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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai
HOW TO BECOME FRIENDS WITH GOD?
PASTOR LEITH ANDERSON SPEAKS FROM HIS HEART
(Leith Anderson. Becoming Friends with God. Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, 2001.)
1. A DEVOTIONAL HOW TO BOOK
The publisher categorizes Leith Anderson's book Becoming Friends With God under "devotional," but I would rather describe this elegantly written work as a gentle book of instruction on how to become friends with God. Leith Anderson says at the end of his preface ("First Words"), "Read a chapter at a time. Read them at all once. Skip around. … it is about becoming friends with God."
2. SPEAKING FROM HEART
It is a fascinating book because the author speaks from his heart straight to your heart, truly with a gentle spirit. There is no feigned or hurried urgency in the tone that the author uses that forces you to make a decision right now or face dire consequences. There is no condemnation for what we have or have not done so far. There is no high-sounding words or spectacular miracles. On the other hand, the book abounds in stories about common people with uncommon faith and good neighborliness. The stories speak for themselves and create in you a desire to become friends with God.
Leith Anderson begins his gentle instruction with a declaration that God is knowable. The secular Westerner just assumes that God is not knowable and comes to the conclusion on his own that since God is not knowable he should avoid all "religion." You can know God through creation, through Jesus, and through the Bible. And this is ably presented with no theological trappings. The conclusion that emerges in the first chapter is that "the number one goal of our lives shouldn't be to get more wisdom, shouldn't be to get more wealth, shouldn't be to get greater strength. The best goal of all is to know God."
3. THE JOURNEY TO KNOWING GOD
The journey to knowing God and become friends with Him begins with the above assertion. Anderson has a very clever design for his book. We won't notice the design easily, but it is all there if you pause for a moment and try to see through the structure of the book. What he does is to tell the story of Jesus Christ in an indirect manner and takes us on a journey to get to know Him and makes friends with Him. You would not recognize that the backbone of the book is Jesus' story. For example, in the second chapter of the book, after presenting his reasons why we should know God in order to become friends with Him, Anderson takes us to Jesus next and introduces us to Him. To paraphrase the author, we must understand what is involved when we say, "Jesus, you are the Christ." The question raised here is, Who is Jesus?
Then we receive an invitation to a miracle at the wedding in Cana in Galilee. Actually, there is a gentle nudging from the author that silently asks us to invite Jesus Christ into our heart and to gaze at His beauty. There are several real and current stories from around us narrated by the author and these stories finally end in the statement: "Does Jesus do miracles today? Indeed he does. … But their primary purpose is not just to heal our diseases, solve our problems, or get us a job. Miracles then and now are signs-pointing to Jesus, showing us the way to faith. Don't get all caught up with the signs. Be like the disciples and follow the signs to Jesus."
The story of Nicodemus (John 3:1-18) becomes the focus of the next chapter. "In Jesus' words, you must be born again-because if you're not, then you are limited to your earthly birth. If you're not born again, then your sins aren't forgiven, … you can't call God your friend." (Chapter 4)
4. BECOMING BOASTWORTHY BELIEVERS
In the process of becoming friends with Jesus, we become boastworthy believers, just as the apostle Paul described the Thessalonians. The boastworthy believers grow in faith and their love for Christ is increasing love. They demonstrate an ongoing perseverance. (Chapter 5)
We are introduced to the astonishing faith of the centurion in chapter 6. "Jesus always makes a significant difference in the lives of those with faith."
With knowledge and faith comes an acquaintance with God. With better acquaintance, the responsibilities arrive. These responsibilities include prayer (chapter 7), but "prayer, like a lot of things in life, is rather simple at the front end but it gets increasingly complex as we move further into it." So we need to be taught how to pray. 'Prayer together' differs from private prayer. Anderson makes a very significant point when he asserts, "prayer is a relationship… Prayer is to relationship as swimming is to water. You can pretend that you swim; you can go through the motions on dry land, but it isn't real unless you're in the water. In the same way, prayer is not the real thing unless it's in a relationship with God. Relationship is what makes true communion with God possible."
5. WHY NO ANSWERS FROM GOD?!
Why is there no answer to our prayers is the focus of chapter 9. "There are people that God will give them absolutely anything they ask for just because they believe. It's not that Jesus' promise isn't true. But we need to understand it in the context of the rest of what the Bible has to say-call it the fine print."
Anderson makes a personal observation that is encouraging to us:
For years my daily prayer list has followed the same format, even though some of the names and requests change. For more years than I can remember, there is one particular request for which the answer has been no. It's obviously very important to me or I would not have repeated it so many thousands of times. I've asked God to explain to me why. I have chosen to submit, and it's not been easy to submit to what his choice might be. And I have concluded that it is a prayer that I am to keep praying, even if the yes that I request doesn't come for years. We need to be sure that when we repeat requests, we have first asked God to explain and we have made sure that we submit.
6. RESPONSE TO MESSAGE FROM GOD
How do we respond to the message of God that we receive? The response of Mary to the message she received through an angel is an exemplary model for us to follow. "I think we can learn from Mary's lessons. I think we can practice Mary's character. For we, too, face our surprises, our traumas, our difficulties, our opportunities in life."
7. THE TOTAL PICTURE
Becoming Friends With God contains 31 short chapters. Each chapter, as explained above, takes us a step further on our journey to get to know God and become friends with Him. The focus of this is the story of Jesus, how His disciples got to know Him, and how we could get to know Him in our daily life. Even as the story of Jesus is the underlying current for every chapter, the lessons we may learn from the apostles and other persons in the Bible who tried to know and become friends with Jesus are ably interwoven in the book.
It is an easily readable book even though it is a book of 31 chapters that are divided into four parts with a total number of 272 pages. It is easily readable because the author presents many interesting stories from the world around us, and makes very interesting and significant suggestions of a practical nature. He is a practical theologian, but he does not get into the subtleties of theology. The stories he tells and the comments he makes clearly reveal true Christian theology.
8. GOD IS LOVE VERSUS LOVE IS GOD
Our Lord has said that we are to love one another. Jesus told his disciples, "You are my friends, if you do what I command" (John 15:14). He also declared, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). Our Lord accepts us as His friends if we do what he commands. What is His command? "This is my command: Love each other" (John 15:17).
Since the emphasis of entire Christian theology is love, these days many people who deny Christ also talk about love. Every person is bandying about love everywhere. Some religions, such as Hinduism, reverses the statement that "God is love" to "Love is God."
Leith Anderson explains what love is in simple terms.
We need some clarification here on what God means by love. There is often a great deal of misunderstanding. For the most part, people would say that love is an emotion; it is a feeling of attachment, of affection and loyalty that we have toward another person. It seems strange to be commanded to love, because we think that our emotions aren't controllable. We feel that love is just there or it isn't there, and it is kind of nonsensical to imagine being commanded to love someone that maybe we don't even like. While, to be sure, emotions are important, we have to understand that when God speaks of love, he speaks of love as being a choice that we make. It is choosing to care for others. It is choosing what's best for the other person. It is loving others as God loves us (p. 147).
9. COMMUNICATION AND COMMUNION
Pastor Anderson asks us not to be bound by the behavior of others, "but instead bound by the love of Jesus Christ." When that happens, "we can impact the lives of others as Jesus did." And our love for Jesus results in practical gestures through anonymous gifts to someone experiencing financial difficulty, or in donating time, money and your skill to serve the poor and the needy, etc.
"When communication gets wonderfully good, it becomes communion," so says the author. The book wants us to have better relationships with all and seek a communication that will lead to communion with God. Everywhere you find practical suggestions, citations from the lives of people found in the Bible, and everywhere you see the love of Christ coming to warm our heart and illumine our understanding. This is a book worth reading, if not at a stretch, chapter by chapter and for the steady growth of our friendship with God.
10. TO CONCLUDE
When I saw the title I expected that the book would begin with John 15:14, 15, and 17. (The verses that I quoted a little earlier.) To my surprise, the book does not cite these verses (if my memory does not fail me)! The closest the author comes to these verses is John 15:13, almost the end of the book. The sacrifice that a friend makes for his friend is the focus here. Pastor Leith Anderson knows that we would expect him to begin with those verses, and as a good writer he chooses to avoid the obvious, but accomplishes his goal of enabling us to become the friends of Jesus nevertheless! Clever, indeed!
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Leith Anderson. Becoming Friends With God.
Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN. 2001.
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