I have written about the times in my life when I do not feel close to God, those seasons where a sin or a painful circumstance causes me to feel distanced from God. They are real, genuine, times where honesty is required simply to allow me to put aside what is keeping me from approaching God. I feel filthy, unworthy to be in the presence of unfathomable purity. God reminds us of that purity in many places in the Bible — Moses at the burning bush and on the mountain where he received the ten commandments, in the way the tabernacle and temple was set up, when John had the vision of the throne. I can not put together the words to adequately describe why I think that is so. I know it is that purity, character, perfection that gives God that indescribable power — a power that seems endless to me (and it is, indeed, endless).
Yet I am unique out of all creation in that God wants me to approach him, to be with him, and desires my presence. He wants me to be with him even though I am flawed. I know God is aware of those flaws, but those flaws are not what he focuses on. During this time when my son is living with me again, I understand that a little better. The kid does things that do not please me, has habits that clutter and dirty my home, yet I really do want him around. He belongs with me, is my child, and I am happy that he wants to be with me — especially when he does. I like seeing him grow, learn, progress toward becoming that someone I know he will be some day. He is my son, after all, and I chose him by becoming his father. God created me for a purpose in that same way, created this world for me and intends much more for me that I can see right now. This world isn’t what God originally intended for me, just as the world I have set before my own son isn’t exactly what I intended when I was a new father. I am happy when he sits with me, seeks me out, when I can see that he recognizes what is good about me, and I am satisfied when I see a little bit of me in him. It’s OK for him to ask me for things, but sometimes I just want to know that he wants to be with me. God intended for us all to be with him. Too often, I forget that he is my father, am intimidated by who he is.
This morning, I needed to sit with God. That is a challenge to me, as I think it is an obstacle to many people, whether a person chooses to believe in God or not. Think about it, sometimes we just need to be able to sit down with God and actually see him. I need to see him looking at me, need to hear him talk to me, be that physical father, give me that one on one face to face. When I read The Shack, I understood a little more of that craving, liked the way the author reminds us that in reality we can sit with God. We just don’t know it’s happening in our limited sphere of existence. So this morning, as I felt God calling to me to come close as he does so often when it’s time to worship — and I think that’s what my own personal time as well as church worship really is — a call to come closer and sit with him. So, what did I do this morning, when that call to worship is limited by this quarantine? When my presence in church is electronic rather than going to a building to come to God with other people? In a lot of ways, corporate worship is more personal during this time, even as it strangely is shared with a suddenly enormous church (which is awesome, a reminder that it has always been that way). So what did I do?
I pulled off into the parking lot at Warrenville Grove forest preserve, connected to my church through my phone and watched/listened via Bluetooth inside my car. I was in nature, in the place God created for me, and suddenly his presence was so much more evident to me. Worship was incredible, the swelling flood of the river close by and the newly green trees right there. God was right there with me. All it took was for me to get out of my little sphere, meet him in a different place, let him see that I wanted to be with him.
So many things keep me from being able to approach him. Sometimes it’s fear and anxiety. Other times it is my flaws and dirt, my sin and my awareness of it. There are times when I am angry, when I don’t want to be with God. Or maybe I just feel like I am getting what I want from God, when I am asking and don’t understand why he doesn’t hand it over, so I stop talking. Talking to God can also be overwhelming, intimidating, and I just don’t know what to say, so I don’t go to him. I don’t understand that during those times he just wants me to listen.
Listen. When I know he is there, it’s a little more easy to do that. I am a father, but I am also a son as well, so I understand this one. It took me a while, a bit of maturing, before I learned to appreciate just listening to what my dad has to say to me. I know now more than ever than I need to hear what he has to say to me, not worry about what I think, simply…. listen.
This morning’s online service was on prayer and I wonder if being in the car, knowing that God was there, helped me to listen a bit better to what was being said. I have been a believer for more than 50 years now, so what else could I learn about prayer? Seriously. I should know it all by now and have it down to perfection. Pffffffffttttttt. I don’t think so. My dating and marriage relationships prove that being exposed to something for a long time doesn’t mean that I am going to have any more of a clue to what they are about.
In Acts 12, Peter is put in prison and the church prays in earnest for his release. An angel comes to him at night, wakes him up, frees him and walks him right past the guards out of the jail. Peter doesn’t believe it’s really happening, assumes he is dreaming it all, even as the angel guides him through iron gates that open for them, takes Peter to the front door of where the people of the church are praying for them. When Peter knocked on the front door, the woman who answered the knock heard his voice through the door and excitedly ran into the room where the people were praying, announced Peter was at the front door. What did the praying people say? You’re out of your mind. They didn’t believe that their prayer had been answered. It was too unbelievable.
I hate to admit it, but I pray far too often with doubt. I ask and pray because it’s what I am supposed to do, but I don’t really believe that God is right there, smiling and me, listening. When a prayer is answered, so many times I don’t realize it because I didn’t really believe it when I prayed.
Today I listened. God said See, I am here. He was right there and I knew it, was ready to hear what he said, ready just as the thousands of people waiting with me did as well. He taught this old dog something new.
OK. There is my Sunday sermon. Soon, I will get back to reporting on bike stuff and share more stories about my crazy neighbor. There is plenty of that.