Friendship with God

 

Welcome to lecture three in this course on Dynamics of Christian Spirituality – A Theology of Prayer and the Christian Life. You will recall from the previous lecture that the definition of Christian spirituality that we are working with is this. Christian spirituality is a spirit enabled relationship with the triune God that results in openness to others, healing progress toward Christ likeness and willing participation in God’s purposes in the world. You will also recall that we identified three essential dynamics to authentic Christian spirituality; a relational one, a transformational one and a vocational one, and that these three dynamics correspond to Christ being with us, Christ being in us and Christ working through us.

We come now in this lecture to consider the relational dynamic of Christ with us in more detail. This is the first of two lectures on the relational dynamic. And to frame this discussion for us let’s remember that we were created for community but our sin has produced alienation. The good news is that by his spirit Christ is restoring our intimacy with God and others. Our lecture topic here is Friendship With God and our keynote verse is found in James 2:23 where we read Abraham was called God’s friend. As we begin let’s pray again. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you. Teach us what it is to know friendship with you. In the name of Christ, Amen.

Geneva is a very sophisticated French-speaking city at the west end of Switzerland’s largest lake. The prosperity of Geneva reflects years of international investment and prudent Swiss banking. Today you will pay a small fortune for just a cup of coffee in Geneva and a lot more for a genuine Cartier bracelet or Rolex watch. One day I was walking about in the old part of the city up on the hill that its prehistoric townsfolk had strategically chosen to fortify as a safe place. As I strolled about my mind drifted back to an earlier moment in this place’s rich history. I imagined, and some of this really is my imagination I will admit, how quiet it must have been that night back in the 17th century when someone snuck past the guards at the city gate. By the light of the moon the shrouded figure walked briskly through the towns square, past the public well, the town’s water supply and up through the cobblestone streets toward the ancient gothic cathedral silhouetted against the sky. Minutes later he knocked at the door of Theodore Beza, John Calvin’s successor as leader of this influential Protestant city, removing his cloak. The visitor revealed himself to be Francis de Sales, the exiled Roman Catholic bishop of Geneva. You see, a generation earlier French and Swiss Protestants under John Calvin had taken over the city and sent all the Roman Catholics packing and away in a catastrophic reversal of fortunes for them. The Catholic population was banned from the city. This was a time when many people were quite willing to kill people with bayonet’s to advance their personal brand of religion, a sad time indeed. But by every account Francis de Sales was a very saintly figure. He once cautioned more violent Catholics that ultimately he said—Love alone will shake the walls of Geneva. The ambitious goal of de Sales secret nighttime visit was to try to persuade Beza, the Protestant leader, to revert back to the Roman Catholic faith. Now Francis de Sales was not successful in his mission, although you have to admire his boldness and his daring. But the real legacy of Francis de Sales rests above the push and shove of religious conflict like the kind that was going on in Geneva at that time. His real legacy lies in the fervency and the passion of his devotional life as that passion was expressed in such enduring classics as his introduction to the devout life and a more challenging book he wrote entitled On the Love of God. Now back in his youth when the doctrine of predestination was all the buzz and everybody was thinking about it, Francis de Sales had been traumatized by the uncertainty of whether he was already elect and predestined to salvation or already elect and predestined to be damned in hell. His personal crisis was not resolved in the normal evangelical way by receiving a settled inner assurance of salvation, which is indeed a great gift, instead he found his soul peace by deciding to love God while he could, in other words while he was still alive, and regardless of God’s final decision about his eternal destiny as de Sales once prayed—If I am condemned, oh Lord, not to love you, not to be able to love you in eternity, I can at least love you with all my power during this life. And thus you see Francis de Sales’ love for God had a kind of tragic hero quality despite its lack of assurance it was incredibly passionate and strong. And there was a remarkable cheerfulness to it as well. He believed that love for God should be the true wellspring of everything a Christian does. And like Jane de Chantal, with whom he worked closely through the years, his goal was always to cultivate, to nurture a deep inner intimacy with God. Even today, so many years later, he challenges us to think about our relationship to God. Now, one conviction supports everything else Christians believe. The foundation of the entire world view, Christian world view, is the reality of God. Not more than four words into the Bible you run into it. Genesis starts out—In the beginning God. And likewise the apostle’s creed, a famous early testimony to Christian faith begins—I believe in God, the Father almighty. Now, some broad-minded skeptics concede that it can be helpful to imagine that there is a God and to live as though this is true. But true Christianity considers such an attitude altogether insulting. The writer to the Hebrews considered the existence of God the essential premise of living faith. it seems rather obvious I know, but whoever wants to come to God must first, as Hebrews 11 verse 6 says, must first believe that he exists. The Bible says that God is, and this means that we are not alone. Here is a related truth; the God who is, also speaks, he communicates in word and deed. Francis Schaeffer was a Christian apologist and prophetic critic of modern culture who established L'Abri fellowship in Switzerland. He captured this truth we are speaking of in a memorable way when he declared of God—he is there—that is the first truth, he is there. And then he added—And he is not silent—ah, that is the second truth. God has spoken in the past and he still speaks. The voice of God still reaches out to connect with human beings and in this lies the possibility of relationship. You will recall that we are created for relationship and that is because the triune God is a relational community. From all eternity the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have been relating to one another in an atmosphere of loving mutuality. Now suppose for a moment, silly as it sounds, that God could ever be the object of a scientific experiment. Imagine the scientist in white coats performing a biopsy on the Trinity. Visualize them returning to their lab with a small sample of the interior atmosphere, the ether if you will, of God. What would they find when the analyzed it? Ah, they would discover that their sample contained holy, self-giving love and that is because that is what God is like. And then the Bible tells us that God decided to create humans. They arrive as he intended bearing a special likeness to himself. And part of what this means is that we too are designed for relationship. Why did God create people? He certainly had no need for us. a classic answer is that God created people to glorify himself, to enhance his own magnificent luster by having more beings around to sing his praises and do his bidding. It is hard to explain this without making God sound rather egocentric. The opportunity to create billions of admirers sounds appealing enough to us. Which one of us would not jump at a chance to do the same? But we get closer to the truth when we see that God’s creative act was actually an expression of his loving heart. Throughout history the heart of God by its very nature has always been stretching to incorporate more persons, to include more persons into its ever widening embrace of caring and commitment. Amazingly such love is not diluted or weakend or diminished by expansion. We find its analogy in the love that brings a married couple together at a wedding. In time they may choose to widen the locus of their love to include children. Their love for one another is not weakened in the least by making room for these others. It makes sense that God lovingly wills other creatures into being so that they also can enjoy what he has already been experiencing with it himself. The joy of God’s own loving mutuality is simply too good not to share. Without ever becoming God ourselves we are invited to enter this relationship with him and thus, in the words of the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:4—We thus participate in the divine nature. And this is all for God’s glory and our good.

But relationship with God has become difficult for us. The first problem as we have already noted is the inward curve of our sinful selves. Unfortunately our self-centered bent is reinforced by the individual-listic spirit, the individualistic spirit of western culture that is becoming globalized. Westerners do not do relationships very well because they are seldom their highest priorities. Westerners are more concerned with mastering their environment or improving themselves. Now, self-improvement is a worthy goal but problems arise when we treat relationships as mere means to this end. Too often we size up people according to their usefulness to us, do we tend to treat God the same? Hectic busyness is another obstacle to a relationship with God. The emerging global economy is more competitive than anything the world has yet seen. As a result we feel the pressure to be relentlessly busy and productive. This imposed pace of life keeps us exhausted and fully preoccupied with things that are trivial and passing. Busyness shrinks the chronological and psychological space, the time and the attention we have left over for God in our lives. Knowing God’s true character is ever so important here. The English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once observed, he prays well who loves well. He will pray well if he loves well. Interesting statement. What did he mean? I think that Coleridge meant that how we pray and how often we pray are affected by our mental and emotional image of the God with whom we are dealing. If we deeply admire, love and trust God, we will find ourselves drawn very naturally and willingly into prayer and praise. But if on the other hand we do not perceive him to be attractive or inviting we will perform our duty half-heartedly at best. We will neither pray well nor very frequently.  You see, nothing affects our relationship with God more than our perception of him. A.W. Tozer, a great Christian writer, reminds us that this is perhaps the most important indicator of how we will live our lives and James Houston concurs. He agrees when he says—Tell me, who is your God and I will tell you how you pray. If we nurse an image of God as stern, incessantly demanding and always readily prepared to punish, we will feel afraid, very guarded and wary of him. And we may carry wounds from the past that we more or less blame on him and so we feel resentment in the silent coolness toward him. Such feelings are rooted in a serious misperception of God. The most important realization we can come to in life is that God is good for us. Whatever our longings may be for truth, for goodness, for beauty, for justice, they will be satisfied by moving toward the eternal source of these things rather than away from him. God wills our good and blessing. And he calls for our obedience because he wants to see these good things become realities for us. As one writer has so beautifully put it—Our happiness is important to God. Self-giving love is at the core of God’s nature. The inspired Biblical imagery for communicating this reality is that God is a loving parent, specifically a Heavenly Father. Jesus himself taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to address God this way—when you pray say Our Father in heaven. Yet this analogy between God’s character and human fatherhood can be a problem for those who have had or perhaps continue to have strained, difficult relationships with their human fathers. Because of the flaws of those who cared for them in life, even the term father can make them bristle with resentment. So, should we assume that the imagery of God’s fatherhood is useless in their case, or unhelpful or damaging? Not at all. It is so freeing to realize that God is the ideal father who may have eluded us in our childhood development and earthly family relationship. For he is the one who meets all those longings left unfulfilled by our human parents. When we see him as he really is, then we can truly love God with all our heart and soul and strength which is the greatest command of all.

It is also very meaningful to grasp that we belong to God. You see, on one level the Christian’s relationship with God is positional and official. It involves things like the privilege of being justified, of being declared righteous by God and adopted into his family. It is about having a new status on the basis of Christ’s atoning work that guarantees us an inheritance still to come. The Apostle Peter reminded his Gentile readers that prior to their conversion to Christ they were not a people at all, but now they are the people of God 1 Peter 2 verse 10. The apostle’s language echoes the incredible invitation of God in the Old Testament. We find that in Jeremiah 24:7 and again Zachariah 8:8 and it says this—They will be my people and I will be their God. This is the language of covenant, one of the most important themes in the entire scriptures. Covenants involve reciprocal commitments and they create conditions of belonging that meet our deepest needs for connection and security. The European Christians who drafted the Heidelberg catechism back in the time of the reformation in the 1500’s, ask their children to identify their greatest comfort or consolation in both life and in death. And then they taught their children this answer, my greatest consolation in life and in death is that I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself but to my faithful savior Jesus Christ. To be the people of God means that God has made a commitment to us and so the Psalmist says in Psalm 17:10—though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. And one of the very special ministries of the Holy Spirit is to assure us that this is really so, that it is not just a product of our wishful thinking but that it is real. Romans 8 verse 16 says—The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children, that we belong to God.

And this brings us our topic again of friendship with God. The relational dynamic also involves, you see, the blessing of God’s presence. Years ago when we were studying in Scotland we became friends with another student couple from Finland. They had a little baby and like us they were poor, they were, as we say, financially challenged. One winter evening these Finnish Christians began talking about how they missed being home for Christmas. Their extended family always gathered together to celebrate the season. Outside the winds might be howling and the snow blowing but indoors the entire family from great grandparents to newborn babies would sit around the sides of a warm living room. Yeah, sometimes a whole hour would go by without anyone saying a word, our friend assured us with nostalgia, we just soaked up all the unspoken love grateful to be together. We could hardly believe it. Could even these people from the far north be that quiet in group settings? I don’t know how much they were exaggerating, but nevertheless, this image of those Finnish family gatherings stuck with me. It reminded me that a relationship does not require nonstop talking and conversation, for there is a dimension of communion that exists even in the absence of speaking. Relationship with God can involve treasured moments of ectasy and joy of revelation and signs, clear signs, of the supernatural, but equally important are those longer stretches of the peace that passes all understanding and the awareness that it is well with our soul. Then we begin to experience for ourselves the comfortable connection the poet Emily Dickinson had in view when without any disrespect she referred to the welcoming hospitable face of “Our old neighbor God”. But there is even more than this. The relational dynamic is also about keeping company with God, staying alert and responsive to his voice. It is about being in harmony, enjoying oneness of purpose and intent. It is the experience described in Brother Lawrence’s late medieval classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. Encountering God tends to evoke reverence and awe. Isaiah spoke for all worshippers when he cried out—Woe is me, I am a ruined for I am a man of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty— he says this at the beginning of his prophecy in chapter 6 verse 5. And it is all the more astonishing then to read in Scripture that Abraham was called God’s friend and that the privilege of friendship with God is extended to us as well. I have called you friends says Jesus, in John 15:15, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. Does this mean that we should no longer regard God with awe? Has God the Father Almighty now been reduced to some sort of powerful buddy? Oh, I don’t think so. We have to unpack the imagery of friendship very carefully. The essence of friendship, especially friendship with God, is not in formality or heaven forbid a kind of jokey casualness. The language of divine friendship gives us permission to add to our sustained reverence for God an enjoyment of full acceptance, deep intimacy and safety to be honest and share our heart. We all know how demeaning and humiliating it is when a controlling person, a controlling boss or teacher or parent, micromanages every little detail of what we do, constantly looking over our shoulder. It is a terrible experience isn’t it? Such an interpersonal style alienates us from those who have more power than we do. The way they use their authority is destructive to our mutual relationship and this is certainly true of marriages as well. If a husband, or occasionally even a wife, if they take to themselves an imbalanced or inappropriately large amount of the power and decision-making of that relationship, what happens? Well, it erodes the level of happiness in the relationship for sure. The dynamics of control are always inversely related to the quality of a friendship. The more power and control dynamics are operating, the less it looks and feels like a true friendship. So, for the sake of his relationship to us, God deliberately restrains his rightful power to control all outcomes and decisions. He gives us the freedom to choose either for or against his will and he gives that freedom without forcing us or controlling us or making us go in one way. It is one of the risks God takes so that instead of being his powerless servants, we can truly become his friends.

This relationship with involve speaking and listening. Let me illustrate what I mean. Shortly after we were married, my wife and I splurged on dinner out at a really high-end, upscale hotel. As we ate, soaked up the luxurious atmosphere all around us and talked together, we noticed an obviously well-to-do older couple at a nearby table. Each was focused on the food right in front of them, pursing their lips to blow to cool the soup on their spoons, chewing their meat many times with their teeth, wiping their mouth with linen napkins. They never made eye contact with each other, not a word passed between them. When they were not eating they just stared off into space avoiding all eye contact. It was not the atmosphere of wordless communion, not exactly the warm Finnish family’s Christmas I described earlier. The lack of table talk chilled us, frightened us really as newlyweds. What a troubling thought, that a marriage could ever deteriorate until a husband and wife no longer had anything to say to each other. Yes indeed, for communication is natural and essential to any living relationship. Some years later we were at a restaurant and noticed another couple, a much younger couple this time, and the dynamic of their relationship with strikingly different. One of them was speaking with great animation, waving their arms around, talking loudly, nonstop, scarcely ever taking a breath. The other person sat completely mute, silent and it seemed to us they sat there totally bored. This other person never made a response. There was no opportunity really. Once I think I saw the silent partner roll their eyes, you know the way people do when they are disgusted with what is being said, that was all I saw. We concluded that this relationship was in trouble too, because healthy relationships are interactive, two-way, never exclusively one way. They must involve dialogue, give and take, and the same is true with God. When we tend to do all the talking, mostly in the form of hurried petitions, requests for stuff, it serves to illustrate that we have likely not developed the balancing art of listening prayer, of listening to what God may be wanting to say to us. Spirit-attuned Christians are attentive to what is happening all around them and to the voice of God in the midst of it all. Spiritual persons are not always charging forward with their ears pinned back, so to speak. Their minds are not so totally closed that they no longer hear anything. They are quiet but they are also alert. Both Isaiah and Jesus mourned those situations where people may have ears but they are unable to hear. And I believe that Isaiah when he speaks of this in Isaiah when he speaks of this in Isaiah 6 and where Jesus picks up the same idea in Matthew chapter 13 they are referring to the tragedy of having a God-given potential for discernment and paying attention to his voice but refusing to develop and use that ability symbolized by ears.

I would like to share with you a story that I called on the River Hills. We were living in western Canada and I was about to make the biggest career decision of my life, to accept the opportunity of new work that had come up, would require that I resign my job and oblige our whole family to uproot and move to another city. The stakes were high. About this time I happened to be traveling not very far from the small town where I had lived in my teenage years. The little town of Outlook was a special place overlooking the South Saskatchewan River Valley that winds its way for hundreds of miles across the flat prairies from the Rocky Mountains to the salt water of the vast Hudson’s bay. The valley of this river is probably a couple of miles across and consists of hills descending from both sides down to the river in the middle. As a teenager I used to carry a 22 rifle and walk those hills pondering the issues of my teenage life and praying to God. The wind was always blowing. The smell of sage brushes and gopher holes everywhere and the prickly little cactus plants wedged down in the short spear grass still materialize in my mind as I think back to that time and place. It had been at least 25 years and a lot of water under the bridge, but I felt the need to return to that, well, kind of sacred space. I parked beside the highway, climbed a fence and began to walk down toward the river hills. The Saskatchewan wind was blowing, as always, and the leaves of the Poplar trees flashed and clattered in response. I had my list of petitions ready; prayers for guidance, discernment, safety, finances, the welfare of our children, the proper timing of a possible move and more. It was a long and predictable list of typical midlife cares and concerns. Eventually I found my way to the top, to the crest of one particular knoll and I sensed that this was the old place. As I opened my heart to start my monologue with God a strange thing happened. I could not speak. The details of my concerns faded away, or rather were swept away by an in rushing, liquid flood of feeling that I was able eventually to recognize as gratitude, as thankfulness. For through these many years of coming and going I realized that I had been watched over and protected by an unseen presence. An overflowing sense of thankfulness welled up in me, strong and unexpected. It was like a hand clamped over my mouth preventing me from voicing my requests. I stood there for some time basking in a profound and wordless assurance that God was good and all would be well. The water moving silently below me was like the River Glorious we sang about in church, a symbol of God’s perfect peace. Eventually I climbed back up the hill aware that my plan to hold the summit with God and speak my mind had been completely thwarted, instead of speaking, I had been spoken to. The experience branded in my memory that the Christian life is indeed a relationship in which both parties get their turns to speak.

I want to share a word next about the sufficiency of this relationship. Healthy marriage and family dynamics are a blessing at every stage of life and so are the social dynamics of a healthy workplace and church life and valued friendships with other human beings. But there are times in our journeys through life when the support of other humans falls away and we have only God on our side. Death, misunderstandings and a host of other variables can drive wedges between us and our companions in life; even those closest to us. During those times we discover the sufficiency of our relationship with God that even by itself it is enough to sustain us and in this spirit the psalmist wrote in Psalm 73 verse 26—My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. God is the psalmist’s choice, his wise and discerning choice because this choice to make God is portion forever provides for all his deepest needs. Christians who have experienced this truth about our relationship with God gain personal strength. They are no longer terrified by the prospect of being alone. Peer pressure and all kinds of social pressure lose their power over them. And when they enter into community, their action is rooted in choice; they choose to be part of community rather than in desperate need. It is not as though they have to be part of a community. In the imagery of the spiritual writer, Henry Nowlin, the ragged pain of loneliness is replaced by the serenity of solitude. And there is something else. You know, centuries ago people assumed that the sun revolved around the earth. That viewpoint made some sense, I suppose, because people would view its daily arch from east to west, from sunrise to sunset and so this assumption that the sun revolved around the earth seemed eminently reasonable. In the 16th century though, some astronomers by the name of Galileo and Copernicus started an enormous controversy when they argued and they argued affectively with mathematical support that, in fact, the earth revolved around the sun. oh my, the claims of these scientists shook the world. Their discovery called for a paradigm shift in thinking; a complete reorientation to reality. It demanded that people replace their earth-centered perception of the solar system with a sun-centered one. Now, minor changes in thinking are manageable for people in good mental health, but paradigm shifts, these are huge mental changes, are never easy, even for the healthiest and most flexible amongst us. Supremacy belongs to God. Those who discover that he is real can never live again like people who are not aware of him. And God, by reason of being God, is destined for preeminence in the universe. In the spiritual solar system we revolve around God, rather than God revolving around us. The renaissance astronomer’s discovery was not accepted without a fight and realizing that we are not the center of the universe, that God is, can be even more difficult to acknowledge because so much ego is at stake. I know, it is counterintuitive; it does not seem to make sense that we could possibly find more joy in a God-centered universe than in a self-centered one. But this is paradoxically how things really work. God must be first. This is how the universe is designed to run and when we fight it everything about our lives gets syncopated, out of timing, stuttering and unnatural. But when we accept our rightful place in the grand scheme of things as subordinate beings rather then supreme beings we discover our destiny and we discover our true happiness. Respect for God is the cornerstone of worship and the beginning of wisdom. Jesus set us the ultimate example of how to live when he said to the Father—Not my will but your’s be done. I think one of the best lines in Rick Warrens Purpose driven life book is the very first one where he says, it is not about us.

One day I slipped into the back of a British classroom where an old Theologian in a black gown was lecturing to a room full of university undergrads. He announced that he was trying that day to unpack what love was all about, particularly the love of God. The situation did not look promising as he started to expound the characteristic of divine love in a kind of ascending order. But he grew more impassioned and eloquent as he developed his theme, and by then the students, some of whom were still hung over from the previous night of drinking alcohol, were now drinking his message in. The lecture reached its climax when the professor declared that love always delights in the object of its affection. I thought back to various Old Testament assurances that God really does delight in his people, for example, Psalm 149 verse 4. He rejoices over them with singing—says the prophet Zephaniah in his chapter 3 verse 17.  And I thought about that moment at the Jordan River when Jesus came up out of the muddy, brown water and a voice from heaven announced—This is my Son whom I love, with him I am well pleased. Well pleased, oh what an incredible validation moment for Jesus, to know that he was the object of God’s approval and pleasure. We wish we had been in his sandals, yet in a sense we are. Because of what Christ has done for us and our identification with him, the Father gazes with similar delight on us. Even longtime Christians get just a bit emotional when this truth really sets in. Somewhere along the weary line we may have given up hope of such a thing ever being possible, but it is true and incredibly freeing when we get hold of it. And it prompts the same feeling toward God back from us. Indeed, our relationship with God reaches its highest point and fulfillment in an atmosphere of reciprocating or mutual back and forth delighting. Francis de Sales knew quite a bit about delighting in God, unfortunately he did not know too much about assurance. But the greatest thing in the world is to combine what he knew and experienced with the blessed assurance, which to some extent eluded him all of his saintly life, the blessed assurance that through Christ we belong to God and will for all eternity. Now that is a joy the heart simply cannot contain and which as we will see in the next session spills over into our other relationships as well.

If you are interested in exploring further, this topic of friendship with God, I offer you three helpful guides. One is a very ancient writer and the other two are more recent. The ancient one is Bernard of Clairvaux who lived from 1090 to 1153. Bernard was one of the greatest spiritual leaders of the middle ages. His experience of joy through intimacy with God has been memorialized in his little classic on Loving God published somewhere around 1130 A.D. It is even more fully explored in his commentary on the biblical Song of Songs. Yet, his quest for intimacy with God did not isolate him from secular life; he was a vigorous administrator at the same time and an active and sometimes controversial commentator on the political issues of his day. A second more recent helpful guide would be A.W. Tozer who lived from 1897-1963. He was a simple, self-educated American who began his working life in a rubber factory. Remarkably he came in contact with the literature of Christian mysticism. He absorbed it deeply and then with a uniquely engaging style passed along his discovered insights to countless soul-hungry Christians. Two of his many works, The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy remain classics still in print. Finally, as a helpful guide we suggest John Piper, a Minnesota pastor from America with a strong Calvinist vision of God’s glory in many ways and works but perhaps especially in his acclaimed book Desiring God, Piper develops the theme of the soul’s satisfaction in God alone and the experience of delighting in God as the ultimate source of truth, goodness and beauty. The heading on John Piper’s website is that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied with him. These are good words.

And here then is a summary of this particular lesson three. The first of Christian spiritualities three essential dynamics is the relational. It begins with the realization that we are not alone, that there is a God and he is not silent. Through Christ and his spirit God gives us a new standing before him and draws us into experiences of his unspoken presence and even into interactive encounters with him. The confidence that God is good for us draws us to and keeps us in this vertical communion. What opens up before us is the possibility of a friendship with God characterized by reciprocating delight. In the next lecture on the topic of Experiencing Community we will treat our horizontal relationship with others and with creation.