We asked Spencer Christian, a FRIEND of The Alignment Network Project, to write this essay. We asked him to share his personal reflections on the Seven Principles for Living Connected with God and what it means to know God. We are honored to share this essay. It is personal, it deals with reality, and it provides a living example of what it means to practice what is written in – What’s With You and God? Discover How Well You Know God – the curriculum book for the five-session dialog course used in this Project.
Here are the seven principles.
- Live Connected with God
- Live with Unconditional Love
- Live with Courage
- Live Up to Your Potential
- Live in Dialog
- Live in Hope
- Live as Servant Leaders
I was raised in a poor, rural community in the old, segregated South. I was nearly 21 years old in the late 1960s, when the signs that read “whites only” began to disappear from public facilities like restaurants, restrooms, water fountains, playgrounds—places I encountered in my daily life, but places where I was not welcome. My parents endured even harsher indignities. My father’s generation of young black men fought in World War II in a segregated American military, risking their lives to defend freedoms abroad which they were cruelly denied when they returned home to “the land of the free”.
Yet, despite being relegated to second-class citizenship for the first 50 years of their lives, my parents taught my brother and me to love, to forgive, to be hopeful, and—above all—to trust in God to make things better. And, indeed, He did. As we watched the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s unfold on the evening news, my parents would point to each advancement as a demonstration of God’s faithfulness, while also reminding us that most of the civil rights advocates were servant leaders of profound faith.
As the barriers of segregation began to fall, we found growing hope that my generation would have greater opportunities to live up to our potential. My parents encouraged me to seek commonality with everyone, as a way of achieving greater understanding, discovering common interests and values, and building a sense of community. So, of course, this meant living in dialog. God clearly invites us to have dialog with Him through His living Word, and through prayer. Doesn’t it naturally follow that He desires us to have dialog with each other?
Considering that people died for the cause of freedom and justice during the era in which I grew up, it’s important to understand that there were serious challenges and risks for those who dared to demonstrate love in the face of mean-spiritedness, to embrace hope in an atmosphere of despair, to seek dialog with those who might be unwilling, or to display the courage to pursue their dreams and aspirations even as barriers were placed in their path. Yet, the practice of these principles—not as separate ideals, but as essential parts of one body—has produced profound results for our society as a whole and for me personally.
I learned at a very early age, from the example set by my parents that being connected with God would bring joy to my life. Having daily dialog with Him by reading His word or by talking to Him in prayer gives me great comfort in moments of uncertainty and pain—and I do believe that pain is necessary for spiritual growth. Without suffering, how can we know the fullness of joy?
The Apostle Paul has much to say about that. Unlike Paul, though, I have found that much of my suffering has not been visited upon me by external forces, but has been the result of my conscious choices that I knew to be displeasing to God—or, in other words, my “disconnecting” from God. Yet, whenever I sincerely seek His comfort and forgiveness with a contrite heart, He never fails to renew my hope and ease my pain. He invites me to reconnect.
Had I not experienced discrimination in my early life, had I not grown up economically “underprivileged”, I might very well not be so grateful, so thankful, for a life so richly blessed.
One of those blessings is the gift of communication, which enabled me to have dialog with everyone from paupers to presidents. I have had a 44-year career as a television news reporter, sportscaster, weatherman, and talk show host. My travels and assignments have taken me to all 50 states and to 5 continents. As an interviewer, I have found that having “dialog” before going on the air with someone who feels nervous or uneasy tends to relax and encourage that person, which results in a more natural dialog once the cameras start rolling. And even when the person being interviewed has had much on-air experience an honest attempt at meaningful dialog generally results in something useful for the viewers.
Perhaps more important is the dialog I’ve witnessed in times of shared pain and suffering. When a tornado or hurricane or flood devastates a community, I’ve seen people who had never spoken to each other before come together in the most caring and supportive fashion, having some of the most meaningful dialog of their lives. My heart has been warmed and my spirits have soared as I’ve watched people of different races, socio-economic backgrounds, and world views form deep and lasting bonds when tragic loss produces a need to rely on each other, to have dialog, to find the courage to face adversity with hope and faith. I have shed tears of joy as I’ve watched the powerful and the mighty rush to serve the weak and powerless when a natural disaster strikes. Often, these experiences of shared adversity make people feel more connected with God.
Reflecting once again on my early childhood, I learned powerful lessons about living connected with God from my parents’ example. Living with love seemed to come naturally for them. And feeling so unconditionally loved by them gave me the courage to face difficult times with the hope that I could live up to my potential. They taught me to talk to God through prayer, and encouraged me to live in dialog—with other Christians, and with doubters and non-believers as well.
Clearly, all of these principles for knowing God are closely related and are all of immeasurable value. Yet, I must cite servant leadership as a principle that makes me feel especially connected with God. Perhaps it reminds me of Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples; or maybe serving others takes me back to my childhood, when I watched my poor, hard-working parents assemble Christmas gift baskets which my father and I would deliver across our rural county to the elderly, the housebound, and to families that were even poorer than we were.
Before I began writing these words, I spent quite a few hours examining my connection with God—thinking deeply about what “living connected with God” means to me. I concluded that it literally means everything, because feeling connected with God is what gives my life meaning and purpose.
As I reflected on my relationship with God, it also became clear to me that the seven principles for knowing God are not separate and independent concepts. For me, living connected with God—continually seeking Him—brings all of these principles together in concert, reminding me that God is always available, always accessible, and wants us to be connected with Him.
As I write this, I am in my 68th year in this world. Yet, I can recall vividly how my parents practiced the “principles” in a way that was so instructive and inspiring for me, that I could feel God’s presence in my earliest recollections from childhood.
I knew that my parents’ love was pure and unconditional, which may be the most comforting and reassuring thing a child can feel. I recognized their disappointment when I misbehaved, but I never felt unloved. My parents conveyed to me that their love represented God’s love—that He also loves His children unconditionally. He is not pleased when we choose to disobey Him, but He never stops loving us. It was at this very early time in my life that I began to feel that I KNEW God.
My parents helped me to know God without having consciously devised a plan. They practiced a strong and encouraging love, as opposed to a rigid set of disciplinary guidelines. I never wanted to let them down. I was less afraid of some terrible form of punishment than I was of causing my parents disappointment and heartbreak. This helped shape my youthful, innocent perception of God. I did not think of God as some vengeful figure in the sky, who would strike me down if I “committed a sin”–but, rather, as a merciful Master who expected me to learn from my missteps and to grow in my desire to please Him.
I have felt God’s presence daily. Whether I’m praying or just thinking about who God is, I sense his nearness. Yet, it is often not the peaceful times or the happy moments when I feel that I know God best. It is usually those occasions when I have made poor choices and gotten myself into a mess that get me better acquainted with God. When I experience pain, sorrow, anxiety, fear–especially when my condition is the result my own “wrongness”–God reveals Himself to me through His comfort and reassurance. The result of my struggles is the joy of knowing Him better.
I have not lived a saintly life. I have demonstrated love, kindness, and generosity; but I have also been willful, selfish, and irresponsible. For nearly 30 years, at the same time that I was raising a family and building a rewarding career in broadcasting, I was also a compulsive gambler—a “high roller” in the casinos of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and other hot spots. During those years, I earned a fortune in my chosen profession, and I lost it all in the casinos.
It was a decades-long juggling act, in which I desperately borrowed money from banks and exhausted my consumer credit lines, in order to provide my family the “good life”, while trying to hide my crippled financial condition from friends, colleagues, and the television-viewing public. During all of these years, I maintained a relationship with God. I prayed, I felt His presence, I asked for guidance and deliverance; but I did not want to give up this thing that gave me pleasure—a “pleasure” that threatened to wreck my family, my career, my health, and my hope for eternity.
In just these last two years, after taking token steps to rid my life of gambling— reducing my participation to “just playing poker”–I began to talk to God more honestly about my problem. When praying, I would say, “You know my heart, and you know that I don’t truly ‘desire’ to give this up. Lord, please change my heart and give me that desire. Help me to find more pleasure in pleasing you than in satisfying my selfish urges.” The result has been a new dimension in my relationship with God. He brought people and experiences into my life that have given me hope and joy that far surpass any “pleasure” I derived from my wasteful self-indulgence.
My good friend, SQuire Rushnell, in his book, When GOD Winks at YOU, tells story after story about people who experienced incredible “coincidences” in which they found certainty from their uncertainty, comfort in their distress, and clarity of purpose from their “fogginess.” If the readers of my essay have doubts about the God we can KNOW – the God who delivers Grace just in time – the God who helps us to stretch and serve – the God who motivates us to live by principles that align us with his Character — read Squire’s book to be reminded of more lives, like mine, that God rescues and restores to the life we are created to live.