Married to God

Jesus’ good news about the kingdom can be an effective guide for our lives only if we share his view of the world in which we live. To his eyes this is a God-bathed and God-permeated world.
—Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 61

If our awareness of God is to infuse our every interaction, we must expand our concepts about God, embracing more dimensions of God. To see God in another person is to see God as that person. To see God in my daughter is to see God as my daughter. This may sound weird or blasphemous, but I’m not proposing that such assertions be added to your official statement of belief or doctrine. I’m proposing that you embrace the “freedom for which Christ has set you free” (Galatians 5:1) and play around with your language and thoughts about God in order to enrich your relationship. We tend to focus on one or two dimensions of our relationship, but shouldn’t God—the One who gave rise to all that is—be the most multi-dimensional of anything we ever experience? If we want to see God everywhere we look, it will help to start affirming that God is everywhere we look!

All of our relationships are ultimately different aspects of our relationship to God. Marriage, the most intimate of human relationships, is a wonderful model for intimacy with God. That’s true whether you’re male or female and whether or not you’re actually married. Anyone can become consciously married to God, embracing the reciprocal masculine and feminine dimensions of both God and you. This is a message of great hope, because it suggests the possibility of a relationship more fulfilling and gratifying than the best human marriage you could imagine. When we look to another human being to fulfill our deepest desires, we inevitably become disappointed. But when we are intimately connected to the ultimate Source and Fulfillment of those desires, all our human relationships flourish. That’s because they start from a place of abundant love, rather than need or want. This “inner marriage” becomes the hidden channel for love to flow to us and from us and through us. Our “cup runneth over.” Our love is infinite, as true love always is, for love never fails.

How can we do this? How can our relationship with God become so restored that we richly experience the multiple dimensions of our existence as being intimately related to our Source? How can we facilitate such transformation? It must start with believing that such transformation is possible. If you allow this seed of faith to grow, it will produce wonderful fruit. It will be the “kingdom of heaven” emerging in you, which Jesus likened to “yeast that a woman took and mixed into three measures of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Luke 13:21) Faith and the kingdom of heaven are indeed related; Jesus compared both to a mustard seed. (Matthew 13:31-32; 17:20) “Though it is the smallest of all seeds,” it contains within itself the blueprint for “the largest of garden plants.” This transformation happens from the inside out, as with the butterfly from the caterpillar and the oak from the acorn:

Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
—Luke 17:20-21, NKJV

That the kingdom of God is within us perfectly explains how our seeking after fulfillment through things and people outside ourselves always ultimately fails. Paradoxically, when we instead prioritize this inner potential, all our outer needs are met. “Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) So we must believe not only that such transformation is possible, but that it happens from within—that God lives within us, awaiting our discovery.

Once you have this realization, you understand that the seeds of your own fulfillment lie inside yourself and not in another human being. You know that God is the fullest consummation of what enamors you so profoundly. You may have seen glimpses of this light and this beauty in another person. These are glimpses of the radiant glory of Christ, and they may have awakened a deep desire within you—deeper than you knew you possessed. But until you realize that, with the desire, come the keys to its own fulfillment, you will always be searching outside yourself. We have a tendency to do one of two things:

  1. lock ourselves in a perpetual state of wanting, fantasizing about the greener grass on the other side of the fence, or
  2. dismiss, condemn, or suppress our desires as evil and not to be trusted.

What a sad state of affairs! Either way, you never get what you really want. But thanks be to God, that is not His nature. “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11) Until you truly believe that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17), trusting indeed that God is for you and not against you (Romans 8:31), you’ll never believe it’s really possible to get what you want. You’ll think you will have to make a compromise—either a moral compromise or a compromise to your desire. I’m here to tell you: no compromise is necessary. God is big enough. You may not see the way, but God does. God doesn’t plant desires in your soul only to abandon them. “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?” (James 4:5)

When you are truly, madly in love with God and experiencing deep emotional fulfillment, the relationship presents itself as a radical form of self-love. People look to you and wonder, “Where does this love come from?” It appears on the outside that you are happy for no reason and that you are giving more than you are receiving, but the truth is that nobody can do that. Love flows through you only when you first receive it for yourself. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

To be married to God is to find every dimension of your being fulfilled more and more deeply every day. To be married to God means that all my needs are already met for all time.

Who is God that I can marry Her? To pursue, press in, and penetrate, to pierce the veil and see Her holy, naked Beauty, merging with Her in joyful ecstasy?

Let my beloved come into his garden
and taste its choice fruits.
(Song of Solomon 4:16)

Who is God that I can be married to Him? Giving myself over completely to Him, looking to Him for my every need, devoted to Him and saving myself for Him alone?

Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
and let his banner over me be love.
(Song of Solomon 2:4)

Faith: the mountain-moving force of creation

I used to think of optimism and positive thinking as nice, but not particularly rational, ways of being in the world. I even associated them with naivete. Wow, has my perspective changed! Now I recognize that I’m being most naive whenever I think of myself as a victim of my circumstances. This is the ultimate abdication of responsibility. Through my own experience in the last year, and through a new and renewed understanding of my Christian faith tradition, I am beginning to understand just how responsible I am for the world around me. When I say I am responsible, I have in mind multiple senses of the word “I.” “I” includes not only this individual named “Evan,” but also the collective “I”—the whole of humanity. Yet this “I” extends even beyond that. For if I am God-breathed, a child of God, created in the image of God, i.e. created in the image of my Creator, then I am a creator too—an agent of God’s creation. In fact, that may be the most significant aspect of my existence.

“Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28) We have been given a Divine injunction to create. We are “God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” (Ephesians 2:10) Moreover, we are still being created. We are constantly changing and growing, living and dying and giving rise to new generations. This Creation that we find ourselves to be a part of is ongoing—still developing, still unfolding. It is not a past event.

Abraham was directly and personally given the injunction—and promise—to create. “And I will make my covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly… I will make you exceedingly fruitful.” (Genesis 17:2,6) The Apostle Paul calls Abraham “the father of us all” because of his great faith:

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. (Romans 4:16-17)

Since God works in us, we possess that same power to “call into being things that were not.” That power is called faith. It is the power to create a vision and hold steadfastly to it, even and especially when we don’t yet see how the vision could possibly be fulfilled.

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18-21)

This is easier said than done, but as long as we do not “waver through unbelief,” our vision will be fulfilled. Jesus attests to the fact that this power was not reserved only for the patriarchs:

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24)

We usually don’t take this literally. But for those who have experienced miracles as a result of their faith, this statement of Jesus makes perfect sense.

What is faith exactly? “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) How can hoped-for things have a substance? What evidence can “things not seen” have? Your faith is the evidence. This turns our conventional notions of causality upside down. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 11:3) If this is true, and if the universe is still being formed, then it continues to be true that what is seen is not made out of what is visible. Who holds this power to create out of nothing? God alone. And yet… how does God work in the world? Through us! We are given not only the command to create but the means to fulfill it—“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)

Everything that now exists was once only imagined. That includes both human creations and humans themselves, as well as the rest of the natural world. We once only existed in the mind, or imagination, of God. Then God said, “Let there be light” and spoke the world into existence. Even today, the manifest world that we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell is unfolding from the mind of God as He continues to “call into being things that were not.” God’s creativity is still at work. Among God’s creations are beings which themselves possess the creative power of imagination—having been made “in the image of God.” (Genesis 1:27) We are those beings, and we have a choice. We can choose to deny this power, saying that we don’t have imagination, or that it doesn’t matter what scenarios we imagine or what thoughts we think; we can insist that life happens to us, not the other way around. Or we can humbly and reverently acknowledge this power, taking responsibility for our thoughts, recognizing that our imagination has creative power, whether for good or for ill.

I now know that my thoughts and my imaginations are the most important things I can attend to. When I let my mind go willy-nilly, I create haphazardly. But when I focus my mind, “taking captive every thought,” making every effort to guard my heart from poisonous thoughts—when I take prayer seriously and affirm with all my being the goodness of God (true optimism); then I see the fruits of the Spirit manifest in my life. The creative power that flows within me and all around me does its work. I begin to function as I should, in alignment with my true nature as a child of God.

Don’t be naive. Your thoughts matter. If you focus on what could go wrong, then you are attracting that very thing you fear. Jesus and Paul both warned against worry. To worry is to put your faith in evil instead of good.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Cast your cares on the Lord. Release your fears as “false evidence appearing real.” Focus your mind—with thanksgiving—on your highest desires, and for each desire, as Jesus says, “believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

Identifying with Christ

Will someone please take my place? I’d like to not have to worry about where our next paycheck is coming from, or make difficult decisions, or deal with house maintenance issues. I’d like life to be easier than it is and to let someone else face the challenges. I don’t feel equipped to tackle them on my own.

Fortunately, I am not alone. There is One who lives in me who is unfazed by the perception of limitation. I proceed from God, the infinite source of all power, love, and wisdom. I can take all my cares and worries and lay them at His feet. In the instant I do this, I know I am not alone. I am completely safe, and I am completely loved. I experience an overriding peace that transcends my limited understanding. (Philippians 4:6-7) My vision opens up to who I am and I understand that I am not my worldly troubles. I am not my limited perceptions and false notions of lack and limitation.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1) The image of God in us is calling us forth to enter into that larger life befitting who we are as sons and daughters of God, as sisters and brothers of Christ. Anything less is an affront to the artistry of our Creator. As humans, we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” (1 Peter 2:9) If we try to exclude ourselves—or anyone else—from this honor, then all at once we dishonor God, ourselves, and each other. For “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

We hold ourselves back by refusing to acknowledge and take responsibility for our own divinity. Jesus did not have this problem. He is our leader, our example, our template, our Savior, our “oldest brother”; yet we have kept him at arms’ length, turning him into an idol. “‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.'” (Luke 18:19) To destroy this idol, we must not only worship him; we must worship him and identify with him. We must serve him and serve as him. We must see the light and be the light. We must own the responsibility and identity we share with Jesus, saying with him: “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) Lest we doubt, he affirms this for us: “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” (John 14:10) When we attribute our own power to any source other than God, we distort the truth. To set ourselves apart from Jesus is to make ourselves independent from God, which is nothing but a lie and an illusion. “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19) Jesus was the most dependent man who ever lived. We would do well to follow his example.

“I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) When we say that Jesus is that and we are not, we become simple idolaters. We imagine that our life stems forth from another power and another source than the Father. The truth is that God is the only source, and thus we deceive ourselves. We are taught to imitate Jesus, but only in behavior and not in thought. We are taught that to think the thoughts of Jesus would be blasphemy. And yet the truth is exactly the opposite. Jesus showed us the way, and it is this: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) When we see ourselves as some other way, some other truth, and some other life, we cut ourselves off from our Father, the one and only source of all that is. And thus we read, “no one comes to the Father except through me”—except through this identification. We speak of our “identity in Christ,” yet we dare not actually identify with him. To the degree we resist identifying with Christ, we remain lost. Our failure to be like Jesus stems from our failure to identify with him. The good news is that as we succeed in identifying with him, we will succeed in being like him. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

To connect with God and be led to the “rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2) is to connect with that highest part of ourselves where God already dwells. Our prayers have power because they change us from within, opening our field of vision to the bigger Reality of which we’re a part. They help to heal the split between our lonely, weak individual selves and the Spirit of Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) who lives within us and among us and around us and through us—the source of our life, the wisdom by which we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and the One who sustains the very beating of our hearts. At this deepest level, our identify is found in God. At this deepest level, we are God at work in the world—the body of Christ, the eyes and hands and feet of Jesus. If not us, then who?

The absolute necessity of loving yourself

The more you love yourself, the more that Love flows through you. When you do not love yourself, you spurn the Love that is your Source. You get in your own way, and this begins to show in your interactions with others. However, when you rest in the Love that is your birthright and your true nature, you effortlessly overflow with love for others. Your simple existence becomes a blessing to everyone around you.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 19:19) The degree to which we love ourselves is the degree to which we’ll be able to love our neighbors. The Spirit that God has given us is a Spirit of love. (2 Timothy 1:7) If we do not first inhale, then we will not be able to exhale. In the same way, if we do not first receive God’s love for ourselves, we will not be able to share it with others. If you are suspicious that self-love is contrary to loving others, then you will limit your ability to love not only yourself, but others too. The two go hand in hand. Deeper in-breaths enable deeper out-breaths. You do not increase one by diminishing the other. Similarly, the degree to which you fail to love others is the degree to which you are failing to love yourself—no matter how much you say, “I love myself.” True love is abundant and indiscriminate and waters every plant in the garden.

“Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) When we try to love others without loving ourselves, we are attempting to manufacture love. We are attempting to give what we have not received. And when we focus on loving others without actually loving ourselves, we make an idol out of loving. Our egos are very sneaky. Despite our best intentions, we see that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) We snap at our kids and resist helping around the house (this is all hypothetical, of course). What we need is to be filled with the Spirit. “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6) We need to open ourselves up to the flow of the Spirit of God, which is Love. Loving ourselves—agreeing with and basking in God’s love for us—is essential to keeping that channel open. When we experience this, we naturally want it for everyone. When we love someone, our desire is that they too would love themselves, wholly and completely and unconditionally.

How do we love ourselves? Perhaps it’s easier to answer this question: how do we fail to love ourselves? What kinds of things do we say to ourselves? My self-talk can get pretty mean and brutal. “Who do you think you are? You’re not so special.” Or I start to believe the lie that my love for myself has to be somehow balanced out with my love for others. That’s like saying, “I’ll take half of infinity and you take the other half.” It’s not love if it’s limited and has to be divvied out. It is impossible to love too much, and it is impossible to love yourself too much. Unless I’m vigilant about my thoughts, showering myself with reminders of God’s unconditional, infinite love for me, old cultural conditioning starts to reassert itself. I start to think self-diminishing, self-belittling thoughts, which makes me feel the need to assert myself and defend myself, and which lately has led to a desperate sort of greediness.

With help from a wonderful NLP practice session last night, I reminded myself of how important it is to guard my heart, taking captive every thought, continually renewing my mind with new affirmations of unconditional self-love and new songs to play in the background of my mind. (Proverbs 4:23; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:19) I had been lacking vigilance in this area, which led to confusion and turmoil. Now I am learning again that the best policy is to take the bull by the horns when it comes to my thoughts, consciously yielding to love and trusting that love is the life force that will keep me safe and functional and at peace. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)