It has been a struggle since Ansley was born to find my rhythm. Julia and I still haven’t found our new normal. According to other parents, it’s unlikely we will find it anytime soon. I used to wake up every morning, at the crack of dawn, have breakfast, make a cup of tea, and then spend an hour with God. This ritual of mine that has since been displaced, and moved into tiny cracks of space found throughout my day. There has been one result: I feel distant from God. Hearing His voice is like deciphering a message through the crackling of a radio with bad reception.
It’s a loss of intimacy.
I know I’m not alone in this place. I think this is probably one of the most common issues among Christians. Nobody signs up to follow Jesus for a God who is uninvolved and removed from their lives. Yet at times God can seem distant, aloof, or inattentive to our needs. “I can’t hear him”, “Where is He?”, and so our questioning goes. While there are times where this experience is sincere and legitimate, more often than not it is because there is a lack of spiritual discipline on our part; a lack of rhythm built around God’s tempo. We set the pace of our lives, and we fit God in when the song is easy to sing along to. Occasionally, when it suits us, we seek him. Michelangelo nailed humanity’s pursuit of God in the painting, “The Creation of God.” God’s arm is directed at Adam, outstretched and strong. While Adam’s arm is limp-wristed, disinterested, and possibly self-absorbed.
When we say God is distant, aloof or inattentive it can often be turned back around on us to describe our pursuit of God.
We want an on demand button for God. Click. Throw up the occasional prayer. Click. Play Bible roulette. Click. Listen to a sermon. We spend virtually zero quality time with Him, and then we get frustrated when all we hear is the dull hum of silence. G. K. Chesterton’s assessment of our pursuit of God sums it up well, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
Let me ask a few questions.
How can we have an intimate knowledge of God in our day to day lives if we don’t create time to learn how to hear his voice? How can we expect to hear God’s voice if we aren’t consistently studying his Word and learning how he has spoken in Scripture? How can we really trust our encounters with Him are sincere unless we create time for intimate, honest friendships with other Christians? I could continue down the rabbit hole, but you get the point.
All of a sudden, pursuing God may sound like a lot of work. Red-flags may be going up in your mind. “I don’t have to earn my salvation! You’re making this about works!” This is not about how we are saved. This is about what salvation looks like when it takes root in us. If we really get the gospel, how can we not reorder every area of our lives around him? As you grow in your maturity as a Christian, it takes embracing the reality that knowing God intimately is going to require some effort on your part. Over and over throughout the Psalms we hear vows to seek God in the morning, in the evening, and throughout the day. Jesus himself would withdraw to connect with the Father. As Dallas Willard brilliantly puts it, “Grace is opposed to earning but it is not opposed to effort.”
Why don’t we put in the effort to seek God in an intimate way?
Selfishly, we’re grateful that God is more into us than we are into him. If we dare admit it, we may even prefer a God who is distant, aloof and inattentive to us. That way we can go on living while banking on him to take care of the whole eternal life business. If he is like this, then it doesn’t mean a day-to-day discipleship of carrying our crosses. So we presume upon his love, we think we’ve found the one who will wait on us hand and foot. We’re essentially like the disinterested boyfriend who plays video games while his girlfriend pines for his attention and adoration. Or like the manipulative girl who knows a boy loves her and uses his affection to keep him at her beck and call.
Can you imagine if my wedding vows to Julia were “I vow to put in the very bare minimal to elicit your attention and love.” Like any relationship, the quality of our relationship with God will depend on how we prioritize it. It requires consistency, honesty, vulnerability, faithfulness, persistence, endurance through highs and lows, and most of all effort.
I can avoid the effort of making time and space for God. I can make excuses like a chaotic newborn who needs my attention, the busyness of my work schedule, but at the end of the day it’s a matter of discipline. I can squeeze God in, or I can structure my life around him. I want to choose the latter, time and time again. I want to encounter the tender warmth of his voice. I want to know the always-present-love of Jesus with me in every moment.
Hearing his voice only comes with becoming familiar with its tone. I need to be in Scripture daily. I need to consistently be in prayer both in my own words and with the Psalms. I need to see where I’ve been and know that others are with me. I need to keep a journal of my prayers and experiences with God. I need to open up and share my heart with other Christians and exchange tears and joy in our experiences with God.
Intimacy with God and learning to hear his voice takes effort, but the reward is disproportionate. St. Paul says it best, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Whatever you need to lose to make space for God in your life, to know him intimately as you would a friend or lover, then count it a loss. What you gain is so beyond any sort of measurement:
You gain everything.