A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No person can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.”
—Thomas Merton, 1915-1968
A good, personal relationship with God
A radio caller asked me once what I meant by a relationship with God. On one hand, the answer seemed so self-evident. On the other, I realized that each of us has so many different kinds of relationships in our lives–some joyful, some blasé, some dangerous, some fulfilling, some disheartening, some painful. Then, with God, my sense of relationship is often affected by my moods and struggles.
I have gone through many dark days in my lifetime in my relationship with God—times when I felt that God abandoned me or was unfair to me, or simply didn’t care. At other times, I’ve feared that God was angry at me for my sins or meting out just punishment. Sometimes, I feel so empty, and I despair that life seems meaningless and unbearable. Nearly everyone I know can talk about times when they could not say they had a good, personal relationship with God.
But in my relationship with God, I have also known a tremendous sense of love, of comfort, of peace, of joy, of strength, and power. So, today, when I talk about my relationship with God, I think of the good experiences, without forgetting the depth of the pain and “lostness” I have felt at times—and still feel on occasion.
So, what is a good relationship with God—that’s worth talking about and promoting?
For the radio caller, I simply said, a “relationship” with God is our sense of connection to God. A “personal” relationship goes further. Personally relating to God goes beyond believing that God exists or being vaguely aware of God’s presence. It is connecting in a way that seems personal to us—we can talk to God, we believe God hears us, we sense God is responding to us in one way or another.
A “good,” personal relationship with God involves even more. Not only do I feel connected and believe God is involved in my life, but I also cherish the relationship. I believe God loves me…personally. God knows my name, and cherishes me, too.
In spite of all the dark moments in my life, I’ve discovered a deep, personal connection to God that has given me so much life, love and hope—all the while knowing that I have only had a small taste of all the God has in mind for those who seek a personal relationship with their God.
A few months ago, a friend asked me “who are you?” What a question! Then, from somewhere deep within me a simple answer suddenly emerged. “I am loved,” I told him. Somehow, that says it all for me. Having a good, personal relationship with God has helped me to know who I am and to rest in being known and being loved by the One who matters most.
What is really needed from leaders today? Our world is crying out for better leadership in all spheres of life–government, church, schools, NGOs, you name it. What is really needed, though? Do our existing leaders lack knowledge? wisdom? sophistication? skills? diplomacy? humility? courage? faith?
There’s obviously not one answer that fits every leader and every situation, and the list of how any individual leader could grow may be endless, because there is always room for more personal and professional growth for any of us. But something fundamental needs to change that applies to every leader–for the sake of the Church, our society, and our world. It’s not as if it is totally absent by any means, but more of it is needed as a top priority for leaders going forward.
What’s needed is at its core spiritual—spiritual renewal, spiritual vitality, spiritual growth, and spiritual leadership. I’m talking about truly understanding who we are, why we are alive in this world at all, what it means to be a leader, and how we can best fulfill our purpose in life.
The more leaders see themselves as precious children of God, created to experience the love of God deeply and personally and to live out their calling in love, the more leaders will be able to function powerfully and effectively from a deeply spiritual base. The basic image is one of a deep well, filled with clean, refreshing water that flows freely to all those who tap into its source. The more leaders become deep spiritual wells, the more they will be capable of meeting the incredible challenges in today’s world and of leading others to greater depth, wholeness, and fruitfulness.
When I say “experience the love of God personally and deeply,” I mean having a sense of being embraced by God in life-changing and loving ways. For some the experience may come as a gentle calling of their name; for others, there will be an overwhelming conviction that they must bend their knee to their Creator. In the dynamic relationship that is formed, there is acceptance, forgiveness, submission, and cooperation. There is release, joy, lightness of being, and love. There is transformation. There is life.
When I say “live out their calling in love,” I mean leaders will see all that they do as an opportunity to bring God’s love to bear on their sphere of influence. There will be justice, compassion, mercy, and intelligent systems that serve the people well. There will be courage, strength, and a fierce opposition to any force that seeks to undermine the good of the people. Leaders will value life, preserve life, and promote the fullest expression of life.
What we need, then, are leaders who see themselves first and foremost as spiritual leaders. They value their relationship with God above all else, and then see their vocation as an outgrowth of their spiritual life. More, they both consciously and subconsciously draw on God as the wellspring for their entire life.
Leaders today need many skills, abilities and resources to lead effectively. But the most important ingredient for those called to lead is spiritual depth and vitality, with an ability to let the Holy Spirit work through them in their leadership role.
Sacred Love Flow
In the winter of 2006, I had a waking dream of the sacred love flow. My experience has led me to a powerful vision of living life completely immersed in the love of God.
I was standing on two rocks, straddling a flowing stream of water. I sensed God’s love flowing under me and around me. I could feel the energy. I started to shake. The power was immense.
As I contemplated the prospect of God’s love expanding, I was suddenly catapulted into the air by the surging fountain. I almost fell over, the sensation was so powerful.
Then, I laughed. I pictured myself as a little comical figure on my back being held up in the air, helpless to do anything but flail my arms and legs. All I could see was water stretching out in every direction beneath me, and a pale blue sky. I knew God was all around me, but I felt alone and empty. I realized that there was only option for me to escape my present state. I had to dive beneath the surface.
I was afraid I would drown, but I intuitively grasped that my only hope was going forward. It was dive, and take my chances, or remain on the surface, surrounded by God, but completely unsatisfied.
I chose to trust. Instantly, I found myself underwater, swimming freely and looking at the beautiful fish and coral, lit up somehow by God’s light. I could breathe by some miraculous oxygen source. I was completely at peace, and full of joy.
I want to live in the ocean of God’s love, and be filled and overflowing with it. I want to others to experience this sacred love in their encounters with me. I want every thing I do to be an expression of this love.
The sacred love flow is a vision. It’s a calling. It’s a way of being in the world. It’s a guiding light.
It’s also very biblical. In Scripture, we see that the vision of the sacred love fits very well with Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s prayers for other Christians. We are called to become more and more like Jesus Christ, in mind, heart, and behavior, filled with and led by the Holy Spirit, and marked by our love for others.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. 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, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into [Christ’s] likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, NIV)
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11, NIV)