He went on to say that man is the sum of what we feel, the sum of our needs—emotionally and physically. There is no great purpose or meaning to life, and all our philosophies and theologies are simply the wild imaginings of men who need to feel a sense of purpose. In the end, life is about gratifying our senses while trying to avoid pain. Life is one big need-driven experience he claimed.
Sometimes my mouth opens and my vocal chords push words out before my head can get involved. It can be very embarrassing, like when I confused the words Neapolitan and menopause. (No wait, it was my sister Aimee who did that.)
Oh, like when I was eating spicy chicken curry and thanked God that the Native Americans came up with this genius food. (No, it was my brother Joel that time.)
Oh yeah, like the time I thought Sonny Bono and Bono were the same person and wondered how that worked with Cher. (Nope, that wasn’t me either; it was the girl I fell head over heals in love with and married.)
Oh, now I remember. There was the time I said to a philoso- phy professor who was writing a book, “So you are writing a book about nothing?”
He smiled. It was a tired smile. He didn’t seem to notice my embarrassment at my outburst or consider my question odd. In fact, I think he was very familiar with this question. “In a way, yes,” he replied.
I was at a loss for words. I couldn’t think of anything else to say about his book. I almost mentioned Seinfeld to make him feel better.
“That show was about nothing and seemed to work,” I thought. But this time I was able to control my vocal chords.
It was overwhelming, the idea of writing a book about nothing. Our only common denominator was that both of us were writing books. But after that our two roads diverged. My sincerest prayer is that my book would be about something—and not just any something.
I finally asked, “So how long have you been working on your book?” “For almost twenty years.”Twenty years! That broke my heart. That a man would write faith-fully for twenty years is amazing. That a man can write about nothing for twenty years is excruciating. I felt sad for this tired man who seemed to have been searching for some truth in a universe where he is con- vinced truth doesn’t exist.
I couldn’t take it anymore. So I asked him the question that should never be asked of a philosophy professor: “Where does God fit in?”
I watched him physically shift into professor mode. He was both quick to acknowledge that religion plays a role in philosophy but also that religion was for weak-minded individuals.
“Good thing I didn’t tell him what I was writing about,” I thought.
But I hadn’t asked him about religion, I’d asked about God. He had done what many often do and confused the two as being one and the same. So I tried the same question from a different angle.
“Where does Love fit in?”
He looked at me—the look was one of absolute exhaustion, as if this question was just too much for him. “Love is a subjective feeling, a physiological need,” he responded.
“But what if you’re wrong? What if it isn’t?” I asked. “What if Love is the very foundation of everything? What if Love is the beginning and the end and everything in between and everything after? What if Love answers every question that aches in the heart of humanity? What if Love is more than a feeling? What if Love meets every need?”
He looked at me, annoyed. I think this question is the one that he found embarrassing, as if I had just taken leave of my senses. My heart broke. I could see this man had been wounded deeply at some point in his life. He clearly no longer believed in Love.
Then I sensed his dismissal, our conversation coming to a close. But I wanted to ask him so many more questions. I wanted to ask him questions that if answered in Spirit and Truth would radically forever change the way this professor thinks.
What if Love created everything? What if Love saw what He had created and said, “It is good”?—which is something Love would prob- ably say. What if Love has all authority but does not control? What if Love is about freedom? What if Love walked the earth as a man, died, and rose again so that we could be set free, free to fully receive love and to love in return? What if Love isn’t a feeling but a tangible expression of that same freedom? What if Love had the power to meet every need that ever existed?
These thoughts burst in my heart.
Love! It’s a profoundly infinite and beautiful Person, a measureless revelation. Love is the best discovery, the only story worth writing about. Another writer once put it this way: “If every one of (the things Love did) were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have
room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25).If only my new philosophy professor friend knew this Love, well,
then he could know what it is to live and write with purpose and des- tiny and legacy. He could spend the next twenty years filling the world with books about something.
Before he packed up to go, he asked what I was writing about. I told him that I was writing a book about Love. I said, “It’s going to be something.”
He said he would like to read it sometime.
A Dysfunctional Relationship
I wish I’d been at the table, but I wasn’t. But two of my hero friends were—Kris Vallotton and Graham Cooke. Both are incredible men of God who have greatly influenced my life. As Kris tells the story, both he and Graham were at a dinner with several other leaders. The food was good, the conversation even better. While everyone else at the table was in lively discussion, Graham was eating quietly. Suddenly, halfway through his dinner, Graham blurted out, “I don’t want to be desperate for God!” Then he went back to eating.
The once lively table was now quiet. Everyone was waiting for Gra- ham to elaborate, but he had returned to his meal. Kris began to digest Graham’s outburst. It didn’t appear relevant to his last conversation, nor any of the others throughout the night. Finally, Kris broke the con- fused silence. “Graham, what do you mean?”
What Graham said next radically changed my life, the aha moment in a journey thirty-six years in the making. And, in fact, the hope of conveying it to you is the reason I’ve written this book. Graham said, “A relationship where the son is always desperate for the Father is dysfunctional.”
I was twenty-two and newly married to my dazzling wife, Karen. I went with dazzling here as she doesn’t like it when I call her “my lovely wife.” Apparently, lovely is for grandmas and fine china. But she is lovely, and in a dazzling way, like a sudden breath of crisp fall air, or a thrilling stolen kiss in her parents’ kitchen, which is way better than grandmas or fine china.
I was finishing up at Elim, a Bible college that had an amazing tra- dition of praying for the graduating students. They actually devoted a whole week to it. Students and faculty would meet in the chapel several hours each day and pray corporately while a few elders in the faith—who were led by the Holy
Spirit—would give specific words of encouragement and direction to the graduates.
Two chairs were set in the front of the auditorium. Karen sat with me in what students had nicknamed “the hot seats.” The elders gathered around us as loving fathers and mothers. Sylvia Evans, a woman in her fifties, who lived boldly for God on the mission field abroad and in the U.S., stepped near. Very kindly she said, “Jason.” She paused, looking me in the eyes until she knew she had my full attention. “Jason, I feel like God is saying that you see yourself as a spiritual dwarf. But He wants you to know that He sees you as a spir- itual giant.”
I began to cry. Yeah, I’m a crier. I can be moved to tears. Like when I recently found the brown paper bag in our minivan with an apple, a granola bar, a small package of pretzels, and a note inside. The note was written
I Don’t Want to Be Desperate for God
in the hand of my stunning eleven-year-old daughter, Madeleine, and it accompanied the bagged lunch she had prepared for the men and women we so often see standing with a sign at the stoplight. The note read, “Dear loved one, Jesus loves you and I want you to have this food.” Yeah, there were tears.
But usually my tears are controlled. However, when Sylvia spoke the heart of God over me, I didn’t just shed a few tears, I sobbed—the kind where you need a box of tissues. I think the biblical word is wept; it makes those witnessing uncomfortable, they want and almost need to look away. But I couldn’t help it; I couldn’t contain myself. The idea that God saw me as a spiritual giant, well, it seemed too good to be true. And yet everything in me longed to believe it!
I don’t know about you, but I have lived most of my life from that dwarf’s perspective. Looking back now, I know why Sylvia’s statement, which came directly from heaven, so messed me up. For just a moment, I saw myself from my heavenly Father’s perspective. I was completely unpre- pared for what I saw—I couldn’t even function. It was contrary to what I believed yet so wonderfully good that I was overwhelmed. In that moment, God’s perspective exposed and gave resolve to my fero- cious internal battle. A battle I had been born into, a battle regarding my identity. A battle I am still engaged in, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.
I was in the living room last night, sitting on the couch working on my laptop, and in comes Ethan. The stereo was cranked with Brian and Jenn Johnson singing the beautiful hymn “Here Is Love.” The lyrics melt me every time I hear them:
Here is love, vast as the ocean, Loving kindness as the flood...2
Ethan yelled over the music. It took me a moment to figure out what he wanted. It shouldn’t have, it’s almost always one of three things: XBOX, permission to go down the street to his friend’s house, or food. I turned the music down just in time to hear him proclaim that he was “starving, Dad!” He’s always starving.
I looked at him in mock confusion. “Starving? Again? Didn’t you just have a banana, some chips, and a granola bar like half an hour ago?”
I have often given Ethan the definition of starving: “To die or per- ish from lack of food or nourishment.”3 When finished defining the word, we will both agree he isn’t actually starving; he’s just hungry, or more likely, bored. However, my son’s memory seems to be flawed as often, later in the same day, he will forget the definition of the word and use it incorrectly again.
I could hear Brian singing in the background:
Grace and love, like mighty rivers, Poured incessant from above...
Ethan has never been “starving.” We are so blessed! Ethan could never truly use words like starving, or desperate, or even a simple word like need. Ethan has never truly needed food.
And then he asked an awesome question: “So Dad, what’s for dinner?”
That’s a good question, a very telling question regarding our rela- tionship. First, Ethan expects to eat. Second, he acknowledges that it is both my role to feed him and to help him decide what he eats. Ethan’s question reveals that he and I are in a healthy father-son relationship.
I am a good father. I tell my kids all the time and they believe me. But as amazing a father as I am, I don’t hold a candle, or a firebrand, or any other source of light, to my heavenly Father. He’s the cat’s meow... yeah, I’m bringing it back.
The Perfect Father
I pledge my head to a holy love.
When I first heard Graham Cooke’s statement, “I don’t want to be desperate for God,” I knew it was big. I knew it was life-changing big. His statement reverberated in my heart like a thunderclap and I was convinced to my core that it was a profound truth just for me, but maybe for you as well.
I have been telling God about my needs for my entire life. Need has been a part of our relational DNA; it’s a familiar theme, a comfortable reality, our love language. When I wake, throughout my day, and before I sleep, I talk with God often from the perspective of my needs or the needs of my family and friends. And I often use the same words Ethan uses. Words like starving and desperate are commonplace adjectives for my interaction with God.
For weeks I contemplated Graham’s outburst. I could sense God had a beautiful revelation for me in those words. Every time I thought about it, I asked God to reveal His heart to me. Then one day, in the middle of a run, God asked me a question.
I like to run, and when I run I feel His pleasure (sorry). But it’s true, in that running has become a sweet God-time for me—we have many deep conversations. I run approximately five times a week, about three miles each outing. You could say I am a running hero! You could say that if you wanted to.
I called myself a running hero when I first started running. Then I met real runners, those who kept track of their time and their heart rate. Oh, and apparently “real runners”—they run five miles before breakfast. Real runners pass me like I’m standing still, halfway through their ten- mile, relaxed, mid-week jaunt. But I still like to call myself a running hero.
So I was out for a run when God started speaking to my heart. “Jason, remember that word given to you fifteen years ago from Sylvia Evans? I told you I see you as a spiritual giant. Well, I have been saying it to you every day since. I haven’t changed My mind and I never will.”
Then God said something profound, which God is prone to do. “Jason, it’s illegal for you to entertain feelings of insecurity.”
As I ran, I began to cry—yes, again. God continued, “Either agree with Me or call Me a liar. There are no longer any other options for you.” If it sounds a little strong, it’s because it was, but in a stunningly
perfect way!Before I could even begin to digest all God was speaking into my heart, He asked me another very profound question. A question that at first seemed disconnected to His previous statements. “Jason, am I a perfect Father?”“Yes,” I said. I did actually say it.God continued speaking to my heart. “If I am a perfect Father and we are in a dysfunctional relationship, then it’s not on Me.”That statement from God wasn’t a question; it was revelation. It was an invitation to know God in a way I never had before. It hit me so hard I had to stop running (which I didn’t actually mind); I was kind of out of breath from the crying. God’s statement answered the question that had been resounding in my heart since I had first heard Graham Cooke’s comment.After about a half mile of walking and reveling in this new thought, I spoke out loud to God a declaration both beautiful and dangerous: “Father, I will no longer allow our relationship to be determined by my need.”
Need < Love
I don’t know if you have ever thought about it like this, but need is what defines life here on planet earth. In fact, time itself is the father of need. The universe was created as finite, meaning there is a beginning and an end. In a finite reality, need is the principle in which time exists, it’s the skeleton upon which reality hangs.
Need is the final singular truth by which our world operates. Humanity exists inside the confines of need. We trade in the currency of need. It is the foundational structure of our DNA. It’s the defining core value of our very existence. You could say that we are slaves to need.
Need is with us when we wake and when we sleep. And it’s not an abstract idea. It’s probably the most real thing many of us know. It’s an absolute, a physical, emotional, and spiritual reality woven into the very fabric of our existence.
For instance, we need air to breathe and we need gravity to keep us from floating away. We need food to sustain our bodies. We need clothes and shelter. We need money to buy clothes and shelter. We need jobs to make money so we can buy clothes and shelter. We need a good economy to provide jobs.
What I am trying to communicate is that we are one big walking, talking, breathing, need.
It’s not a bad thing. It’s actually beautifully brilliant if seen from God’s perspective. He created it. And because God is good, He only has good ideas and only creates good things. I believe God created need for one reason: to reveal His love. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
So creation took its first breath in the wonderful certainty of need. Our heavenly Father created a finite reality in which men and women dwell. And then He did something odd and absolutely amazing, He breathed His Spirit, His Neuma into us. He put eternal spirits in finite bodies. He introduced the immeasurable into a world controlled by measurements. He made humankind in His image—Love.
God is love and He is always good. It says so in my Bible. And yours too.
Love is the beginning and the end, and everything in between, and everything before and everything after. Love is infinite, immeasurable. Love is complete. Love is the answer, not the question. Love is always good. That’s all in the Book as well.
Now here’s my crazy thought. While need is the very substance of our existence, it has no place in God’s reality. And if God is love, then you could say it like this: need cannot exist in love. Need is actually counter to the nature of love. Love trumps every need, every time. It’s the good news that only gets better.
I would like to suggest that need fosters insecurity, while love cul- tivates identity. Stick with me, I think I’m on to something big here. I believe there is a revelation of love available to every one of us that settles the insecurity of need, that sets us free to become sons and daughters of a perfectly good, perfectly loving, heavenly Father.
Before Jesus’s resurrection, we lived in a world where every emo- tion, every decision, and every moment was defined by need, by what we didn’t have and needed or what we would need later on.
After Jesus’s resurrection, our heavenly Father invited humanity to live free of the controls of need in a glorious infinite revelation—Love. The core value of our very existence was redeemed from a need-based reality to an intimate, measureless love relationship.
Jesus came and revealed the Father. He took all of our needs upon Himself and died. He took a need-based existence to the grave where it always belonged. And upon His resurrection, He introduced us to a greater revelation of intimacy with our heavenly Father, and access to the infinite reality of His Kingdom of love—heaven on earth.
After Papa died that first time, he was a better man—full of joy and grace and love. My papa was a minister. He was a good man before he died. He was also a flawed man who hadn’t fully encountered his heavenly Father’s love. Before he died, he was a happy man, but his joy was incomplete as it was suffocated by the uncertainty of need. Before he died, Papa was an accomplished man. He was also insecure in his ministry, constantly moving and starting over, never quite comfortable in his own skin. He did some amazing things before he died; he also inflicted some very large wounds. But the best was meant for last. God, in His measureless goodness, gave Papa revelation and more time.
Papa woke up and the first thing he saw was a calendar and a clock— sad reminders of an inferior reality. He was in a hospital bed and the way he told it, everything hurt. He had three broken ribs, which he had sustained during CPR performed on him by his son. He had been at a family reunion celebration. Papa had just entered the car when he felt severe chest pain. He collapsed in the back seat and was pulled from the car. And that’s where he died that first time.
Papa visited us six months after he died. He and Nana stayed with our family, out in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, for a whole week. It was an amazing time. A time where my parents and my grandparents laughed together like I’d never seen before. Mom and Dad have told me since that there were tears too, as Papa shared his heart and asked forgiveness for past wrongs.
During the week they were with us, we had a rare snowstorm. This kept us all indoors. Papa and Nana had discovered a new fantas- tic game—Skip-Bo—which they introduced to us. We sat around the kitchen table every night and played for hours. We laughed and told stories. The best story was the one Papa shared, about when he died and went to heaven and met Jesus face to face.
After collapsing in the car, he found himself in heaven sur- rounded by angels and a “cloud of glory.” He said that the “rejoicing and happiness was indescribable.” There were other people with him. He talked with and recognized every one of them. They were the closest of family even though they all had just met. He said the light in heaven is beautiful, almost alive—it wasn’t from the sun and it was everywhere.
Suddenly he was greeted by the King of kings! Jesus was stunning, absolutely glorious! He was standing, radiant in light, holding a scroll. He was reading it to Himself, unscrolling and smiling as He read. Then He looked at Papa and said, “This is really good!”
Papa laughed and then asked, “What are You reading?”Jesus responded, “Your book. I want You to finish it!”So Papa woke up in a hospital bed to a clock and a calendar that
measures time, illuminated by artificial light. For a moment he was overcome with sadness.
He later wrote, “In my hospital room I felt I was between heaven and earth and tended to resent both the calendar and the clock. I learned that heaven is altogether perfect. Nothing is more perfect than the perfection I saw there.”
However, it wasn’t long before he was smiling and laughing once again. It was the kind of smiling and laughing that just compelled those around him to join in. You see, he had stood face to face with Jesus, he had seen and experienced heaven, he was confident in love. He was transformed. He was a better man.
At home one afternoon, about six months after their visit, Papa found Nana sitting with their daughter, my Aunt Joy, around the kitchen table. “I have completed the final proofread for the editor,” he said. Then he grinned, “My book is finished.”
Papa left the kitchen to take a short nap before the celebration din- ner they had planned for later that evening. He fell asleep and went to heaven that night for the second and final time, the very same day he finished his book.
My papa wrote in his book about how love changes us. “His love can totally revolutionize our thinking about ourselves. When we live in His love, we do not labor to love.”4
He also wrote about how living heaven on earth is the calling of every believer:
We were meant for heaven and heaven was meant for us... joy for the Christian comes when we live in heavenly grace. The reality of heaven must already be our experience on earth. The Christian faith thinks miraculously.5
My papa experienced a small taste of heaven—literally. He came back to earth a transformed man. He righted past wrongs and loved in a way he never had before. He became sure, secure in God’s love, and he brought a little bit of heaven back with him.
For me, looking back on my papa’s story, I am beginning to think that while earth trades in the commodity of need, heaven operates in the revelation of love. I think that’s why Jesus actually taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (see Matt. 6:10). He knew that Love was the answer to every need.
I believe we live in two realities, one greater than the other. The first is the one of which we are often the most aware. In this reality we know words like starving or desperate, we live in the ache of insecu- rity—need defines everything. But I am coming into a conviction that there is a greater reality, a greater revelation available to us where the words describing need are forever settled.
If you think about it, Love walked the earth in the body of Jesus. And while Jesus very much lived on earth, He very much lived from heaven. So everywhere Love went, heaven invaded earth. What’s astounding to me is that every need that was presented to Love was met and fully answered—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—through the power of heaven. And it often looked miraculous.
Love healed the sick, fed the hungry, and raised the dead. Love trumped every need, every time. Love forgave the prostitute, the adul- terer, the thief, and the liar. Again, Love trumped every need, every time. Love fed the hungry, paid taxes, calmed the storm, and turned water into wine. Again, every time Love trumped.
I believe the Kingdom of heaven operates from a different core value than earth. While earth revolves around the reality of need, heaven exists in the revelation of love. Everything in the Kingdom of heaven operates, hinges, and moves in that reality. Love trumps.
Need doesn’t exist in heaven. We won’t need to be healed in heaven; there is no sickness there. We won’t need to feel loved; we will know and become love. We won’t know poverty, sadness, or confusion; our Father is rich in mercy and grace. We won’t have any questions about why we exist; the manifest glory of God will make it clear.
As a good friend of mine, Andy Squyres, says, “Earth is the only place we can love God while in need.” We have the incredible opportu- nity to discover that even while need is very much a part of our lives, love always trumps. Isn’t that amazing? It’s such an eternal heavenly perspective! There is no need in heaven.
I believe all of heaven is available now—all of it. We have access to the same heaven Jesus did. He revealed that we could live in the same revelation of our Father that He lived in when He taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (see Matt. 6:10). We can love in the same powerful, miraculous, heaven-to-earth way Jesus loved.
Jesus told us that the Kingdom of heaven, the place that operates in love, is at hand. Essentially, this Kingdom is within reach. I am con- vinced we are here to discover it in every area of our lives.
Let’s go find this Kingdom come.
The Lord’s Prayer
This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:9-11).
Jesus taught us how to pray about need. “Give us this day our daily bread.” The fact is that we have a good Father who wants us to come to Him with our needs.
But before daily bread, Jesus said we are to pray, “Your kingdom come...on earth as it is in heaven.”
If “on earth as it is in heaven” comes before “daily bread,” then our need is in right relationship with our revelation and we never have to pray desperate prayers. If “on earth as it is in heaven” comes before “daily bread,” our relationship with God will never be dysfunctional.
Prone to Love
Nothing in this universe is sure; everything is determined by what you feel and by what you need.”
“It really is a book about nothing,” I thought again to myself. And I also thought about how funny Kramer looks when he bursts through Seinfeld’s door. Yeah, I was multitasking.