40-Day Focus Week 3: God First

March 15th, 2010 - Tim

One of the best descriptions I’ve heard for what’s beginning to take place in the Western church is ‘a Copernican revolution’ – the center of our universe is about to change. Copernicus was the scientist who made the audacious claim that it was not the sun that revolved around the earth but the earth around the sun. Similarly, one of the single biggest heart shifts implied in “My house will be called a house of prayer” is in God taking His place at the center. As much as we understand the importance of God – how His light lets us see, His nearness comforts us and His continual presence allows life to continue – we are still prone in our human pride (and particularly our Western culture) to place God in a revolving role in our world rather than our world revolving around Him. God wants to change that… and there is no more glorious change. Nothing so drastically impacts our corporate and personal relationship with Christ as when He takes center stage.

In the beginning, God…
It begins with a simple revelation – God is the beginning, the middle and the end of the story. “For of Him, to Him and through Him are all things.” Romans 11:36 His desire is the initiative, His grace the vehicle and His pleasure the end of it all. It’s a crucial revelation – to the way we understand the gospel, to the way we function as a church, and to the way we relate with God. Our culture would put a humanistic slant even on religion – making it begin and end with us: we do our best in this life, God responds and we are either blessed or cursed accordingly. It’s a model that fits perfectly well with the religions men have created, but it’s totally contradictory to what God has done in Christ. God is the divine initiator – He moves and we respond.

It’s what makes the gospel message what it is – a divine invitation that must either be accepted or rejected. The emergent watered-down gospel that teaches there are many ways to God makes the very wrong assumption that it is God who responds to us – we behave in a particular way, and God doles out salvation in some formulaic manner. From that framework it’s hard to see why God would respond more positively to a good atheist than a bad Christian. The truth of the Biblical gospel is that God, who had no requirement to interact with man at all, by His own initiative reached out to humanity and extended an invitation – an offer of covenant. Like every covenant, the New Covenant was not a negotiated contract between two parties but a one-way offer from God to join us to Him and His eternal life through His extravagant offer of love on the cross. Because God extended the invitation we are left with only two choices – accept His open arms or scorn them.

It’s not just our gospel that errors without this understanding, though, it is the very way in which we live out Christianity. The silence of our prayer rooms makes a terrifying contrast with the busyness of our church programs. We suffer from a profound over-abundance of services, programs, teachers and ministries, and a profound lack of the voice and activity of God. We will never regain the activity of God in our midst so long as we maintain a system where we’re so busy doing what we’re doing we can give only a small portion of our attention to seeking what God is wanting to do. We won’t regain the voice of God in our midst so long as our pastors are so busy managing all of the programs needed to keep everyone happy that they’re not spending long hours in prayer receiving the word of the Lord. There’s coming a return to God as the divine initiator of every good thing – a shift from a programs-based culture to a prayer-based culture. Every program, no matter how good, will eventually fail to satisfy, because Christianity was intended to be an ongoing interaction with a living God, and God is too jealous to let anything else work for long.

Perhaps most critically, though, I’ve found this revelation to be the single greatest factor in my relationship with God. The more real this truth is in my heart, the more I find myself able to cease from striving and connect with God. Without it we are open targets for the chains of empty religion. Ours is the God of the first move. It is no mistake that He is pictured as the Bridegroom and we are the Bride. The whole of redemption’s story testifies to it – He has set His affections on us and is courting us. It is Him knocking on our door, not us knocking on His. He created us by His own initiative, revealed Himself by His own initiative, redeemed us by His own initiative and joined Himself to us by His own initiative. The trap of religion is sprung loose at that revelation – “we love Him because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 We love Him not to earn His affections, but because we already have them. It makes all the difference in the world when we come to God not because we need to (though we do), but first because He wants us to. “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory.” John 17:24

Regaining our fascination
The tragedy of getting things in the wrong order is not just that we spend far too much effort trying to win God’s affections when we already have them, it’s also that we pay far too little attention to allowing God to win our affections when that’s what He most desires to do. Jesus says it clearly – “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.” Matthew 22:37,38 It’s not a command to work ourselves up to acts of extravagant devotion out of our own strength – God wants to fill our hearts and minds with a genuine passion for Him that overflows into a life of devotion. Right now much of the body of Christ in America is bored with God and so we find ourselves powerless to overcome the struggles of our hearts and minds. We get our entertainment and our passion from the same place the world does, and then we wonder why it’s so hard to live as a child of God rather than of this world. It is only in feeding our hearts and our minds upon the glory of God and the wonders of His love that we will truly find power from the inside out to be the set-apart people we are called to be.

Much of what has been introduced in the Western church in recent years for the sake of ‘relevancy’ is a thinly disguised effort to make church more entertaining – a tacit admission that we don’t really know what it means to be fascinated with the superior pleasures of knowing God. God wants to take us there, but we won’t force it on us. He’s doing the courting, but we have to say yes when He knocks on the door, give Him the face-to-face time He wants and pore again and again over the letters He has written us that tell us what He is like. Jesus knows exactly what it takes to produce love in us, and He is committed to do it – “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:26 It was what He came to do as God-incarnate on the earth and continues to do by His Spirit in us: proclaiming the glory of who He is. There’s a fresh wave of that coming… God is stirring hearts to the high calling of beholding Him and adoring Him. He’s raising up messengers whose central message is proclaiming Him – His beauty, His power, His love. He’s raising up singers, musicians and songwriters who will declare the goodness and greatness of God in a way that stirs the hearts of men. God is releasing a worship movement.

Regaining our passion
When God takes center stage, our passion will be rekindled – not only for God, but for the things God is passionate for. Confronted with an expression of Christianity that is lacking in passion for the many good things that God has called us to – loving our neighbors, acts of justice, giving to the poor… – the response of the emergent church has been to deemphasize the message of God and emphasize the message of passion for godly activity. This may bear some fruit in the shortterm and certainly has popular appeal with a generation that has been called the most socially conscious generation in history, but longterm it’s a disaster and a totally unnecessary one. When we divorce the things of God from God Himself they not only lose their effectiveness, but we begin to rely on human passion and not on God’s passion.

God is raising up His own move of passion for the things of God, but His move stems from passion for the heart of God. From the furnaces of the prayer movement, God is releasing a justice movement, a missions movement, a compassion movement, a signs and wonders movement… No one is more passionate for the things of God than God Himself. If we find that our expression of Christianity is largely devoid of passion and purpose, the answer is to stare into the heart of Christ and find His passion and purpose. No one is more committed to the lost, the poor, the oppressed and the hurting than Jesus. As God’s holy, jealous desire gains entrance into our hearts, we find a sense of purpose in our journey – both inward and outward. It was Christ’s relentless, passionate love for the world that stirred men like Paul to not only reach out to the lost and hurting, but to pursue them relentlessly even when rejected, scorned and persecuted. There’s a fresh wave of that coming… God is stirring hearts to the high calling of inquiring of His heart and becoming friends of God. He’s raising up messengers who make known His heart – His passion, His plans, His purpose. He’s raising up intercessors, evangelists, justice workers and missionaries who will be gripped by the heart of God and labor to see that heart manifest in the earth. God is releasing a prayer movement.

Responding to God’s initiative
What would it look like if God were exalted to the center in this way? What if we could actually offer each other and the world something that was initiated not by men but by God? What if we lived in the place where our hearts were fascinated by God and His story? What if we found our identity and our purpose by diving deep into the heart of God? What would it look like if the people of God came face to face with God… who He is, what’s on His heart, and our place in it all? What would it look like if we lived there in a Christianity that was not about activities but an ongoing encounter with a living God?

What will it look like when… God is zealous for it. He’s committed to it. He will not rest until He has it, and the Divine Initiator has already set things in play to bring it about. The only question now is how will we respond? Will we be early-adopters that press in to the new thing God is doing and lead the way? Or will we wait until the old really falls apart and the new becomes urgent? ‘Jesus, come and take Your place in the center of it all.’

One thing I have desired of the LORD,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to inquire in His temple.

Psalm 27:4

Scriptures for meditation: Ps 27:4, Col 1:14-16, Ps 16, Mt 22:36-38, Phil 3:7-12, Eph 4:11-16

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