God offers us unconditional love, peace, and joy. Too often we settle for glimpses of these good gifts. We can experience the fullness of God’s transforming love on this side of eternity. Discover how God heals our hearts so we can live more fully in the mystery and wonder of who God is and help others do the same.
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
You and I can experience friendship with God!
Sounds odd or even mysterious or miraculous. It is possible!
Now I realize to some of you, you think I am crazy! Some of you know exactly what I am talking about! But some of you are either new in your walk with Jesus or skeptical about all of this. I get it! I know it sounds ridiculous to hear someone talk about spending time with God.
But let me ask you this:
If there is a God who wants to have a relationship with you, would you want that?
If you could connect to the Spirit of God, would you want to do so?
The Scriptures Point to a Relationship with God Through Jesus
Some of you have started reading the Bible during this pandemic or maybe you started reading it with the new year. I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but here’s the point of the Bible: you can have a relationship with God through Jesus!
The Bible is one story that points to a relationship with God through Jesus. There are lots of things you might read that don’t make sense at first. The key is your approach to the Bible. Come with this prayer:
“God show me who you are. Show me who you want me to be.”
“The Scriptures can be a portal into God’s presence!” – Erwin McManus
The entire Bible points towards this story and flows out of this story:
- When God walked among us His name was Jesus. He brought heaven to earth.
- He lived a perfect life.
- He taught with authority.
- He showed love to the outcasts and the oppressed.
- He healed the sick.
- He willingly took on evil and the sin of humanity, and it killed him.
- He died, but on the third day He came back from the dead!
Starting a Relationship with God
When you and I decide to follow Jesus. We choose to surrender our life to Him.
So many of us who are part of Gateway have made that decision. And like some of you watching today, we were skeptical and unsure about a relationship with God. What we knew with certainty is that we needed a new life. What we had been doing was not working.
Maybe that’s where you are today or where you have been during this pandemic.
You are tired of trying to make things work going your own way. You are tired, angry, and anxious. Maybe you are in a dark place, and you know you need light and love and hope.
Here’s how to begin a relationship with God. This is what I did and so many of us here who follow Jesus have done.
It starts with praying something like this:
“God forgive me. I need what Jesus did on the cross to count for me. I need you to lead me.”
That’s it! God did everything that needs to be done for us to be rescued! All we need to do is say “yes, I want to be rescued.”
Now if you have started your relationship with God just now, in the past year, or a very long time ago or anywhere in between that is when the adventure really begins!
Have you ever noticed how so many romantic comedies end with a wedding?
It’s like the best stories are just how the couple met, fell in love, and how they committed their lives to each other in marriage.
Let me let you in on a little secret: in real life, the wedding is when the adventure really just begins!
- Some of the best stories are how the couple overcame the challenges of life to stay married
- How in working through the challenges of real life they actually come to love each other more and more to the point where they know each other’s thoughts.
- They become a couple that no one can see apart because they complete each other so beautifully.
The same is true in our walk with God. You may have a miraculous way you began a relationship with God through Jesus, but that should be just the beginning! Coming to faith in Jesus is just the beginning of the adventure! There are so many more great experiences in your future!
What Our Relationship with God Can Become
There is a man in the Scriptures who at one point thought that God wanted him to harm others. (We see this all too often in our world – religious zealouts who actually do not represent God’s heart at all!)
- He was there when a man named Stephen was stoned to death by the religious zealots who opposed his message of love that he learned from Jesus.
- The same violent and angry man named Saul had an encounter with Jesus.
- You see, Saul was persecuting followers of Jesus because they were claiming He was alive.
- Saul knew that he had been crucified by the religious leaders and Roman authorities.
- And on his way to the city of Damascus in present day Syria, he saw Jesus alive in a vision which blinded him.
- Saul became known as Paul and dedicated the rest of his life to telling people that God can be known personally!
- It wasn’t about religion and rules and doing things to get to God. God came to us. He loves us!
- If we surrender our lives to Him, He changes us and helps us live new lives.
- Listen to his passion as he writes from prison to one of the churches he helped start.
- Notice what he describes a relationship with God could become.
“I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him… I want to know Christ….” – Philippians 3:7-9
He was willing to face persecution, torture, prison, and even death. He had found life and freedom and unconditional love! He discovered that Jesus is alive – the Spirit of God is with us when we surrender our life to Him!
That description can be what you and I grow to experience!
Some of us have come to closure too soon on who we think God is and what He has for us! I can guarantee you: every one of us has more room to grow. None of us have arrived!
In fact, every Sunday you come to a campus or watch online or every time you come to listen to a message, always pray for an open mind.
Ask God: “God, show me what you have for me and what you want from me?”
7 Dwellings with God Overview
In this series Vintage Faith, we are walking through the journey of faith that happens over a lifetime.
This conversation about spiritual growth is really, really important! Not only do we need to fully pursue God because we need the fullness of life that He has for us, but the world needs us to become fully who God created us to be! Our world is plagued by systemic injustice, division, pain, and darkness. The world needs people who know how to bring more of heaven to earth everywhere we go.
So if you’re just tuning in, I really want to encourage you to go back and listen to these messages in order—so you’ll see the progression of this Lifelong Journey of faith. We’ve used the analogy of our soul as a Mansion with 7 large dwellings where we are invited closer and closer to God.
- The first two dwellings, we journey from New Beginnings and our honeymoon of faith, to Failing Forward—where temptations and falls plague us, yet we’re learning to spiritually walk with God.
- The season of being Good Disciples is a fruitful, victorious season of ministry and service, but eventually God allows some disruption or dissatisfaction to propel us toward more of His light and love.
- The third dwelling is where most followers of Jesus stay. They think that they have arrived, but they still have so much further to go. In this phase, we become like spiritual teenagers where we think we know it all – even more than those who have been leading us. Darkness will try to get us to blame others for the dissatisfaction in our hearts when in reality God has allowed this so that we might pursue Him more.
If we learn solitude and listening and responding to God’s prompts in love, we start to enter a joy and love that’s exponentially better than we’ve yet to experience, because it’s not conditional at all. This is dwelling 4.
- And that leads us to Dwelling 5 Desiring Oneness and the Dark Night of the Soul. You move from your relationship with God as Father to Friend and this season you begin to understand the idea of God as spouse. I know it sounds weird, but it’s the idea that God is the One who knows everything about you and loves you. Only He can meet our deepest needs to be known, unconditionally loved, seen, and truly heard. Not even the best marriages meet our deepest longings that only God can meet.
- The Dark Night of the Soul is when you don’t feel God’s presence but you’ve had enough experiences with Him to know He is still there. He is allowing this season to bring up other ways He wants to bring healing and Oneness in seasons 6-7.
Remember these Dwellings are not sequential or linear necessarily. They are the different ways we dwell with God over a Lifetime.
Sometimes we may spend a long season in 3, move into 4 for a short spell, go back to 3, then move into 5 then back to 4 for a longer period before more consistently living in 5.
Dwelling 6 – The Passion of God’s Love
Now last week, we started talking about seasons in spiritual growth that are often not talked about on a Sunday morning because most of us aren’t there yet. We are usually in seasons 1-3 – just getting started. We grow to the point where we are connected with a church family, a small group, and we are serving others with others. That’s good, but God is calling you into more – spending time with Him, learning to hear His voice, obeying His guidance in every area of life.
We are so in love With God that we experience great joy when we sense his presence and great pain when we cannot. In the other phases we might experience glimpses of God’s presence. In the sixth dwelling the level of intensity and passion of God’s love for us can be overwhelming.
In the 6th and 7th, it’s God’s work in us, we are merely responding to what God’s doing. This stage is likened to engagement–without a wedding date yet set. God may even give mystical experiences of himself, sometimes in preparation for more dry or dark night times. The divisions between the last three mansions are less distinct than for the earlier mansions, and this is particularly true of the fifth and sixth.
The sixth mansion is marked by deeper experiences of God’s transforming love. We fully enter a “fallen in love” phase in our relationship with God that produces both great joy (when we are experiencing it) and great pain (when it is suddenly gone again). In the sixth mansion, God shows what it means to live fully “in Christ.”
What’s God Doing?
According to Tom Ashbrook, author of Mansions of the Heart which inspired this series:
“God alone gives us our identity, significance, security, and approval.”– Tom Ashbrook
Here’s where things get really interesting. Often the 6th season or dwelling is when some people have supernatural experiences with God through which Jesus heals our hearts so we can live more fully in the mystery of God.
Contemplation has deepened to the point that God is able to communicate beyond the limits of the senses and of language. In this wonderful, silent abiding, we may experience ecstasy, rapture, locutions, transport, and flight of the spirit.
That sounds crazy!! So what does that all mean!
- Ecstasy is an experience of intense joy.
- Rapture means being so absorbed in the wonder of God that you are unaware of your surroundings.
- Locution is the ability to hear audible words from God.
- Transport refers to the sense of being somewhere else and experiencing that reality. It could be a visionary experience or a physical one like Phillip and acts 8 ending up in Samaria.
- Flight of the spirit refers to the experiences of heavenly places like the Apostle Paul and John describe in their letters to the church.
Now I have not experienced any of these particular miracles, but I know some who have. These experiences can be unnerving and even frightening. Just a glimpse of God is often more than we can handle.
Even still, at this phase God moves in really mystical and miraculous ways.
Now, some of you here are thinking: Wow! I want that!
It’s important to make sure we have the right perspective.
Experiences with God are not the goal.
The goal is more Of God!
Remember, it’s about a relationship!
You might have lots and lots of great experiences with your parents like vacations, playing catch with your dad, cooking with your mom, or other sweet memories, but if you don’t invest in the relationship you will actually drift apart. This is true of friendships and even of our spouse. Experiences with someone do not replace actually being with someone and knowing someone.
Remember: God is Spirit.
He relates to us different than people do.
And it is so much better! He moves in mysterious yet beautiful ways!
God speaks when He gives us the exact verse we need, a lyric from a song that encourages us, a conversation with a friend where she answers a question you’ve been wondering about and hadn’t not even asked, a memory from childhood that comes out of nowhere, a line in a film that speaks to what you are working through, that still small voice where He is guiding you towards a more courageous and selfless life.
Can you see God at work? Do you want to see Him at work in your life?
The key is your posture.
“If you believe, the evidence is all around you. If you don’t believe, no evidence can be enough.”– Andrew Klavan, a novelist and Hollywood screenwriter who found faith in his 50s
Do you believe? Do you want to believe?
Maybe you are missing what God is doing because you aren’t looking or willing to see it.
God is always at work, but we are often too busy or too closed-minded to notice.
If that’s you, try this prayer:
“God, help me believe. Give me faith to see you at work in my life.”
What Can We Do?
Spiritual growth takes place in the sixth mansion as we increasingly respond to God’s initiatives. We recognized the need for life to become less cluttered with busyness and be more balanced.
Through these deep impressions of his love, God continues to call us to live as his beloved, but this hunger and thirst is painful in its yearning.
Our will is continuously absorbed in God, but our imagination and memory are not. They can still roam and have yet to be brought into full unity with God.
In the light of His amazing holiness in love, we see even more clearly our own sinful nature. We realize that beyond the particular sins of commission or omission there resides within us the sinful tendency towards selfishness that taints all our thoughts and actions. Our brokenness and woundedness can become unbearable at times so it’s important to remember these are ways that we suffer in order to be able to enter the 7th dwelling place.
What Evil Does
Like the 5th season, spiritual warfare in the sixth mansion is encountered primarily in the dark nights of the soul. Here the enemy attempts to accuse us into thinking that it is through some error that this awareness of sin or absence of God is happening.
Darkness also tries to attempt to counterfeit these miraculous experiences and lead us astray.
At some point that may come during Dwelling 7 which is the most amazing and confusing season of all so far – One Love Forever
Dwelling 7 – One Love Forever
We’ve finally entered the final mansion of spiritual growth, described by Teresa of Avila, after many years of pilgrimage. She had misgivings about even trying to describe the mystery and wonder of Union with the King of Kings and Lords of Lords. The seventh mansion represents the ultimate degree of intimacy with God that one can experience in this life: spiritual union with the Trinity.
As is true with each of the prior mansions, this is still a season of our journey, not a milestone or destination. But in this season, we come to experience a complete integration of mind, body, and spirit in the life of Christ. At its fullest, it is the realization of the apostle Paul’s statement, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
Our relationship with God becomes a fulfillment of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17 when Jesus prays for you and me! He starts by praying for His followers who were with Him in the room at that moment, but then He includes us. Listen to what He prays for us:
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” – Jesus in John 17:20-21
What spiritual maturity looks like on this side of heaven is more wonderful than we ever could imagine! The 7th mansion represents the ultimate degree of intimacy with God that one can experience in this life: spiritual union with the father, son, and Holy Spirit. As is true with each of the other prior seasons, this is still a season of our journey not a milestone or destination. In this season we experience a complete integration of mind, body, and spirit in the life of Christ.
What’s God Doing?
The dark nights purge us of everything that might stand between us and complete union With God. In this season and for the rest of our lives, we live in an ongoing and deepening relationship of unique union with God. Unlike past visions that have come and gone, we experience communication with God present within our heart. We are always aware he is within us. God allows us to see life more fully from his perspective and from this his love pours through us into all our circumstances.
What Can We Do?
In this season we experience fewer highs and lows. We live continuously and transcendently in the present moment in the fullness of Christ’s love. We are totally free to follow Jesus into the lives of others. Continued growth requires virtually no effort on our part : the Holy Spirit leads us completely and is in full control as he enriches our soul with the love of God.
In this season, we experience a complete integration of worship and work, of adoration and service, of being and doing. We experience an inner stability and security. We still live in a fallen world with its struggles and rebellion. In fact, we see them more clearly and are grieved by them much more deeply. This new union with God does not protect us from the pain of this world but launches us into it. We have a tremendous sense of peace, knowing that our God is in control.
We trust at a new level. We know he will take care of our circumstances in the ways that are best for us. We simply aren’t concerned about it because Jesus is enough.
In this season there is even a desire to suffer knowing that we are sharing in the sufferings of Jesus.
In the 7th dwelling, prayer has primarily become trusting silence, an adoring attentiveness to God.
We don’t see the visions we experienced in the sixth dwelling, instead we live in them.
All of life has become a response to Jesus’ initiatives. In the earlier seasons, Jesus was always initiating, but we were blind and deaf to most of it and went our own way the best we could. Now his divine initiatives are received in our hearts and minds and we literally do what we see the Father doing.
Trusting silence and extended solitude helps us grow in this season.
Ongoing daily obedience to Jesus constitutes another avenue of growth in this season. Our focus turns fully towards loving Jesus in others: loving God and loving neighbor have joined. We discover that God can use almost anyone to minister to us if we are attentive. Even as we are closer to God than ever before we realize he is still infinitely more than we could ever ask or experience or imagine.
On the day I had planned to write this message, I had a lot to get done. Even still, I felt prompted to join our weekday morning prayer time. Any of you can join too. Nothing is asked of you. Just jump online as others lead in prayer. You can sign up at GatewayChurch.com/UpperZoom.
So I am in the Upper Zoom prayer time, and Tara Browder our Prayer Director shares this powerful passage that is exactly what I needed for this message (and even out of the same book of the Bible as the author of Mansions of the Heart used – the Song of Solomon).
Now Song of Solomon is a poem about a marriage, about newlyweds. It will make you blush when you read it! So why is it in the Bible? Well, God created marriage and the beauty of marriage and intimacy are gifts from God that give us a glimpse of spiritual intimacy – to be known and loved without shame. It is also pointing towards that analogy of our relationship with God as a Groom and a Bride.
From Song of Solomon 5
I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My beloved is knocking… my heart began to pound for him.5 I arose to open for my beloved… [and] 6 I opened [the door], but my beloved had left; he was gone. My heart sank at his departure. I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer.7 The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city.
The passage goes on to describe how the watchmen confronted her and asked:
9 How is your beloved better than others?
She describes all the traits of her beloved and ends with this:
He is altogether lovely.
This is my beloved, this is my friend.
Their response is a complete 180 degree turn. Instead of resisting her and opposing her, they ask:
Where has your beloved gone, most beautiful of women? Which way did your beloved turn, that we may look for him with you? – Song of Solomon 6:1
She refers to her relationship with him with the following:
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; – Song of Solomon 6:2
You and I can have that kind of relationship with God. The more you grow to know Him the more you realize He is altogether lovely. He becomes your beloved, your friend. He is yours, and you are His. And as you describe Him to others, they will want to find Him too.
God wants a relationship that no other intimacy or joy can touch–no matter how close or intimate or full of love we have in this life.
It feels so far off and hard to achieve, but He is worth it. We must remember that it’s not something to strive for–but to realize. God is the One doing this–we just respond in love.
Move forward and don’t lose sight of the end. Love for God causes all loves to increase because they are merely a reflection of what He wants.
What Evil Does
In this season, we are fully aware of the enemy’s attacks and fully equipped with the armor of God.
Even still pride could become a temptation.
I want to end this series with a story that will inspire you.
In the fall of 2015, some of us at Gateway in South Austin wrote the names of people we love and care for and people who we prayed would discover God’s love and peace in their lives. We wrote it on a wall before it was eventually painted over. My daughter wrote who was 13 at the time wrote “Chloe and her family” among others.
In the spring of 2019, I got a text from Chloe’s mom Sunshine saying that her spiritual journey which had included Buddhism, goddesses, and crystals seemed to never quite get her where she wanted to be. She asked if Gateway would be a place she could explore without feeling judged. I assured her that she would love it! She started coming every week and by that summer, she had discovered the God who loves her and that His name is Jesus. She got baptized along with boyfriend Louie along with several others at Barton Springs.
Last time I was speaking to our online campus at Gateway in North Austin, I got emotional talking about the ways I have experienced God’s presence during this difficult season, and she sent me the most inspiring text. She wrote:
“I meant to tell you a thought that came into my head when I heard you talk about your connection with God on Sunday. There are things that I will probably not accomplish in my lifetime like a higher education, lots of financial wealth or lots of materialistic things and I’m ok with that. When I saw how emotional you got about your connection it made me realize that I CAN have that relationship too! There isn’t t a hierarchy with Jesus. He is there for all of us no matter what. We can all have that connection with him and feel his love for us. I know it’s probably common sense but I never thought of it that way. I KNOW He will be there for me.”– Sunshine
She is absolutely right! God is there for you! Nothing is in the way of growing closer to Him!
Do you want to know Him?
Do you want to know Him more than you do now?
Let Him reveal Himself to you! Get rid of the distractions.
Surrender all that gets in the way between God and you.
Every one of us has something or several things that we can surrender today.
I want to introduce you to another ancient practice for connecting with God. We actually include it every week, but I am not sure if you are taking advantage of it when we do it. In addition, it can be something that you incorporate into your daily life.
A valuable practice I want to teach you today is to connect with God during a song.
We have bonus nights of worship in person for our South Austin campuses this Friday night and for our Central, Pflugerville, and North Campus on 2/12. Sign up at GatewayChurch.com/seekfirst.
- Some of you do this every Sunday. But for some of you this will be new, and it is something you can do every day at home or in your car.
- It’s listening to the lyrics and praying while the singer is singing.
- It’s singing the lyrics as a prayer.
- It’s letting the lyrics be a prayer over your life – sometimes even God’s way of speaking to you.
- You can bounce from one to the other and even do all 3.
- Just ask God: “Help me trust you more. Help me to surrender whatever I am holding onto that keeps me from getting closer to you. I want to grow to love you more. Show me how.”
- We have the songs we sing all organized together onto a Spotify playlist. Just search on Spotify: Gateway Austin Worship
- Connect with God in your own heart right now while the band plays a song declaring what is True and what we can build our life upon.