Few topics are as difficult, or important, as this one. The desire for God to be at center — to BE the center — this is the quest which gives my life meaning!
And yet, all too often it is the very thing I neglect.
Our world is one that clamors to fill every moment with activity. There is no shortage of worthy concerns, aspirations and needs which compete for constant attention — jobs and homes which exact diligence, causes which demand advocacy, friends who beckon us into life-giving connection, visions which awaken us to creative faith, and people who look to us for guidance and care. Seeking to be responsible and compassionate, I find myself struggling with over-activity — a subjective urgency which threatens to overwhelm me and rob the very reservoir of holy communion out of which I would seek to serve and to behold, with the eyes of faith, His love being poured out into the world. For though He has given me innumerable blessings, entrusted me with works of His Kingdom, and strengthened me to face challenges, all too often I find myself admitting, “… mine own vineyard have I not kept” (Song 1:6). The dull roar of urgent priorities and good works becomes deafening, until I can no longer even hear His “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12).
In the limited time we have on this earth, we need a vision not just for that which is good, but for that which is His perfect will for our lives.
What I am discovering anew is that the foundation for a life in which God is at the center is, in a sense, nothing more or less than quietness. This is conveyed so vividly in the life of Jesus, who repeatedly sought times of solitude in prayer (Matt. 14:23, 26:39; Mark 1:35, 6:46; Luke 6:12, 9:18). Moreover, in enjoining the disciples to not seek glory from others in their prayers, alms, and fasting, He revealed in such practices a way of face-to-face intimacy with God: “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. 6:6) Likewise, fasting “secretly” can draw us into a state of prayerful intimacy with the Lord, far beyond the vanity and futility that would otherwise isolate us from knowing His radiant passion and partaking of the Bread of Life (Matt. 6:18, Luke 4:4, Isa. 58:9). Such practices cause us to “dial down” and to seek Him with our whole heart — to hear far beyond the realm of our own thoughts and imagination, to be opened up to infinite Glory beyond ourselves where Eternity breaks in upon us from the other side — where we are enabled to see what He is doing and hear what He is speaking.
Perhaps that is why these words from 23rd Psalm speak so universally and powerfully to our turmoil, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” For in quietness is where we find renewal in those places where we have begun to open and receive of His love. The Shepard has made Himself a door into pasture (John 10:9), and longs to lead us far beyond the “cares of this world,” into the mystery of that life “… hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).
Integral to this divine exchange is the “hearing” which comes through taking into our hearts the holy and transcendent word of God (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Tim. 3:15, and Rom. 10:17). In Christ’s parable of the “sower and the seed” (Mark 4:3-32), He describes four outcomes for the seed (the Word) being sown into our hearts:
1. Fallen by the wayside (not hearing), eaten by birds (snatched by enemy before being taken into the heart).
2. Fallen on stony ground, withering without root (received, but without foundation for enduring tribulations and offenses).
3. Fallen among thorns, choked and unfruitful (heard, but displaced by earthly concerns, ambitions, and longings).
4. Landing on good ground, fruitful (word both heard and received, bringing forth fruit for the harvest).
Seeing how this “hearing” comes about, it is crucial to take the time to quietly reflect on His Word in scripture, for in so doing it can begin to take deep root in the heart, coming forth in unexpected ways in joy and strength — and most importantly enabling us to hear His “still, small voice”. Out of such hearing of God’s voice and purpose can arise faith to move mountains (Matt. 21:21). He is always speaking on so many levels (Ps. 19:1, 97:6), always waiting to renew us, even if we have difficulty hearing clearly.
Integral to this foundation is our being “quieted” enough (Ps. 131:2) to receive His unconditional love, particularly in the light of His infinite holiness and how all of us indeed have “…come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). In the account of Nehemiah, where a battered people were painfully aware of the ways in which they had “missed the mark” of the Lord’s righteousness, He invited them to a place of unconditional tenderness — of stillness and peace. He created a holy space in which they could receive His love, reflected and in fact received in sharing with those who suffered lack:
“… Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.”
— Nehemiah 8:10-11
In other instances (e.g., Isaiah 30:15) God desperately longed for His people to not fear His testing or correction, to not resort to worldly counsel or to “flee upon horses”, but to allow His work to be made perfect in them, where they could discover the strength of waiting upon Him in stillness: “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength …”
But in too many cases they would not, and neither do I.
Deep inside I know that my best works are as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), and instead of welcoming His intervention, I fear the Refiner’s fire (Zech. 13:9, Hebr. 12:5, Rev. 3:18) as if it signified disapproval when the opposite is true: that in “proving” me, His heart is to heal and liberate — to grow and draw me nearer to Himself. In the midst of this refining process, I can find strength and centeredness in knowing that He receives my efforts with the very same tenderness and cherishing as He receives the widow’s offering (Luke 21:4, 1Kgs. 17:12). As His people we are told that “he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his,” and are called in a rather paradoxical manner to “…labour therefore to enter into that rest” (Hebrews 4:10-11)
Central to this journey of trust, He tells us that unless we truly “make our home” in Him (John 14:3), nothing else matters, and we cannot be fruitful or alive in Him. Only in intimacy and dependence upon Him may our joy be complete and mature — unshaken by trials and able to enter into “greater works than these” (John 14:12) because we are so closely united with His heart and His purposes (John 16:24).
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
— John 15:1-8
In addition to frantic activity and perhaps even a fear of intimacy, the “cares of this world” are a primary distraction from His “best” and highest will for our lives. This is especially true of those “cares” which relate to our sexuality. Indeed no Christian is exempt from the at times bewildering and scary process of seeking God’s perfect will for the responsible stewardship of that awesome gift so profound in its implications. To be attracted to the same sex is to face unique uncertainties and risks. At times a future without the securities available to most can become so frightening and overwhelming to me that I must reach out to Him continually for the faith to embrace life wholeheartedly and joyfully. And because of the prejudice which comes against those who experience same-gender attraction (or are perceived as having such) — both within the Church and in the larger culture — one finds that the necessities of dealing with pain, isolation, and insecurity can so readily overtake the quietness out of which our joy and strength — and radiant holiness in unfettered devotion to God — is to be found.
This latter issue is one I personally encounter from a somewhat different angle from many of the readers here, for in my journey towards Christ, I have remained unable to reconcile my faith with the consistent flow of my sexuality towards other women. It is for this reason I have embraced a calling towards celibacy, with faith in a future which He knows best how to complete. But it is there that perhaps we share the most, and why I count it a privilege to write this for Whosoever. For even beyond facing such profound existential questions as whether to identify as gay, the core of our existence is ultimately in something greater than sexuality or vocation or anything we can know ourselves — it is in Someone Who is infinitely beyond us and yet near to us, Who draws us into loving communion and calls us to share that love with others (John 17:20-26).
So, regardless of the unique turns of our paths and relational futures, at the core of our journey towards God is His beckoning of us into fullness of joy in His presence.
“Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
— Psalm 16:11
May each of us truly discover the joy of life with Him at the center.