George's HealMyLife book
- a manuscript in process on Listening Prayer Therapy - Chapter Seven
Just copy this page into Microsoft Word, edit and comment, and e-mail to me:
© George Hartwell, May 2011
What do these have in common: Finding intimacy in marriage, building community in a group and developing communion with God? Are there common principles for establishing life-giving, encouraging, creative relationships like this? I will outline what I believe is the narrow road to community, the not easily discovered science of building intimate connection, and the work that we can do to build a deep eternal-life-giving relationship with God.
I think that we have forgotten what authentic community is like and how to get there. The inner human capacity for intimate connection and authentic bonding seem, in many of us, to be lost. We seem to have lost the art of developing emotionally nurturing marital bonds, healthy attachments - a safe intimate connection. Our plight is serious. We desperately need something and we do not know how to find it with God or one another.
The difficult thing to face is that getting married does not guarantee a safe haven for one's soul, getting 'born again' does not guarantee the experience of love, life and joy that one might expect, just as smiling, shaking hands and saying everything is fine to one's church community does not build real community. Pretending everything is fine is not an option that works to build authentic marital bonding, creative community and life-giving connection with God.
I speak from my own experience. In my family, (I have five siblings) "being together" is as close as we get to being a loving family. In my marriage, we blocked and avoided almost anything that would have helped to develop a close intimate emotional bonding. Nor have I known a church congregation that knew how to build real community or was willing to try.
When Jesus said the road was narrow, he was not kidding. It has been both narrow and hidden. What we have done so far has not worked. "Wide is the road to destruction.' We need to find a new path and a new way to move towards the future of marriage, the future of church and the future of connection with God.
Let us look together at some signposts into this new landscape.
Brother Lawrence seemed to live out the secret of a continuous loving relationship with God. He tried to share what he lived in his book. Therefore, we need to study carefully and methodically his book on the practice of the presence of God. What is the pearl of great price that he discovered?
One thing that Brother Lawrence said was, "The most important part (of his manner of going to God), lay in renouncing, once and for all, whatever does not lead to God. This would allow us to become involved in a continuous conversation with Him in a simple and unhindered manner." Page 19 of The practice of the presence of God by brother Lawrence.
Renouncing means removing from the heart everything that would offend God. The purpose of renouncing is to open the way to heart-felt communion with God.
This signpost to an intimate relationship with God (unity, emotional connection, part of the vine, open communication) suggest the importance of identifying, confronting and renouncing personal obstacles to that communion. It is all about "take a look at yourself and you will look at God differently."
Scott Peck gained experience about community building and shares that in several of his books. I read and reread so as to glean from his experience.
Scott Peck discovered a crucial step of brokenness or emptying when facilitating community building in groups. Groups that experienced community always went through a process of emptying or brokenness. Breakthrough to community got closer as more and more individuals were honest and open about their wrong attitudes and agendas for the group. As more and more members of the group partook in this process (what Peck called 'brokenness,') community was more likely to develop. Community only happened when there was good facilitation that guided the group through this process.
The early Methodists earnestly sought to remove of anything that stood between them and God. For them the process involved surrendering anything that came between them and God. Anything they held on to too tightly would be surrendered until they felt this peace. A mother perhaps needed to surrender her children if they were an idol in her heart. A husband may have needed to surrender his job and wealth if it came between him and God. Every 'idol of the heart' needed to go.
Jesus gives us his own example of emptying. Paul calls the church in Philippi (Philippians 2) to unity - "being of one accord, of one mind" - and points to Jesus, the humble servant as their model. We see that example in Jesus when He emptied himself of all power and status, humbled himself, took the role of a servant and washed his disciple's feet. John 13.
I have a growing conviction that the early church always bloomed in the midst of authentic community. Paul underlines and reinforces the attitudes that enable community when he uses language such as: comfort of love, fellowship of the Spirit, affection and mercy, being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord and of one mind. Philippians 2:1, 2.
It is clear to me that Paul is passionate about these authentic communities and highly prizes community-building attitudes for his churches. He reinforces the servant attitude, in which one lays down selfish ambition and conceit and "esteems others better than himself." He says: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus," and describes the servant attitude in Jesus in Philippians 2: 6 - 8.
Paul reminds us that Jesus gave up God-status to come in the likeness of a man, gave up reputation to take the form of a servant and humbled himself in obedience to the point of death. Then Paul reminds the Philippians (2:14) to do all things without complaining and disputing, grumbling or arguing.
Choosing loving communion with God (to be close to God; to be at peace with God; to have loving connection with God) we choose to surrender every hindrance between us and God.
Confession: "Father I love you. Jesus I love you. Holy Spirit I need you building up Christ within me the hope of glory. I sin by falling short of full communion with you, of complete love, and of full dedication. Please forgive me. I do not want to fall short. I do not want to be God's orphan. Please adopt me and call me your own. Draw me near. May I have more grace to love you more abundantly and exuberantly? May I be your sunshine?"
Declaration: "Jesus you are my Lord and Savior and with your help I want to remove every barrier between me and God; anything I cling to that it is time to let go of please reveal that to me. I do not want to put up blocks to open communion with God. May I fully receive your Holy Spirit that your life may flow through me as streams of living water. May I know peace with God."
Imagination: To process this in sanctified imagination drama, imagine a place of worship close to the throne room of God. Let this scene be deep purple for royalty and majesty. In this place of worship - this sanctuary - you are bowing to the ground in worship.
You sense that to be near to the Father's throne room and the source of life, creativity, beauty, love, wisdom and truth means that God's holiness, as a consuming fire, burns all sin. You sense that you need a coal from the fire to touch and cleanse your lips. (See Isaiah 6).
As you bow in worship you begin to discover any and all that you have held back from God. You become aware of clinging to anything other that Him for security. Any sources of guidance you turn to other than to Him. Any one that you try to control or dominate rather than let them be free.
Ask yourself if you are prepared to let go everything that is not pleasing to Him. Tell Him you are prepared to give everything to Him. Let God reveal if there are any barriers to communication.
Are you clinging to something other than God? Let God reveal that.
Do you trust something other than God? Let God show you.
Do you give Him complete sovereignty over your life? Is He the mighty king of your life? Let him affirm that.
Listen for His response. Notice what you hear, see, feel and sense. Whenever you may discover what the obstacle is between you and God give it to Him. Do so with all your heart (use a picture). Give all to Him.
You may find a new calm and peacefulness. Then let that peace be the sign that all is well and that you have cleansed out all that you can at this time. The early Methodists believed that God granted a seal of peace when communication was open.
Now it is time to delight in the communion between you and God. To worship. To listen. To soak. To just be.
Ask if God has a word for you. Then listen. Practice the following: "Be still and know that I am God," Psalm 46:10. Let yourself hear and encounter God and receive who He is within you.
We are told that peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). We recognize peace as an indication of God's guidance and approval of what we are planning. They associated this peace with being filled with the Holy Spirit - the Baptism in the Holy Spirit promised in the Book of Acts.
It is a mystery and a promise that work will become easier for those who are God's children, for those who are filled with His Spirit. We find rest from our work. We strive less and achieve more because we are at peace with God and His Spirit helps direct and empower our action.
Agnes Sanford did not get great joy out of keeping house, yet when filled with the Holy Spirit she found she could be at peace and accomplish her housework in half the time.
If you want intimate marital relationship (unity, bonding, and authentic community) then the process is to identify, confront and remove personal obstacles to that union. The next section of this book on Heal My Marriage will deal with that relationship. It is all about 'take a look at yourself and you will look at others differently.'
Almost by accident a Christian psychiatrist became a group facilitator and then trained other group facilitators in what he learned, which is, how divergent groups become true communities.
Scott Peck in his work with large groups sometimes found that peace was present the first time a group came into community. When a group was entering community, Peck said, it was as if the Holy Spirit came in to the room. There was a sense of peace and a dramatic and heavenly altering of attitudes toward one another.
There is a powerful example of this in the Book of Acts. The book notes that the 120 in the Upper Room were "all in one accord" (Acts 2:1) on the day that the Holy Spirit was released in Jerusalem on the festival of Pentecost.
The above signposts point to this, that real accord with one another - authentic community and open communion with God is associated with both peace and the Presence of the Holy Spirit in abundance. The experience of "Peace with Heaven" is one of enhanced relationships within community, enhanced openness to the presence of God and enhanced ability to work in a restful and effective way.
Does your heart question whether communion with God is necessary to live a fruitful Christian life? Jesus gives the clear answer to that question in his discussion of the vine and the branches in John 15. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, neither can we, unless we abide in Jesus.
Do you think that we can slip by without real fruitfulness and maintain our salvation? Jesus promises a glorious life for those who abide in him. However, He strips away any alternative to this. The one who does not abide in intimate life-giving relationship with him is treated the same way a dead and withered vine branch is. It is thrown into the fire and burned.
C. S. Lewis puts it quite another way, "good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if he chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet to you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live for ever? (Mere Christianity)
Listening to C. S. Lewis and Jesus I, for one, want to get wet and be alive; and not let myself get dry and dead. But if I find myself in dead places and dying, how to I find life?
We seemed to have forgotten that the secret of life. Hanging around, or even actively involved in churches does not foster a connection with God that gives life. Many churches and too many marriages maintain the appearance of life but life is not there. All our skill and energy goes into creating the sense of community, but not authentic community and the appearance of 'married' and 'stable family' when life-giving intimacy is not there.
The chapter draws on Brother Lawrence's experience of the practice of the presence of God. I use emptying in reference to Brother Lawrence's statement that we must renounce once and for all anything that does not lead to God. His observation is our signpost to communion with God.
Scott Peck found that a similar process is essential for authentic community in groups. Scott Peck's experience in building community finds refection in Biblical references, especially Philippians 2: 1-18.
We will focus on marital unity in the next section. The same principle applies if a couple is build a safe emotional haven and real bonding and connection in their marriage. They need to look at themselves and be humble and open about their personal faults and stop complaining about their partner.
You are invited to read and comment on early version of George's
HealMyLife book - a manuscript in process on Listening Prayer
Therapy. Just copy this page into Microsoft Word, edit and
comment, and e-mail to me:
Print off for personal use only. Do not publish. © George Hartwell, Mississauga, Canada, 2011
George Hartwell M.Sc. is a Christian counselor with a masters degree in clinical psychology, 30 years experience and who integrates prayer therapy into his counseling practice.
To learn all About George or his professional practice see: George's Professional web site, Christian marriage counselling, Christian phone therapy, and Christian Marriage Retreats.