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Monday, June 14, 2010

How Intimacy With Jesus Leads to Living the Mission of the Kingdom.

For 2 years I've been fully engaged in planting imagine/Northampton. Prior to coming here, Tricia and I devoted ourselves to helping people learn to listen to God, especially through Listening in Christ and Klesis Immersion retreats. In addition, we offered inner healing and spiritual direction. Our lives were completely enmeshed in the Christian spiritual life, particularly the contemplative spiritual disciplines and matters of the heart in relation to God. For ordinary Jesus-followers like us it was an extraordinarily spiritual rich life. Living at the Center For Renewal, a retreat center in a beautiful bucolic setting in Simsbury, CT, fostered the inner disciplines and opened intimacy with God that people came to experience with us.

What we came to realize and value deeply from our experience is the necessity of spiritual intimacy with God. Love needs to grow in the heart. Jesus's followers must learn to desire him above all life's treasures. Anything less misses the heart of the Gospel leaves us to chase after trifles. Without passion for Jesus, people gradually numb spiritually and sink into a religious life of spectatorship and consuming.  Religious routine supplants persistent vigor and pursuit of God's heart, mind, and will in all things. Spiritual intimacy creates and sustains hunger for the Presence of the Living God.

The truly amazing reality of learning to be in the quiet with Jesus listening for him, talking from the heart with him, and being opened to Love astonishing in its depth and generosity, is it settles in you a longing to know him so that your heart might become free to unite with his. What God cares most deeply about matters more and more to you. Listening to the still, small voice of the Spirit, and searching the Scriptures to see him as he is slowly but surely conforms your nature to his. You gradually want what he wants in who you are. It is transformation to the spiritual core. You truly become a new creation.

As with any relationship, communicating is a doorway. Listening and being listened to create understanding and identification with the other. A connection is made and people open in trust because they feel taken seriously. It's no different with relating to God. Listening and talking to God establishes a lifelong spiritual dialogue of knowing and being known. God becomes the Realest of realities to you. His nature and will frame your life and give it meaning. You find your truest self as God speaks into your life experienced from day to day - the ups and downs, joys and sorrows, victories and losses, all of it. You go through them with him because you have gotten to know his voice and heart toward you.

So how does this intimacy with Jesus lead to living the mission of the Kingdom?

1. As you experience his heart in the quiet with him, love grows and the call to "love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength" gradually becomes a way you live. You desire for him to be known because of his wondrous goodness toward you. Gratitude grows from time alone with him. Friendship takes hold.

2. Intimacy with Jesus transforms what matters most to you which means where you give your best time, effort, talent, and material resources turns toward establishing and furthering his Kingdom. It has become THE STORY giving the most meaning to your story. You want to be about his business in the world because it has become your "prime directive": family life, work life, church life and community life become "staging areas" for the redemptive Kingdom mission of your Lord and Friend. Eternity hangs in the balance for you in a way it hadn't before.

3. Because you've spent heart to heart time alone with God it has become your way of life so you no longer live a disconnect between your "normal" life and your spiritual life. Everything now has spiritual import and weight to it. Your perspective stays on "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is already being done in heaven." You have adopted a missional mindset and see all of life as spiritual opportunity for opening people to God so they can see him.

So what should you do to find intimacy with God?

1. Learn how to listen to his voice. Read Dialogue With God by Mark & Patti Virkler. Then begin this spiritual discipline and work at it daily. Read everything you can on the Christian spiritual life, including the great masters over the centuries who have left teachings about it John of the Cross, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Teresa of Avila, etc.

2. Find a wise and skillful Spiritual Director in your area and get into spiritual direction. Being able to talk with someone regularly who can help you learn and practice the contemplative spiritual disciplines is crucial. Tricia and I are available to do that, including over the phone.

3. Make a habit of going on at least one contemplative retreat each year where silence, solitude and listening are central to the retreat. Today there are more retreat centers offering such retreats. Tricia and I are available as well to lead group Listening in Christ retreats.

4. At least twice a year, take a Quiet Day where you can get away to listen, pray, reflect and journal.

5. Read everything you can on the Kingdom of God and living missionally. You might start with:

  • The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical - Shane Claiborne
  • Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God - Francis Chan.
  • Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises and a Revolution of Hope - Brian McClaren.
  • Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller
I'd also love to hear your thoughts on anything I wrote in this post. Let's have a dialogue over this.
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