God has a way of convincing that is truly convincing. Jehovah Sneaky, as he has been aptly called by someone, sneaks up on you in most unexpected situations to take you unawares. Surprise seems to be his favorite way of instilling conviction. The reason is simple. Surprise cannot be feigned. No one is able to fake surprise. You just can’t help it. We have nothing to do with it. There seems to be an important difference between self-persuasion and God-wrought conviction. The Holy Spirit’s way of convincing is to zap us with insight – relationally. Condemnation, guilt and shame are not his language.
Religion often teaches self-persuasion. Memorize and keep repeating to yourself certain words and phrases, fill up your mind with certain thoughts, practice certain things and your mind will change. But in all these things you act as if you are on your own, God is not engaged. You are expected to do something and promised God’s presence as a result. It’s an orphan’s way to live and think. In the heart of hearts, you believe you are alone in the world, and you have to get your act together. God is somewhere else waiting for your move.
Self-persuasion has nothing to do with the way Holy Spirit persuades. He instills his thoughts relationally. For instance, when troubles come into my life I often have hard time believing that God is near. It feels like he’s far away. No matter what I do to get closer to him, nothing seems to help. He may love me but it feels like he doesn’t. The recipe religion often gives for such situations is self-persuasion. Memorize Bible verses, say them to yourself over and over again. It may work for a time. But it’s still self-persuasion. It’s orphan mentality. You grapple with life on your own. God’s there to help but he’s not the one living it out through you.
But there are times when God catches you unawares. Suddenly the words: “God is close to the brokenhearted” are no longer words on a page but fire burning in the heart. How does that happen? Through divine surprise. The other day my son came down with a stomach flu. Nausea, fever and all other symptoms raged throughout the night. We put him in our bed and I lay down next to him so as to warm him up. He was shivering all over but after a while he got warm and fell asleep.
Suddenly I was pierced with a feeling that this very moment I am closer to him than I had ever been before. Literally. When he is well I am not that close to him. The worse he feels, the closer I move. A thought flashed through my mind like a lightening, and God said: “See. If you are that way I am much more”. I was speechless, struck, taken unawares. God is close to the brokenhearted. The worse we feel the closer he moves. And this is no self-persuasion. It’s not words on a page but a relational insight. The voice of the Spirit.
For God, there’s no greater joy than getting an opportunity to get closer to us. Angels in heaven rejoice more over someone who gets in touch with God. What gives you joy in your relationship with God? Usually I am quite happy when I am fed, clothed, blessed, protected, and healthy. And when I am not fed clothed, blessed, protected, and healthy I am unhappy. Job-like experiences strip us of our joy because we value things over closeness to God.
We are happy when we can get something from God and God is happy when he can get us to connect with him. He needs nothing from us. He just wants to be closer. Just as I don’t need anything from my children and just want to be closer to them. Oddly enough I am the closest to them when they are not feeling well. But what a joy when they say 5 years down the road: “Remember I was sick and we spent the whole night together watching movies? It was so cool! Let’s do it again but without me getting sick.” That’s when the truth zaps me. My desire to be closer to them met with a response in them. They value closeness more than getting something from me. They may not have health and wealth and blessing but they are happy enough to be with me.
Life is a step by step discovery that God’s proximity is the highest treasure. In this world, we will have trouble but nothing can separate us from that connection. The worse our condition, the closer he gets. And he’s waiting for us to finally discover that his proximity is our summa bonum exclaiming: “When things were so bad it was so good because you were so close warming me up with your body”. And then the party will start. The celebration of connection.