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Holy Spirit disruptions: We are God’s beloved

Lynne Baab • Tuesday June 22 2021

Holy Spirit disruptions: We are God’s beloved

If you read your Bible, pray, fast, keep a Sabbath, or engage in other ways of drawing near to God, then God will love you more. Right?

Have you ever believed that? Does a part of you still believe it?

For six years in a row, March through May, I have taught a masters level course for Hope International University, a Christian university. The topic of the class is leading groups into communal spiritual practices. After a week of definitions of spiritual practices and categories, I spend the whole second week, one week of eight, on the motive for spiritual practices, and one of the texts we use is The Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen.

When I planned that second week of the course, I wanted to get students thinking about how the people in the groups or congregations they lead may have been influenced by the form of legalism that stresses that our forms of devotional life – prayer, reading the Bible, Sabbath keeping, etc. – help us earn God’s approval. I wanted my students to be able to address that false belief in the groups they lead. To my surprise, many of the students have talked about the pressures they have felt and still feel in that direction.

About half of my students are Christian ministers, and almost all the others are people in some form of ministry. Many of my students report that they have heard, and sadly taken on board, voices about needing to do the right thing in order to please God. Those outer voices have become inner voices, and the message is, “You’re not doing enough.” In the area of spiritual practices, the central message of not doing enough often relates to having a daily quiet time. Or not having one often enough. Or long enough.

In The Life of the Beloved, Nouwen stresses that we draw near to the God who already loves us. He uses the metaphor of a well in the desert:

“Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper” (page 37).

If we are blessed enough to have moments when we feel loved by God, we will long for more of them, like someone in the desert longs for more water after they have a sip. Therefore, when we make space for God by praying, reading the Bible, journaling, fasting, or other forms of spiritual practices, at our best we are simply looking for another sip of that living water. Or maybe we’re hoping for a big gulp!

Nouwen writes about making a change in our lives from “living life as a painful test to prove that you deserve to be loved, to living it as an unceasing ‘Yes’ to the truth of that Belovedness” (page 132). We cannot make that change on our own, because we love to prove that we are worthy and responsible and competent. But the Holy Spirit nudges us, over and over, to draw near to God because we are already beloved, not because we want to earn God’s love. The Holy Spirit shatters our desire to make things complex and human-focused. Instead, God calls us to the simplicity of drinking water in the desert.

Some questions for reflection:

  • In what ways have you tried to earn God’s approval? In what ways do you continue to try?
  • When and where have you felt beloved by God? What do you do to try to make space for God to speak to you about your belovedness?
  • How does Nouwen’s well in the desert metaphor speak to you? How might you pray using that word picture?

“I will open rivers on the bare heights,
   and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
   and the dry land springs of water.” (Isaiah 41:18)

“I am about to do a new thing;
   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
   and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)

(Next week: what if something being hard shows we’re doing it right? Illustration by Dave Baab: his interpretation of the tree planted by living water in Psalm 1. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

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