This awareness of God can be, as A. W. Tozer wrote, “increased by exercise or destroyed by neglect.” It is not some God-experience achievement level that we unlock and then possess for all time. It is, rather, a relationship that can, like our earthly relationships, be cultivated and deepened or neglected and allowed to move back into the shallows.
Along with neglect and hurry, the sure way I have found to have God’s Presence hidden from me is to become unwilling to surrender to His Spirit.
Sometimes this looks like some sin I am unwilling to let go of.
Sometimes this looks like a circumstance I desperately want to change and thus am unwilling to surrender to God.
Either way, my Self starts to become more important to me than God.
Tozer calls Self the opaque veil that hides the face of God from us.
The only way to remove this veil and regain my awareness of the Presence of God is to crucify it.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us. We must bring our self-sins to the cross for judgement. We must prepare ourselves for an ordeal of suffering in some measure like that through which our Saviour passed … ~ Tozer
This is a hard truth. Crucifixion hurts. It desperately hurts.
It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free. ~ Tozer
Yet I have learned that there is nothing my Self can give me that can compare in any way to God Himself. How could it?
I forget, though. I start thinking about the pain and I dig my heels in and refuse to surrender.
When I do this, I lose God.
I don’t mean that He leaves me. He promised He never would.
But I lose the awareness of His Presence. I lose His voice. I lose the gift of experiencing God.
Just as it takes being faithful to spend regular times of quiet with Him and His Word to cultivate my relationship with God and thus my receptivity to Him, it takes surrender to Him and to anything He chooses for me (whether through giving it to me or through not taking it away) to remove that veil of Self between us.
Let me be clear: God is the one who does the work of tearing away the veil. Our part is only to surrender and trust.
This is important to understand, for we are forgetful and like to wrest away control for ourself. Our work is only to surrender to the Holy Spirit, whether that be in how we spend our time and cultivate our rhythms or in giving up what we want in a given circumstance or sinful way. The Spirit’s work is to show us the Father and the Son.
If we co-operate with Him in loving obedience God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face. ~ Tozer
I have been a Jesus follower my entire life, yet it is only in recent years that I have begun to experience God.
I should qualify that last assertion. It is only in recent years that I have begun to recognize my experience of God.
God is here and interacting with me even when I am wholly unaware of it. He is evident only when I am awake to His Presence.
I still have never had An Experience of God. Never a burning bush, a voice from the sky, a parting of the waters.
Thus far in my life, God has revealed Himself to me through the quiet, the small, the subtle. I have to pay attention.
In all my years of showing up to church, studying Scripture to gain understanding, and praying at God with all my words, I never learned how to slow down and look for God Himself.
This kind of awareness of God’s presence comes slowly, by degrees. As A. W. Tozer writes:
It is for increasing degrees of awareness that we pray, for a more perfect consciousness of the divine Presence … He is nearer than our own soul …
This was certainly my own experience. It took an entire year of learning to be still and quiet before God in prayer, of learning to read Scripture in a deep and listening kind of way before I recognized God’s voice.
I pray I will never forget the first time I understood what it was I had been hearing my entire life.
Awareness of God, being awake to His Presence, comes in degrees. As I surrender to Him, being faithful to spend regular times of quiet with Him and His Word, I am more and more receptive to His Presence with and in and around me.
In the same way, when I allow my life to become too busy, neglecting my rhythms of being with God, it becomes more and more difficult to hear God and recognize His Presence.
Receptivity (to God’s Presence) … can be present in degrees … 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 as any other gift if it is to realize the purpose for which it was given. ~ Tozer
This is, after all, a relationship we are after, not a magic formula to the good life, and relationships take time to develop. Time spent together, talking, yes, but listening as well. Time simply being together.
I am learning that it is worth it. Every moment spent with God leads to more awareness of Him throughout the day, which leads to more time spent truly with Him, which leads to … simply more of Him.
Which is what our hearts desire more than anything else.
This is what fills us up and satisfies us in the middle of this world that promises to fulfill us but ends up draining us instead.
Next week I’ll write about the other issue that keeps me from experiencing God. I hope you will join me.
One of the great lies of our time and place is the idea that there exists a separation between sacred and secular, that faith should be private, that what happens in religion has no bearing on the “real world.”
We have decided it is acceptable for people to have faith as long as they keep it to themselves.
There’s no need, after all, to go crazy and foist your beliefs upon everyone else.
The very truth, however, that the physical body of man is now the temple of the Holy Spirit reveals this for the lie it is.
The whole man is now made the temple of God, and his whole life is from now on a liturgy. ~ Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World
It is through us that the temple of God is in the world.
Spiritual and material are not in opposition, but
each ounce of matter belongs to God and is to find in God its fulfillment. Each instant of time is God’s time and is to fulfill itself as God’s eternity. Nothing is ‘neutral.’
God reveals himself through the material and in Christ it all holds together.
When we assume there is no connection between the material world and the spiritual world, we live in agreement with our culture. We deem, as Schmemann writes, the world to be profane in the deepest sense of the word — incapable of any real communication with the divine or of any transformation.
Yet the material world is precisely the opposite of profane. It is sacred in the deepest sense of the word. The world was created as “the material for one all-embracing eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament.”
The sacraments (such as the eucharist/communion, baptism) do not transform something “profane,” that is, religiously void or neutral, into something “sacred.” Rather the sacraments reveal the true nature or destiny of some material item such as bread or wine or water.
The sacraments restore the material world to its proper function, revealing it as true, full, adequate. The sacraments cause all matter to “become again a means of communion with and knowledge of God.”
This is what the world was created to be, and this is why the idea of a separation between sacred and secular is so monstrous a lie.
When we build a wall around our faith, denying it any relevance to the world outside our churches, what is denied is quite simply “the continuity between ‘religion’ and ‘life,’ the very function of worship as the power of transformation, judgement, and change.”
We deny the world its ability to be a means of communion with and knowledge of God.
We deny God the power to transform the world through his people.
In truth, we deny ourselves our roles as rulers and priests, the twin roles we were given from the very beginning.
We as Jesus-followers, we the Church, must begin to think differently, to speak differently of our faith and the world.
We must stop walling up our faith and instead allow it to permeate every ounce and instant of our lives and, through us, of the world all around.
If we do, both we and our world will find in God our fulfillment.
Our worship will again become the power of transformation, causing our world to again become a means of communion with and knowledge of God.
It begins with us, God’s rulers and priests in this world.
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Art credits: photographs of the cathedral, light through the tree limbs, and tulips are by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs are my own, copyright Made Sacred 2021