Podcast episode 022: Enjoying God

by | Dec 6, 2018

Do you feel as if your Christian life is dry? Do you feel as though you believe the truth and (mostly) do the right thing, but that the experiential joy of loving God somehow passes you by? Do you think you feel some of the joy of Christ on a Sunday at church, but that carrying that forward into the mundane world of Monday morning seems impossible?

Christians have been asking these sorts of questions forever, and there have been many proposed answers over the years. But most of them are dissatisfying or hard to put into practice. In this episode, we talk to Tim Chester, who has written a book on this subject that (for once) is both biblically deeply insightful and warmly practical for Monday mornings.

Tim’s book is Enjoying God: Experience the power and love of God in everyday life, and in this episode he speaks with Tony Payne about its main themes and ideas.

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Tony Payne: I wonder if you’ve ever heard a sermon or read a Christian book that opens something like this:

Is your spiritual vitality really what it should be? Is your faith only intellectual and not a vital part of your experience? Do you feel like the joy of Christ is something you only experience occasionally—perhaps in church on Sunday, like an oasis—but that the rest of the week (in fact, the rest of your life) feels like a slog through a dry and dusty desert?

Well, I feel like I’ve read quite a lot of books and heard quite a lot of sermons that have started just like this and promised to solve this age-old problem. But I can’t remember any of them being especially satisfying. They were either kind of vague in what they asked you to do—to—to enjoy God, to grasp hold of the pleasures of God, to savour the beauty of God—in sort of ways that I—I found practically quite difficult to grasp hold of and actually do. Or else they did recommend some practical action to take, but it was sort of like a mystical technique that was supposed to bring intimacy with God, and I didn’t like that either, theologically or practically.

But the good news is that the Christian author I’m speaking with today has succeeded, I think, where others have failed. He’s written a book that is both deeply biblical and warmly practical, and one that points to the solution to this age-old spiritual problem. But to find out who he is and what his book is, and what that solution is, you’ll have to stay tuned and listen to this episode of the Centre for Christian Living podcast.

[Music]

TP: I’m Tony Payne and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living podcast. This is episode 22, coming to you from Moore College in Sydney, Australia. Our goal as always is to bring biblical ethics to everyday issues, and this is the final episode in which we’re trying to do that this year through this podcast.

We’re already, of course, looking forward to 2019 and we have a number of plans underway, and a bunch of new things for CCL in 2019. I’ll tell you more about those in our first episode next year.

But you should put our first event for 2019 into your diaries or calendars or whatever you call them. It’s on Wednesday February 27th here at Moore College at 7:30pm, and the topic is “The elusive joy of Christian community”. We love the idea of being in warm and connected Christian communities, but if we’re honest, the reality doesn’t often live up to that expectation. And so, in this event, we want to dig into what really is Christian community? And how can we experience its joys—those joys that often seem to escape us. I’ll be speaking on that evening, as will Chase Kuhn, here, from the Moore College faculty. It’s on February 27th and if you head over to ccl.moore.edu.au, you can find details and you can register even now.

But let’s get to our guest for today’s episode—a guest who’s written a book that, certainly for me, is the best answer I’ve come across to the question that has launched so many sermons and books and Christian conferences, and that is, “How do we capture the experiential joy of loving and knowing God?” The book is called simply Enjoying God and the author is Tim Chester.

Tim Chester: I’m Tim Chester and I guess I kind of wear three hats: I’m a pastor of a church in North Yorkshire in England; I’m on Crossland’s—I’m a faculty member of Crossland’s Training, providing training in—in ministry for those—training for ministry for people who are in ministry; and then I’m a writer.

TP: It’s about your most recent book that I mainly want to talk to you about, Tim, and I’m going to ask you the question that I think all authors would like to be asked, I think, which is, “What’s your book about?”

TC: Well, it’s called Enjoying God and, in a sense, that’s what it’s about. It’s about how we can enjoy God, but particularly, I think, how we can live in relationship with God. What does it mean to actually have a relationship with God in all the nitty gritty of life? There were two things that really kind of sparked it, and one of those was a feeling that we were often, I think, rightly—absolutely rightly—calling on people to enjoy God—find their joy in God.

So, for example, somebody might be a single person, struggling with their singleness, and, I think, rightly, we tend to call them, then, to say, “Well—you should find joy in Christ.” But I wanted to sort of tease out, really, what does that actually mean? What does it—otherwise you’re just left with this kind of rather rhetorical—or you might preaching and—to that end, and you end with this sort of rhetorical flourish where you call on the congregation to find joy in Christ, and they sort of get caught up with this. But actually, what does it—what do they actually do, then, when they go home? What do they do on a Monday morning to actually put that into practice? How do you actually find joy in Christ?

And so, one of the things the book does is really tease out how the Father, the Son and the Spirit are engaged with us as Christians—how they are involved in our lives—not just in those sort of rather—it—it—you know, when we gather as God’s people and we sing his praises and we—we have that sort of—we hear this stirring message and we feel that emotional response, and that’s great. But what does it actually look like on a Monday morning? How—how in all this sort of day-to-day business of life is God interacting with us? And how can we respond so that this—so living in relationship with God, enjoying God, becomes this f—part of just the ordinary stuff of our lives?

TP: That’s a great aim for a book, because, certainly, when I am encouraged, for example, to savour the pleasures and glory of God, I always—in a church, in a sermon or something like that—

TC: Yeah, yeah.

TP: —I always think, “That sounds great,” and I’ve al—I—I sort of feel as if I’m doing that when I’m at church, often, and it’s—

TC: Yeah, yeah.

TP: —everything’s happening, but then savouring the pleasures of God’s presence and his glory doesn’t always feel like that on a Monday, as you say! [Laughter] The like—our Wednesday mornings are even worse than on Monday mornings, in my case.

TC: Yeah, and so I sort of, in my mind, I was imagining somebody who was sort of going home from that kind of sermon or—or they’ve had this sort of conversation with a Christian friend, and they’ve been exhausted—exhorted in this way, and they—what do they do? They go home and sit in their chair and kind of screw up their face and think, “Okay, and now I’m going to enjoy God.” It—it’s—it’s—I wanted to try and give some substance to that—that—that would just sort of help people as they’re sort of living, walking with Christ in daily life.

TP: Two of the key things you say early in the book are that—the Christian life is meant to be that kind of warmer more engaged intimate relational communion with God. It—it’s a life where there is meant to be joy and there is meant to be an increasing growing knowledge of God. Which, in itself, I think, is an encouragement—that it’s not as if the Christian life is just a duty that we have to perform or a set of beliefs we have to assent to and a set of stuff we have to do; it’s—it’s an engagement with God that’s personal and ongoing and—it’s hard to find the right words for this, isn’t it. When you say it’s “experiential”—

TC: Yes.

TP: —in a sense, everything is experiential. Boredom is experiential. Distance is experiential. It’s a kind of experience and a kind of relationship, in a way, isn’t it.

TC: Yes, I think—yes, I mean, “experiential” is the kind of the old-fashioned word, and I think maybe we should do something to recover that, ‘cause I think that does capture it—’cause I think—the—the alternative is a sort of intellectual faith, where there is—where we are taught some truths, and then we give our assent to them and that’s kind of part of what’s going on in the process. But that’s a rather barren view of what it means to be a Christian. And it’s this idea that we are saved. We’re not—it—we are not just saved from sin—from judgement, but we are actually also saved for a relationship.

And we find that pattern all the way through the Scriptures—both in what is taught, but also just in the experience of God’s people, you know—particularly, you think of the Book of Exodus where they are saved from slavery, but then they come to Mount Sinai to have an encounter with God, to enter into a covenantal relationship with God. For me, the climax of the Book of Exodus is actually Exodus 24, which is, when having made the covenant, the blood has been sprinkled onto the people, then Moses and Aaron and the elders of Israel go up onto the mountain—this mountain that previously has sort of been ring-fenced and you mustn’t, otherwise God might break out against you—they go up and the text says they eat and drink, and in—in the presence of God. So—so they encounter this terrifying holy God and—and yet, because of the blood of the covenant, they come and they eat and drink in his presence.

And then, in a sense, that experience gets kind of built into the fabric of their life as the—we then read all the instructions and get the description of the building of the tabernacle. So here is God coming to live with his people and to have a relationship with them. And that—you know, that’s just one example. That’s just one picture of the fact that we are saved to enjoy a relationship with God. That is the great kind of goal and purpose of salvation.

TP: You use the word “communion” or “community with God” to talk about that kind of relationship. In a sense, I suppose, everybody in the world is in a relationship with God. He’s the—he’s the ruler and judge of all. He’s the creator of all. There is a relation between—

TC: Yes.

TP: —every single person and God, and you can’t avoid that, in a sense. But the kind of relationship that you’re saying we can and should enjoy with God is—is a particular kind of communion. What—what do you mean by “communion”? Or what does “communion” mean?

TC: I think it is—it—it is—the—I think the key thing about communion is the two-way relationship. And it—I mean, as you say, obviously, there’s a sense in which even the relationship of—as creator or judge is two-way. There’s—it—but—but the—you know, the unbeliever’s response is to ignore or to defy. But for the Christian, it’s a two-way relationship in which we receive from God and we return faith and—and love and gratitude to God. So there’s this—I—and that’s—that’s really how we have experienced human relationships.

Wh—we know—it—we have—all kinds of relationships, but in a sense, the closer the relationship, the more there is that two-way, to and fro, giving and receiving. And—but the other thing about communion—the other—I think—thing that’s really helpful about communion, and I think this helps, is—is—I—I—I mean it’s a—it’s a distinction that I stolen from the English Puritan John Owen, “Between union and communion.” And it—I think, in one sense, that’s a little bit arbitrary. But it’s really helpful to say that there are these two types of ways in which our relationship with God takes place. And his point is that union is a one-way. It’s all God’s initiative. It’s all down to God. That we have this union with God in Christ that is not affected by what I have done or might do; it’s all grounded in his grace. And that creates this great foundation for life.

And then “communion” is the two-way relationship in which we actually—there is giving and receiving, and—and in that sense—in that—in—my commute—my communion, then, is affected what I do or don’t do. So the more that I spend time with God, the more I read his word, the more I respond in faith to the circumstances of my life, the more I look for and see him involved in—in—in my day-to-day existence, then the more I enjoy that communion with God.

And I think that’s a really helpful distinction, because it guards the grace of our relationship—that relationship is built on grace: that’s union. It means that even if I mess up my relationship—if, and, I think, do things—if I sin against God, if I defy, you know—defy him or I don’t respond well to his love in those situations, I can always, as it were, as a Christian, I can always kind of fall back on that union. I’ve always got that foundation.

At the same time, it captures what I think we do experience, which is, when we invest in our relationship with God, we enjoy him more. That is the reality. And I think sometimes we’re wary of saying that, because we don’t want to compromise grace. We don’t want to kind of imply that somehow our relationship with God is based on what we do. It’s—based in—you know, it—it—it rests on the Father’s love, the Son’s work and the Spirit’s work in us. But—but the union/communion distinction, I think, helps us get that sorted out, so that we can really call one another to invest in our relationship with God with an expectation that that makes a difference. And yet, at the same time, have this great foundation of God’s grace in our lives.

TP: I thought it was one of the best things about the book—that you managed to talk about what it means for us to respond to God and to do things—to invest, as you say, in that two-way communion, while avoiding totally any idea that somehow we’re trying to get ourselves closer to God or—or that we’re working our way up by our own efforts to—to salvation or to—or that it’s a matter of certain techniques or mystical experience that we—in other words, it—you very helpfully anchored the whole thing in the fact that God has done everything—

TC: Yeah.

TP: —and—and that he’s given himself totally to us in Christ. And that it’s all been achieved. But that in this two-way relationship, we come to appreciate and understand and actualise in our experience and enjoy in our experience that a relationship that he’s established more and more and more.

TC: Yep.

TP: Have I got you right? Is that what you—

TC: Yeah, absolutely. That’s absolutely it. And I think that’s a brilliant idea. But, you know, I—I did steal it from John Owen, you know, so—so it’s a—I’m happy to commend that as a great idea because, you know, it—it’s—it’s something I learned from him.

TP: Well, thank you for—for channelling John Owen that way. I have read Communion with God several years ago and I found it very tough-going, I have to say. And it wasn’t just the language and his—his very, to our ears, tortured—

TC: Yes.

TP: —way of expressing himself, but you—you managed to pull out the essence of it and express it in a way that—that makes sense on Monday morning, if I can put it that way.

TC: Yes, okay. Good!

TP: Whereas, I think John Owen’s pretty tough on Monday morning! [Laughter] You seem to be saying—you talked before about how the key to this communion—this two-way exper—experience of that sort of relationship with God is realising that God is Father, Son and Spirit and not just kind of thinking of him as God—some sort of semi-impersonal force up there—

TC: Yes, yes.

TP: —but that he’s three persons in one God, and that appreciating those three persons is a vital aspect of getting to know God more in that sense, and enjoy him more. In what way are they different? Like, how does knowing the Father or thinking about the Father, or thinking about and knowing the Son and thinking about knowing the Spirit—what difference does it make to think of them as separate persons?

TC: Yes, I think this is—so here, we’ve got a little bit of heavy duty theology, but it cashes out in a very simple principle that I think makes it as—as a big kind of value for us. So this is the idea that we can’t—and—and Christian theology throughout the centuries has always affirmed this—that we cannot know the essence of God—the oneness of God—that the—the being of God—because it’s beyond our comprehension. In fact, it’s not even that it’s sort of a bit complicated for us to get our heads around; we—we have no—we have nothing in our experience that—that allows us to kind of connect it and say, “Well, it’s a bit like that”, or it—it’s something that’s completely beyond our comprehension. We have no analogs in our—in our world to kind of connect us to it. And—and, in fact, in some Christian theologians, it’s almost led them to despair.

But the—but the—the great news is, we can relate to the persons of God. So we can’t relate to the essence of God—the oneness of God or the “godness” of God, if I can put it like that. But we can relate to the persons of God, ’cause God is himself a relational relating being. He has eternally—it—he does eternally exist as three persons who are living in a loving, joyful relationship with one another, and therefore, he is able to relate to us on that same basis. And so, we can relate—we can know the—the persons of God.

And so then the kind of, as you say, the cash value of that is that our relationship with God, I—I—and I think people—if people are trying to think about relating to God as a kind of generic being, it’s just difficult to—to—to conceptualise or to think about what that might involve, and—but we can relate to God the Father, relate to God the Son, relate to God the Spirit. So in a sense, the principle boils down very simply to “How is the Father relating to me? How is the Son relating to me? How is it Spirit relating to me? And in each case, how can I respond?”

By the way, it’s important, having said all that, that you don’t then sort of separate them out, because that—they are one being. And if you start to—and this is where, you know, you’re kind of doing this backwards and forwards: as you think about the three, you always think about the one and—and—in reverse, because it’s really important—that to encounter one member of the Trinity is to encounter all three, and so—and—you know, one of the complications of writing the book is, you’re—you’re—you’re having this chapter on the Father. But you can’t do that without talking about the Son and the Spirit, and vice versa. And there are a number of points that you could think, “Well, I could put that in here or I could that put over there”, because you’re always engaging with the three together, because they are one God—they are one being.

TP: You talk about relating to God, for example, as Father—

TC: Yeah.

TP: —and talking to him as my Father—

TC: Yes.

TP: —rather than just a generic father or an absent or a distant father. And at—relating to God in that way in the midst of particular experiences. Can you give an example of—of how relating to God as my Father or our Father in a particular experience of life can help us to enjoy that relationship more?

TC: I think it—what—so one of the things I say—talk about is that we live in a fathered world. So this is just kind of riffing off Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that—where he calls on us, and, in fact, he uses the word “children”—to—to trust in God’s care of us. So we don’t need to worry, because God is caring for us. And to prove that point, he points to the flowers who are kind of clothed and the birds who are cared for (Matt 6:25-33). In other words, what he’s saying is, “Look around you and you see a fathered world—a world in which God the Father is caring for all his creatures.” And then, of course, how much more, then, does he care for those who are his children? And so, we can receive this world as a gift from him.

And one of the ways I love to do that—it’s not—just to say that, “Well, okay, then. God’s going to kind of look after me.” But actually all that I am receiving—all that I am enjoying in this life—all that I see around me is a gift from God the Father, and I’m—I can receive it as a gift from him. And—so, for example, and this is very sort of personal to me, I love watching birds. I love—you know, I love walking, and I love looking at the birds and identifying the birds that I see. I mean, I realise it’s a sort of slightly peculiar thing, but there we are: it’s what I love to do. And—and I have a sense—I really do genuinely have a very strong sense that when I see a particular bird that gives me pleasure, that is a gift from my heavenly Father. You know, it—it could have flown it the other way when I wasn’t looking, or I could have been distracted or—you know, there’s just a hundred different things that could have—but there it is, and it’s there for me to see.

And there’s been many times when I felt that as a very precious gift, actually—that, you know, it’s—it—these things cheer me. Birdsong has an effect on me that—I—I—it’s very high—was trying to—I’m trying to analyse. I can’t work out how it works. But—but it has such a sort of soul-lifting effect on me. And I see that—but here’s the point: I see that as a gift from my Father—that—that he—he sends in my direction, as it were. He’s built it into the fabric of the universe that he’s made, and then he sends particular examples—instances of that—as a gift for me—for me to enjoy—to lift my heart. And so this sort of—and—and then, the thing about that is, then that—that—that attitude—that act—that way of seeing the world then means that all that pleasure is directed back. It leads me to the Father in that situation, and actually is, you know—to receive it as a gift from him and return great gratitude to him is a relational act that means I’m enjoying God in that moment. I’m not just enjoying the birdsong; I’m enjoying God in that moment.

[Music]

TP: Well, I hope you’re enjoying this conversation with Tim Chester as much as I did, and there’s more good stuff to come. But first, I just wanted to pause and encourage you to go out and buy Tim’s book, and to give you the details for that. It’s called Enjoying God: Experience the power and love of God in everyday life, it’s published by Good Book Company, and it’s available from your local Christian bookseller. I checked on Koorong and Reformers Bookshop and The Wandering Bookseller: they’re all advertising it for $14.99, which seems to me ridiculously good value. And it will be available soon. It’s only just been released, and some time in the first week or two of December, it will come in.

And of course, while you’re online and ordering books, you could also grab a copy of an excellent anthology of articles that’s available from three decades of writing about the Christian life. It’s an anthology that would make excellent holiday reading and, of course, a great gift to inflict upon a loved one. I’m talking, of course, about The Tony Payne Collection, and it’s available also at every good Christian bookseller, and over at Matthias Media as well—not to say that Matthias Media isn’t a good Christian—oh, never mind!

But today’s podcast is about Tim Chester’s book, isn’t it, not mine. So let’s get back to that—to the interview and back to the question of birdsong.

TP: What I like about that example and illustration—and you—you take the same approach repeatedly in different ways throughout the book—is that you’re really saying that what’s happening there is that in that circumstance, you’re understanding that circumstance in a way that is driven by faith—by an understanding of what’s really going on.

TC: Yes.

TP: In other words, a bird comes. You look at it. It’s a bird. What an nice bird! I enjoy that bird. But—but with the eyes of faith, as it were—

TC: Yeah.

TP: —that is, based on our understanding of what reality is really like—what’s real—what’s really going on here is that my Heavenly Father has created and sent this bird—a beautiful bird—and has given me the ability to appreciate and enjoy it. It’s—it’s a reorienting of—of our understanding by faith to what’s—to the circumstances that are really happening. And—and you repeatedly do this in the book. It was one things I appreciated most about—

TC: Yes.

TP: —that you often say, “Think about it like this”—

TC: Yes.

TP: —or “Say to yourself—instead of saying this to yourself, say this to yourself.”

TC: Yes.

TP: To what extent is that really the—one of the underlying drives of the book—that coming to know God more—coming to enjoy him more—is really a matter of coming to understand more deeply in faith the way things really are—what God is really doing in—in each circumstance?

TC: Yes, and I think—I mean—couple of comments there—I think—absolutely, yes, it is about allowing Scripture to—to train us to—to—to see the world—to see our life—to see the circumstances of our life as interactions from God. So it’s not that I’m sort of trying—I—I hope I’m not being sort of fanciful in this. It’s allowing Scripture to train us to see the world in a particular kind of way, and therefore, to see it as—or to see how the Father, Son and Spirit are involved in our lives.

And that’s the second thing I want to highlight, really, which is that one of the things that I want to stress quite strongly in the book is—I think, when we think about enjoying God, or having a relationship with God, very often in—in the modern church, that kind of comes down to having this rather sort of gushy feeling when I’m worshipping. You know, when the key chain—when there’s the key change in the song—

TP: There’s the modulation. Here we go—

TC: Yeah, yeah, here we go! [Laughter] And now we all—now we all feel something. I—I don’t mean to—I don’t mean to be dismissive of that. That—’cause we do encounter—you know, there is that emotional response to God—

TP: But to limit it to that! Yeah.

TC: —that is mediated through the music—

TP: Yes.

TC: —which is his—his gift.

TP: Yes.

TC: So there’s that, then. And then the other thing is the sort of—hearing some kind of—sensing some kind of word or message from God. That’s the other sort of thing that often people think of when they think of having a relationship with God.

And what I’m trying to do is actually to say, “God is involved in our lives all over the place, you know, every—every—every moment, every situation. God is interacting actively, personally. This—the triune God of all the universe is personally engaging with me in all the moments and all the stuff of my life. And if we’ve got the eyes to see it, then that’s an amazing thing. And that’s why, then, we have this—the potential—this reality of—of having a relationship with God—of enjoying God in all the stuff of life and not just limiting it to those particular kind of examples.

Another example is, I talk about how, in our—how as we groan—that that actually is an interaction that we have with God. So all human beings groan. I mean, my—I don’t think I put this in the—but anyway, but my father-in-law is sort of exemplar of this. He’s—he’s reached an age where he, you know, he can’t do anything without sort of audible noise coming out. And—but, you know, it’s—it’s happening to us all. It happens to me. I can—I—I groan if I get out of, sort of—if I’m, you know, if I’m in a—an armchair and I get up, then there’s sort of a little groan that comes out. And—but the point I want to make is that—that—so everybody does that, because I think there’s that sense. I mean, it’s some—it’s some sense, that’s a sort of instinctive sort of a react—unarticulated reaction.

But, you know, people groan and moan about life, ’cause—but—but that arises in all human beings, because there’s this recognition that life is not as it should be—not as it was—not it was—not as it was meant to be. But in Romans 8, Paul talks about how we groan and the Spirit groans with us, because we have the Spirit, who is the first fruits of a new creation. So the difference for the Christian is that those moments of groaning are a reminder that this world is not what it will be. So it’s not just not what it was, but not what it will be. And so, if we have—if we train our minds, as it were—if we tell ourselves—if we remind ourselves of that reality—that the Spirit is—is given to us as the first fruits of a new creation, so that those groans, then, become actually a point of forward—a kind of reinforcement of the hope that we have of a—of a new world with new bodies where, perhaps, there won’t be quite so much groaning and aching going on in our—in our redeemed body.

TP: It’s a great example of—of an experience we all have, which can be hard—which can feel anything but like a—a joyful—

TC: Yes, and of course, getting out of a chair is a sort of—is a sort of, rather sort of light-hearted meaning. But—but—but, you know, the groaning can be actually very deep and very painful when we’re talking about bereavement or disappointment or, I mean, or chronic illness, you know. So—so I’m—I’m using that as a sort of simple way of talking about it. But yes, you’re right. It can be actually very profound, painful experience that we’re actually talking about here.

TP: But with an understanding of what really is happening in that experience—what that experience represents—what God is doing and how God is interacting with us in that experience, and—and what it points forward to. In other words, with a different moral imagination—with a different spiritual imagination of what is really happening here. It changes our interaction with God—it ch—and it changes how we experience and feel—

TC: Yeah.

TP: —in that circumstance.

TC: Yes, so it’s one point in the book where I talk about—I—I—I don’t know whether this is—whether you in—did—in Australia, did you get the Observer’s books, growing up?

TP: I did, yeah.

TC: Yes, okay, well I—

TP: I—I think it’s generational, though.

TC: It’s probably was generational, so I—

TP: The Obs—I had The Observer’s Book of Aircraft.

TC: Yeah, well, I had The Observer’s Book of Birds as you might—as you might have guessed. So we know—that—you know, they were these little pocket-sized books that—that just gave a list—they were just lists, really, sort of one page with—with—with a bird and a little picture, and then—and—and they were there to kind of encourage young people in that sort of slightly patronising 1950s kind of—1960s kind of way to see the world and to observe it and learn a little bit more about it. And I think, really, partly what I’m trying to do in this book is to create an Observer’s Book of God. In other words, to—to give people a—to train people—to encourage people to see all the ways that we can see God at work in our lives, and just to have—have—really have the eyes to see that—the imagination to see that.

TP: Yes, so your chapter titles have that character—so they work through the different experiences of life. So “In every hardship”—there’s the one we were talking about—“In every hardship, we can enjoy the Father’s formation”. “In every prayer, we can enjoy the Father’s welcome”. We’ve already talked about “In every pleasure”—the pleasure of, perhaps, the birdsong—we—“we can enjoy the Father’s generosity”. I thought it was very effective that those chapter titles captured a—a regular experience of life.

TC: Yes, part of what I’m trying to do there is—is to lead with our experience, and then just—even—even in—even in the way the titles of—the chapter titles are formed, is to start with our experience—experiences that I hope, you know, you look down the contents list, and you think, “Oh yes, I—I feel hardship, I feel pleasure, I groan and—and then con—and then sort of, then it—sort of draw the line, then, to how the different members of the Trinity are interacting with us in that—in that moment—in that process.

TP: Final question, then: what difference has writing the book made to your own enjoyment of God?

TC: Yes, good question! So one of the things that drove the book was a recognition, a few years ago, that I—in—in my own experience, that I had a very—had a very kind of real sense of relating to the Father, because I pray to him, and I had a very strong sense that all the circumstances of my life are sent by him—good and bad; there’s good—good and bad experiences—to form me into the image of his Son. Very strong sense of relating to the Holy Spirit—not in the sense of having sort of tingles down the spine, but just a—a—a very keen awareness that the good things that I do are done through him and in his strength. They’re certainly not sort of down to me, as it were.

But the Lord Jesus Christ felt quite distant to me. I—I mean, I completely get that his cross and resurrection is the absolute foundation of the Christian life and—

TP: But that in itself is distant.

TC: But that’s 2000 years ago! It’s a long time ago. And now he’s ascended into heaven, and that’s a long way away.

TP: It’s a long way away.

TC: And so he felt somewhat distant to me. And intuitively, I felt that couldn’t be right. And one of the things that sort of sparked, then, was asking other people what their experience was. And that was fascinating in itself—fascinating, partly, because everybody gives a different answer. But also it’s a great way of having a conversation with people about what it actually feels like for them to be a Christian and what that—what that actually looks like in their own experience in their own life. So it’s a great way of having very interesting and—and—and profitable conversations with people. I commend it as a—as a question to throw into your dinner party or whatever.

But then I started to—so then that caused me, then, to think about, well, actually—’cause I think—I mean, the conviction is that we ought to be relating to all three. And that’s sort of the healthy or—I—I don’t want people to get sort of beat up about “Oh, you need to got—get these things in balance or something.” But to be pursuing all three is to be heading in the direction of a healthy, rounded relationship with God.

And so, one of the key things for me is just to fit—be able to—to have filled out for me how I’m relating to the Lord Jesus Christ. And for that to have real substance. And that has led me to a much greater appreciation of—of not just his work, but—but his person. I think that would be the way I’d sum it up. So you know, I’ve always had this strong sense of—of the work of Christ and the, you know, the atoning work of the cross, and the resurrection is this promise of a new age, and so on, But actually, the person of Christ and—and to be living in relationship with him, that’s where it’s had an impact on me.

[Music]

TP: Well, my thanks to Tim Chester for joining us today on the Centre for Christian Living podcast. Thank you also for being with us, and as always, we’d love to hear your feedback. Any questions you have about this podcast or about any facet of the Christian life: just get in touch. Send us an email. You can contact us at ccl@moore.edu.au. Head over to our website at ccl.moore.edu.au for all the back issues of this podcast, the archive of all the different episodes, lots of other articles and excellent resources about the Christian life, and, of course, to find details and to register for our first event for 2019. That’s on February 27th on “The elusive joy of Christian community”.

Thanks again for being with us for this episode. I’m Tony Payne. ’Bye for now.

[Music]

Our next event:

“The elusive joy of Christian community” with Chase Kuhn and Tony Payne, Wednesday 27 February 2019 at Moore College.

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