Is it possible to actually avoid God while submerging ourselves in spiritual disciplines and Christian activities? I believe it is. I have this bad habit of running to good habits when I sense the Lord leading me to dwell quietly with him for a while. You see, reading big chunks of the Bible comes easy to me. Studying various theological topics comes easy to me. Engaging in thoughtful conversation about the gospel with other believers comes easy to me. Serving in the church comes easy to me. But just sitting still in the presence of God, pondering all that he is as I commune with him through the Spirit—not so easy.
I describe the previously listed activities as “good habits” because they really are good habits. Reading the Bible, studying theology, fellowshipping with other saints, and serving in the local church are holy, righteous, and indispensable elements of following Christ. However, there are other elements of the Christian life that are of equal and vital importance—personal fellowship with God being one.
Can we fellowship with God as we participate in these disciplines and activities? Absolutely! But there is another form of fellowship he invites us into: a quiet, prayerful, meditative form that energizes the soul in a unique way. Don’t be afraid of that word “meditative.” I’m not talking about buddhistic practices or anything of that sort. I’m talking about meditation on the person of God as he is revealed in the Scriptures—meditation informed and directed by the Word of God.
All throughout the gospels we see it was Jesus’ regular practice to pull away from his ministerial activities and retreat into the presence of his Father. He didn’t take the first century equivalent of a devotional or sermon podcast with him. He drew near to the Father alone with nothing but his soul in tow. Every day, I sense the Spirit stirring me to follow Christ’s example in this. However, I can’t tell you how often I resist these stirrings and pick up a book or tune into a podcast, instead.
It’s not that I don’t pray; I plead with God for grace to believe and obey each morning, and I “talk” to him throughout the day. But I don’t regularly retreat into his presence for prolonged periods of quiet and undistracted communion. Why? For a number of [really awful] reasons:
- I think being still with God will be boring.
- I think other spiritual disciplines are more effective.
- I know it will be difficult to focus my ever-wandering mind.
- I am skeptical that God will actually draw near to me and strengthen me in his presence.
All of these [again, really awful] reasons are birthed out of a fleshly way of thinking that is way out of sync with biblical truth:
- God is the most majestic, intelligent, creative, and powerful being in existence. He is infinitely interesting and wondrous. When my mind is in a right state, it is no boring thing to ponder on him, pray to him, and hear from him.
- Bible reading and other aforementioned disciplines are obviously effective, but I err in pitting one spiritual discipline against another and determining which is most effective. All are uniquely effective; each rewards the spiritually awakened soul in a different way.
- As for my tendency to be easily distracted, I will repeat some of the best advice I have ever received: “You have more control over your mind than you think you do, Matt.” The Spirit of God indwells me and continuously offers me the gift of self-control. I can pull away from the stimulating stuff of the world, quiet my noisy soul, and consciously inclined my mind and heart toward God.
- My skepticism about God’s willingness to draw near to me and strengthen me is blatant unbelief in a promise of God. James tells us that if we draw near to God, he will draw near to us (James 4:8). Every single time I retreat into stillness and quietness before him, he proves himself faithful to his promise. I may not always be able to sense his presence in the very moment I draw near, but I always see the effects of his presence in the hours that follow. My heightened awareness of gospel reality and the increase of joy and peace in my heart show me that he did, in fact, draw near to me.
Jesus has secured for those of us who trust in him a mind-blowing, life-transforming privilege. As people who have been cleansed of their sins, clothed with Christ’s righteousness, and adopted by the Father, we are able to step directly into the presence of the holy and sovereign God whenever we desire. The holy of holies is wide open to us, and the One who inhabits it actually beckons us to come in! We must not neglect such a privilege.