“Moving Beyond Belief: Cultivating Connection with a Responsive God” by Forest Benedict, MA, SATP-C

Do you know about God but find connecting with his love difficult? Do you understand Biblical theology but find yourself reaching to addictive or unhealthy behaviors to manage your emotions instead of reaching out to God for help and comfort? I believe these are common experiences for Christians today. They have been my experiences as well.

For those of us who grew up with a critical, addicted, or non-responsive parent, we often relate to God in the maladaptive ways we learned to respond to emotionally unreliable caregivers. Thus, experiencing a deep, loving, interactive relationship with a God who hears, cares, and responds, sounds like a foreign concept to many of us.

In his book Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices that Can Transform Your Life and Relationships, Curt Thompson, MD, explains this from a neurological perspective:

“Our attachment patterns, translated into and through our neural networks, not only affect our relationships with other people, they are one of the primary forces shaping our relationship with God. Whatever our dominant patterns tend to be, we will relate with and assume things about God through those same neural networks. (After all, he created our brains and doesn’t bypass them when he invites us into a personal encounter with him)” (p. 118).

While our patterns of disconnection are wired into our brains, growth is still possible. Before reading Anatomy of the Soul, I honestly don’t think I valued the importance of cultivating emotional connection with God. This has been a significant paradigm shift for me. I’ve found that intentionally seeking God in the ways I will soon describe have allowed me to experience God in powerful ways I will never forget.

Before exploring these strategies, it is important to understand how the process of connection unfolds. Much of the work I do as a therapist is grounded in attachment theory. Basically, wherever we go for comfort in times of emotional distress is what/who we attach or connect to. For many, their primary attachment figure is an addictive substance or experience. I invite you to consider what strength can be found when we seek God for the reassurance we need when we experience emotional pain. Experiencing God’s gentle, compassionate response disarms the driving need to seek addictive experiences for relief.

Reaching out to God and finding Him present, increases our trust in Him. Doing this repetitively helps us develop a “secure” connection with God. In everyday struggles (such as temptations, emotional distress, and experiencing self-criticism), we find that we are not alone and we feel the difference.

This concept of reaching out to God and experiencing His loving response is throughout Scripture. In the Psalms, King David was especially aware of God’s reassuring presence. In Psalm 94:18-19, he wrote:

            “If I say, “My foot is slipping,”
Your faithful love will support me, Lord.
When I am filled with cares,
Your comfort brings me joy.”

See also Psalm 18:6, 32:10, 34:7, 40:1, etc

You may be wondering, “how can I experience God in this way”? Let me suggest four powerful, practical strategies that I have found helpful in deepening my connection with God; journalling, visualization, scripture, and music.

I’ve used journaling my prayers for a long time. I use a password protected word document on my computer so I can be brutally honest and never worry about who may find it (even after I die), but that is personal preference. After I journal my prayer, which often includes me venting and/or expressing my emotions to God, I often have a time for listening. In my listening time, I ask God to speak and I type whatever I feel him saying to me. This is never an audible voice but a message always comes to me. It generally includes the reassurance and encouragement I need in that moment.

I’ve wondered before if this “voice” was not really God but just something I’ve imagined. I’ve decided that even if this is just me talking to myself, it’s still worth practicing because it’s usually a powerful experience that bring comfort and connection. I guess that’s where faith comes in; trusting in what I do not see. FYI: In the near future, I plan on sharing some of my listening sessions on this blog because I believe others will find them reassuring as well (stay tuned).

The second spiritual connection exercise can be described as visualization, which can include imagining an uplifting interaction with God. In Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thompson shares specific visualization exercises that deepen attachment with God. “Being Known” is one of these experience (It can be viewed here). I’ve also started my time with God with Being Known then allowed Him to continue to speak to me through mental imagery. These too have been life-changing “experiences” for me.

Using scripture is the third way to deepen connection with God and I’d like to put a new spin on that experience. It is one thing to read scripture to learn and quite another to read it to connect. For those of us seeking to increase connection with God, I encourage the reading of scripture with this focus in mind. Dwell on verses such as Zephaniah 3:16-18, which reads; “On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, don’t be afraid.  For the Lord your God has arrived to live among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will give you victory. He will rejoice over you with great gladness; he will love you and not accuse you.” Is that a joyous choir I hear? No, it is the Lord himself exulting over you in happy song” (Living Bible). If deepening connection is the goal, then looking for promises and stories that reflect God’s faithfulness, kindness, and loving response will be important to read, reread, and pray through, talking to the Creator Himself. This does not mean that the other verses are not important or that God does not have other parts of His character but it does allow for new experiences of His genuinely loving and tender nature, which are foundational for increasing intimacy.

The remainder of this article will focus on the fourth way I recommend fostering deeper connection God; through music. Music is a wonderful medium because it often connects to the emotional part of our brain. Combine that with lyrics that remind us of God’s “attunement” to our cares and needs and you have a great opportunity to experience God in new ways. I have created a Connection Playlist (CD and Spotify) and many of the lyrics from it are written below.

Remember, there are many Christian songs about God and about truth but these songs specifically speak of deeper connection, using imagery such as open arms, comforting words, reassurance, eye-contact, and feeling God’s loving presence. As you read them, I invite you to allow God’s voice to speak directly to your heart, strengthening your assurance that He is available and responsive and allowing yourself to experience your feelings as they surface.

“You’re Not Alone” – Meredith Andrews

I searched for love when the night came and it closed in
I was alone, but You found me where I was hiding
And now I’ll never ever be the same
It was the sweetest voice that called my name, saying

You’re not alone for I am here
Let me wipe away your every fear
My love, I’ve never left your side
I have seen you through the darkest night
And I’m the One who’s loved you all your life

You cry yourself to sleep
Cause the hurt is real and the pain cuts deep
All hope seems lost with heartache your closest friend
And everyone else long gone
You’ve had to face the music on your own
But there is a sweeter song that calls you home, saying

You’re not alone for I am here
Let me wipe away your every tear
My love, I’ve never left your side
I have seen you through the darkest night
And I’m the One who’s loved you all your life

Faithful and true forever
My love will carry you

“In Your Presence” – Jason Upton

Father I am waiting,
I need to hear from You.
To know that You’re approving
of what I say and do.

Cause nothing really satisfies
like when You speak my name.
So tell me that You’ll never leave
and everything will be okay.
In Your presence, all fear is gone,
In Your presence, is where I belong.

Father I’m returning
to things I used to do.
Cause somewhere on the journey
I think I lost hold of the truth.
But nothing really satisfies
like when You speak my name.
So tell me that You’ll never leave
and evertthing will be okay.

“Feet Of Jesus” – Steven Curtis Chapman

In the stillness I can hear my Savior calling out
Come to me and lay your burdens down

So I will lay down my struggles
I will lay down my shame
All the fear I drag around through this life
like a ball and chain
(All my questions and confusion)
I will sing Hallelujah to the One who sets me free
And you will find me at the feet of Jesus

In the arms of Jesus I will find my peace and rest
I hear him calling come to me and rest
Carried by my shepherd cradled tightly to His chest
There and there alone my soul finds rest

So I will rest in the shelter of my Savior’s embrace
Hidden safely in the refuge of His mercy and His Grace
And I Will Sing Hallelujah to the One who sets me free
And you will find me in the arms of Jesus

“Fly” – Jars of Clay

Be still
Let your hand melt into mine
The part of me
That breathes when you breathe
Is losing time
I can’t find the words to say
I’ll never say goodbye

And I’ll fly with you
Through the night so you know
I’m not letting go
I’m not letting go
Tears like rain fill up the sky
Oh my love
Hold still and let your
Hand melt into mine
I’m not letting go
I won’t let you go

“Ever Lifting” – Christy Nockels
You’re lifting my head so I know You’re near me
You’re lifting my eyes so I see You clearly
You are where I belong
I’m lifting my voice just to sing a new song
I’m lifting my hands just to show You I know
Where I belong
You are where I belong
You are ever lifting me

You fill my heart to know
The length of Your great love
And where You go I’ll go
You set my heart above
And nothing on earth compares
Oh, God when I’m with You
You take me higher

“By Your Side” – Tenth Avenue North

Why are you striving these days
Why are you trying to earn grace
Why are you crying
Let me lift up your face
Just don’t turn away

Why are you looking for love
Why are you still searching
As if I’m not enough
To where will you go child
Tell me where will you run
To where will you run

‘Cause I’ll be by your side wherever you fall
In the dead of night whenever you call
And please don’t fight these hands that are holding you
My hands are holding you

Look at these hands at my side
They swallowed the grave on that night
When I drank the world’s sin
So I could carry you in
And give you life
I want to give you life

‘Cause I, I love you
I want you to know
That I, yeah I’ll love you
I’ll never let you go, no, no

“You Are A Child Of Mine” – Mark Schultz

I’ve been hearing voices
Telling me that I could
Never be what I wanna be.
They’re binding me with lies,
Haunting me at night,
And saying there’s nothing to believe.
Somewhere in the quietness,
When I’m overcome with loneliness,
I hear You call my name.
And like a father You are near
And as I listen I can hear You say

You are a child of Mine
Born of My own design
And you bear the heart of life.
No matter where you go,
Oh, you will always know
You have been made free in Christ.
You are a child of Mine

And so I listen as You tell me who I am
And who it is I’m gonna be.
And I hang on every word,
Knowing I have heard
I am Yours and I am free
But when I am alone at night
That is when I hear the lie
You’ll never be enough
And though I’m giving into fear
If I listen I can hear You say

You are a child of Mine

“Busted Heart (Hold On To Me)” – For King & Country

Winter has come back again
Feels like the season won’t end
My faith is tired tonight,
And I won’t try to pretend,
I’ve got it all figured out,
That I don’t have any doubts,
I’ve got a busted heart
I need You now

Hold on to me
Don’t let me lose my way
Hold on to me

I am the wandering son
Enough is never enough
I keep chasing the wind
Instead of chasing Your love
I’m screaming out Your name,
Don’t let me fall on my face
I’ve got a busted heart
I’m in need of a change
Yeah, I’m desperate for grace

Broke Your heart a thousand times
But You’ve never left my side
You have always been here
For me

You never let me go
Don’t ever let me go

Winter will come to an end
Soon the season will end
I surrender tonight
You meet me right where I am

“Be Still And Know” – Steven Curtis Chapman

Be still restless heart of mine
Bow before the Prince of Peace
Let the noise and clamor cease

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is our Father
Come and rest your head upon His breast
Listen to the rhythm of
His unfailing heart of love
Beating for his little ones
Calling each of us to come
Be still

“Steady My Heart” – Kari Jobe

Wish it could be easy
Why is life so messy?
Why is pain a part of us?
There are days I feel like
Nothing ever goes right
Sometimes it just hurts so much

But You’re here
You’re real
I know I can trust You

Even when it hurts
Even when it’s hard
Even when it all just falls apart
I will run to You
‘Cause I know that You are
Lover of my soul
Healer of my scars
You steady my heart

And I will run to You
And find refuge in Your arms

 I’m not gonna worry
I know that You’ve got me
Right inside the palm of your hand

“Sound Of Your Voice” – Third Day

I ran away from your love
But you waited for me
Yes, you waited for me
And then I heard your song
Singing over me

Now that I hear you, Lord
I want to know you more

Sing your song to me
Oh, there’s no greater thing
Than to listen to the sound of your voice
When I hear your song
I want to sing along
And listen to the sound of your voice

Lord, I am calling your name
And I’m waiting for you
So won’t you show me your way
And I will follow you

“Remind Me Who I Am” – Jason Gray

When I lose my way,
And I forget my name,
Remind me who I am.
In the mirror all I see,
Is who I don’t wanna be,
Remind me who I am.
In the loneliest places,
When I can’t remember what grace is.

Tell me once again who I am to You,
Who I am to You.
Tell me lest I forget who I am to You,
That I belong to You.
When I can’t receive Your love,
Afraid I’ll never be enough,
Remind me who I am.
If I’m Your beloved,
Can You help me believe it.

I’m the one you love
That will be enough

“Without You” – Shane & Shane

I can walk through the storm
I can walk by faith when my sight is gone
Just as long as You are here with me

Here I am, I’m calling out, “Father,
Can You hear me, can You hear me?
I don’t wanna go without You
Here I am, can You talk a little louder
So I can hear You? I want to hear You
I don’t wanna move without You.”

Even though I believe
You’ve taken up a home inside of me
And You’ll never leave
I still need to know You’re here with me

If Your presence goes, I don’t wanna stay
If Your presence stays, I don’t wanna go
I need You

“I Am” – David Crowder

There’s no space that His love can’t reach
There’s no place that we can’t find peace
There’s no end to Amazing Grace
Take me in with your arms spread wide
Take me in like an orphan child
Never let go, never leave my side.

I am,
Holding on to You.
In the middle of the storm,
I am Holding on,
I am!

Love like this, Oh my God to find!
I am overwhelmed what a joy divine!
Love like this sets our hearts on fire!

This is why to You I run

“The More I Seek You” – Kari Jobe
I wanna sit at your feet
Drink from the cup in your hand.
Lay back against you and breath,
Hear your heart beat

The more I seek you,
the more I find you.
The more I find you,
the more I love you

This love is so deep,
it’s more than I can stand.
I melt in your peace…

“Your Love is Strong” – Jon Foreman
I look out the window
The birds are composing
Not a note is out of tune
Or out of place
I look at the meadow
And stare at the flowers
Better dressed than any girl
On her wedding day
So why do I worry?
Why do I freak out?
God knows what I need
You know what I need
Your love is strong

Two things you told me
That you are strong
And you love me
Yes, you love me

“Running in Circles” – United Pursuit Band
I’m so forgetful, but You always remind me
You’re the only one who brings me peace
So I come, Lord I come
To tell you I love you
To tell you I need you
To tell you there’s no better place for me than in your arms
To tell you I’m sorry
For running in circles
For placing my focus on the waves, not on your face
You’re the only one who brings me peace
In the storm

“Wrap Me in Your Arms” – Michael Gungor

There is a God who loves me
Who wraps me in His arms
And that is the place where I’m changed
And that’s where I belong

Take me to that place Lord
To that secret place where
I can be with You
You can make me like You
Wrap me in Your arms

“Sound Of Your Voice” – Steven Curtis Chapman

There’s a mockingbird singing outside my window
There’s a little girl calling my name
And I hear Your voice
It’s the sound of Your voice
There’s a gentle breeze whispering
Stories and secrets through the branches of the old willow tree
And I hear Your voice
It’s the sound of Your voice

God, You know how much I wish I could just hear You say the words
And answer all the questions everybody’s asking
But until I hear You speak
Will You help me hear the songs You’re singing over all this noise
I will be listening for the sound of Your voice

There’s a little boy’s eyes looking up from a postcard
He’s asking “Will you show me love”
And I hear Your voice
I hear the sound of Your voice
There’s a woman who’s crying ‘cause her hope is dying
And a friend whispers “You are not alone”
And I hear Your voice
I hear the sound of Your voice

And I’ll close my eyes for a moment
When I open them again
You’ll be standing there face to face
And I’ll sing for joy
And I will finally hear Your voice

With every sunrise You tell me again
How Your mercies are new
How Your love never ends
I will be listening for the sound of Your voice
In the crash of the thunder
In the roar of the waves
I hear Your strong arm calling my name
I will be listening for the sound of Your voice
I am listening

After reading the above lyrics, how do you feel? Do you sense God’s reassuring presence? Can you more vividly imagine God’s love and compassion toward you when he senses your feelings? It is my hope that this article awakens you to new possibilities in your spiritual journey. May these new experiences with God help you to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19). May that love be your eternal source of comfort and reassurance.

Continuing the conversation: What songs, lyrics, verses, and quotes can you recommend that help you experience God as a loving Father who responds to the feelings & experiences of His children?

If you found this article inspiring please follow my blog for more great content….thanks!

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13 thoughts on ““Moving Beyond Belief: Cultivating Connection with a Responsive God” by Forest Benedict, MA, SATP-C

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  8. Diane,
    I’m encouraged to hear how the article touched and inspired you. That’s what excites me about this article – that people will read it and experience increased connection that will bless their life. I got that password protected journalling idea from a friend and it’s been so helpful for me. We all need a place to vent, honestly, and without censorship. I think God wants us to do that with Him too – to be brutally honest about our feelings an thoughts. I think he can handle it – and wants to. Thanks for your comments.
    Love, Forest

    Like

  9. Diane

    I love this music..it is always so touching. Still a fan of Michael W. Smith
    Your article is touching my heart. I like the idea of password protected journal. Never want to write stuff that can later be found – writing something after having a bad day.

    Like

  10. Mary Nelsen

    Music is the thing that always touches me deeply and brings me again closer to God. I personally am so old that I find great comfort in hymns that I sang long ago as well as some newer ones.

    Like

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