Most Christians I know want a more intimate relationship with God, but most of us, when we strive to have a closer relationship with God, struggle to find it.
Again and again it seems the things we do to draw closer to God fall short. It's as though the intimate relationship we seek is a mirage that recedes before us.
Or we experience intimacy with God in a wonderful moment, but then it passes. So we throw ourselves back into prayer, worship, Bible study, or the next big event longing for a breakthrough.
What we don't appreciate is that God has already closed the gap and is with us. We don't see this, because we're focused on ourselves or off in the distance where we think Jesus is.
No one has known the heart of the Father better than Jesus. He said that he always did what his "Abba" (Papa) was doing. How we long for that kind of relationship, and yet it's right in front of us. We can talk about how Jesus woke up early to pray, or about signs and wonders he did, but we can never say Jesus was searching somewhere "out there" for intimacy with God. He didn't go looking for spiritual experiences, because he was constantly running into real people and loving them with the gifts and resources he had.
That's what his Papa was doing.
Consider the words of Paul to a group of believers in Corinth who seemed to have it ALL (knowledge, spiritual gifts, and powerful signs and wonders). He said all of that was useless noise without love. It was falling short.
The only thing that will NEVER fail you, he wrote, is love.
Now how about some spiritual wisdom from a farmer's son in Cambodia.
What an amazing desire this is: to have compassion. He recognized in Alongsiders an opportunity he didn't want to miss.
Sarath, the son of farmers, is a four year university student. His goal, when he graduates, is to start a business raising pigs. If you were to imagine a person of spiritual insight, you might not picture an aspiring pig farmer in rural Cambodia. But what Sarath desires - to have compassion for others - is great in the eyes of God, and it will not fail.
Jesus called himself the Son of Man, which simply means "the human." At Christmas we celebrate that Jesus was born as a baby. In that way, God became fully human among us. A mark of those who follow Jesus - here and now in this world where we live - is that they embrace being human; they plunge into human relationships; and they love people as the Father is doing. This is the way to the Father's heart.
As for Sarath, he became an Alongsider for a boy named Sokty. "He was different from the boys in the village," says Sarath. "He was really hungry for education, but his family had no money to support him. I spend time helping him with his homework. He doesn't have money to pay his teacher, but sometimes the church helps."
In Cambodia most teachers expect their students to bring a little money to school every day to "pay for the paper handouts." In this way, the teachers supplement their very low salaries. Teachers aren't supposed to require these payments, but it's very hard for students to refuse. Recently, Sarath went to speak with Sokty's teacher, and then the teacher agreed to visit Sokty's family to see for himself how poor they are. Sarath hopes the teacher will give Sokty an exception after this.
Besides school, Sokty has many chores at home, so he doesn't have much free time. He meets with Sarath two or three times per week. Then they read the lessons that Alongsiders provides, and they often pray together. Sokty says the support and encouragement he's received from Sarath have changed his life. He comes from a Buddhist family, but now he believes there is a God who loves him.
When Christ became fully human, he didn't move away from his Papa's heart physically or relationally. He walked on human feet on dusty ground right into the center of it. I'm pretty sure Sarath, who sees that loving this one vulnerable neighbor is an opportunity, is on to something big. That many of us long for. Now may we have eyes to see it.