Years ago, Jeannie and I had the privilege of hosting Dr. Charles L. Allen when he came to the seminary campus to preach in the annual Ministers’ Conference. He had just retired after many years serving as the senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. I had come to know him through the many books he had written.
Dr. Allen liked to take a walk every afternoon, and he invited me to go along with him. We spoke about many things, one of which serves us well in today’s posting. I asked Dr. Allen, “What’s the number-one problem you had to deal with as a pastor?” Honestly, I expeccted him to say, “Oh, Steve…there were so many problems, I could not possibly not name one.” But he didn’t say that. Instead, he answered immediately, “The number-one problem I had to deal with was people’s notion that God is mad at them.”
I have never forgotten his words, and I have seen the problem over and over again in my own ministry. And I have come to see that the concept of God we have will shape the kind of Christian life we live and the kind of spiritual formation we experience. For example, if we think God is mad at us, we will hide and play it safe. We will keep things superficial, and we may not even want to initiate and cultivate a relationship with God at all. We tend to avoid people who are mad at us.
Last week, I said that spiritual formation begins with God. But now, I must add that it depends on what concept of God you have. The Bible has established one pervasive view of God; namely, “God is love.” And a second notion like it, “God loves you.” There are all sorts of reasons why this message doesn’t get through to us, and there are even times when God has to express that love in ways that are disconcerting to us. But love is the singular quality that defines who God is, and shapes the kind of spiritual formation we experience.
We are starting this blog category by focusing on God and who God is. The question is, “What do you believe about God?” What you think is shaping your response to God and your relationship with God. The doorway to authentic spiritual formation swings open when we see that God is love, and when we let God love us.