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It was a simple comment, spoken in Fellowship Hall during one of our church’s Mother’s Together mornings—a truth that helped change how I think about God:
You don’t have to journal to have a relationship with God. Jesus didn’t journal, did He?
For most of my life I believed God was someone I could chase down. He was a God whose love I could attempt to buy through reading the Bible, praying, being nice and loving people well. I thought my relationship with God depended on me doing things right.
And that was a problem when I kept failing at being good. That was a problem when the past mess-ups seemed too big, too horrible for Him to truly forgive.
God, how you can you love me, really, like this?
When Nancy said these words, I exhaled. I wanted to believe her. I wanted to believe my relationship with God is founded on accepting His love for me, right now, without me having to do a thing.
If I want to journal and write out my prayers to God everyday, fine. If I want to run a homeless shelter or become a missionary, fine. If I want to raise children and stay home or be a mom and pursue a career, fine. It’s not what I do that counts, it’s with Whom I am doing this life.
Over the years, as I’ve listened to Nancy’s teaching and her writing, I have loved her candor, her vulnerability, her willingness to not hide and be real.
I need women in my life who champion women and men to be unafraid to live lives with courage, despite falling short, knowing they are loved, no matter what.
I’m thrilled to be able to ask Nancy Ortberg―amazing writer, leader, teacher, and speaker a few questions about worship and listening and looking for God. I love Nancy’s book, Looking for God: Slightly Unorthodox, Highly Unconventional, and Entirely Unexpected Thoughts about Faith. This is why I’m excited to be giving away two copies today! . . . See details below. And right now, you can pre-order Nancy’s brand new book coming out in July: Seeing in the Dark: Finding God’s Light in the Most Unexpected Places. Don’t wait. Get it here.
Here is the interview with Nancy:
Jennifer: When you hear the word “worship” what’s the first image that comes to mind? How do you define worship? What are some common misunderstandings you’ve observed about what worship is and what it means to do it?
Nancy: Worship is a ‘whole life response to God.’ So worship is this back and forth rhythm of knowing God and responding to that. The more we know God, the more authentic and meaningful our lives will be as they respond to that knowledge.
You can’t rush that…it happens, over time, as we have experiences all along the continuum, from suffering to joy and everything in between. We live in those experiences, we wrestle and fight with God, we talk to others, we are quiet, we eventually find bedrock and discover that God is there, and that he is, above all, good.
Our response to the ongoing journey in our lives of knowing God’s goodness, is worship. Our response is gratitude, perseverance, joy, patience, love, among others.
And maybe we sing.
Worship is not primarily about singing…
Jennifer: What are some of your very favorite things to do with God? How do you fit these things into your week, your day?
My favorite thing . . . that would be to increase my awareness that God is already present in everything I do. I forget that a lot.
So that when I exercise, I can be overflowing with joy about how good it is to have a body that can move and ‘take in’ the beauty around it.
When I am at work, I can ask God to be with me in an upcoming meeting, or give me insight that I lack, or treat someone well, or find the courage to apologize if I didn’t…
So more than ‘fitting them in’ it is realizing that he is already there and I’m invited in to that.
When I read, whether that is the Bible, a book about God, or a novel that isn’t obviously spiritual…this too becomes a possible moment when a thought or idea can tug me back to God and his truth.
Having great conversations about all of the above with friends who love to have spiritual conversations, is another way to solidify all of this.
Jennifer: How would you define God’s “voice”? Do you think it is possible for everyone to hear Him? How does hearing God relate to the experience of worshipping Him?
Absolutely. I think it is possible for everyone to hear him. But what that is like is different for everyone. For me it has most often been a quite whisper, a “sense” of direction or presence.
Much like, as a parent, I often have to find different ways of talking to each of my kids, our relationship with God has that one-of-a-kind, unique communication.
The connection to worship, is that this hearing is another part of my whole life response to God.
Jennifer: How do you discern God’s voice over all the other noise in your life? What are some practical ways to figure out if it is His voice you are hearing–or something else?
Nancy: That’s the trick isn’t it? Anytime there are multiple points of noise, you need to take the time to separate the sounds and determine which one to turn up the volume on.
In discerning God’s voice, time and space become paramount. Figuring out ways to put those in to my calendar when I am experiencing competing and loud noises, is important.
Time is the hardest for me…being patient to let the clarity come over time. I often wish God was faster 🙂
We all know, looking in the rear view mirror, that God does some of his deepest work in us when we are waiting.
Jennifer: How does your experience of doing what you’re made to do, with God, relate to worship?
Nancy: DEEPLY. God has wired each of us uniquely, and when any of us find that place and live out of it, we are most alive and full of joy, purpose and meaning.
That God would create us that way, AND that that would create such joy in us…okay, we are now back to learning more and more about the goodness of God.
Jennifer: Any favorite resources?
Nancy: My God and I, by Lewis Smedes
My Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman
A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean
Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, OR the stage production
Jennifer: And, just for fun, here are the super-deep questions: What is your favorite music to listen to when you’re happy?
Nancy: Music from the 70’s
Jennifer: When you’re sad?
Nancy: Anything with a cello in it
Jennifer: Favorite smell?
Nancy: Outdoors…sage, orange, eucalyptus colliding.
Jennifer: Favorite sound in your house?
Nancy: My kids or husband walking through the door yelling “I’m here!”
Jennifer: Best compliment you’ve received?
Nancy: “You delight me.”
Jennifer: Favorite word?
Jennifer: Favorite place you visited in the last year?
Nancy: The Great Wall of China.
Jennifer: The quote (silly or serious) you can’t get out of your head?
Nancy: “I Poke Badgers with Spoons.”
Jennifer: Thank you so much, Nancy. I am so grateful for you and your sharing here.
Nancy Ortberg served as a teaching pastor for eight years at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. During that time she lead Network, a ministry that helps people identify their spiritual gifts and find a place of service in the church, and Axis, a weekly gathering for the eighteen- to twenty-something generation.
She is a founding partner of Teamworx2, a business and leadership consulting firm that provides fast-paced, practical, and compelling sessions to leaders and their teams. Teamworx2 works with businesses, schools, nonprofits, and churches to address issues of organizational effectiveness and teamwork.
Nancy is a gifted communicator who is passionate about helping people connect what they believe with their everyday lives. She is currently the CEO of Transforming the Bay with Christ, a non-profit organization working to catalyze a holistic gospel movement in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nancy is the author of Looking for God: Slightly Unorthodox, Highly Unconventional, and Entirely Unexpected Thoughts about Faith and Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands: Lessons in Non-Linear Leadership.
She and her husband, John, live in the Bay Area and have three children: Laura, Mallory, and Johnny.