Last Friday and Saturday, I didn’t want to get in the Word. I really just wanted to read a good book, one with new ideas and words I hadn’t read before. I didn’t want the usual formula of my morning: read the Bible, pray, meditate. So on Friday, I took a walk. It was a beautiful morning and I reveled in the sunshine and warmth, very thankful to God for His creation. “See?” I said to myself. “I don’t need the formula. I can connect with God many different ways.” But a little voice said that if I didn’t read the Bible and pray for others, my time with God was incomplete. Sure, I could connect with Him in nature but it wasn’t sufficient.
Saturday, I read The God Hunt by Karen Mains for a couple of hours in the morning, then some more in the afternoon, then some more at night. I felt my childish rebellion welling up inside in response to the responsible voice that talked about reading the Bible and praying: “I want to just read a book! Why can’t I just do what I want to do?” Reading The God Hunt was in some way, a rebellion, a way of staking my claim to how I wanted to spend my day. I wanted to read a book, not the Bible. I wanted to sit in silence, not pray.
As I was reading the book before I went to sleep Saturday night, Karen Mains was talking about setting up “ducks,” what I have normally called cairns, rocks stacked on top of one another to delineate a path and keep a hiker on the right track. But instead of setting up physical ducks, she was setting up spiritual ones to keep her on the right path with God and reminding her to look for Him. Her spiritual cairns were Bible study, prayer, personal liturgies, memorizing Scripture, etc.
Instead of being a curmudgeonish chore, studying the Bible is a way for me to “keep the object I am hunting within my spiritual sightlines,” to remind myself that “as I moving forward…what I am looking for is God’s work.” God’s work. His touch and presence in my life. Him seeking and finding me. Was I basing my relationship with God on how much I pursued Him?
Then on Sunday morning, I awoke with the cold I had felt developing the previous night. It hadn’t gotten as bad as I expected; I was still well enough to go to church. But I was groggy, sleepy, and short-tempered. Even the bagel crumbs falling to my skirt in the light breeze outside Panera irritated me. As we arrived at church and sat in our usual spot, the worship music started. The first song was one I didn’t particularly like, then second song was a new one that I “didn’t have the energy to learn.” I stood there lamenting how tired and sick I felt, worried about who I would talk to during the five-minute break, and worried about meeting Ana Helena after church to talk to Gerry, a new member who had just moved from the Congo, about teaching him ESL. I heard my usual voice of self-pity, “I’m just so tired. I don’t feel well. I can barely even concentrate on singing. I can’t wait to go home.”
As I stood there, half singing the songs, I remembered something I had read in Practicing His Presence:
One of the mental characteristics against which I have rebelled most is the frequency of my “blank spells” when I cannot think of anything worth writing, and sometimes cannot remember names. Henceforth I resolve to regard these as God’s signal that I am to stop and listen. Sometimes you want to talk to your son, and sometimes you want to hold him tight in silence. God is that way with us, He wants to hold us still with Him in silence.
If I didn’t feel up to singing, could it possibly be God’s way of telling me to just listen, to just enjoy His presence? If I didn’t feel like searching for God and straining to uncover God’s word for me that day, could God be reminding me that He will meet me with rich blessings?
I stopped singing and closed my eyes, listening to the harmony of voices lifted up to God. Then it became clear: I had been basing my encounters with God on how “up to” the Christian life I felt, how much I felt like I could handle, how dedicated I felt, how ready to obey I felt. I was still trying to find the strength and stamina for the Christian life in myself. Why else would being sick and tired feel like a setback or hindrance to God’s work in my life? If I were truly relying on God for everything, I would be just as ready to obey God in sickness as in health, in bad times as in good. My circumstances would have no sway on my readiness to see or respond to God, because the ability to do so would be bound up in Him—and He never changes.
I was once again reminded of my alternate translation of 2 Corinthians 16:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in humility.” It is true that my self-pity is the reverse form of pride, the opposite of humility. The cure is finding sufficient grace and power in who Christ is for me. Instead of worrying about who I was going to talk to during the break, I could wait and listen for God to speak to me in the moment. And He did: once the break rolled around and Travis went to the bathroom, I saw Renia sitting alone and was actually excited to go over and talk to her. God’s leading. After church, I found Ana Helena and while she went to get her kids, I tracked down Gerry and talked to him about the ESL lessons and furniture for their apartment. God’s leading. It is after situations like this when I am humbled yet again by God, for doubting His goodness to me. I am like an Israelite, who continues to doubt and question God even after all of the times that He has so obviously proven His track record.
God showed me yet again that I can rely on Him for everything. There is nothing I need to live out my faith authentically for His glory besides His constant sufficiency and supply of grace. Even in my intimate daily walk with Him, I don’t need to find the stamina and motivation in myself to seek Him; I need only to ask Him to produce it in me. When I have found myself wanting in spiritual desire, instead of running to God, I have lamented my lack and tried to make up for it in my own actions—or conceded defeat and turned away to do what my flesh wanted to do instead.
Anything that takes me away from intimacy with God, whether sickness, fatigue, or desire to relax, should put up a red flag. Why? Because the idea that it is work to spend time with God, or that I have to choose between rest and Him, or that it takes a lot of striving to connect with God are all lies. God is the epitome of relaxation (Psalm 23:2-3); I find rest in Him (Matthew 11:28); and I only have to draw near to God for Him to draw near to me (James 4:8). As Roy Hession says in We Would See Jesus:
God has made Him as accessible to us sinners as He possibly can…We see the standard of the victorious life above us, and we are quite sure that if we can attain to it in this or that particular we shall be in fellowship with God and filled with His Spirit. But it is the attaining to it which all the time defeats us. And all the time we are climbing so hard the Lord Jesus stands immediately available to us as our Door, open on street level, and we could so quickly enter in if we were willing to bow our heads at His Cross.
Bible study, prayer, worship, memorization—all of these are means to connecting with God, not ends in themselves. How Satan loves to heap guilt on us when we declare that! He knows their power, their use, their effectiveness. He knows that if he can pervert their use and purpose in the minds of believers, we will become in bondage to them and they will lose their beauty, freedom, and glory in aiding us to discover the God who we so long for.
If I find myself feeling condemned by desiring one day to connect with God through nature instead of His Word, it doesn’t take me long to see that I have turned reading my Bible into an end, instead of a means. The only thing that should grieve my spirit is losing my connection with God and I should seek to amend the situation however I can at the moment, instead of promising myself “I’ll get in the Word again tomorrow.” God is available now, in the moment I so desire Him! Don’t tarry, don’t make excuses. Go to Him now. Your small desire is enough. Like Brother Lawrence says, “Just a little lifting up of the heart to God is enough. A little remembrance of the Lord, one act of inward worship…will be fully accepted by the Lord.”
So often when I come to God, I think I need to be in a spiritual mindset, to feel ready to accept truths from God, to be dressed in my spiritual armor, ready for any battle God calls me to. While that does sometimes happen (no doubt God preparing me for His revelations), those are not prerequisites to time with God. I can come to Him when I feel groggy, lazy or grumpy; I can come to Him when I don’t feel like reading, or do feel like reading, or want to take a walk outside; I can come to Him when I am anxious, self-pitying, or short-tempered. He will never acquiesce to my sin or pity but He will always speak to me gently exactly the words I need to hear and show Himself to be the way to peace and joy. God’s dedication to His own glory is the most reassuring thing in the world.