You Can Never Love God

Our church staff and leadership team attends the Global Leadership Summit every year. It’s a beautiful configuration of leaders from business, government and faith, sharing best practices and glimpses into their influence and management styles. For two days, we sit along with thousands of others across the country (the technology of satellite links!) and watch people claim their 40 minutes of renown on the Willow Creek stage. Melinda Gates, this year. And the former chairman of Ford, Alan Mulally. Bishop TD Jakes. In years past, Colin Powell. Bono. Jimmy Carter. Carly Fiorina.

Bill Hybels

No slouchers, these folks.

I have personal connections that make the Summit extra special; I’ve stood on that same stage and noodled on the piano during a break at one of the first Summits, during the season that my brother was on staff at Willow. My sister-in-law’s job is to manage and direct the technical teams at all Summit satellite locations every year, so a successful Summit is always a personal high five for Shana.

Even beyond my family connections, this conference time is always full of incredible insight, applicable information and inevitably, some spiritual course correction. This year was no different. My Evernote file is full of sketches and doodles and drawings and bullet points full of words.

Words like people first.

What my Evernote files look like…

All lives have equal value.

You can change your legacy.


Changing the behavior of others is brutal.

Value people.

Daily bread…

Real connection.

True humility…true dependency…

Red sand beach…

Keep coming back.

There’s a wealth of information represented in those eleven phrases. Each one represents stuff that I haven’t forgotten yet – but I will. Because, the truth is, there’s no way I can hold all of this in my head – even with the best note-taking. And the truth is, I’m not supposed to.

I believe to everything there is a season, and I have learned this: What is needed for each season of my growth and development as a leader, a woman, a parent, a wife – as a human – simply comes.

It comes. I trust the process and I open myself up to what needs to fill in the gaps in what I am learning and experiencing and thinking, because I can tell you this; of all the things I have learned in my half-century on this earth, I find myself utterly thrilled and totally excited by the discovery that there is more.

More self-awareness. More willingness to let go. More desire to lose the control issues. More to learn, from years and years of wisdom that existed long before I started thinking deep thoughts. 

There is this tugging, a gently-sloping descent of sorts, into an existence that is focused less on the certainty of knowing and practicing a way of being that reflects my faith, and more on an open embrace of the vast amount of….well, everything.

Knowledge. Beauty. Experience. Language. Theology. Science. Love. Paradox.

The violent crackle of thunder mixed with the cleansing pinpricks of rain; the deep ache of sorrow and loss fused with the surprise of hope and history.

All of the Summit teaching distilled, for me, into one specific segment, from a scheduled presenter who, quite frankly, did not engender great expectations from me. I was cynical about John Maxwell, but his words are the ones that rocked my world.

Leaders lift. They intentionally add value to people. There is a thin line between motivating people and manipulating people. Do you want to add value to the lives of others – or do you want them to add value to YOUR life? People want to know: Do you like me? Can you help me? Can I trust you? Everything worthwhile is uphill. Selfishness and significance are incompatible. Most people don’t lead a life; they simply accept their life. Jesus values people. His entire life shows him encountering others and reflecting that God values them. Are we going to spend our life connecting with people or correcting them?

Just typing these phrases, scattered throughout my notes on his talk – they convict and inspire and bring tears again, because this; this is the tugging, the gentle descent into releasing years of striving and fighting and clamoring for affirmation. This is, I think, the point.

And then tonight I get this from Pete Rollins, a philosopher and theologian who I trust to spark my thinking. Rollins, paraphrasing philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich, says these words:

You can never love God, but you love someone. And in loving someone, you love God. God is not an object that you love, God is that which you discover in the act of loving itself.

And first I think, What is this nonsense? because in every church I’ve ever been, to boldly state YOU CAN NEVER LOVE GOD would start a fire and end in shame. Of course we love God! We love God because He first loved us! Look at me, loving God in all my God-loving ways! My prayer and my music and my wall art and my proclamations…

….all my things….

I backed up and heard this statement again, because I felt a Holy Nudge, and I knew there was something for me there. And in a flash of brilliance, a thunderclap of dots connecting, I saw that what stuck in my soul from John Maxwell was woven in the somewhat existential philosophical declaration of Rollins, and I tripped over that love your neighbor business that Jesus said more than once, and I stopped what I was doing and decided I’d write all this down.

You can’t love God. Think on that for a while, and think about adding value to someone’s life by connecting with them instead of correcting them. Think about the uphill battle, the tide of political fencing and half-true news stories that we swim against. Think about the quickness that is in our nature to judge and to walk on the other side of the street.

Just think about that, and see what happens.

That’s what I’ve told myself. We’ll see what happens.







One Comment

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  1. Lot of good ideas in this. I especially love the idea that ‘what is needed…comes’.

    A good friend of mine attended this same event last week. Her pastor had extolled its virtues for years. She never participated because she’s not a leader. She had a fantastic experience with it. Described herself as melted afterwards.

    It must be amazing!


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