that mere pardon could ever produce in a soul. She had been drawn to Jesus in the first place because of the passionate love she had sensed in His heart as He had reached out to her even while she was immersed in her sinful lifestyle. He had shown her respect like no other man had ever done. He had displayed unconditional love for her with a complete absence of any censuring, critical spirit. Because of His most unusual and unorthodox approach to a person like her, her curiosity was aroused, her respect began to grow and her desire for hope and healing and love began to be realized.
This act of extravagant devotion that is so undervalued by people who are afraid of opening their own hearts to be vulnerable, came from a long history of turbulent encounters with Jesus I suspect. It was not something that just transpired overnight. Rather it was a sudden bursting into the open of a pressure building up inside her heart, pressure created in gratitude and reactionary love that could no longer be repressed to maintain political correctness. This pressure of affection had been intensifying because of personal time spent connecting with the heart of the One she had at last come to love so passionately.
I am beginning to see that God is far more intent on drawing us with revelations about what is in His heart toward us than in getting us to align all our beliefs into correct order, as helpful as that might be. Religion has always tended to gravitate toward figuring out all the right facts and sorting through and labeling what is considered right or wrong beliefs, behaviors or other peripherals. But all the while Jesus is drawing intently with His Spirit our emotions while far too often our head gets in the way.
This reminds me of a friend I have back in Michigan who has spent most of his life dating his girlfriend but refusing to ever marry her. I know it sounds bizarre, and I think it is too. But what he expressed to me was that he is so afraid that he might follow the example of his parents who got a divorce that the only safe thing he can do is to just not marry so that divorce can never occur. Now that can sound very logical to an intellectual kind of person but is completely incomprehensible to anyone who is in some way in tune with their emotions and their heart. Yes, getting married creates potential for pain and conflict and even separation. But the irony is that we are more interested in avoiding pain than in experiencing love which is a very selfish attitude. Maybe with that spirit he is not ready to love yet.
Is that what we are afraid of when we resist allowing God to draw out our affections to Him during intimate times together? Are we afraid that if we let our emotions become stronger than our logical religion that we will lose control of the relationship and then be in danger of doing something irrational? Guess what, that woman who spilled super-expensive women's perfume all over Jesus' clothes and feet and hair had lost control over her emotions and actions too. Yet in the process she earned the most unexpected compliment ever handed out by Jesus. He said that she had gotten it right and that He was not about to let anyone spoil her moment in the sun!
As I write all of this, I do not write from personal experience but rather from listening to what stirs deep inside my own heart as I try to listen to what the Spirit is offering me. In fact, I have to admit that my perspective is probably more from the standpoint of people like the grumbling self-righteous men sitting around the room rather than from any personal experience of making a fool of myself over Jesus. Yet deep inside of me – and I wonder if this might be part of what elicited such a negative response from some of those men sitting there as well – something yearns intensely to have the kind of courage and passion that it must have taken for that woman to risk everything to commit such an act of political suicide. Those who grumble the loudest often are seeking to obscure the deepest hungers of their own heart.
Of course that woman was intimidated by what others might have thought about her. But at the same time, most people already publicly condemned her and so she did not have nearly so much to lose as the other pious people carefully guarding their manicured reputations. Imagine how the story would be even more bizarre if one of those men had been in the place of that woman, spilling perfume all over Jesus and weeping uncontrollably in front of a houseful of gawking spectators. Actually I had never thought of it that way before and the mere image of it emerging in my mind is quite intimidating.
And yet my heart still longs to live in the kind of passion that drove that woman to unleash such affection on the one she had come to bond with so intimately. And that bonding affection is the very glue that God intends to use to unite all of His true followers, not only to His own heart but to each other as they experience the same passionate love that emanates from the heart of our Savior.
I long for the day when the sealed bottle repressing all the beauty of the perfume of God in our hearts is finally smashed open and we all are filled with the scent of love. But thanks be to God! For in union with Christ we are always led by God as prisoners in Christ's victory procession. God uses us to make the knowledge about Christ spread everywhere like a sweet fragrance. For we are like a sweet-smelling incense offered by Christ to God, which spreads among those who are being saved and those who are being lost. For those who are being lost, it is a deadly stench that kills; but for those who are being saved, it is a fragrance that brings life. Who, then, is capable for such a task? We are not like so many others, who handle God's message as if it were cheap merchandise; but because God has sent us, we speak with sincerity in his presence, as servants of Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17 GNB)
This lady was the first who began to grasp the passion hidden behind the plain-looking body that Love assumed when He came to this earth. She had become a love-slave, a prisoner of love to the most passionate Lover in the universe. And later as other disciples and apostles began to connect to that same love, they reported that they too saw themselves as bond-slaves to Jesus. And in becoming love-slaves to the One who loved them so passionately, so unconditionally, so insistently that they could never escape it, they came to see each other in a completely new way as well.
I cannot say that I have tasted much of that kind of love in my life. In my own encounters with God I feel like I have only caught whiffs of the perfume that has drifted down the street from others. Yet even that awakens intense, primordial desires, yearnings for something truly fulfilling that I have yet to imbibe. But somehow I am beginning to sense that from the few touches I have had so far, the only real path from here to there is to keep immersing myself in Him, to keep pursuing getting to really know God through the person of Jesus Christ in such a way that it goes far beyond all the religious education I could ever acquire.
I am not trying to discount the value of learning intellectual truth. Mistaken beliefs about God seriously get in the way of understanding God's heart and His ways and can divert me into detours that are unnecessary. But if I resist resting at His feet for fear of what others might think or from fear that God might disapprove of such behavior, I place myself in danger of ending up among the protesters clamoring at God demanding entrance into heaven while He sadly responds that we really don't know each other.
Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord!' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in your name? Didn't we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?' Then I will tell them publicly, 'I've never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.' (Matthew 7:21-23 GW)
Deep bonding occurs when people allow themselves to share their deep heart stories with another heart. Permanent bonding takes place when this continues, and most importantly when it happens in both directions. That means that if I want Jesus to really know me as He longs to, I have to be willing to open up my own soul honestly, nakedly and transparently in His presence and put away my reservations, inhibitions and fears. But I must also give Him ample time to open up His heart, His emotions, His feelings, His stories to me in a most intimate and personal way so that my appreciation and knowledge of Him perfects the bond. I believe this is the kind of experience that empowered the rapid growth of the early group of believers after Pentecost. And it must happen again, but this time it will come on a much larger scale, but only when we allow ourselves to get real with God and discard this insane fear of intimacy with God.
But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? (Galatians 4:9)
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)