I’ve been on a journey of sorts lately.
I have practices in my life to help me spiritually that I genuinely enjoy. I lean toward contemplative activities to nurture my relationship with God. The ideas I read in books are challenging, comforting and convicting. I am grateful for them (and this helps when part of your job is to write sermons).
But sometimes, I just want to feel the presence of God. I hope you don’t think I’m being too mystical here. It’s good to know things about God. It’s good to have some systematic theology in our lives. But feelings matter. Emotions and knowledge form a wonderful partnership for the follower of Christ. Sometimes my emotions provide color to my relationship with Jesus.
Some of our staff started to discuss the concept of feeling the presence of God on a recent retreat. We asked, “What would it mean to seek the face of God?” What would it mean to pursue intimate, eyeball-to-eyeball closeness with God? That idea is somewhat intimidating for me. When I read scripture, people who saw the God of the Old Testament didn’t always fare too well (Moses only saw the back of God and had to wear a veil. Others who saw God or were in God’s presence didn’t survive the encounter). Yet in other places, the Bible seems to encourage us to seek God first, seek his righteousness. What would it mean to seek this awe-inspiring presence of almighty God, to seek his face, and why don’t we do it much anymore?
It seems throughout church history there have been seasons when people sensed the presence of God more than at other times. Are we in a dry season right now? Are we still experiencing God, or has that time passed? There are at least two schools of thought as to why one doesn’t experience God. Some people conclude there is something wrong with the way they’re living. They are “blind” to something separating them from God. As a result, those from the “blind” school of thought might become frustrated with themselves and their inability to be good enough for God’s presence. The other school of thought is this: God has “distanced” himself. In the “distanced” school of thought, one does not experience God because God has pulled back. God is leading through a period of trial and testing to deepen one’s maturity.
In my experience, this isn’t an either-or scenario. Both the “blind” and the “distanced” perspectives are at work. God is always maturing us, and we aren’t yet living in complete wholeness. There are areas in your life and my life that God is still revealing to us; we are blind to these parts of ourselves. Certainly, there are times God offers a “dark night of the soul” to teach us. God is always revealing blind spots in me, and God is always partially distanced from me.
But that distance is on my end, not God’s. God is always present, but we are not always present to God.
My favorite author of late, Ronald Rolheiser, writes:
"We lack the ability to be contemplative, and because of this we lack a vital experience of God."
Which leads me to this thought: the struggle to feel God, to seek his face, is not so much a struggle of God’s presence or absence but more our awareness of God’s presence. Maybe feeling God’s presence starts with waking up to God in the ordinary all around us. Maybe our conundrum is the same as the fish trying to understand what water is. It’s all around the fish, he just doesn’t notice it.
So that is where I live these days.
I’m trying to see God in the ordinary, in the things I see every day, and the things I may take for granted. I’m seeking God’s face in the simple, the mundane, the complex and the extraordinary, and as I see God in my ordinary and extraordinary life, I am enjoying the feeling of being surrounded with his presence. I guess, I’m allowing myself to feel God all around me by contemplating how deeply loved I must be for God to be all around me! Who else loves me like that?! God is there. I have always known this. Maybe now I’m slowing down enough to feel he is here.
Comment down below: how do you seek God’s face?
See you Sunday!
Pastor Tom Harding