Reaching for the Invisible God
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
I remember being fascinated with time travel as a child, and it is fun watching my preteen boys following in my footsteps with their intrigue of the same subject. My oldest is always coming up with elaborate plot twists on what life would be like if we used a time machine to change the past, present, and future. My personal favorites of his usually involve prehistoric creatures outsmarting his enemies in retaliation in the most hilarious scenarios. He might or might not get his elaborate imagination and dark sense of humor from me.
Honestly, if you were to stop and dissect my thought pattern on a typical day, you would think I was still obsessed with time travel. I tend to think about how I could have changed the past and what sequence of events I need to line up to control the future. I’m a control freak; what can I say? An active imagination is a blessing and a curse at times. It’s a blessing because it helps us grow and change the world in helpful and beneficial ways. It’s a curse because it prevents us from living fully in the moment. In her extraordinary wisdom, Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” She’s a woman I admire greatly, although my favorite quote of hers is: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” But the reasoning behind that, my friends, is a different blog for another day.
Why is it so important to live fully engaged in the present? Other than the obvious answer that it is impossible to change the past or the future, I believe the answer lies in that it is vital because God lives in the present with us. If we always try to maintain residency in the other two dimensions, we forget we are indeed dwelling with the one who came to be with us. Jesus Christ is Immanuel, which literally means “God with us.” I don’t know if you concur, but sitting with someone distracted and tuned out is highly frustrating. Cell phones have made that the norm in our society. The more prevalent technology gets, the more people adjust to virtual relationships instead of developing interpersonal relationships with those in their immediate vicinity. The result is a society of people who are more lonely than ever before. We are slowly wiring our brains to no longer know how to live fully engaged in the present with our surroundings.
God is trying to break that bad habit of mine in this season of my life by changing the ways that He typically communicates with me. In the last four years of sobriety, He has primarily communicated with me through Scripture and reading. Whenever I picked up the Living Word of God, he would say something that set my soul on fire and reaffirmed His love for me. Yet this season, I am less able to concentrate on absorbing what I read. Incredibly frustrating at first, I now realize this is necessary to ensure it’s all about a personal relationship, not a formula. It’s almost like we are in couples counseling together at the moment, although I’m the one having to learn both of our communication styles since He already knows everything about me. Not entirely pleasant but a necessity to grow more intimate with Him.
I sincerely believe that is what God wants more than anything from us: Intimacy. He wants us to enjoy Him. He wants us to reach for Him, just as He always reaches for us. It isn’t about my works or anything that I do for Him. Although my reading ability has been hampered lately, I was recently able to devour Philip Yancey’s book Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find? This lesser-known work has many treasures, making it worth reading if you get the chance. I love Philip’s openness to exploring the possibility of doubt and other painful aspects of life. He says, “God can handle anger, blame, and even willful disobedience. One thing, however, blocks relationship: indifference. “They turned their backs to me and not their faces,” God told Jeremiah in a damning indictment of Israel.” Pgs 185-186.
We see that in the opening Bible verse above in Jeremiah 29:11-14. When that was written, the Israelites were exiled to Babylon as a punishment for their idolatry. They were so focused on the world and the evil desires of their heart that they turned their back on God and stopped following Him. They ignored His presence in their midst and focused on the shiny ball in front of them that seemed to promise to fulfill them more than He was at the moment. We can’t judge them; we do this too. How much time do you spend on your cell phone in comparison to spending time in prayer with God? Guilty as charged over here. Modern-day Israelite through and through.
Verse 11 tells us that He already knows the plans He has for us and that His desire for us is good. However, we see in verse 12 that it involves action on our part. We need to call upon Him and pray before He "hears" us. God is sovereign and hears the murmurs of our hearts before they even hit our lips. Yet there is something in the action of calling/praying that switches our focus back to Him. This is His heart's desire: Less distraction for us, more intimacy with Him. Verse 13 promises that when we seek Him, we will find Him, but that we need to seek Him wholeheartedly. Half-hearted conversations with distracted people are incredibly frustrating. Who wants to sit with someone who isn’t engaged in the natural ebb and flow of a conversation? That’s how communication is misunderstood, and messages get misinterpreted.
Verse 14 tells us that once we course correct and reestablish the desire of our heart to be an intimate focus on Him, then we will be found by Him and restored. We often want a magic genie who selfishly answers prayers instead of a personal relationship with the creator of the universe. I can only imagine how lonely He must feel at times when I do that to Him. Philip Yancey pleads, “Whatever you do, don’t ignore God. Invite God into every aspect of life.” Pg 186. As its title suggests, this rich and complex book explores how we as finite beings can reach to have an interpersonal relationship with an infinite Creator that involves inviting Him into your everyday life. This looks different for every individual, but that’s half the fun. The importance is that you seek Him because you will find Him when you do. And His love is worth more than any feeling the world can offer you.
I pray that as you go through the remainder of this week, you can fix your eyes upon Jesus with the knowledge that His eyes are fixed upon you. You are the apple of His eye, and He adores you. If we are going to strive, let us strive to focus on the gift of His presence with us in the present.
“The most holy and important practice in the spiritual life is the presence of God - that is, every moment to take great pleasure that God is with you.” - Brother Lawerence