Friday, January 9, 2009

A Great Gulf Fixed

If you’re like me, you’ll find there’s a great gulf fixed between number one on our list of ways to prepare for renewal—relinquishment and recommitment—and number two—spending time with God. I always seem to get stuck on the far side of this chasm. It’s a puzzle. I really do believe I want God to be number one in my life, but I have a hard time actually making it happen. Making it happen is where the rubber hits the road, and I have to be careful at this point or I may find myself just adding pavement to the road to hell.

Tozer discusses this issue: Why do some persons “find” God in a way that others do not? He has no favourites within His household. The difference lies not with God but with us.

I venture to suggest that the one vital quality which the great saints had in common was spiritual receptivity. They differed from the average person in that when they felt the inward longing they did something about it. They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response.

Receptivity can be present in degrees, depending upon the individual. It may be increased by exercise or destroyed by neglect. It is not a sovereign and irresistible force which comes upon us as a seizure from above. It is a gift of God, indeed, but one which must be recognized and cultivated.

So why don’t we “find” God? Why don’t we find time for Him? How can we recognize and cultivate this gift?

I’ve done some pondering about this and I’d like to share my thoughts. Please be patient with this post. We won’t be sprinting or skipping through the process, we’ll be plodding, but stick with me. Plodding is good for us; it will develop patience and patience is needed on our journey.

I’ve decided I have difficulty putting feet to my faith in this area because I have been duped into believing four myths about walking with God. Maybe you can identify. What do you think? Please feel free to comment at the end of this post if you have further (or contradictory) thoughts on these ideas:

Myth #1: Once we give ourselves to God, the hard part is over. If we are fully dedicated, spending meaningful times with the Lord will come naturally.

Reality: Spending meaningful time with the Lord on a regular basis is a habit. Habits have to be developed. Developing habits involves discipline. Discipline, by its nature, is difficult. We have to dig a new groove across the grain of all the other grooves in our lives. It will take effort and it will involve a certain amount of pain.

Underlying this myth are two others, more deeply imbedded in our psyche, that must be dispelled if we’re going to be successful at developing any good habit:

Myth # 2: People always do what they really want to do.

Reality: There is an element of truth to this myth. That’s why it’s so devious. It’s true that motivation drives our actions. But the problem is that we are a hodgepodge of mixed desires and motivations, and they are often contradictory. One moment we are motivated to lose weight. The next moment we are motivated to eat a big piece of chocolate cake. One moment we are motivated to keep our lives pure and the next we are motivated to relax in front of a slutty video. When we’re sitting in church, feeling close to God, we are motivated to spend more quality time with Him, but when we get home, we are motivated to “accomplish something,” and spending time with God doesn’t seem like it’s accomplishing anything. (This secondary myth—that spending time with God isn’t accomplishing anything—is addressed at the end of this post!)

The next myth is even more subtle. It’s so hidden you might be tempted to deny it’s there, but I bet it operates in your life.

Myth # 3: We won’t have to give up anything to make time for God. We can have our Kate and Edith too.

Reality: This lie is akin to the one that says, “This piece of cake doesn’t have any calories.” The truth is, we cannot eat cake and lose weight at the same time, at least not without killing ourselves with leg-lifts and stair-steps while we’re eating it. We cannot keep our minds pure and watch trash on TV, though I’ve heard that argument: “Oh it doesn’t affect me. I just ignore those parts.” And we cannot spend time with the Lord without giving up something else that we would normally spend time on.

Living a disciplined life (walking with God) requires that we become aware of our conflicting motivations, that we set priorities, and that we consistently, deliberately put high priority desires ahead of the others. Doing what we REALLY want is hard work.

Which brings us to the last myth:

Myth #4: If we have to work at it, it can’t be meaningful. Shouldn’t worship come naturally? If it doesn’t, how can it be pleasing to God?

Reality: Nothing good comes easily. Think about it. Even love, the best thing in the world, is hard. Between the initial blush of infatuation and the deep satisfaction of a committed relationship comes years of determination and hard work. Again, maybe it wouldn’t have been this way if we hadn’t given our joy away in the first place. But the hard truth is, in this imperfect world, living in these imperfect bodies, the process of establishing a deep relationship with God is going to feel more like a battle than a party.

(For a while. The victory party will come later.)

Yes, it is a battle. It sometimes seems like just a battle between the good and the best, but it’s always also a battle between you and the one who does not want you to have a deep relationship with your Creator. The more serious we become about this business of walking closely with God, the more flak we’re going to get from God’s enemy and ours. Satan will try his best to keep our times with the Lord from happening, because he knows they threaten his kingdom. When we spend time in focused worship and prayer, we rattle cages in the heavenlies. (Here’s the other myth-buster: time with God accomplishes eternal good; no accomplishment on earth is of greater value.)

When I remember this truth I want to run to my quiet place with God. When we’re on our knees we’re winning the battle—God’s battle. We’re participating in His victory. We’re winning freedom, not just for ourselves, but for His other loved ones as well. And we’re bringing great joy to His heart. This is all strong motivation. When we falter along this journey, it’s because we’ve taken our eyes off the destination. We’re forgetting about the victory party. We’re losing sight of the view from the top of the hill.

God help us to keep our eyes on the destination!

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