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Posted: 9/23/2013
Time Together is the Key to Our Relationship with God
Charlie Manuel
If George Burns Can Be God, Why Not Charlie? (Part II)

In my previous reflection, I referred to the 1977 movie, Oh, God, in which George Burns plays the role of God. Should I ever make a similar movie, I said, in humor, that I would cast recently fired Philadelphia Phillies baseball manager Charlie Manuel in the role of the deity.

Charlie and Ryan Howard at the batting cage.
Manuel & Ryan Howard: Time Together after Practice

My case for Charlie as God centered on seeing behaviors that reflected his encouragement and nurturing of a personal relationship with players. His managing style was no "knock on the office door to talk," or a reign of fear with an iron hand. He encouraged his guys to spend time with him, talking baseball, hitting, or just enjoying the relationship.

That personal relationship allowed Charlie to be a teacher his players respected, as well as fostering a mutual faith. Players had faith that Manuel wanted the best for them; struggling players realized that he had faith in them, even when fans and the media (or even the players themselves) did not. I saw the key to this relationship being the time players and manager spent together.

Watching Phillies games on TV and seeing behaviors that reflected the personal relationships between Manuel and his players conjured up thoughts of how God wants to have a personal relationship with us. I would often think, "Maybe that's the way God is with us."

Across the span of Judeo-Christian traditions, that belief in personal relationship seems ever-present: The God we worship is a God of relationship. Our God not only allows us to approach on a personal basis, God welcomes and fosters such a relationship.In this reflection and other places, I speak of this relationship as "with God," and praying to God, as if I were ignoring the Christian theology of the Trinity. Without getting into debate or discussion about the nature of the Trinity, realize that I am referring to the personhood of God I most connect with in the situation. At times I may feel closer praying to Jesus because his humanity makes conversation more natural. Other times, my prayer may be a call to the Holy Spirit. The goal is to deepen my relationship with God and not worry about calling on the "right" name. (I'll have further thoughts about this personal relationship -- including a few caveats -- in a later reflection.)

It is easy to read the above paragraph, acknowledge our belief of its truth, but take it for granted: "Well, sure, we can have a personal relationship with God; we all know that." But really think about it. The ultimate power, the creator of the universe wants me to be in personal relationship! Nowadays, it seems many use "awesome" too often, too easily. But, the reality of GOD wanting a relationship with each of us! Truly AWE-SOME! What kind of God is this God!

And this personal relationship can extend ... forever. A poetic anthem from the Book of Common Prayer's funeral litany contains this stanza:

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.From The Book of Common Prayer (for the Episcopal Church), 1979; "The Burial of the Dead: Rite Two", page 491. (Bold emphasis mine.)

Maybe, if I am in personal relationship, on that day that will come, God will say: "Hey, I know that new guy! We talked often!"

This spending time with and talking with God is simply what we often call prayer.

Mother TeresaIn a description of prayer, Mother Thresa says it simply but profoundly:

"Prayer is simply talking to God. he speaks to us: we listen. We speak to him: he listens. A two-way process: speaking and listening."

Robert Duvall in Apostle

In Robert Duvall's 1997 movie The Apostle, (he produced and starred in the movie) Duvall has his pentecostal preacher Sonny say this about his personal, one-to-one relationship with Jesus: (an interesting Guideposts story on Duvall in Resources below)

"I always call you Jesus, and you always call me Sonny." (See related interest video clip below.)

One thing seems clear, whether demonstrated by Charlie my manager hero, Mother Teresa, or Sonny the pentecostal preacher: Come near to God and he will come near to you.
James 4:8
(NIV New Testament)
To be in a personal relationship with God, Jesus, or really anyone (such as a spouse or a friend), we have to spend time with one another, we have to talk and share. There are no short-cuts, no Cliff Notes versions. Sometimes many of us have trouble talking with God. But, we can spend time ... and just listen. Our relationship with God is nurtured and deepened probably in proportion to the time we spend together.

We often hear stores about coaches spending time just talking with key players. A chief purpose is to get to a point where the player thinks like the coach. I have my own coach/quarterback story.

Stanford's David Shaw and Andrew Lukc
2011: Stanford's coach David Shaw with now Colts QB Andrew Luck. ( photo).
Unfortunately, I don't have a pic of Mike and me.

As high school football coach in Wyoming, I tried to spend as much time as possible with my quarterback, Mike. We talked not only game plans, but football in general -- and often just about life. Mike started thinking about strategy the way I thought. Not acting as a robot, but making decisions based on what he had learned from "Coach Dodd."Of all the titles I've had in life, that's probably my favorite ... well, second only to "Dad".

I usually called plays from the sidelines using hand signals. Holding-the-horse's-reins meant an option in the Ride Series, fist-to-the air was Quick Pitch (pitch to left or right depended on whether Mike had the offense in the White or Blue formation), and many others. (This was before today's system of elaborate, color-coded charts covering the coach's mouth that correspond to lists of plays on a wrist band worn by the QB.) A signal I used more frequently as Mike and I grew in relationship was the hands-palms-up sign. That meant, "Coach doesn't know ... you're on your own; use your best judgment!"

Whether it's shortstop Jimmy Rollins with Charlie Manuel, Patriots signal caller Tom Brady with coach Bill Belichick, QB Mike with Coach Dodd ... or you and I with God: The quality and depth of the relationship will depend on time spent together.

OK. Most of us desire a deep (or deeper) relationship with God. We know that this "spending time" is critical (as it is in any relationship). Praying busy mother We long to have a relationship like we may have had with a first love -- do just about anything to find time to spend together, often steal time to talk. But, we lead busy lives. We have demanding jobs, personal commitments, service projects ... all filling up what seems to be a diminishing resource of time. We want time with God ... but where do we get the time?

No matter how busy they are, or how difficult they find it to make time-with-God feel authentic, many people have established routines and disciplines to make time to deepen the relationship. One busy commuter shared that he made it a routine on the drive home to pull into the parking lot of a walking trail for five minutes and just ponder his day, sharing it with God. I read about a busy hospital intern had trouble feeling God "real" until she started picturing Jesus working in the laundry room where she often grabbed a few minutes of time alone. She started talking with her Jesus while she watched him fold the linens.

I'm guessing I am not the only one who could benefit from hearing how others make time to deepen their relationship with God or ways people make the time together feel more natural. If you have a discipline, ritual, or technique you use, send me an email description. In a later post, I'll share some so we can all benefit. Send to:

"I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer." (Martin Luther)

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Of Related Interest

What started as an actor's exploration of character became a discovery of faith.
How Oscar-winning actor Robert Duvall found inspiration for his film, The Apostle.
A movie clip from The Apostle, where Duvall's "Sonny" prays to/yells at Jesus.

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