Jesus told his disciples to “abide” in him (John 15:5). They were to stay “connected” at all times. The apostle Paul’s one goal in life was to “know God” (Phil.3:7-11). His prayer for the church at Ephesus was that they might “know Him better” (Eph.1:15-17). But how do we get closer to God? How can we experience God in a more intimate and meaningful way?
Different people give different answers: “Get up early and spend hours in prayer”, “Stay up late and write in a journal for hours”, “Fast regularly”, “Go on spiritual retreats all by yourself”, “Memorise lots of Scripture” or “Speak in tongues for an hour each day”. Well-intentioned people often tell us that their way is the “right way” and the proof of spirituality. Often we try these things that may work for others, yet for some reason they may not work for us, so we end up frustrated and wrongly believe that maybe being close to God is just for a few special people.
As humans, we have a lot in common – a lot of similarities. However, we are also each very different and very unique in the way God has made us (personality, spiritual gifts, etc). We also experience God differently. We each have a unique relationship with God that is different than anyone else. We need to discover how God has “wired us” to best “abide”. The activity or means is not as important as the fact that you do “abide”. When do you feel closest to God? What is your “abiding style”? How do you best experience God?
Ways of Connecting with God (“Abiding Styles”)
There are different ways that we each experience God. Each style represents different traditions of the Christian faith. We will have a natural bent to one or more styles and may find some others more difficult.
1. Contemplative Style
* People with this style enjoy silence and solitude, possibly out in creation. They like isolation and therefore guard their alone times. They don’t fill their diaries up. They like to walk, visit a forest, journal or go for drives out in the country (environment is important).
* Too much time with people and activities drain them. They prefer to be “un-busy”.
* They have enormous capacity for extended prayer and worship times. They enjoy being quiet – meditating, reflecting and thinking deeply. Sometimes they may appear “in the clouds” and forget stuff.
* They march to a different drumbeat and at times seem to be out of step with other people. They are very sensitive spiritually. They can be the church’s spiritual “conscience”. Often great songwriters and authors are contemplative.
If you’re not this style, then this kind of stuff drives you crazy. Historically we can think of people such as the Apostle John, John of the Cross, Brother Lawrence, Madame Guyon and Henri Nouwen.
2. Intellectual Style
* Their mind has to be fully challenged before spiritual growth occurs. They enjoy reading and studying God’s Word to gain deeper understanding. They enjoy reading intellectually stimulating material.
* They struggle with just testimonial or experiential activities or church events. They want “substance” and “theology” not froth and bubble. Where’s the “meat”?
* When they are convinced about something, watch out! There’s no stopping them. Once the mind is convinced, passion and decision follows.
* They’re passionate about “renewing” people’s minds (Rom.12:1).
Historically we can think of people such as Paul, Martin Luther, Francis Schaeffer, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias and N.T. Wright.
3. Serving Style
* Some people feel closest to God (most joyful, exited and alive in Christ) when helping others and using your gifts. Even more than when doing prayer or Bible study.
* They thrive spiritually when they are labouring in the kingdom. They enjoy being an instrument in God’s hands.
* This could be within the church, through social action (feeding the poor, etc) or social justice.
* People with this style enjoy making things happen. They love to see the church or their ministry advance and grow. They revel in a challenge-intensive environment. They are most enthusiastic when fully challenged. They feel best when going all out for God.
* They are at their spiritual best when at top speed. They live at full speed, to the point that others fear for them. They are action orientated and love to live on the edge. They thrive on being active and motivating others.
* They pray more and live in more dependence when spending and being completely spent for the kingdom of God. They are kingdom maniacs. They choose to live like this. Try to slow them down and they’ll find a way to do something. I’m not suggesting that “insanity” or “out of control” is right.
Historically we can think of people such as John Wesley, George Whitefield, D.L. Moody, William Booth (the Salvation Army) and Mother Theresa.
4. Relational Style
* Isolation doesn’t work. Praying alone, doing Bible study alone, serving alone or worshipping alone is hard.
* When they get together with other Christians, their spiritual experience of God comes alive.
* A community component is essential. “Together” is the key. Groups are essential. Their favourite Scripture is “Where two or three are gathered together in my name …” (Mt.18:20)
5. Charismatic Style
The focus is on what the power of God can do. It thrives on the manifest presence of God among His people.
* Experiencing supernatural things like prophecy, visions and dreams, spiritual warfare (including deliverance), speaking in tongues (or “spiritual language”) or ministry time (“falling down”) brings them closest to God.
* They flourish when they can “feel” or “see” something.
* They enjoy praying for people (for physical, emotional or spiritual needs), waiting on God for “words” or direction.
* They thrive when they can sense or see evidence of God’s power.
* Their heart is opened to God through music and a worship atmosphere. King David was like this. Worship brought him close to God (Psalms). “Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your heart (Eph.5:18-19).”
Historically we can think of people such as Evan Roberts, Aimee Semple McPherson (the Pentecostal movement and charismatic renewal), Kathryn Kuhlman and John Wimber.
Which is the ‘right way’? All of them!
Cultivating Your Style
1. Identify your primary abiding style(s). You may have more than one. Don’t pick the one you think that you should have or want to have. Accept the way God has made you.
2. Arrange your life so you have ample opportunity for doing what connects you most to God. Invest lots of time into doing what draws you closer to God and helps you “abide” better. Create a spiritual formation plan around your style.
3. Understand and accept how other people are different. Help others discover the way God has made them and give them permission to “abide” that way. In marriage, understand each other. On your team, understand each other.
4. Learn other ways to connect with God. Develop an appreciation for all the styles. Jesus modeled all of these styles in perfect balance during his life on earth. We are to imitate him and walk “in his steps” (1 Pet.2:21). Avoid the imbalance that can come with attention to only one style.
5. Consider the implications of this model for leaders – of teams, small groups and churches. Create an environment that encourages expression of all of these styles, not just the one you are most comfortable with.
* Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of the Christian Faith by Richard Foster (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998).
* Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), chapter 11, “The Leader’s Pathway”.