Note: This is one of a series of 8 workshops called Foundations For Connecting With God. (Click here to see the full series overview)
Nov 30, 10-11:30am US Central Time (Chicago Time)
This interactive online workshop is the third in a series of 8 workshops which explore key elements/foundations that seem to help people more easily perceive and interact with God’s presence. Please see additional reading below.
1 John 4:7-11. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God’s love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. And love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Pre Workshop Reading:
Note this reading is not required but it will add additional benefit to the workshop experience.
Introduction: There are so many things that could and should be said about love but I will try to limit my sharing to the aspects of love that are particularly relevant for helping us create spaces and lay foundations that help people more easily sense and interact with God’s presence. Out of the 8 foundations for connecting with God this workshop series explores, love is the most important, and all of the other foundations are essentially different ways of expressing or receiving love or results of feeling loved.
What is Love?
Where does love come from?
How does God love us?
What about all of the terrible things in the world?
How do we love God?
Loving God directly.
Loving God by loving others.
How does love help people more easily sense God’s presence?
What is Love?: The best definition of love that I know is, “Being like God” because as 1 John 4:8 reminds us, God is love. However, since that definition is so expansive and goes beyond our ability to comprehend, I will propose a more limited definition. When used as a description love could mean, “Being a person to whom other’s truly matter” or, as a verb, it could mean, “relating to people in a way which expresses the reality that they truly matter.” Someone who loves according to this definition might say to others, “You don’t just matter to me for how you can benefit me or further my agenda. You truly matter to me in that I truly want the best for you regardless of what benefits come to me.” This, I believe, is the way that God loves us and the way that God would like us to love in response.
Love is never forceful: One of the defining characteristics of love is that it is never forceful and can’t be forced. This goes a long way in explaining why it can feel difficult to perceive God’s presence more clearly. God wants us to be free to choose to draw near to God, to choose to allow God and our relationship with God to matter in our everyday lives. If God were to reveal God’s presence and glory and goodness right off the bat so fully that we had no choice but to say, “God you do truly matter I can’t deny it,” we would not have the opportunity to develop the same depth of love for God as the lifelong journey of pursuing and being pursued by God. It seems rather that God is very active in our lives in ways that always leave a little room for us to choose not to believe God is present/involved. In general, God seems to wait to be invited and focused on before giving people a stronger and more clear sense of God’s presence. Even then, God always leaves room for us to look back later and say, “was that just my own mind?” (Maybe so, or maybe it was just God refusing to force you to believe.)
As we learn or relearn how to really trust in God and allow God to matter in our lives, the ways God works can be quite dramatic including miracles of physical, emotional, or spiritual healing, restored relationships, and even raising the dead as still happens regularly in churches around the world (look up pastor Surprise from Mozambique for example). These inspire faith, but ultimately God still leaves room for people to look at such miracles and choose to doubt it was God behind the miracle. Love for God must be chosen, it is never forced, and it often seems to grow over time as we press in for a deeper relationship with God. Because of the freedom God gives people all humans (and maybe even nature?) to choose not to love, we all tend to get banged up throughout our lives and these experiences can make us wonder whether God cares, why God allows certain things, or perhaps whether God is even real. These are important obstacles which can be worked through with God but which tend to need the gentle, understanding of others, and a gradual opening into directly engaging with God about these experiences. In the meantime, as we are all working out these blocks, and learning to grow into the people God has designed us to be, I believe that some of the most significant acts of love in God’s eyes are the simple ways in which we choose to love others, God, and ourselves even when we don’t feel like it; Even when our sense of God’s presence or activity is very blurry or unclear. More will be said on this topic below but for now let us turn to the nature of God’s love for us.
Where does love come from? And where is it going?: 1 John 4:7-11 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God.” What does it mean that all true love ultimately flows from God? In Matthew 25:40, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.” What might it mean that all true acts of love for people are ultimately ways of loving God? I believe our triune God is a great deal like the mighty ocean only infinitely wider and deeper. Like the clouds pick water up from the ocean and shower it it onto the land, so God showers love upon the earth. All of God’s creatures, and perhaps especially human beings, must have this love to live. We drink it, cook with it, clean with it, and draw on it to water our plants, animals, and our thirsty guests. Though the water may flow around the land for a time, eventually water flows back to the ocean. So it is with God’s love. It showers down on us and flows around our lives and our world giving life, cleansing, and sustaining but eventually it cannot help but return to God. We live because of the love that we receive in a million forms including our very existence, our bodies, the air we breathe, the food we eat, other people, the trees, the plants, the animals, and every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We generally do our best to let love flow out from us to those around us, but ultimately the love we share originated from God and flows back to God whether we know it or not.
What about All of the terrible things in the world? A very understandable concern that many people get hung up on is the question, ‘How can God be loving and let so many terrible things happen in the world?’ A lot has been written about this question, but for this short reading I will only say three things which I will unpack one at a time.
- Love must be free to choose.
- Earth is a battleground.
- God is very pleased to talk/work through every one of our concerns with us.
Love must be free to choose: It must have been terribly painful for God to know when he was creating the world that the only way for people to be totally free to love God was that they also be totally free to choose not to love God. Ever since humans first began choosing something other than loving God, what we call sin and evil along with every kind of brokenness and suffering have been present on the earth. The consequences and patterns of evil have often become very engrained in our cultures and systems, and gotten passed down from generation to generation. God has been actively at work to help people choose love which is ultimately to choose life but God who is pure love remains true to his nature and refuses to force people back into loving relationship with him. Thus we are born into a world where there exist both dramatic and seemingly ordinary acts of love pouring new life and hope into the world alongside both dramatic and seemingly small acts of sin and rebellion against God that add pain and suffering to the world which brings us to the next point.
While love is not forceful, it is very powerful, and ultimately does triumph over evil, sin, and death. God clearly demonstrated his love for us, and the power of his love in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus who came humbly into the world, born in a backwater town to a virgin named Mary. Somehow by living his death and resurrection he had a lot of
Earth is a battleground. It seems that the freedom to choose not to love God has also been given to the angels and the creatures of heaven and that many of them have chosen not to love God. This opens up the whole topic of satan and evil spiritual forces that are actively opposed to God and God’s loving purposes. While I don’t have a lot of time to go into this topic I will briefly mention several points which are relevant to our topic of increasing people’s awareness of God’s presence in our community life. First, it seems that God has allowed satan and these rebellious spiritual forces to have some influence upon the Earth. While I do not pretend to understand all of the reasons why a loving God would allow this, my guess is that it has something to do with the importance of really giving humans the freedom to choose God by allowing us to have a very real alternative to God (at least for a season during the present age.) Thus the earth is a place where both heavenly and hell-bent creatures are at work to influence human choices and lives. This is why our life on Earth can have aspects of both heaven and hell. Worship, prayer, and loving fellowship are things that the enemy seems to greatly fear and sometimes we may notice spiritual resistance or opposition that seems to be attempting to put obstacles in the way of these activities. In Christ we have authority to command anything opposed to God to go directly to Jesus feet and to pray for spiritual protection, sometimes we just need to remember to enforce our authority in Christ.
God is very pleased to talk/work through every one of our concerns with us: While understanding the ideas that love must be free to choose and that Earth is a battle ground can be very helpful, when it comes down to our life experience it can still be extremely hard to believe that God could actually be loving in the face of some of the terrible things that happen in this world. I have found that God is always pleased to talk with people about their feelings and questions in the face of confusing and bad things that happen in the world and particularly in their own lives. Often the first thing people need is a safe space to share directly with God what they are feeling. A good place do this is with an experienced prayer minister who can help hold the space for you and guide you along. (Our workshops and exercises are too brief and simple for this deeper level of work but our 6 week training groups, especially intermediate or advanced groups may be an adequate setting.)
I remember in one of my early Immanuel Prayer ministry sessions the memory of a friend who had had an accident came up. I was having difficulty sensing Jesus presence. My facilitator coached me to ask God what was in the way. I realized how angry I felt that God had allowed this accident. The person facilitating my session gave me options of how I could start expressing my feelings to God and I chose to write them down in imagination. As I envisioned myself as a kid in the memory sitting down at a table and writing a long list of all the things that made me angry about the situation I suddenly had a very strong sense that Jesus was standing behind me watching me write my list. He looked on patiently until I finished the list. When I was done he motioned to me to sit down beside him and I had the very clear sense that he wanted to read through the entire list together to make sure that he fully understood each item. My anger melted. I couldn’t believe his gentleness and how clearly he genuinely cared about every frustration I had about this experience. It took more work over a number of sessions to resolve that experience but an important change happened in that I was now able to perceive God’s presence in the memory and I now realized how much God cared.
In the many sessions I have facilitated for others helping them engage directly with God about their anger and confusion I’ve always seen God respond with similar care and concern. I have found that when people are willing to carry the conversation to completion with God they always eventually end up feeling peaceful at an emotional and relational level regarding their concerns even if their logical brain cannot make full sense of all the details.
Our Love For God: Just as God expresses love toward us in millions of different ways, so we can express love back to God in all kinds of ways. Perhaps it is helpful to categorize them into four main categories:
- Expressing love to God directly.
- Expressing love to God by loving other people.
- Expressing love for God by loving ourselves.
- Expressing love to God by loving other creatures and the world God has given us.
Direct expressions include things like telling God we love him in prayer or worship or through actions like fasting, reading God’s word, doing things God has asked us to do, etc. A lot of what we teach in these workshops are essentially ways to expand the possibilities of how we express love to God and receive love from God. For example, many people don’t realize it is even possible to have deep conversations with God or to see Jesus with the eyes of our heart and engage with him in a very personal way.
Loving God by loving people is clearly laid out in Matthew 25:40 where Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.” To love people of course involves giving them the message that they truly matter. Any good parent can tell you that having people show genuine love and care for their children feels like being loved yourself. The question is perhaps how far we we are willing to extend our circle of love and to what extent we are open to following Jesus words and example to extend love even to our enemies. Note this does not necessarily mean agreeing with them, or allowing every behavior, but living in a way that honors that they too are created by God and matter to God.
Expressing love for God by loving ourselves: When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ and the second is like it ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Matt 22:37-39). It can be easy to overlook that this includes loving ourselves. Often in my work as a counselor I help people work with parts of themselves that they really dislike such as angry, ashamed, or people pleasing aspects of themselves. I have found that rejecting and hating these parts never seems to loose them from the roles they are stuck in, but relating to these parts of ourselves with curiosity and compassion tend to allow new freedom and possibilities to emerge. I have also found that it helps us to experience God or a caring person loving the parts of ourselves we dislike first to help model for us how we too can love these parts of ourselves.
Expressing love for God by loving other creatures and the world God has given us: One father described walking along the sidewalk with his 7 year old son on a rainy day. Suddenly, the son stopped and picked up an earth worm who was helplessly wiggling at the bottom of a small puddle. The boy gently set the earth worm safely on the grass where it could wiggle to safety. I have no doubt that God was smiling even bigger than that father to watch the little boy’s expression of love for this small creature. Loving the little plants and creatures and world God has created for us is certainly a way of expressing love to God from the time God put the garden of Eden in Adam’s care until now.
Where do we see love now in our life together?
Corporate Worship: In corporate worship services, there are often amazing expressions of love from us toward God in the form of worship. Worship is a way in which we express to God that God truly matters to us. Worship seems to be an important avenue God has provided us to have something to offer back to a God who does not need anything from us, but dearly wants our love. One major expression of worship comes in the form of song and music. Whether with hymns, Gospel songs, or contemporary praise and worship songs lead by worship leaders, corporate song and music can be a time pour forth expressions of love and praise to God and to express to God just how much God matters to us.
Small Group and Community Life: Small groups and community activities like potlucks, and more than usual these days for many of us, various online gatherings provide spaces for love to flow in every direction, from God to us, from us to God, and most obviously back and forth between people. These gatherings are opportunities for us to give one another the message, ‘you matter to me and I care about you.’
Prayer Ministry: In prayer ministry settings love often flows very strongly and obviously from God to the prayer recipient and from the recipient back to God as the person is able to experience deeper and more tangible awareness of God than normal. Much more will be said about this in coming workshops so for now I would like to focus instead on the way that love flows from a prayer minister to the prayer receiver and how this is a critical foundation that helps the prayer receiver more easily open up to welcoming and experiencing God’s presence.
What happens when a prayer minister is adequately operating from a state of love?
What happens if the foundation of love is weak or lacking? “People first, processes second.” This is a very important motto to keep in mind if you are facilitating any kind of prayer ministry or leading any kind of worship or prayer workshop. If people begin to feel that the leader or facilitator does not really care about them and is just trying to move them through a process they will tend to start disconnecting emotionally and relationally. They may still go through the motions but their heart will probably not really be in it and the depth of joy and peace experienced will likely be much less. On the other hand, if people feel like their presence, hopes, and concerns matter to the person facilitating the prayer time, it is much easier for them to stay relationally connected. This is never more true than in one on one prayer ministry sessions when people have fears and concerns that make things like talking to God or hearing from God feel scary. (For example, God is probably going to be very mad at me so it’s better just not to focus on what he might say about this.) In order to feel safe, the person needs a facilitator who can notices their hesitations, check in with compassion and curiosity, takes their concerns seriously and explore together what might feel like some safe ways to address their concerns. In contrast, a facilitator who just barrels forward trying to keep the process going and not noticing or addressing the person’s fears is probably going to cause the prayer recipient to feel on guard, uneasy, and even less open to relational connection with God. The facilitator’s care and curiosity is of course an act of love which communicates to the receiver that they truly matter to the facilitator. Thus you can see the foundation of love is strengthened.
Summary of How Love, Joy and Rest fit together:
How does love fit in to prayer ministry? A couple of years ago as I was getting visions for starting online Immanuel Prayer trainings, I asked Jesus to show me what he sees as the process that a prayer ministry session flows through. I saw an image of him taking out a blank scroll and opening it up. He began to write the down the page the following
Over and over in a sequence. I shared this vision with Michael Schaefer who was exploring with me how to conceptualize our training work. He really liked the vision and it resonated with his spirit both of us have pondered exactly what it means. As time has gone on, I am getting more ideas about what it means though I am sure my understanding is still quite incomplete. Joy and rest are foundational rhythms of all healthy relationships and love includes joy and rest but goes beyond them to include everything involved in either increasing the amount of joy and and rest, or getting back to the rhythm of joy and rest when we fall into ‘joy-less’ and ‘rest-less’/non-relational modes of operating.
I will start by saying, that there is never a lack of God’s love available to us in any moment, but it may be difficult for us to sense God’s love at times. The concern for our purposes has more to do with a lack of love, or not expressing love in a way that helps the person. between people that causes
How do we love God? Ultimately worship
Whose Love is Important?
How does this apply to God’s Love
Love among God’s people.
Why is Love Important?
How can we integratelove more deeply into our daily lives and into our gathering times as the people of God?
Primary skill focus for this workshop:
1)HELPING PEOPLE FEEL MORE SAFE AND CONNECTED.
Additional relevant skills we will include:
2) Welcoming God’s presence and guidance
3) Pausing to notice what is coming into awareness, even if subtle.
4) Sharing with others what is coming to us.**
- Welcome and opening prayer
- Simple introductions either in main group or break out groups of 3-4 to help everyone feel a little more connected.
- Back to the main group for a brief check in and prayer asking God to remind us of a time when we felt at rest.
- Same Break out groups for sharing about the memory that came to mind.
- Back to the main group for a brief check in and prayer asking if there is anything else God would like us to notice about this memory.
- Same break out groups to share what has come to mind.
- Conclusion, debrief, and closing prayer.
- Everything is optional: to promote a sense of safety all exercises are optional and voluntary.
- Respect confidentiality: unless someone is in danger of harm we ask group members to hold personal sharing by others confidential.
- Lean in lean out: If you tend to talk a lot, try to hold space for those who are more quiet, and if you tend to be more quiet you may try to share a little more.
- Please be caring: People tend to do really well with this one.
Facilitator: Andy Ross
Format: 90 minute one time workshops combining both full group teaching and debrief and smaller break out groups of 3 or 4 people for practice times.
Participants can register for one, multiple, or all sessions.
Cost: Free/Suggested $15 voluntary donation per workshop. Please feel no obligation to give but if you would like to make a contribution your gifts are helpful for freeing up our time to do these free workshops, create training material, and subsidize training groups for those who can’t afford the normal rates. You will see an option to make a gift when you register or you can always access the donate page.
Prerequisites: No previous experience needed. Please invite your friends.