Someone recently asked me to write an endorsement for his upcoming book on intercessory prayer. He read my book on Hearing God in Conversation and wrote a positive review on Amazon. 

His manuscript was easy to read, witty, and personal, with terrific stories. What’s not to like? 

The book said that most Christians think the essence of prayer is petitionary, asking God for stuff. It claims that any such understanding misses the soul of prayer which is conversational: just sharing with God our joys, sorrows, fears, and failures, and asking to hear his voice.

I completely agreed with him. That’s the reason I added “In Conversation” to the title of my book. Because prayer is more than asking God for things; prayer is a divine dialogue between God and us. And in that conversation, amidst the sharing of my life, I also ask God for things. 

But then the author said, “If God is loving, he will do the loving thing whether we ask him to or not. Intercession means we think he is unloving and will neglect us. Instead of asking for rain, we should just water our garden. I’m sick of the idea of the ‘mystery’ of God!

The Mystery of God

While the author doesn’t like the idea of God being mysterious, we can’t have a real God unless we admit his nature is necessarily mystifying, and the reason is simple.

We make requests of God because we admit our limits (at least we admit some of them), and we acknowledge that he is all-loving and all-powerful. But if he is all loving and powerful (and we are not), then his ways are inescapably beyond us. Which means he is mysterious.

Which also means he can have reasons that we can’t understand, both for asking us to pray as well as not answering our prayers in the way we prefer.

Besides, the argument that God will “do it” whether we pray or not is just stupid (a theological term). Will he also make a deposit in my bank account when I skip work three months in a row; or will he cook dinner for me as I sit watching Netflix; heck, why doesn’t he just put the food in my stomach and skip my employment, cooking, eating, and clean-up altogether?

Partnership with God

God called Adam and Eve into existence, and then he gave them an artistic endeavor: to creatively beautify his garden. Why didn’t he do it all himself, if he is so loving and powerful?

Because he loves partnership with us. We plant the seeds, but he brings sun and rain. Oswald Chambers said it this way:

It cannot be stated definitely what the call of God is [mystery!], because His call is to be in comradeship with Himself, and the test is to believe that God knows what He is after.

God calls us to intimacy with him in our work, not because he needs our service but because he loves our company.  The same partnership is true when we pray and he acts. 

Bob Allums, a friend of mine, teaches prayer seminars through A Praying Life. For years, he has kept 3×5 prayer cards detailing prayer requests for hundreds of friends and thousands of needs. Each card is a recorded journal of intercessions and the stories that follow. He once said to me,

In prayer, God invites me to participate in his miraculous and epic story on this earth.

Bob has seen addictions broken, marriages healed, anxieties smashed, and needed money miraculously appear in mailboxes; all through his simple act of asking his Father for help. The answered prayers often take rabbit-trails Bob never envisioned, but don’t all good stories? 

I have had manuscripts rejected, and it hurts. I tried to be gracious when I told the author I couldn’t endorse a book that denies God’s answers to prayer and sidelines his mystery. But my attempt at grace failed. He deleted his endorsement of my book on Amazon.

And the reason is not mysterious to me.

Sam

P. S. Join us tonight for a Facebook Live “Campfire Conversation” on the topic of Hearing God. It will begin at 8:00 pm Eastern Time on my Facebook Page, Beliefs of the Heart

This is a new weekly podcast my friends Gary Barkalow, John Hard, and I have started. To begin with, the topic will alternate every other week between Hearing God and Finding Your Calling

Join us tonight at 8:00 Eastern Time.

A blog post about the meaning of Easter, posted by Sam Williamson

Twenty-three years ago, my sister Becky lost her son in an accident as he walked home from school. Is there any greater sadness for any parent than the early death of a child? I think not. This is what Easter holds for us, in the words of my sister.

*****

When my ten-year-old son, Robert, was struck by a truck and killed, I saw and experienced, for the first time in my life, the power and horror of death. 

Robby was my only son—I have three wonderful daughters—and was the light of our household. He played basketball, soccer, and football. He had a paper route and a bank account and was saving his money for a car. I had made it clear to him that this paper route was his job. I was not going to be one of those parents who drove him on his route every time it sprinkled. 

On Sunday morning, the day before he died, he asked me if I wanted to ride my bike along with him and help him deliver his papers. My throat felt sore, and I was experiencing the distinct pangs of PMS; but for reasons I still don’t know, I pulled myself out of bed at 6:20 am and joined him on his paper route.

Outside a fine layer of snow covered the ground, and only with great difficulty did I resist offering to drive him on the route. We bundled up in hats, mittens, and winter coats and I looked to Robby for instructions. A role reversal he relished.

We rode our bikes down dark alleys, through grassy back yards, and on detours to avoid barking dogs, all familiar territory to Robby. We worked as a team, with Robby shouting directions and me, following his lead.

When all was done and as we approached the house, Robert grinned at me: “Mom, it’s a lot more fun when you do it with me.”

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The next day I dropped him off at school. We said “Good-bye, love you.” They were the last words we ever spoke to each other.

When I drove home from an appointment that day, as I entered my village of Dexter, MI., I saw a traffic jam. A police car and other officers directed traffic onto an alternative route. As I passed near the accident, I saw the legs of a child, surrounded by people, in the middle of the street, and I felt sorry for whoever it was.

Until I recognized the jeans and the shoes. 

To see my lovely living breathing child suddenly turned into an empty lifeless shell seemed to me to be an unspeakable perversion. It left a huge gaping hole in my heart and life. I saw death as a monstrosity; repulsive; a thief who had the power to rob me of life and joy.

When my son Robby was killed eleven years ago, it felt as though Death had stolen everything, not only from me, but my girls; and not only from my girls, but also from Robby: his future, his growth to maturity, and all the possibilities of who he could become. 

The Bible teaches us that when we die, we immediately go into the presence of Christ. “Today you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus said to the thief on the cross. St. Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Death can only be gain if we are alive in the presence of God. 

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Rev. 14:13

Because of what Jesus achieved by dying for our sins and being raised from the dead, death can ultimately no longer rob us of anything. My son Robby is right now in the presence of God. The biblical attitude towards death can be summed up in one great statement: It is a blessing. Jesus Christ transformed the meaning of death for the Christian:

  • Death is no longer our executioner but has become our gardener.
  • All death can do is to plant us; it plants me as a seed, and I come up a gorgeous flower. Since death has been defeated, death can do nothing but make me better!
  • For the Christian, “What is sown as perishable is raised imperishable, what is sown in dishonor is raised in glory. What is sown in weakness is raised in power.”

Robby hasn’t lost his future. He has simply started the beginning of the real story one step ahead of me—and every chapter will be better than the one before.

So come on death! Hurt me and you just grow me! Kill me and you just make me!

There is nothing so bad that can possibly take away our real wealth, or our real health, or our real hope, or our real joy.

Becky

What do we worship?

In 1930, legendary economist John Maynard Keyes wrote an essay about our future lifestyle in the twenty-first century. He predicted that industrial progress would reduce our workload to 15 hours a week. Keyes may have been a brilliant economist, but he was a pathetic prophet. 

In fact, for many, the workweek over the last thirty years has increased. In 1980, the highest earners worked the fewest hours. But something happened in the following decades, and by 2005, the longest average workweek belonged to the richest ten percent.

Historically, the rich always worked fewer hours because they could afford it. And the poor always worked more hours, so that they could make more money, so that they could work fewer hours. 

To have the wealthiest work the most hours defies all economic wisdom … unless our reasons for work changed. We used to work out of necessity, but Derek Thompson (a staff writer at The Atlantic) argues that something else now energizes our work hours:

The decline of traditional faith in America has coincided with an explosion of new [religions]. Some people worship beauty, some worship political identities, and others worship their children. But everybody worships something. And workism is among the most potent of the new religions competing for congregants.

Nonintuitive Worship

This article began with observations about our workweek, but what strikes me most is Thompson’s observation about worship. He claims modern people worship a variety of gods, just like the ancient Greeks. (I would argue they are the same gods with different names.) If this is true, then we must revise our understanding of the nature of worship.

Most people think worship is the first twenty minutes of a church service. But that thinking misses the heart of worship. Real worship is not merely singing songs; real worship—the motivation and actions of deep veneration—is what we do one hundred and sixty-eight hours a week. We all worship, and we worship all the time. The nature of worship-ritual is nonintuitive.

It’s why workaholics work extra-long hours. They find identity and hope in their careers. They even offer sacrifices to their callings (just ask their spouses and kids). It is in their work they feel they are most themselves. Work is their salvation from insignificance. Work is their worship.

But others find salvation in parenting, likeability, being religious, or being legendary. When the famous tennis player Chris Evert was about to retire, she said,

I had no idea of who I was or what I could be away from tennis. I was depressed and afraid because so much of my life had been defined by being a tennis champion. I was completely lost. Winning made me feel like I was somebody. It made me feel pretty. It was like being hooked on drug. I needed the wins. I needed the applause.

Where Is our Heart?

Real worship rites have always been non-traditional: the ancient rites of sacrifices and the modern song-fests can be skin-deep practices that have nothing to do with our deepest, daily adoration. Because we worship whatever we ascribe ultimate value to. 

  • If we most want a good name, we may work hard, or spend time with our kids, or walk little old ladies across the street. As long as our good name is held in high esteem.
  • If our ultimate value is to feel good, we may pursue romance, or make lots of money, or drop out of work altogether. We might even sing worship songs. All for the euphoric feelings these activities give us.

We most value what our heart most cherishes; and all the affections of our heart—from its mountaintop joys to its undying desires—meditate on that object of worship we most revere.

Our real religion is what we obsess about as we wait for the cashier at Walmart.

Sam

What is cultural creep and how is affecting our society?

Four score and eleven years ago—in 1928—George Washington Hill had a problem: he wanted more women to smoke cigarettes. But smoking was scorned as a crutch for “fallen women and prostitutes.” He was president of the American Tobacco Company, and he thought that if he could get women to smoke, it would be “like opening a gold mine right in our front yard.”

Hill hired public relations guru Edward Bernays to help sell his cigarettes.  After consulting with a psychoanalyst (Abraham Brill), Bernays decided against merely hawking Hill’s brands of cigarettes. Instead he tackled the cultural taboo that condemned women smoking.

Bernays decided to pay a bunch of women to smoke cigarettes while marching in New York’s 1929 Easter Sunday Parade. He didn’t want the stunt to appear as marketing (even though that is exactly what it was), so he carefully orchestrated the event. His instructions included:

Because it should appear as news [and not publicity], actresses should be definitely out. While they should be goodlooking, they should not be too “model-y.” Three for each church covered should be sufficient. 

Of course they are not to smoke simply as they come down the church steps. They are to join in the Easter parade, puffing away.

In a crafty manipulation of the growing women’s rights movement, he spun the event as feminists lighting their “Torches of Freedom.”

When Others Think They Know What’s Best

Bernays believed that society is best managed by cultural elites, people who know better than us how to live. His best-known book on marketing (suitably titled Propaganda) opens with these two paragraphs:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. 

We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.

When I tell Christians I am writing a book on Cultural Creep, they unanimously exclaim, “Yes, I hate the world’s sexual promiscuity.” But that is not the subject of my book. People have always wanted extramarital sex, but for hundreds of years it has been illicit and repugnant.

The question of “worldly influence” is: how were our “minds molded,” and “our tastes formed” so that previously frowned-upon sexual practices became so run-of-the-mill? And who did it?

Creating “Common Sense”

Blaise Pascal, the 17th century scientist and philosopher, said:

It’s not those who write the laws that have the greatest impact on society. It’s those who write the songs.

Legislation doesn’t rule us nearly as much as the manufactured ideas hammered into our hearts by the elites who “manipulate the habits and opinions” of us masses. Song by song, show by show, actor by actor, they drum into our heads a newly created “common sense” set of answers despised a mere fifty years ago.

The modern world’s embrace of uninhibited sex simply releases our flesh to act without restraint. The world brainwashes us into believing that any restraint against our “natural” desires will cause irreparable damage. It is even given a name: repression.

In his later years, Bernays regretted his contribution to the growth of smoking. He tried in vain to free his wife from the nicotine addiction his elitist-self had nurtured. 

What Torches of Freedom do we light today that will imprison us in dark addiction tomorrow?

Sam

Should Christians assimilate with the culture?

During its first fifteen years, my software company only worked with domestic clients. In the late nineties, we landed Oxford University Press (a terrific feather in our cap), and a few years later, a French company approached us.

Actually, they approached two U.S. software companies. For the next six months, both companies passionately courted the French company, but in the end, they engaged us.  Our new partner explained to me why we were chosen.

He said that their old software solution was custom built with 1980’s features in mind, so it lacked many modern marketing offerings, and it had been repaired so many times they feared it would implode under the weight of its own patches.

When our rival visited Paris, they “oohed and aahed” over the French wine, they praised the functionality of the client’s software, and they complimented the French company for their marketing savvy. They panted after the French way of life.

When we visited Paris, we demonstrated our software’s answers to their problems. 

My new French friend said, “We were desperate for a solution to our difficulties. Your competitor tried to charm us into liking them, whereas your company simply showed us the answers we needed. We nicknamed your company, La Réalisation and your competitor, Les Amoureux.” He ended,

Why would we spend millions of dollars on someone so desperate for our affection?

Syncretism

More than any other prohibition in the Old and New Testaments, God warns against cultural assimilation—its practices and its idols. He repeatedly commands that we reject the thinking, answers, and gods of the nations around us.

His First Commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” He also required Israel to reject the customs of the occupants of the Promised Land and to abhor their practices. The narratives, psalms, and prophets constantly rebuke Israel for their frenzy for that worldly cultural absorption. Psalm 106 reprimands Israel because:

They did not destroy the peoples, as the Lord commanded them, but they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did. (vss. 34-35)

Not only does God command us not to mix with the nations, he does so ten times more than he commands us not to commit adultery. In fact, he says that such assimilation is adultery:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

Besides, It’s Just Stupid

It’s not that God wants us to live insignificant lives in inconsequential Christian ghettos. In hundreds of passages, he calls his people to be a blessing to the nations. We simply cannot be that blessing when we constantly curry their favor by begging for their blessings. God’s answers will never be blessings for others when we Christians embrace the false answers of the world.

Attraction is born of distinction and Vive la difference! Apple Corporation flourished when they offered something new; they weren’t your daddy’s IBM. When believers lust after this-world-solutions, we are crying, “Me too. Please like me. I can be cool too.”

 Besides, when we crave the world’s approval, we will be disdained:

What are you doing, O devastated one? Why dress yourself in scarlet and adorn yourself with gold? Why enlarge your eyes with paint? You beautify yourself in vain. Your lovers despise you; they seek your life. (Jer. 4:30)

Stalking the world may land a date or two, but it will never seal the deal.

Sam

Do you feel like God demands the unreasonable?

After four years of trying to sell our old house, we finally moving into our new house last August. To prepare it for retreats, I’ve been immersed in chores: creating a new kitchen, installing new cabinets, making a desk, and rewiring about twenty light switches to link them to Alexa. All things I’ve done before: plumbing, carpentry, and wiring.

Now that the house-updates are done, I sense God calling me to write a book on Cultural Creep (how we adopt the world’s solutions while rejecting God’s answers), to talk with a friend about a difficult subject, and to coach a spiritual organization about how to communicate God’s word.

And I feel wholly and completely inadequate. How can I communicate the world’s influence without sounding like a crabby old man? How can I speak to my friend without sounding like a harsh jerk? How do I move from behavior-ism to gospel-ism when tips and techniques seems their default message?

I’m sleeping poorly because I think God is assigning me tasks that I’m ill-equipped to execute.

God Demands the Unreasonable Always

Everybody’s inner default is to fasten onto the familiar, to perform tasks we already know how to do. But the greatest triumphs of past spiritual leaders were always when they tackled the impossible:

  • God asked Abraham and Sarah to have a child when they were in their nineties;
  • God told Moses to find water for Israel in a rock in the desert with no oasis in sight;
  • God wouldn’t let Gideon battle Midian till he reduced his army from 32,000 to 300;
  • When God called St. Francis to rebuild the church, God meant an entire culture not a tiny chapel.

Why does God always draw us beyond the end of our resources? Not just to the edge of our strength, not merely a toe over the line of our aptitudes; he persistently pushes us past our natural abilities until we cry “Uncle!” (Or, “God help me!”)

Perhaps a better question is: Why don’t we cry “Uncle” or “God help me” in the everyday jobs we know so well? Why do we flock to assignments that don’t need God?

It’s Always About His Life in Us

Scripture repeatedly teaches a simple message with multiple metaphors, the most common is: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its laborers work in vain.”

When I was preparing our new house for retreats, I didn’t pray much about my activities. I’ve performed them so many times before I could do them in my sleep. Well, as I sleep-walked my way through carpentry, I was training myself to build my house without the Lord. Literally.

So why should I be surprised when difficult assignments make me feel totally helpless? I’ve orientated myself through regular practice to work as an independent contractor.

When God told Moses to confront Pharaoh (the greatest leader of the greatest empire), he said, “Tell Pharaoh to give away his single greatest resource for constructing cities; and tell him make it snappy!” Moses asks God “How can I do this?” because it seemed impossible. God answered, “But I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12).

I think God orchestrates unreasonable and impossible tasks to re-orient us to accomplish even the tiniest tasks through him; not on our own, and not completely on his own. He likes to work his greatest miracles through us, his life in ours.

Whether we’re tackling a toilet or walking on water.

Sam

Is an entitlement mindset stopping you from desiring God?

Last week I flew home from a Hearing God Conference in Colorado. The man next to me asked me if I was in Colorado for business or pleasure. (When I do have airplane conversations, I never initiate them.) I told him about the conference, and he asked me about my thoughts on divorce. Because his marriage was a mess.

As a kid, he had dreamt of a marriage in which his wife was his best friend. He craved intimacy where he could talk about anything, or union with a woman who completely knew his heart. Instead, his wife was more pragmatic than personal, and their discussions were more family-chore oriented than about fiery-closeness. His marriage felt more like duty than intimacy.

Despite thirteen years of marriage and two kids, he felt divorce was the only option, mostly because “She doesn’t know how to love my heart.”

Needs or Gifts

My airline companion perfectly illustrates what western people think (including hisairline companion, me): our lives revolve around what we think we most need. We think our “needs” are necessary to life and we desperately try to fulfill them. And I don’t mean bad things, I’m talking about the very best things.

Talk with any therapist about your unhappiness. Depending on their school of thought, they will help you discern your greatest hunger and help you satisfy it:

  • Some say our greatest need is our next breath, or food, shelter, or health;
  • Some say our greatest need is romance, deep personal relationships, or intimacy;
  • And some say our greatest need is achievement, significance, or purpose.

Everyone we know has some area of dissatisfaction: some have great marriages but bad jobs, some have great jobs but poor health, and some have terrific bodies but empty bank accounts. We think, “If I just had that, I would be happy.”

The problem with all these need-philosophies is they are emptiness-oriented and do not understand the brokenness of the human heart. Because every once in a while, somebody does have every need fulfilled, and they are still unhappy. King Solomon had all the romance he could handle, plus money, security, purpose, and achievements; and his life was still empty.

When we think we require these things, soon we believe we are owed them, and in that entitlement mindset, we insatiably claim them as our right. But if we see that their fulfillment is just a gift—an undeserved blessing—we can ask but not insist.

Because blessings are wonderful gifts, but they are terrible gods.

Only One Thing Is Needed

Ever since the fall, human life has been broken. We’ve lost the paradise of security, health, and close romantic relationships (remember how quickly Adam blamed his wife for all his problems?). In the absence of these good gifts, we let filling their barrenness become our god.

We moan and lie to ourselves: “If only I had ‘X.’”

Sitting on a plane bound for Detroit, I thought I only needed some alone-time and a good book. God thought I needed to be awakened from the enchantment of a needs-based philosophy, so he sat me next to a selfish man who demanded his wife “love him better.” I felt God say, “He’s not an airline companion in the next seat. He’s a mirror.”

Freud said we are hungry for love; Jung said we are hungry for security; and Adler said we are hungry for significance. The gospel says we are hungry for God.

Sam

Two years ago I met with a man who had left his job to pursue mission work. He had devoted his remaining years to helping other people create a legacy of their lives: to end well and to leave behind bushels of fruit.

Yet he was frustrated by the seeming fruitlessness of his own mission. When he talked with friends, they were more concerned with careers, finances, children, and marriages. He desperately asked my advice about marketing his Life-of-Legacywebsite (only a desperate man would ask my advice about marketing). He asked, “Don’t Christians know the gospel?”

I wondered what he thought the gospel taught, and he answered: “Go ye therefore and make disciples,” and he added, “That is exactly what I’m trying to do, to help people figure out how to make disciples and bear fruit. But nothing I do seems to work.”

My friend’s problem was gospel confusion. Sure his life verse is in the Gospels, but it isn’t the heart of the gospel. The gospel is never about what we do; it is always about what God does. Jonathan Edwards once critiqued our “doing” mania when he said:

It is true that by our doing great things, something is worshipped, but it is not God.

Our modern Christian obsession with fruit is unfruitful and, frankly, idolatrous.

Counter-intuitive Fruit

C. S. Lewis once said,

You will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth … you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

Lewis’s non-instinctive observation about social and artistic success perfectly illustrates the biblical paradigm of fruitfulness: the more we force it, the less we’ll see it.

Jesus teaches the same counterintuitive process. In John 15, he says “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” So Jesus is in favor of fruit. But when Jesus talks about the “process” for bearing that fruit, he says nothing about: hard work, good planning, legacy-building, or “working smarter not harder.”

Instead he says fruit is born out of intimacy with him. A close connection with him and nothing else. In the four verses preceding “my Father is glorified when you bear fruit,” Jesus uses the word “abide” seven times. It’s like he needed a good editor. But he doesn’t need help with his word-choices, he needs us to think outside of our western, success-driven boxes.

We’ll never make good impressions on people as long as we try to make good impressions, and we’ll never bear fruit “that lasts” as long as we fixate on bearing fruit. God calls us to devotion to a person not devotion to a cause.

Intimate Theology

All of God’s metaphors for his connection with his people are relational: shepherd and sheep, father to his children, and even husband to wife. His metaphors are never impersonal, like a piston to a crankshaft or “May the Force be with you.”

God’s metaphor of the vine and branches is his most intriguing: it’s an inner penetration of his being into ours, it is his life in us that bears fruit (not our fixation on mission). Then, after a season of abundant fruit, God prunes. The pruning—at least in my life—always draws my attention away from the fruit (which is now plucked or pruned) back to the vine, the only source of fruit.

God doesn’t need our fruitfulness, prosperity, abundance or success: he made the hills, valleys, rivers, and vines. But he invites us to participate with him in the co-creation of fruit simply by fixing our eyes on him.

In the counterintuitive alchemy of spiritual life, if we aim for fruit we get barrenness, and if we aim for intimate connection with God, our very lives become the crushed grapes and broken bread which nourish the world.

Sam

Do you need to embrace the mystery of God?

I recently read an article in which the author rejects any kind of fear of God. He especially hates the beavers’ descriptions of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion” [says Susan].

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

When the author read those words, he felt pitied Christians who believe them. He said, “Aslan made my feelings of insecurity and insignificance worse.” Elsewhere he adds: “the idea of God being dangerous and terrifying to believers is bitter beyond words.”

He rejects any kind of fear of God as evil, incompatible with the gospel.

Embracing the Mystery of God

If God is infinite, his nature must exceed our limited-wisdom. The spiritual path of a believer will always push past one seeming paradox to the next. That was the first divine principle I learned as a child, the first time I heard him speak: that God is real, and I didn’t understand.

The greatest obstacle to our intimacy with God is when we cling to our own ideas and reject what he reveals about himself. And God himself says we should both love and fear him.

Every heresy since the time of Jesus has emphasized one truth at the expense of another. Heresies are our refusal to accept the whole counsel of God’s self-revelation; they flourish when we say, “I like to think of God as _____, but I hate to think of him as _____ [fill in the blanks]. What matters is not what we think of God as much as what he thinks of us.

Theologians have a word to describe how to hold two seeming contradictory truths, but G. K. Chesterton just called it mystery. And he said it is only in mystery that we meet the real God:

As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.

The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them.

His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.

It is Good to Fear God

Whenever we encounter something bigger than us, we experience a type of fear. When I see the Milky Way on a clear night, or I get a glimpse of a 14,000-foot Colorado mountain, or I see a storm on the ocean, I’m in awe. Awe doesn’t detract from the experience, it enhances it.

To reject fear of God is to make him like Caspar the Friendly Ghost, a nice but pathetic, toothless power. If that god loves me, I’m not particularly stirred. I don’t know if I even care.

But if the fearful God who judged Egypt loves me—the one who controls hurricanes, whose holiness shrivels my pride, and whose love for his people scares my judgmental self—if that God also loves me, I am moved beyond words.

God never says the beginning of wisdom is love of God; he says the beginning of wisdom is fear of God; but when that fear of God meets and kisses his love for us, then (and only then) we meet the real God, the great Lion and Lover.

We need two eyes to know the love of God; one eye fixed on his astonishing, utter holiness, and with our other eye, we see his astonishing love for us.

Sam