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How to Become Friends with JesusSeptember 12

I’ve noticed a trend in Christian media lately. It seems that every other week, there is an article or blogpost about how God doesn’t care about who you marry or what work you do…or about how God really does care a lot about who you marry or what work you do. There are seemingly endless articles about how to be a better Christian as though faith can be turned into an exact science., Frankly, no matter what popular Christian media says, I think that question is irrelevant (pun intended! See what I did there?).

I worry sometimes when Liz lets me write, that I’m being prescriptive when I really want to be descriptive. After all, I only know my journey and even then, I still barely know my own heart. How can my experiences prescribe what you should do? And for that matter, some great systematic approach to work or love or childcare may not be appropriate for everyone. If we’re all God’s children, like any responsible parent, he’s not going to deal with us all like we’re the same person–particularly, since he made us the way we are.

That’s not to say that God’s word is not objective or that there is special treatment for some and not for others. It’s just that I think the question Christians should be asking is “how can I cultivate a relationship with Jesus?”

Now, I grew up in a Pentecostal/Charismatic household and God seemed to be extremely chatty, telling people all kinds of things. Then I went to a Presbyterian church where it seemed like maybe it felt like God would say things, but who could really know for sure, you know? I’ve seen both perspectives and I have struggled with what it means to listen to God. I have the type of personality that wants to control the chaos, so I like systems. I like learning how to do things and then letting them become routine. I’m not comfortable with vagueness or leaving things unresolved. Believe me, I eat those “how to” articles up.

But after spending the past couple of years being forced out of every routine I’d known and thrust into some mild chaos, I found myself being schooled in the life of faith. The tuition for this course I don’t remember signing up for, cost my pride, my security, my identity, and most importantly, my comfort. Yet what I learned was how to trust Jesus. So here’s what I learned and if it’s helpful for you, great. If it’s not, I’m sure that there is a blogpost out there for you.

1) Spend time with Jesus.

I know, I know it’s tough to do “quiet time” (gag me, I hate that term, but it’s still better than “devotionals”). It’s not easy to make time in the morning…or the afternoon…or at night. Maybe you can get in 10 minutes or so and you’re good. Or maybe, you’re like I was before this journey and you have time to read and journal, but it’s becoming an exercise in self-righteousness.

If you want to follow Jesus, to learn to trust him when there is no clarity or direction, you’re going to need to–and want to–spend time with him. It’s no different from when you meet a person “with skin on them,” as Anne Lamott would say. How else will you begin to know her character, her likes and dislikes, or the sound of her voice until you spend time with your new friend? You need to build up trust in the relationship and that takes time. We Christians have unfortunately made interacting with Jesus seem like an onerous obligation, like you’re forced to socialize with a weird uncle for a while and then you can go about your day.  Or it becomes another means by which to justify ourselves. So how do you shift this from being a chore or an exercise in self-righteousness? Well, how would you go about making new friends? You’d make plans with them, right? Sure, you’re probably not going to be having long late night discussions about your hopes and dreams right off the bat (although, maybe you will), but you can work up to that.  Another tip: if you’re not a morning person and don’t want to wake up early, then schedule a time to “hang out” when you do want to–maybe at lunch or in the evening. Jesus will show up and he’ll take it from there–your job is just to pick the venue and time.

When you spend time with Jesus, you will start to recognize his voice and to notice his fingerprints on things. It becomes easier to know if God is in something or not, because you know what he’s like, you know the sound of his voice, and–sorry, I feel gross writing this, but it needs to be said–the feel of his touch.

2) Spend time with the Jesus he says he is, not the one you want him to be.

Haven’t we all at some point dated someone because of some idealized version we had of them, only to be disappointed when they deviate in some way from our initial impression?. Conversely, haven’t you had the delightful experience of discovering a kindred spirit in someone you didn’t expect? We humans have a tendency to think that we’re each the centers of our universes, that we’re the moral judge, and that people should fit into our ideas about the world and it’s inhabitants. And when it comes to Jesus, we have heaped piles of baggage from bad theology, bad experiences, and our own sin on him, instead of letting him speak for himself.

So when reading the Word, who is Jesus, we need to go into it asking him to show us what he wants us to know for that day. Your time with Jesus will become a selfish endeavor when you make it about acquiring spiritual brownie points and you’ll miss out on getting to know someone who is literally “Wonderful.”

3) Let him show you who he is.

To reiterate point #2, you’ll never have a friendship with Jesus if you insist on seeing him the way you want to see him, instead of the way he is. But HOW? I’ll admit this is tough in the abstract, but in practice it’s simple. Ask him. Did I blow your mind? Whoa.

See, I have a lot of baggage about Jesus and that includes a fun little carry-on of how to approach him. Because, apart from Jesus’s help, everything I do will be self-righteous. When I used to go into Scripture without asking him to speak to me first, I’d view him from my own cracked and foggy lenses. Then one day, I happened on this verse and it was like Jesus said “duh”:

“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! (Acts 7:51)

It was convicting because it showed me that I was listening for and to other voices. Not like crazy voices in my head. But letting my sin, my self, my plans, my ideas about life and God, my culture, my politics, etc., have priority to speak to into my life. I wasn’t letting God consecrate my ears and my heart, setting them apart for him. Now, I pray that God would take my heart and my ears and let me hear what he says the loudest.

But remember: only God can circumcise our hearts and our ears to be able to hear him and only God can soften our heart so we don’t resist the Holy Spirit. And he wants to. So ask him.

4) Don’t resist the Holy Spirit.

In a Pentecostal/Charismatic culture, the Holy Spirit is pretty much the shizz. In more intellectual Christian cultures, the Spirit is more like the red-headed step-member of the Trinity. For a while, I was happy to be in the latter environment, because frankly, the charismatic stuff made me feel like I wasn’t in control. Not that I was in a more “frozen-chosen” environment, but it gave me the illusion that I was.

But we’re not in control.

And when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we shouldn’t even want to be. The Spirit’s job is to glorify Jesus, to make him known to us, and to be the fullness of the presence of God on earth. I’m not saying that you need to speak in tongues or fall out or dance or something, although there is nothing wrong with any of those things. What I am saying though, is don’t insist on your way and your vision.

The past two years have been full of moments that, were I not experiencing them first hand, I’d say that I was being foolish and probably in some kind of rebellion. God refused to answer my prayer for clarity and instead, as Mother Teresa famously said, made me pray for trust.

But you know what? This journey, although extremely difficult at times, was also one of the greatest adventures of my life. I’m in good, Biblical company of people who did things we’d think were pretty irresponsible because they were following God. This recent journey ended with the offer of a dream job that fits me like it was tailor made for me and evidence of God’s handiwork everywhere I turn,  two years to the very day I tentatively (and “foolishly”) took a step of faith and decided to move to DC. God didn’t use a formula and he didn’t write me an article outlining the way he was going to change me. Most of the time, the process didn’t make any sense. But  I’ll always be thankful for the way that God himself, taught me how to trust him.

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Sometimes, when I'm trying to envision "handing it over to God," I use a mental picture.

I picture myself piling up all of my anxieties, my sin, my problems, my worries, and so on, as if they were belongings, all onto this huge tarp. (It's a gray tarp in my picture.) I take up the four corners of the tarp, then drag the bundle like a hobo, and just draaaag it to the foot of the cross (again, in my mind). I dump it there with a sigh of relief, and say "There. There it all is. So, um...can You please help?"

Then I look up at the cross, and the anxiety flees. I find it helps...

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