STAYING CLOSE – EXPLORING INTIMACY WITH GOD
This was the course followed by 3 church groups this Lent. In this article the Sunday Morning Group share some key lessons they learnt from this course. Christian faith is more than simply holding a certain set of beliefs; it is about a relationship with God. The course explored what this means in practical terms and how we can experience intimacy with the divine, without undermining the reality that He is also deeply mysterious.
The starting point for the course was ‘staying close to God through discipleship’. A disciple’s relationship with God is more than just ‘believing’, it is ‘following’. This doesn’t mean losing our individuality & ourselves, on the contrary, we discover a new dimension to life, which enables to be both truly human & truly ourselves. We do not need to earn God’s approval we have this already through Jesus. It is because we have His approval & He loved us first, that we choose to follow him.
‘Staying close to God in the wilderness’ was next. Feeling distant from God at times is an experience common to all believers, including Jesus. God can be found in a new way in and through this apparent wilderness. We can come out of the other side knowing God better and being stronger. We learnt about the Emperor moth’s long & exhausting struggle to escape its cocoon, which is a wonderful illustration of suffering building strength and leading to freedom. The moth’s epic struggle forces fluids from its bloated body to its undersized wings, so that it is ready to fly!
The need to ‘stay close to God when we are worried’ was a part of the course many of us could identify with. God may not make the objects of our anxiety disappear, but, being close to him through them can empower us to engage with them. God helps us to see them differently and find freedom through them.
‘Staying Close to the glory of God’ was a surprising section of the course for many of us. However, it enabled us to share our own personal experiences of God and learn that our lives can be transformed through moments when we encounter a glimpse of the sheer wonder & glory of God. Despite this, we recognised that the glory of God is not something that can be measured by human experience. However, these experiences empower us to face the challenges of ordinary life in ‘the valley’.
Tackling ‘Staying Close in our witness’ was a rather daunting prospect! However, we learnt that rather than preaching to others or appearing to judge them, this was about just sharing what God has done and is doing in our lives, just as we might share anything in our lives which excite us! It is about our identity and whilst it is about action, it is more concerned with our ‘being’, than ‘doing’.
On Palm Sunday we covered ‘staying close to the Servant King’, which seemed very appropriate! We discussed how we all have a desire to serve, but, agreed the issue really was who & what we serve! We were struck by how single minded Jesus was as he entered Jerusalem, not getting carried away by the moment but being focused on moving on to his suffering and death, in order to obey His Father and serve all of mankind. Many of us were struck by the words of Rick Warren – humility is ‘not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less’!
We continued our ‘Lent’ Course after Easter, as this seemed appropriate for the next topic, ‘Staying Close to the Risen Christ’. Like the first followers experiences after the crucifixion, we were reminded that Jesus is usually far closer than we realise! Like the first disciples we could identify with occasions when in Christ, the extraordinary bursts right in on the ordinary. We learnt that he is the One whose extraordinary peace and power we need to stay close to, in the midst of the ordinariness of our daily lives.
The final part of the course was about our ‘future journey’ and based on the ‘Road to Emmaus’ passage in Luke 24. Like the disenchanted disciples, we recognise we are often not aware that the risen Jesus is journeying right beside us.
This story leaves us with a simple but profound truth, that whatever life might be throwing at us right now, God is much closer than we recognise!
We may not always feel God’s presence, but, scripture promises us he is much, much closer than we think, closer to us than our own breath!