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The key to intimacy is authenticity.

It is as true in our relationship with God as it is in our relationships with our fellow human beings. There is no genuine relationship with God unless we are authentic before God, unless we say who we really are when we open our mouths and say, “God…”

God of course knows who we really are, whether or not we are genuine with him. So we may as well just be honest.

And it is the honesty that creates the possibility of intimacy with God.

In writing to a young seeker, C. S. Lewis said of prayer, “We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” [Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.]

This principle is the heart of Ragamuffin Prayers, a compilation by Jimmy Abegg of essays, poems, prayers, and personal reflections by Christian authors and musicians about prayer.

On the dust jacket, Abegg defines a “ragamuffin” as “A person who is honest about their personal failings and knows they desperately need the grace and love of God; someone more concerned about finding an intimate relationship with God than in fulfilling the expectations of cultural Christianity.”

In “Memos to the Almighty,” Christian singer Billy Sprague writes of his longing for intimacy, which he seeks through prayer.

Prayer is a bulletin board where I post memos to the Almighty. It is not a chess game where I negotiate to get God to see or do things my way. He knows how it looks through my eyes. He knows how to manage the universe. Prayer isn’t a way to see things like He does. It’s a refuge. An oasis of spiritual life. When I don’t go there, I dry up. And brown. Like my yard.

I don’t go very long without water. Sometimes, though, I neglect or avoid prayer deliberately, like ignoring my wife or a friend because of an issue I don’t want to face. But the restless, unnatural isolation of life as a lone ranger draws me back like a thirst. I thirst for intimacy, I suppose. For nearness, acceptance, consolation. Sometimes in prayer, the lightness and calm euphoria return.

Sprague writes further of his attempt to be honest with God, likening it to sitting by a river:

“I pour my heart out like water,” the prophet Jeremiah said. Sometimes in tears. Sometimes in anger or confusion. Often in gratitude. Often in silence. Always in longing. I wait. The river bends toward me. Or I am moved toward it—toward the presence of God. Whenever this happens the current carries me. To deep, still water, and I green.

John Calvin himself knew suffering, with the early death of his beloved wife. He often imagined God as a wellspring of goodness and grace, and even more as a gracious, kind, ever-attentive father. So he encouraged his readers to pour their hearts out to God with honesty. “The essentials of prayer are set in the heart and mind…” he wrote when he was just twenty-seven, but already in exile; “…or rather that prayer itself is properly an emotion of the heart within, which is poured out and laid bare before God, the searcher of hearts.”

Authenticity is hard. It demands risk of the self. But it is the only way to true relationship, to wholeness and to life.

Gregory Love

Gregory Love teaches Systematic Theology at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California. A Presbyterian pastor, Greg’s most recent book, on the meaning of Jesus’ death, is Love, Violence, and the Cross: How the Nonviolent God Saves Us through the Cross of Christ.

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