It used to be, back in the day, that we would often chasten brothers or sisters who were over-zealously applying rules "don't be too intense".
Maybe in those days we were too intense, both in fervour and in our desire to conform other people's behaviour to our expectations. The change to a more relaxed approach, accepting people for who they are and concentrating on loving them, is certainly an improvement in many ways.
But I'd like to rehabilitate intensity. Not intensity of enforcing rules, but intensity of faith and experience. I don't want my life to drift, wondering if it could or should have been more. I want my life to burn, to blaze, to mean something.
David, a man after God's own heart, wrote:
Psalm 69In both Hebrews and Deuteronomy it is written "our God is a consuming fire". Or how about:
9 for zeal for your house consumes me
“… Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
1 Peter 1:9
you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
Plenty more examples abound. Our experience of God, the normal Christian life, is meant to be intense. Inexpressible joy, God great in our midst, consumed with zeal - this is what being a Christian is meant to be like. Maybe not all the time, but certainly some of the time and preferably more of the time.
I want my experience of God to be intense. I want my experience of the power of God to be intense, not as an end in itself but because if we want to know the life and power of God at work in the church - changing lives, healing people, doing a work that is real and lasting - it's going to take some intensity! We seem to think that moving in the power of God means praying and hoping he'll do something. The call, the challenge, the opportunity, is for us to know and move in the power of God.
So how do we get there? Well let's start by asking how much of the power of God can you cope with? How much intensity can your mind and soul bear? The power of God moves through renewed minds and souls. For this to happen with any strength takes a healed and strong mind and character. Strength of mind and character seem to be underrated qualities these days, but if you want to know the power of God you'll need them. This is why I recommend meditation for developing strength of mind in a disciplined way. The deep soul healing that goes along with this is a nice bonus! If we're to do the things that Jesus promised, then it's going to require his power moving through us. We need to be vessels that can carry that life and power. Exercising the power of God isn't simply a case of praying and hoping God does it. He wants us to do it, and so we must be capable of carrying the intensity of his love and it must be part of our experience. If the power of God is weak in you how can you expect to do great things in his name?
This is not about emotionalism or seeking after an experience. It's about being strong and deep people capable of reaching into the depths of God, and that takes determination and a growing intensity. We're too far from God, we're too weak, and we only scratch the surface of what is possible. You know there's so much that is possible, that the power of God is beyond what we see currently. But this isn't a depressing fact, it's an opportunity. There's more, let's push on into it! The depressing thing would be if this was all there was.
Beyond this, intensity of knowing the love and power of God doesn't just happen. Our God isn't a capricious, stingy miser - doling out and withholding his love and power at random or on a whim. The power and life of God is there for us to take! Again I return to the scripture " the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force". (Alternative interpretations notwithstanding...) It takes an act of force to fully enter the kingdom. Deep is the darkness that covers the earth, we don't easily see or hear God and what he is doing. Being fully transformed is going to take some force! Not all at once maybe, gradually over time certainly, but force and power nonetheless.
Finding God isn't hard, but it requires dedication. Buying the kingdom pearl requires us to sell everything else. It's that process of searching, of turning our lives into God, that changes and refines us. As we search for God in a real way, with our lives not just our minds, we become fit to meet with him. If we are to love God with all of our heart, all of our mind and all of our soul then we must be able to bring them all to him. And that means dragging our minds and souls out of what they're entrenched in. We're big people with big souls, capable of far more than we can imagine. All of our past, our relationships, our skills and abilities, desires and longings. There's far more to you than you realise. The challenge is to bring all of that to God, let all of your soul be filled with the life of God. Again, the most effective way I've found for unfurling the (sometimes murky) depths of my soul and bringing it to God is through meditation.
But whatever spiritual practise you find brings you to God, approach it with dedication and determination. Let your faith reach your guts, not just something of the mind or even the emotions. If we want to really burn with life, if we're willing to be consumed with zeal, then we need it to reach into all of what we are. With strength. These aren't just words. Not just fanciful ideas. Find a way to make it real. Actually do it! Otherwise you're just another person building a house on the sand and dreaming of the rock. If your spiritual life isn't driving you into intensity, then find something that does! Not something that tickles the mind, that inspires you with interesting ideas, but something that reaches your core - consumes you with zeal. This is the search, how do we find God in a real way? I keep using that word "real". Let us know the real God who created the universe and let's experience his power amongst us. Let's see the promises of Jesus fulfilled amongst us, let's see people find life and finding healing. Otherwise what are we doing, why are we wasting our time with half a faith - claiming we believe but not willing to prove it. But know this: if you dare to take God at his word, to push your life fully into him risking intensity and what it might cost, pushing all else aside, he won't disappoint.
The safeguard against a weird intensity, wrong intensity. Is always love. Love for people and love for the kingdom. If your search for God, your zeal for his house, doesn't help you love people then you're doing it wrong! Passion may (should?) make people feel uncomfortable at times, it should be challenging and sharp, but it must drive you to love. A good measure, on the whole, of whether you're really loving people is do they feel loved. Feelings certainly aren't everything, and speaking the truth in love doesn't always leave people feeling loved at the time, but as a general guide it's a good one. So assess yourself humbly and honestly, am I really loving people? How do you spend your time, your thoughts, your energies. And if a God focus, an intense search for his life, is leading you to spending more time with people and loving them more then there's a good chance you're onto something! Let's get there together, and burn with life. Intensely.