Living In God's Presence 2
I have a confession—and I do appreciate the ridiculous paradox of what I’m about to say—but I didn’t have high expectations for my blog post Living in God’s Presence. Even up to the point that I hit send on the email to Nathan, and later when I pressed publish on my own website, I worried—in contrast to the message of the entire post—that maybe I was confusing my obsessive tendencies with true Godly zeal.
Then I started reading the feedback and realized something—this questioning of personal zeal hit home with other Christians. This quiet doubt that snakes its way into my head and heart is at work trying to worm its way into the heads and hearts of my brothers and sisters as well.
None of us are alone. We all want to find and follow God’s will. We are all wondering at times if we are failing.
As Nathan often says, “Our want-to is there, our how-to is broken.”
Some of the feedback I read asked deep questions. Here are two comments that really stood out to me.
Lisa Quintana of http://www.thinkdivinely.com/ remarked:
“…I wonder if we don’t bring God into things because we don’t trust He’ll answer? Or maybe we don’t know how to discern the answer? I know that is my struggle. I pray about most everything, but there are times when I simply cannot hear the Shepherd’s voice, or I don’t trust my ability to hear. Then I second guess myself. Maybe that is not so uncommon? In our distracted world, to me at least, it’s getting hard to hear my Lord. I even take times of silence seriously – and it’s still hard to know with certainty. So, that is my struggle, and it could be at the root of the “divorce between the natural and supernatural.” If we can’t discern between the two, the ‘natural’ inclination (pun intended) is to defer to tangible things. It’s not the best choice, but it’s honest.”
And Chip Mattis of https://www.chipmattis.com/ said:
“This one hits close to home. I’ve had the same conversation with people in my life, whether we should pray about particular things.
“On the one hand, submitting my entire life to God in prayer is something to aim for. It is hard enough submitting the big things to him let alone the minutia of my day. But I know that I can’t withhold any part of my life. If God hasn’t touched every part, then there’s always a part of me that either doesn’t trust him or is actively rebelling.
“On the other hand, it brings up the question around what it means to pray. The nuances of prayer are tough to comprehend. Am I praying when I’m thinking about God? Do I literally have to have a brain conversation with God when I’m wondering what to say in a conversation with my friend or at the ballot box? Or is a life of continuous prayer one of submission and surrender where I naturally conform to God’s will? Do I more naturally execute God’s desires in my life when I’m more submitted and surrendered? These are tough questions.”
There are so many good points to Lisa’s and Chip’s comments. I love how deep they are going. I was taken aback because I had cut off Living in God’s Presence halfway through the original file, thinking that the rest of what I had in mind was overkill. Thankfully I kept it because I think it speaks in a small way to these comments.
Am I Following God’s Will?
I once heard Ray Comfort (https://www.livingwaters.com/) address the idea that some Christians pray for direction and then wait for a sign or voice or obvious direction. Ray pushed the point that God has already give us the signposts we need in Scripture. He added that we also have the counsel of Christian friends and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
His points resonated with me. While once I waited for God’s clear-cut direction, now I realize it’s more nuanced. Now I want to know what does the life, lived in submission to God’s Spirit, look like?
How do we marry the idea of seeking God’s direction in everything—as Chip is commenting—while maybe not having a ‘brain conversation’ over every single instance?
Mind & Reasoning
I believe the beginning of the answer lies in Proverbs 16:9. “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
Submission to God
And in Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”
Immersion in God’s Word
And 2 Timothy 3:16-17. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
Godly Counsel & Accountability
And Proverbs 19:20-21. “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days. Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.”
Examples of Following God’s Will
What did this look like in practice? How about the life of Paul? Paul had all of these going for him.
Mind & Reasoning
One of the greatest minds to ever live, Paul was all about strategy. This wasn’t a man who disengaged his brain. Paul chose to preach in some cities while skipping others. He visited vital centers of trade and culture. He hit cities of pagan importance (think Artemis of the Ephesians). And he targeted synagogues first where he could preach to potential believers who would bring with them an already strong foundation of Scriptural knowledge.
Paul was logical, no-nonsense, get-things-done. And a perfect example of the fact that sometimes Paul’s strategy was waylaid by God’s will can be found in his own letters. Paul writes in Romans 1:13, “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.”
Submission to God
Of course Paul was also the one who wrote the words, “Always. Without ceasing. In everything.” No matter what plan and strategy Paul had architected with the amazing intellect God had given him, he was minute-by-minute open to God’s right to step in and change it.
In Acts 16, we see God changing Paul’s plans multiple times. Acts 16:6-10 says, “They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
These were not instances where Paul asked God’s will and waited inert. Paul acted out strategy he believed in and humbly submitted to God when the Spirit stepped in to redirect the path.
Immersion in God’s Word
Paul. Oh how I love Paul. Paul loved God’s word. Paul knew God’s word. Paul wrote 2 Timothy 3:16. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
Paul also said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” and Christ said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”
But wait a minute…
Paul never physically met Jesus. He never observed how Jesus walked, talked, or ministered. The Gospels weren’t even in circulation when Paul wrote this imitation command to the Corinthians.
So how can Paul imitate Christ, who he has never seen?
Because Jesus is the Word and as a former Pharisee, Paul had hidden God’s word in his heart. Paul even went so far as to assert he was, “…as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”
Paul could imitate Christ through the example of Scripture and the power of Christ’s Spirit. We can do the same.
I’ve been married a long time. In the first few years, I had to ask my husband what he’d like me to bring home from the grocery store. Now, after years of hearing his answers, and observing what he buys himself and what he prefers to eat and drink, I can—without much conscious thought—grab that Mountain Dew from the cooler on my way by. To ask him if he wants a Mountain Dew? Well, that’s just a waste of energy at this point.
I know that’s a dumbed down idea but when we are used to seeing what God does, what He wants, and what He find acceptable through the practice of ‘seeing and hearing’ him in the Bible, then we can react to different scenarios already trained in what His will for us would be.
Godly Counsel & Accountability
Then comes the times when we just aren’t sure. The times when it’s hard to do the right thing because there are multiple ‘right’ things to do. What do we do?
We ask our brothers and sisters for help and prayer and guidance.
But this requires transparency. And transparency can be a terrifying concept for some of us. It requires us to get down and dirty with each other. It makes us vulnerable and scared. But it’s how God designed his body to work. Paul writes in Galatians to bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Our brothers and sisters can see things we can’t. They offer perspectives we don’t have. New ways of looking at situations…and often they bring just the right piece of advice.
Living in God’s presence is an adventure-filled journey that will take us an eternity to understand. But with submission, humility, repentance, and reverence, a life lived with ever-increasing closeness to His heart is possible.