God's Great Desire
The story of the Bible isn't primarily about the desire of people to
be with God: it's the desire of God to be with people.
Questions to Think About
1. It is one thing for us to talk about how much we want to experience
God, but how much do you think God wants to be with us? In what
ways do you know God desires a close relationship with you?
2. The Bible says that God reveals himself to us. In what ways can we
see, hear, feel, or otherwise recognize God's presence? When does
God seem most real to you? What seemingly ordinary things in life
have made you aware of his presence?
3. Is it possible for God to be with us here on earth, every day, at every
moment-and for us not to be aware of it? Explain your answer.
How close is God?
God looks at us through the eyes of a father
Jacob's story-God shows up where you least expect him
The message of the "bear" story: God is always with us
May the Lord's face shine upon you
1. How did you relate to the scene of John Ortberg speaking from
the top of the tower as being a visual image of the way many of us
view God? What other visual images or word pictures would you
use to describe the ways in which we view God?
2. When we think of God as being far away, how does that view
impact our relationship with him?
3. What did you think or feel when John Ortberg talked about God
looking at each of us with the loving eyes of a father, like the father
with his son's photograph on his screensaver?
4. What if God is really all around us-and we don't realize it? What
might we be missing if God, like the adult bear snarling at the mountain
lion, really is closer than we think?
5. Michelangelo's fresco of Adam and God in the Sistine Chapel represents
the perspective that the Bible is about God's desire to be
with people rather than our desire to be with God. In what ways
does this perspective change your perception of your relationship
with God? What practical difference might this new perspective
make in your life?
1. The story of the Bible is the story of God's desire to be with people.
He extends himself, reaching out to us today just as he has since
the day he created Adam. Let's explore together God's desire to
be with us and the impact it can have on our lives.
a. What does the psalmist David say about God's knowledge of
us and his actions toward us? (See Psalm 139:1-10.) What
does this reveal about God's desire for relationship with us?
b. Psalm 89 gives us a picture of the kind of relationship God can
have with his people and his people can have with him. Read
verses 15-17 and 19-28 and note some of the qualities of a
close relationship with God. Part of this psalm refers specifically
to David, who had a remarkable relationship with God,
but use the images in this psalm to discuss what a close relationship
with God might look like in our lives today.
2. In the video, John Ortberg shared stories that illustrate the heart,
character, and commitment of a loving father-the father who kept
his son's photograph on his screensaver, the story about the bear
cub. In what ways do the following Scripture passages show us that
God is our ever-present, loving Father?
Chapter OneGODS GREAT DESIRE
For over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call,
a premonition of richer living
During the first year of our marriage, Nancy and I spent
two months traveling around Europe. We lived on a
budget of $13.50 per day for food, lodging, and entertainment.
We breakfasted every morning on bread and cheese. We lodged
in accommodations compared with which the Bates Motel in the
movie Psycho would be an upgrade. Entertainment on that
budget consisted of buying Time magazine once a week and ripping
it in half so we could both read it at the same time.
We splurged in Italy, where we blew one whole day's
allowance on a single meal and spent money we could not afford
to look at the treasures of Western art. The highlight of the day
came after standing in line for hours at the Vatican to view
Michelangelo Buonarroti's brilliant painting of God and Adam on
the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. His masterpiece is one of two
works of art that serve as touchstones for this book. (I'm saving
the other one for the next chapter.) If you look carefully at the
painting, you notice that the figure of God is extended toward
the man with great vigor. He twists his body to move it as close
to the man as possible. His head is turned toward the man, and
his gaze is fixed on him. God's arm is stretched out, his index finger
extended straight forward; every muscle is taut.
Before Michelangelo, art scholars say, the standard paintings
of creation showed God standing on the ground, in effect helping
Adam to his feet. Not here. This God is rushing toward
Adam on a cloud, one of the "chariots of heaven," propelled by
the angels. (In our day they don't look quite aerobicized enough
to move really fast, but in Michelangelo's day the angels suggested
power and swiftness.) It is as if even in the midst of the
splendor of all creation, God's entire being is wrapped up in his
impatient desire to close the gap between himself and this man.
He can't wait. His hand comes within a hairbreadth of the man's
The painting is traditionally called The Creation of Adam, but
some scholars say it should be called The Endowment of Adam.
Adam has already been given physical life-his eyes are open,
and he is conscious. What is happening is that he is being offered
life with God. "All of man's potential, physical and spiritual, is
contained in this one timeless moment," writes one art critic.
Apparently one of the messages that Michelangelo wanted
to convey is God's implacable determination to reach out to and
be with the person he has created. God is as close as he can be.
But having come that close, he allows just a little space, so that
Adam can choose. He waits for Adam to make his move.
Adam is more difficult to interpret. His arm is partially
extended toward God, but his body reclines in a lazy pose, leaning
backward as if he has no interest at all in making a connection.
Maybe he assumes that God, having come this far, will close
the gap. Maybe he is indifferent to the possibility of touching his
creator. Maybe he lacks the strength. All he would have to do is
lift a finger.
The fresco took Michelangelo four years of intense labor.
The physical demands of standing on a scaffold painting above
his head were torture. ("I have my beard turned to the ceiling, my
head bent back on my shoulders, my chest arched like that of a
Harpy; my brush drips on to my face and makes me look like a decorated
pavement I am bent taut like a Syrian bow.") Because
he was forced to look upwards for hours while painting, he eventually
could only read a letter if he held it at arm's length above
his head. One night, exhausted by his work, alone with his
doubts, discouraged by a project that was too great for him, he
wrote in his journal a single sentence: "I am no painter."
Yet for nearly half a millennium this picture has spoken of
God's great desire to be with the human beings he has made in
his own image. Perhaps Michelangelo was not alone in his work
after all. Perhaps the God who was so near to Adam was near
to Michelangelo as well-at work in his mind and his eye and his
The "Everywhereness" of God
This picture reminds us: God is closer than we think. He is
never farther than a prayer away. All it takes is the barest effort,
the lift of a finger. Every moment-this moment right now, as
you read these words-is the "one timeless moment" of divine
endowment, of life with God.
"This is my Father's world," an old song says. "He shines in
all that's fair In the rustling grass I hear him pass, he speaks
to me everywhere." The Scriptures are full of what might be
called the everywhereness of God's speaking. "The heavens are
telling the glory of God; . day to day pours forth speech."
He talks through burning bushes and braying donkeys; he
sends messages through storms and rainbows and earthquakes
and dreams, he whispers in a still small voice. He speaks (in the
words of Garrison Keillor) in "ordinary things like cooking and
small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals
and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music, and
books, raising kids-all the places where the gravy soaks in and
grace shines through."
God's Great Desire
The story of the Bible isn't primarily about the desire of
people to be with God; it's the desire of God to be with people.
One day I was sitting on a plane next to a businessman. The
screen saver on his computer was the picture of a towheaded
little boy taking what looked like his first shaky step. "Is that your
son?" I asked. Big mistake.
Yes, that was the man's son, his only child. Let's say his name
was Adam. The picture on the computer was taken three months
earlier, when Adam was eleven months old. The man told me
about his son's first step and first word with a sense of wonder, as
if Adam had invented locomotion and speech. There was a more
recent picture of Adam on the man's palm pilot. The man showed
it to me. The same picture could be viewed more clearly on the
computer. The man showed me that. He had a whole string of
pictures of Adam doing things that pretty much all children do,
and he displayed them one at a time. With commentary. I and my
seatmates got a graduate course in Adamology.
"I can't wait to get home to him," the man said. "In the
meantime, I could look at these pictures a hundred times a day.
They never get old to me." (They were already getting pretty
tiresome to everybody else in our section of the plane.)
Why was the man so preoccupied with Adam? Was it
because the boy's achievements were so impressive? No. Millions
of children learn to do the same thing every day. My own
children (I wanted to tell him) had done the same things at an
earlier age with superior skill.
The man was preoccupied with Adam because he looked at
him through the eyes of a father. Everything Adam did was
cloaked with wonder. It didn't matter that other children do them
"You obviously miss your son," I said. "How long ago did you
One day away from his son is one too many. So he was rushing
through the skies, taking a chariot through the clouds,
implacably determined to be at home with his child. He didn't
simply want to love his son from a distance. He wanted to be
And then it hit me. I am the child on God's screen saver. And
so are you. The tiniest details of our lives never grow old to him.
God himself is filled with wonder at our faltering steps and stammering
words-not because we do them better than anyone
else, but because he views them through the eyes of a loving
Father. God shows our pictures to the angels until even the
angels get a little tired of looking. And the story of the Bible is
first of all God's story-the story of a father rushing through the
clouds to be at home with you. One day apart is one day too
The Primary Promise: I Will Be with You
The central promise in the Bible is not "I will forgive you,"
although of course that promise is there. It is not the promise of
life after death, although we are offered that as well. The most
frequent promise in the Bible is "I will be with you."
Before Adam and Eve ever sinned or needed forgiveness,
they were promised God's presence. He would walk with them
in the cool of the day.
The promise came to Enoch, who "walked with God." It was
made to Noah, to Abraham and Sarah, to Jacob and Joseph and
Moses and David and Amos and Mary and Paul and too many
others to list. It is the reason for courage: "Do not be terrified; .
for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." It kept
them going in darkness: "Yea,
though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death, I
will fear no evil: for thou art
God gave Israel the tabernacle
and the ark of the
covenant and manna and the
temple and a pillar of cloud
and another one of fire, like so many Post-It notes saying, "Don't
forget. I am with you."
When God himself came to earth, his redemptive name was
Immanuel-God with us. When Jesus left, his promise was to
send the Spirit so that "I am with you always, even to the end of
At the end of time, when sin is a distant and defeated memory
and forgiveness is as obsolete as buggy whips, it will be sung,
"God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell
with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with
them and be their God."
"The unity of the Bible is discovered in the development of
life with-God as a reality on earth, centered in the person of
Jesus," write Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. God is determined
that you should be in every respect his friend, his companion,
his dwelling place.
"I Can Feel Him Walking Around ."
"Find a place in your heart," said an ancient sage named
Theophan the Recluse, "and speak there with the Lord. It is the
Lord's reception room." Some people seem to find this room easily.
Friends of ours have a daughter who said when she was five
years old, "I know Jesus lives in my heart, because when I put
my hand on it I can feel him walking around in there."
Sofia Cavalletti is a researcher who has pioneered the study
of spirituality in young children. She finds that children often
have an amazing perception that far surpasses what they've
already been taught. One three-year-old girl, raised in an atheistic
family with no church contact and no Bible in the home,
asked her father, "Where did the world come from?" He
answered her in strictly naturalistic, scientific terms. Then he
added, "There are some people who say that all this comes from
a very powerful being, and they call him God."
At this, the little girl started dancing around the room with
joy: "I knew what you told me wasn't true-it's him, it's him!"
Writer Anne Lamott was raised by her dad to be a devout
atheist. She and her siblings all had to agree to a contract to that
effect when they were two or three years old. But Anne started
backsliding into faith at an early age. "Even when I was a child I
knew that when I said Hello, someone heard."
Some people seem to have a kind of inner radar for detecting
the presence of God. Just as certain musicians have perfect
pitch, these people have an ear for discerning God's voice. They
seem to be as aware of God as they are of gravity. Telling them
how to look for God would be like telling a fish how to look for
water-where else could they live?
But I am Adam. I believe my life hinges on the presence of
God. I know that courage and guidance and hope all reside with
him. But I am aware of the gap-even if it is only a hairbreadth.
And in the midst of all my ambiguity-my weakness and occasional
spiritual indifference-I long for the touch that will close
Dallas Willard (who lost his mother as a young child) writes
of a little boy whose mom had died. He was especially sad and
lonely at night. He would
come into his father's room
and ask if he could sleep with
him. Even then he could not
rest until he knew not only
that he was with his father
but that his father's face was
turned toward him. "Father,
is your face turned toward
me now?" Yes, his father would say. You are not alone. I'm with
you. My face is turned toward you. When at last he was assured
of this, he could rest. Dallas goes on: "How lonely life is! Oh, we
can get by in life with a God who does not speak. Many at least
think they do so. But it is not much of a life, and it is certainly
not the life God intends for us or the abundance of life Jesus
came to make available."
I want to live with God's face toward me. I want to experience-in
the dark of night as well as the light of day-the reality
that Moses prayed for: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the
Lord make his face to shine upon you."
God with Jacob
Who is a candidate for such a life? Saints and mystics, of
course; the devoted and the wise. But not just them. The candidates
also include people who are chronically unsatisfied. Restless
people and demanding people; whiners and complainers; the
impossible to please.
Consider what happened to Jacob. He was no spiritual giant.
His dad never cared for him much because, according to Meyers-Briggs,
he had an INFP temperament and liked to hang around
indoors. His dad preferred his other son, Esau, who, while not the
brightest bulb on the chandelier and having a serious body hair
problem, was a jock with hunter-gatherer potential.
One night Jacob was running away from Esau, who was trying
to kill him because Jacob had cheated him and deceived their
father. Jacob stopped for the night at "a certain place." That's a
Hebrew way of saying no place in particular. Cleveland, maybe.
It could have been anywhere. Some spot by the side of the road
with nothing special about it.
Jacob had done nothing to merit what was about to happen
to him. He had been a passive codependent of his mother's
schemes, a jealous rival to his brother, and a brazen liar to his
But that night Jacob had a dream. He saw a ladder "resting
on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of
God were ascending and descending on it." God said to him:
"I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and
the God of Isaac I am with you and will watch over
you wherever you go"
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely
the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it