I was glancing through a book catalog last week, a Christian book catalog, and it got me thinking. Many, many of the books were about a relationship with God. With Jesus. With the Holy Spirit. Reading the descriptions to the books, I found myself drawn in. I wanted to read all of them. I wanted what they promised. And since there are so many out there, I suspect I’m not the only one. There seems to be a longing in our culture for more, and I’m not sure where it comes from or how to quench it.
Every one of those books promised a more intimate relationship with God. Closer walks. Getting to know God more personally and having Him impact my life more fully. Lessons in prayer, again with the goal of getting closer to God. All of them suggest we are too far from God and can have an amazingly close connection with him, and all of them have ideas on how to go about this.
This post isn’t to criticize those books. I don’t have anything bad to say about them. They are right. I long for more when it comes to God. I think secretly many of us wonder why our prayers don’t look like prayers of old–how often have you prayed a dead man alive? Prayed for the beginning or end of a drought? Seen blind men healed and lame men walk? How often have you felt a closeness to Jesus like the apostles did, where He laughed in your midst, told you parables, sat with you over dinner? Or even the relationship the Israelites had with God–have you wondered which way to go and followed a pillar of fire? Has your church filled with darkness while God’s Spirit consecrates it?
Why haven’t we? Why this longing for more and the inability to find more? I want those things. I want following Jesus to be easier. I find that I forget. I wake up and forget that I love God, that he’s central to my life, that I am loved with the most selfless, amazing love in the universe. How can I do that?
I ask for fish, and sometimes it feels like I get stones. I trust God for something, and I feel like I have the faith and the knowledge to ask wisely, to ask for something God surely desires in his heart, too, but the dead don’t rise. The broken don’t heal. What is wrong with my prayers?
I look for direction for my ministries, my relationships, my marriage, and instead of having a pillar of fire to lead my way, I stand in a drying plain with no landmarks in any direction. Where is the path? I open the Word to light my way, and yet I stand in darkness. Where is the lamp to guide my footsteps?
I have such great plans. Reading plans. Prayer plans. I attend conferences and workshops and hope to use the energy of those mountaintop experiences to develop habits that last. I want to love God without reservation. I do, with all my heart. And yet, slowly but surely, I slide back into some halfway world where God is peripheral. I skip a day of reading. Then I skip two. I pray for ten minutes. Then five. I look with longing at books about close walks with God and wonder what makes those people so special that they can be close while I feel like I’m drifting away in an ocean of distraction.
I suspect my biggest problem is that I forget I’m in battle. And wow, our enemy is special. He’s ancient. He’s smart. He’s cunning. And I don’t prepare to fight. I look at the books in the catalog and think I can find some magical way to slay the enemy once for all. But I can’t. I battle every single day. Except days when I don’t. And then I slide.
I wonder what would happen if my Christian friends and I remembered, every day, that today we were going to battle. If I peeked around every building and made every turn expecting to be ambushed. If I hid my valuables and protected them expecting someone to snatch them away. If our conversations always included new ways to fight, new weapons, stories of battlefield victories and defeats meant to prepare and warn one another about the fights ahead.
I want to be close to Jesus, but I want it simple and light. Yet my marriage isn’t simple and light. My friendships take work, too. And this relationship with Jesus–it is a thing under fire unlike any other relationship. Every moment of the day, it’s under fire. I don’t prepare for that. My friends don’t prepare for that. We forget to be soldiers. Soldiers need to be ready. Always on guard. Always a struggle. They lose friends. They need rest sometimes, where someone else holds the gun while they grab some sleep in the bottom of the foxhole. They cover each other, and they strategize. Battle is their life, because forgetting that gets them killed.
And in the end, if they are diligent and wise, they take the enemy down.
Jesus can be close. Those books aren’t wrong. Of course I can have a close relationship with Him. It’s what He wants most. But I think I have to embrace the battle required to hold onto it here. That relationship doesn’t grow easily, but it is easily snatched away if I’m not careful. The Holy Spirit is the commander, and I need to listen for his commands and never hesitate when He gives a battle cry. I hesitate. I want Psalm 23, where I can lounge by the stream. But more often than not, I’m in Ephesians in a room filled with battle gear. Only I don’t realize it, and I walk out on a deadly field practically naked and wonder why I can’t seem to win the skirmishes.
Today, whatever happens, I need to read the Word. Pray. Fight the powers of darkness. Jesus meets me there with a hug and a smile. With Him victory is guaranteed, and that victory is sweet indeed. But it never comes easy, and I think I set myself up for failure if I think it ever will in this life.