As the evening began to wind down, we moved from the dining room into the living room to enjoy some dessert and coffee. The night had been full of friendship, community, and sharing life over a meal. It was simply a wonderful time with friends; one like so many others we had shared. Our conversation moved seamlessly from work, to fun, to family and back to work. Dialogue about music and YouTube came and went. We were simply sharing our lives with one another over an evening meal.
But then it happened. Effortlessly. Mysteriously. Our ordinary conversation on an ordinary night, seemingly devoid of the divine, awakened as something completely opposite. The loving presence of God illuminated my heart as we talked. It was as though we took a breath in between words and realized that God was present with us. Jesus and his loving presence had emerged from the conversation to capture the attention of the ones he so deeply loves. Its not that a conscious decision to experience God had become the focus of that particular night, it is simply that God was already present. But it was Tuesday night. Sunday services were still days away. It was not the time nor place that we had cut out of our week to enter His presence. Exactly, and for that I am so grateful. God made a choice long before we ever invited our friends for dinner that He was going to come for us; that His delight would be in His people. God’s desire has always been to interact with humanity and it was no different during that simple evening with friends.
As I reflect on that night, it quickens in me other times I have had the opportunity to experience God: unassuming moments in the car, walking to a meeting, an evening with friends, sitting in Starbucks, reading a book, in worship, in a sunset. Those experiences seem to be highlighted by tenderness and love. When the presence of God falls, I realize that in that moment the culmination of all my longing, searching and seeking for the fullness of life is met in the one who made me, knows me, and loves me beyond all understanding. The one who my heart has desired moves ever close to embrace me first. It is as though the prayer of Paul for the believers in Ephesus “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (Ephesians 3:19)” meets me in the here and now. And let me add, it will meet you too!
The reality of God revealing himself to his people is foundational for people experiencing the relational, Creator God. As a movement, The Vineyard has embraced the dynamic nature of the loving Creator. This embrace is displayed in the Vineyard’s core value Experiencing God. The belief that God is searching for lost humanity in order to draw us into loving, intimate relationship with himself has revealed an ever-increasing opportunity in my life to experience the love of God that moves beyond my ability to understand. As evinced in the delightful dinner with our friends, I am discovering that the opportunities to experience God are always greater than I often allow for. In other words, the breadth of God’s love for me greatly exceeds my God box.
For so long, my journey of discovery in Jesus was limited by my performance, my behavior, by me. I had adopted a tally system faith that looked more like a Pharisee than a disciple. When I was good there was potential to experience God; however, when I was living in the don’ts of scripture I had somehow come to think that God’s love and God’s presence would be removed from my life. Reflecting on that time in my life, I see a self-centered approach to God that at its best could only be religion. My interaction with God was always a measure of me, and therefore was always limited by me. I was continuing to pursue God out of my best efforts instead of embracing the fullness of life and freedom that come from Jesus’ best efforts.
You see, I was failing to discover the breadth of God’s love that comes to us when we fall short. Falling short and experiencing the brokenness of humanity does not disqualify us from the embrace of God’s love, it simply makes us greater candidates. Out of his great love for us, God sent Jesus to bring freedom and life to the world. The discovery that is made in Jesus is one of surrender and embrace. Surrendering our best attempt to live our best life in order to embrace the best life that we can live in Jesus. In The Message, Eugene Peterson offers us a helpful perspective on embracing all that God has for us:
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him…Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by who God is and by what he does for us, not by who we are and what we do for him (Romans 12:1-3).”
The experience of God that I am discovering, and that God has for all humanity, is illuminated in Romans 12. First, I do not have to live a compartmentalized life that leaves the triune God locked up until Sunday morning. The breadth of his love is meant to be lived and embraced everyday in all we do. His person and presence is available in the ordinary everyday moments. If Paul is right and God’s love goes beyond my understanding, then I know his love is big enough to be encountered everyday of the week. With each day I surrender my grip on life and my best effort to hold things together, I get to embrace God. As I embrace God, I surrender myself. As I surrender myself, I embrace God. The pressure is off, the performance ceases and the intimate relationship with the Creator illuminates my heart. And the realization that is made in my experience of God is that He has such a passionate love for me that He made a choice to be active in my life. In spite of my best and my worst, God made a choice to embrace me. Experiencing God is an illumination of love, approval and embrace!
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,
may have power, together with all the saints,
to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.