Getting More of God in Your Life
It’s a Material World
The Cultural Christian and the Christian in Culture
All Truth Is God’s Truth
What’s Good About It?
Worship in Everyday Life
Whatever Is True
Faith at Work
Christ and the Ordinary
Joining the Adventure
I want to hold your hand.
The year was 1964. The Beatles were taking the pop world by storm and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was number one on the charts. I was a sophomore in high school, and at 16, I was in possession of the most coveted thing a 16-year-old can own—a driver’s license. Our family car at the time was a 1957 Ford Fairlane. It had a V-8 Thunderbird engine with dual exhaust pipes, and although it was an automatic, if I drove around in low gear I could get a significant rumble going.
Like a typical teenager, I was into whatever was cool, and what was cool in Southern California in 1964 was customizing your car. Because this was the family car, my options were limited, but if I had a hot date, I would stop a block away from my house and remove the wide “V” on the trunk lid and the chrome grille over the round taillights. This gave the car a smoother look. The final touch was to reset all the automatic buttons on the radio to the local rock stations. I wasn’t allowed to listen to rock music around the house, so everything had to be reset and replaced at the conclusion of my evening. I know this seems tame by today’s standards, but I was a model evangelical kid, and this was rebel behavior by all accounts.
One summer night I returned to my car after a prayer meeting with the youth group I was active in at my church. The ’57 Ford was customized for a cruise, but the hoped-for date to Bob’s Big Boy after church had not materialized. I was alone—or so I thought. As I revved up the engine and throttled all eight cylinders, the radio came on where I had left it, and soon “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was bouncing happily over the airwaves. This time the song was met by an instinctive reaction to turn it off.
Our youth group had experienced an unusual closeness to God that particular night, and I entered my car bathed in a kind of spiritual glow. Given the cultural bent of my upbringing, I immediately felt that this music was a secular assault on my current state. This didn’t mean I was going to stop listening to this music; it just didn’t feel appropriate at that particular time when I felt so close to God. In my cultural theology and in my experience so far, God and rock and roll were antithetical. So I did what was instinctive. I reached to turn off the radio, but my hand never got to the knob.
Now I am usually a bit cynical about stories of God showing up in people’s lives and saying this or that to them, so I would not pass on this story if I hadn’t been convinced from the moment it happened that God was in the car with me, and both physically and spiritually interacted with me in ways I had not experienced before and haven’t since. Point is, my hand was stopped by an invisible force, and I was suddenly aware that the music was not driving the presence of God away. I know I didn’t make this up because this was such a shock to me. I had assumed that the Beatles and God could not possibly occupy the same space at the same time. In this case, that space was the inside of the car I was in. What happened next was a conversation in my head while the music played on. What I heard went something like this:
“Why are you turning off the music?”
“Well...I’m feeling very close to you,” I replied.
“Rock and roll is bad. It’s supposed to take my mind off you.”
“Is your mind off me right now?”
“No,” I replied. “Not at all. In fact, I’ve never heard you more clearly.”
“Good. So tell me honestly: What do you think about this music?”
I couldn’t speak, fearing reprisal if I spoke the truth that I liked it. But then again, this was God, so he knew what I was thinking anyway.
“I like it.”
“How does it make you feel?”
“Happy and free.”
“How do I make you feel?”
“Well then, why don’t you enjoy me and the music at the same time? Why don’t you let your heart worship me? What’s more, why don’t you write me the music?”
For all intents and purposes, this was when I was called to serve God through music. “Write me the music” provided the drive that would carry me through 30 years of songwriting, singing, and recording what is now called contemporary Christian music. I was not alone in this pioneering effort, and I have found that others, who led the way with me into this new expression of faith, received a similar visitation around the same time.
But before this visitation was a call (I didn’t really start writing the music until about four years later), it was a reeducation. It was the first time I saw God unthreatened by the small confines of my upbringing. This was the first time I saw God outside the evangelical box I had him in, and it was the beginning of a restructuring of my world-view—something that has been going on ever since.
If God was in the car with me that day, if he accepted my sing-along-with-the-Beatles as praise, if he could talk to me while the music played, if he actually prevented me from turning it off, then this is a God I want to get to know. This is a God who delights in being with me—a God who delights in what delights me. This could seriously alter one’s worldview.
Most of us have a hard time imagining God is interested in half the stuff we are interested in. Hobbies, recreation, entertainment, and even our work seem outside his realm of concern, especially in what everyone would now agree is a secular society (as if society were ever anything but “secular”). The daily pursuits of our lives seem mundane in light of a Sunday morning worship service that leads us to focus on higher things. And so most of us ride on a perpetual seesaw between the sacred and the profane, and there is little encouragement from either side of this spiritual spectrum to embrace the other. When one is up, the other is down, and there is little teaching and fewer models of those who try to bring the two together. Those who try are suspect in both camps—too sacred for the sinners and too sinful for the saints.
Few people would say they are bent on doing evil. Almost everyone would say they want to do good and be a good person, while quickly qualifying that desire by noting how far they are from accomplishing this goal. If they claim to be a good person already, that claim would be relative to others who are not so good. A lot of these same people (the not-so-good ones) are put off by those who appear to be “together” or who wear the robes of religion. They suspect that with these people all is not what it seems. Indeed, scandals in the ranks of TV preachers and the exposure of pedophilic priests only confirm this assumption.
Because of these discrepancies, a chasm is often created in communities where spirituality is a commodity—a kind of reality chasm, you might call it. Those who aspire to be more spiritual are often less believable than the sinners. The sinners are real and dirty; the saints are holy and aloof—often counting on their separation from the rest to foster a certain aura of righteousness. The big question of real Christianity is how to bridge this chasm. Can you bring God down without getting him dirty? Can you lift sinners up without making them phony?
This chasm exists not only in our perceptions of ourselves and others, but in the use of our time and the function of our pursuits. Certain activities are considered secular; others, sacred. Those who genuinely want to grow spiritually often find themselves in conflict between their desire for righteousness and the so-called secular demands on their time and interests. It is often held that this is why we need pastors and full-time church staff—so that we can pay them to spend the bulk of their time thinking about God and imparting to us, who have little time for such things, the results of their efforts. This thinking can even approach a kind of surrogate righteousness, where the pastor’s holiness vicariously blankets everyone else in the church with a sort of purity by proxy. This might explain why the moral failure of a pastor is so devastating. If everyone in the congregation is cashing in on a pastor’s spirituality, then his or her failure could be seen as a reflection of everyone else’s bankruptcy of soul.
The most common means of bridging this gap is to dedicate more time and effort to God. Indeed, it is guilt over this moral disparity that drives people to church and to a periodic “rededication” of their lives to Christ. We promise God more of our time. We promise him better behavior. The average churchgoer feels that the exemplary Christian life is out there somewhere way beyond their grasp. Religious books, tapes, and seminars become steps on a self-help stairway to heaven.
Some give up. The nonchurchgoer doesn’t even want to try. She either feels the holy life is beyond her or she judges it all as being a superficial game.
So how do we bridge this gap? Meet halfway? Such is the nature of human arrogance to think we could even try. Since the earliest records of human beings on earth, there are biblical and extra-biblical stories of our attempts at this. Religious architecture always stretches upward. It seems basic to our existence to think God is somewhere in the air above our heads. Is this not why, in a religious context, that our eyes go up, our steeples go up, and our prayers go up? It does not appear to be a human invention to bring God down to our level; so it is left for us to try and rise to his—a rather dubious task, to say the least. That we even try is a testament to our stupidity and our pride in refusing to see ourselves as we really are.
This usually gets translated in a moral sense to a kind of human perfection. The person in the monastery, the cloister, the ivory tower is a person who has reached a level of moral achievement that puts him or her above the rest. In other writings I have called this “the big Christian lie”—the belief that someone, somewhere, is getting it right. Of course, no one knows anyone who is; we simply presume this person exists. As long as we believe someone out there is the perfect Christian, we can perpetuate the lie and legitimize all of our efforts to be that person. I suppose some might think their pastor qualifies for this, but that is only if they do not know their pastor very well. We have to believe and perpetuate the lie, otherwise we would have to give up on our own contrived righteousness (and the religious hucksters would be out of business). Isn’t it a shame that our stubbornness keeps us pursuing what keeps us stubborn?
What if we all suddenly realized the big Christian lie for what it is? What would happen if we trusted the Scriptures after all? “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). What would change? For one, it would be a big relief. It would even the score among us all, spiritually speaking. It would make acceptance by God based on God and not anything in us. It would put us all in the same boat. And finally, it would force us to find another way to bridge this gap. With even the best Christians living a lie, climbing up to meet God is out of reach to all but Jesus.
Perhaps it’s time to take another look at bringing God down, but to do this we will have to adjust our thinking. Something about this sounds crude to our ears. We are used to a God who is up there, higher up than any of us are or want to be. Bringing God down sounds like we are besmirching his holiness, dragging him down to our level, dirtying his white robes in the foulness of our human experience.
But here is both the shocking and the glorious truth of the gospel. We didn’t pull him down; he came down of his own accord. God is already down, and this is what makes the gospel so scandalous. As Robert Farrar Capon has put it, “The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, has one Word for us: God has upped and done the damnedest thing. Or, to get the direction and adjectives right, God has downed and done the blessedest thing we could ever not have thought of.” 1
It is the sheer audacity of this that stands as one of the strongest proofs of the Bible and its account of the gospel: We simply never would have thought of God coming down. It is not in our intelligence to come up with this. Given the natural workings of the human mind, it is the utter preposterousness of the descent of God that is the gospel’s strongest argument.
God came down, and in doing so, he has violated all our foolish attempts at our own holiness. God came down, and he stares at us eye to eye through “the least of these” in his own creation. He tore the veil off our spiritual pride. God came down, and it is a scandal that leaves us gloriously helpless when it comes to our own righteousness. He busted the big Christian lie wide open.
In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8).
I hate playing blocks with my two-year-old. Our play always degenerates into a “knocking over” game. At first he tolerates my towers—even assists me in building them. (If you’re wondering who’s playing with whom, you’re getting my point.) But it soon becomes apparent that his allowance is only for a limited time. Sooner or later the greater pleasure overrules, and he saunters over with that mischievous eye of his and down comes our masterpiece—well, my masterpiece that survived his collaboration. I always observe his patience shorten as this play continues. The towers get smaller and smaller until he is knocking down every block I set up, thus revealing the true nature of his interest in the game. His goal is not to build but to knock down. Where does this come from, I wonder? It seems uniquely human. I’ve noticed it with all my children. Perhaps it is some innate desire to level the playing field. To make all things equal.
God knocks down our self-induced spiritual blocks. No wonder so many people find religion so frustrating. On one hand, we think God exists somewhere up in the clouds, but when anyone tries to get to him, he knocks their tower down. Here’s a brief summary of the history of religion: We build a tower; God knocks it down. We build another tower; God knocks it down. Etc., etc.
It is curious to me, in light of this discussion, to reflect on our mode of corporate worship in the church that seems to be centered mostly on putting God up. Our lyrics, our focus, is all up. We look up when we sing instead of down into our hymnals. We lift up our hands and lift up our praise, and this is all well and good—even biblical. But I wonder if there might be an ulterior motive to this. I wonder if there might be an element to our lifting up of God in weekly worship that is for the purpose of keeping him there—of sliding him up onto a shelf somewhere in our thinking where we can leave him when we walk out of church. This could be convenient. There might be certain advantages to not having God enter our world of daily life.
It is in this way that we need to bring God down. Not to besmirch him, but to bring him down in our thinking to where he connects with life for us at ground zero. And the reason we need to do this is because he is down already. We are not “bringing God down,” we are merely bringing our thoughts into conformity with the truth. We are correcting our vision. We do not only look up to see God; we look across. We look over. We look inside and out. And then we look down to find him in those we judge, because, in truth, that’s where he is most likely to be found.
Here’s an interesting take on vision correction. I am nearsighted. The professional term for this degenerative condition is myopia. I can see fairly well up close, but I can’t see well far away. It’s a label that identifies a strength and leaves the assumption that the opposite is where the problem is. To put our spiritual state in similar terms, you could say we are “upsighted.” Upsighted people can see God lifted up, but they can’t see him down or across or in or out. Instead of myopia, I would call this “utopia.” We only see God in the perfect.
Utopic Christians can’t see God in the flawed, in the disappointment, in the poor, or in the unfinished quality of their lives—even in the average. They see him in the winners, not the losers. They see him in victory, not defeat. They are utopic Christians, only capable of worship when everything is supposedly perfect and we are all looking up.
If you can only see God when you look up, then faith will never meet your daily life. You can’t walk around looking up all the time. You can’t do your work well, and you run the chance of running into somebody or something because you are not paying attention to where you are going. We need a vision correction that allows us to pay attention to God and what we are doing at the same time. People who are nearsighted need lenses to help them see far away. People who are upsighted need lenses to help them see down, and in doing so, to see God down here. He is everywhere, all the time. This is where real faith begins: seeing God down…around… in…out…through…beyond…before…after…between…and in the middle of…everything.
And what would those lenses need to do? First, they would change our understanding of God. If we could meet God for a casual chat, I wager we would find him interested in virtually anything. I think we’d find him pretty well read and up on current events. As a matter of fact, because of the huge variety of interests he has, he might appear to some Christians as a rather secular God.
Either God started the world in motion and slipped away to his holy heaven to let it run on its own, or he started it and stayed with it as a player—a participant in his own creation. This is certainly the biblical model and the reason for a triune God. The Father has an eye to and fro on the whole earth with nothing escaping his gaze (2 Chronicles 16:9 NASB). The Son walked here once in the flesh and knows what it is like to come from dust and return to it (Genesis 3:19). And the Holy
Spirit now indwells our flesh, going where we go, seeing what we see, and hearing what we hear—even praying for us when we cannot find the words for our emotions (Romans 8:26). That all sounds to me like a God who is pretty involved.
If God sees everything, wouldn’t you want to know what he thinks about what he sees? I venture to guess he has an opinion; why don’t we ask him about that? Do we walk out of a movie and wonder what God thought of it? Do we finish a fine meal and wonder if God liked it? Do we read the paper and wonder what God’s take on the news is? Or better yet, do we find him in the news? We need to adopt a way of thinking that puts God within the frame of our daily vision.
Forty years ago, God busted in on my limited idea of him when he dropped in on me in my parents’ ’57 Ford. And he surprised me twice. First, I didn’t expect him to be there (it’s one thing to believe in your head that God is with you all the time; it’s another thing to have him strike up a conversation with you in your car while listening to the Beatles), and second, I didn’t expect him to be either knowledgeable of, or interested in, my musical tastes. So much for keeping God distant and in his heaven.
Excerpted from Finding God Where You Least Expect Him By John Fischer. Copyright © 2003 by Harvest House Publishers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.