Being still - Time with God


Busyness does not equate to doing God’s business. Eugene Peterson stated that: ‘Busyness is the enemy of spirituality. It is essentially laziness. It is doing the easy thing instead of the hard thing. It is filling our time with our own actions instead of paying attention to God’s actions. It is taking charge.’[1]

We often rush our Bible readings, but it’s not going anywhere. It should be savoured like a fine wine or a mature cheese (or whatever is your preferred food analogy) and not rushed like a TV dinner. Often the quickest things that our Bibles pick up is dust as we hurry on to our days without even picking it up.

‘Better one hand with tranquillity than two handfuls of toil and chasing after the wind.’ (Ecclesiastes 4: 6) The word tranquillity means literally ‘deep-seated heart rest.’
A Puritan writer, Thomas Brooks, gives us a caution: ‘Remember, it’s not hasty reading, but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It’s not the bee’s touching of the flower which gathers honey – but her abiding for a time upon the flower, which draws out the sweet. It is not he who reads most – but he who meditates most, who will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest, and strongest Christian.’[2]

There is the exhortation that we are not to beat ourselves up if we do not read through the Bible in one year. It could be spread over a number of years (such as adapting a plan so it covers four years) or get to know a book really well. What is important is that you are reading the Bible and letting it soak into your whole being by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We can be so activity-orientated that we miss out on the reflection on God’s Word.

There is also the call to be still in our church community. We find that reading the Bible and prayer were both activities that were communal both in the Old and New Testaments.

The Latin word for the English ‘be still’ is vacate. Simon Tugwell expounded it to mean that ‘God invites us to take a holiday [vacation], to stop being God for a while and let him be God.’

In the midst of our crowded lifestyles, we think that communing with God in prayer as another item to add onto our to-do list, which we may or may not get around to. Simon Tugwell rebukes us gently: ‘God is inviting us to take a break, to play truant. We can stop doing all those important things we have to do in our capacity as God, and leave it to him to be God.’[3]

Martin Luther stated: ‘Tomorrow I plan to work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.’ [4]

A W Tozer has commented: ‘What then are we to do with our problems? We must learn to live with them until such time as God delivers us from them…we must pray for grace to endure them without murmuring. Problems patiently endured will work for our spiritual perfecting.’[5]

As the song goes:

Christ be in my waking, as the sun is rising
In my day of working, with me every hour

Christ be in my resting, as the day is ending
Calming and refreshing, watching through the night

Jesus, this is my devotion: all my life to know you
Every day to walk with you.
Saviour, You’re my deepest longing. You’re the One I live for.
Teach me, Lord, to walk with You.[6]

Wing Mandao, a Chinese pastor, has pointed out: ‘We have so much to do that we never really commune with God as he intended in the Garden of Eden.’[7]

It is when we take time out with God that we can really let Him work in our lives. David implored God: ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’ (Psalm 139: 23 – 24)

Paul directed the Corinthians to the same searching: ‘Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realise that Jesus Christ is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.’ (2 Corinthians 13: 5 – 6)

In the famous analogy of the Shepherd and His sheep, we are told that the sheep lie down (Psalm 23: 2), and activity that only happens when they are settled and satisfied. We are often too busy chasing after the latest ‘blade of grass’ and then onto the next one. Our franticness belies the fact that God supplies all of our needs so that we want for nothing.
When we take time out, we can truly commune with God. Jesus promised ‘steams of living water’ to come from us when we spend time with Him (John 7: 37 – 38). It is in being still that we hear the Lord speaking: ‘Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his, we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.’ (Psalm 100: 3)

We can get so caught up in events that we start to take people and events and make them more than what they really are. Asaph had to look at his own attitude as, if he lived in modern times, he saw people getting promotions and hefty wage increases whilst he was working really hard and not getting anywhere. His solution was found when he ‘entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.’ (Psalm 73: 17) His attitude was radicalised when he addressed God: ‘Yet I am always with you, you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.’ (Psalm 73:  23 – 26)

Asaph is echoing David’s words: ‘I have set the Lord continually before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.’ (Psalm 16: 8)

The psalmist’s final shout of acclamation is: ‘But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.’ (Psalm 73: 28)

James tells us to: ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials [both internal and external] of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.’ (James 1: 2 – 3) We are often so busy that we are hurling around and not giving a minute’s thought to what is happening to us. We want rapid responses and quick cessations, because we do not want to spend the time to sit down and think about our situations.

The result can be found in the previous book in the New Testament that tells us: ‘solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.’ (Hebrews 5: 14)

Paul gives us the exhortation: ‘Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.’ (Colossians 4: 3) The word watchful means to be alert and diligent. There is the need to step back and to observe, to move out of the fast current of normal life, in order that we can see what God is doing in His world.

As David asked God: ‘Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour and my hope is in you all day long.’ (Psalm 25: 4 – 5)

The psalmist also proclaimed: ‘I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.’ (Psalm 130: 5)

It is time that we learned to bathe in God’s love, instead of having a quick dip in the shower.

Teresa of Avila gave these words of advice:

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Those who have God
Find they lack nothing:
God alone suffices.

It is only as we are still before the Lord that we can know the full impact of His words: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest in your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11: 28 – 30)

Francis De Sales wrote: ‘Everyone needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy – then we need an hour.’[8]

C S Lewis advised: ‘It comes the very moment you wake up. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back, in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.’[9]

In the midst of ruling Israel, David could write: ‘I have stilled and quietened my soul: like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.’ (Psalm 131: 2) He was then able to proclaim: ‘O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, both now and for evermore.’ (131: 3)

Heidi Jo Fulk has written: ‘This kind of quiet shows me I need to stop striving to act or figure things out on my own and instead quiet myself. To quiet the me-thinking and me-acting and come to an all-knowing, all-powerful God and allow Him to strengthen my heart and mind to think and act like Him.’[10]

When we stop, we allow the Holy Spirit to talk to us without having to contend with the other noises that come in our lives like tidal waves. It is in these rare moments that we can hear Him talk without us chattering, which mainly consists of things that we want.

Heidi Jo Fulk has reminded us: ‘Quiet’s perspective is not my perspective, it’s God’s. When we are quiet and have a gentle spirit, we’re squelching our tendency toward ‘me’ and ‘I’ and instead allowing the Holy Spirit to control our minds, hearts and actions.’[11]

We have confidence in approaching the mighty throne as John tells us: ‘This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.’ (1 John 5: 14)

There is the warning in that, if we disregard what God is saying, it is to our detriment, as God tells us: ‘In repentance and rest  is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your trust, but you would have none of it.’ (Isaiah 30: 15)

The result will be ‘That harassing, hovering feeling of ‘have to’ largely comes from the vacuum in your soul, where you ought to be at home with your Father in his kingdom.’[12]
‘I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.’ (Psalm 77: 11 – 12)

It is in that intimacy that we can approach God: ‘May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer.’ (Psalm 19: 14)

The term selah appears seventy-one times in 39 of the psalms, which has the function of being a pause, both as a  pause in the text and as a prompt for the reader to consider. Taking time out gives us the opportunity to learn scripture and to meditate upon it.

The result of spending time with God is that ‘A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.’ (Proverbs 17: 27)

Peter made a similar point: ‘Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.’ (1 Peter 2: 1 – 3)

The point is illustrated by Jesus’ visit to the house of Mary and Martha (Luke 10: 38 – 42). Martha was rushing around, whilst Mary was content to listen to and be with Jesus. It started off so well as Martha opened her home to Jesus with, literally, ‘welcome and delight’ with a verve that His arrival was something that she both enjoyed and anticipated. However, it all went downhill from that point onwards. The Lord wanted Martha to stop what she was doing, however admirable, so that she too could hear and be with Him. In verse 40, it is stated that she was ‘distracted,’ which can be transliterated as being shredded, for she had placed upon herself the mental pressure that everything had to be done to its best. It got worse as, in verse 41, she was ‘upset,’ literally ‘lost perspective,’ for she had lost sight for the reason why Jesus had come. It was not as though Jesus was castigating Martha for doing the work, for we all have things that need to be accomplished, it was because she had her priorities out of kilt at that moment. It was time to put down the broom and the cooking utensils, and to sit down at the feet of Jesus.

John Ortberg described being in the presence of Jesus as ‘That one thing is the decision to live continuously in Jesus’ presence as to always be covered with the dust of the Rabbi.’[13]

We are reminded in Isaiah 50: 4 that: ‘The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He awakens by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.’

This passage tells us to listen to God before we speak either to Him or to people, for we can often hear but not listen. We need to weigh up our words before opening up our mouths. We are implored so that ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.’ (James 1: 19) Paul expounds this sentiment by saying: ‘So not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according tio their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ (Ephesians 4: 29)

Daniel was a good example of one who took time out of his schedule to listen to God: ‘So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.’ (9: 3)

Isaiah reminds us: ‘You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.’ (26: 3)

It links in what Paul wrote: ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ (Romans 12: 2)

If we are rushing around, we will not leave any room in our lives, let alone our diaries, to ascertain what God want us to do and certainly not to get to know Him better. We can only allow our lives to be transformed if we spend time with our Lord.

The human heart is, as John Calvin reminds us, ‘a thick forest of thorns.’[14] Jesus labels two of the thorn issues, one being the ‘cares of the world’ (Mark 4: 19). It is when we spend time away with the Lord when we get things into perspective and untangle ourselves from the thorny branches to be liberated into the freedom that only Jesus can give.

We will be able to proclaim with the psalmist: ‘It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night…For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord, I sing for joy at the work of your hands. How great are your works, O Lord, how profound your thoughts.’ (Psalm 92: 1 -2, 3 – 4)

We need to get it into our heads that we are not the centre of the universe. It is the work of God to sustain all things by His powerful word (Hebrews 1: 3).

François Fenélon has helpfully written: Be silent and listen to God. Let your heart be in such a state of preparation that his Spirit may impress upon you such virtues as will please him. Let all within you listen to him. This silence of out outward and earthly affection and of human thoughts within us is essential if we are to hear his voice.’[15]

There is the Serenity Prayer composed by Rheinhold Niebuhr:

God, grant me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed.
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
And the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is not as I would have it.
Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen

There is the recollection that, on the Mount of Transfiguration, God that Father announced: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ (Matthew !7: 5, my italics)

There were breaks in the narrative of Paul, such as his visit to Arabia after he became a Christian followed by fourteen years  before he was commissioned as a missionary. Paul was living and evangelising for two years in Caesarea Philippi before he moved on. He experienced two years under house arrest, due to the backlog of trials, using that time to write the ‘prison letters’ (Ephesians, Philippians, Philemon, Colossians and the two epistles to Timothy).

There is the need to be followers of Jesus in all we do – after all, we are commanded to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5: 1). It is easy to overlook the fact that Jesus accomplished all that He did in three years of ministry, taking time out to evaluate the priorities of His mission even if it meant omitting situations.

Helmut Thielicke commented on the ministry of Jesus in his sermon on ‘The Parable of the Seed Growing Silently’: ‘What tremendous pressures there must have been within him to drive him to hectic, nervous, explosive activity! He sees…as no one else sees, with an infinite and awful nearness, the agony of the dying man, the prisoner’s torment, the anguish of the wounded conscience, injustice, terror, dread, and beastliness. He sees and hears and feels all this with the heart of a Saviour…Must this not fill every waking hour and rob him of sleep at night? Must he not begin immediately to set the fire burning, to win people, to work out strategic plans to evangelise the world, to work, work, furiously work, unceasingly, unrestingly, before the night comes when no man can work? That’s what we would imagine the earthly life of the Son of God would be like, if we were to think of him in human terms.

‘But how utterly different was the actual life of Jesus! Though the burden of the whole world lay heavy on his shoulders, though Corinth and Ephesus and Athens, whole continents, with their desperate need, were dreadfully near to his heart, though suffering and sinning were going on in chamber, street corner, castle and slums, seen only by the Son of God – though this unmeasurable misery and wretchedness cried aloud for a physician, he had time to stop and talk to the individual…

‘By being obedient in his little corner of the highly provincial precincts of Nazareth and Bethlehem he allows himself to be fitted into a great mosaic whose master is God. And that’s why he has time for persons; for all time is in the hands of his Father. And that too is why peace and not unrest goes out from him. For God’s faithfulness already spans the world like a rainbow: he does not need to build it; he needs only to walk beneath it.’[16]
The secret was that He took time out to be with His Father:
·       
  ‘'Yet the news about Him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ (Luke 5: 15 – 16)
·  
       ‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went to a solitary place, where He prayed.’ (Mark 1: 35)
·         ‘After leaving them, He went up on a mountainside to pray.’ (Mark 6: 46)

It was not as though Jesus needed a moment of self-indulgence, what He did need was the guarding of His relationship with His Father. It was during these times that they communed and  these times enabled the Son to continue His ministry, including those choices and stresses that inevitably came His way.

It did not mean that Jesus was idle as He confronted His accusers: ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’ (John 5: 17)

It was not only His practice but He encouraged His disciples to do the same for, for as the crowds grew and wanted more, Jesus told the disciples to come with Him by themselves to a quiet place and get some rest (Mark 6: 30 -31).

We need to be patient, like the disciples who waited for Jesus who were buffeted since sunset the previous evening and He came after 3 o’clock at night. A E J Rawlinson has commented: ‘Faint hearts may have even begun whether the Lord Himself had not abandoned them to their fate, or to doubt the reality of Christ. They are to learn from this story that they are not forsaken, that the Lord watches over them unseen…[that] the Living One, Master of wind and waves, will surely come quickly for their salvation, even though it be in the “fourth watch of the night”.’[17] It is despite the fact that Jesus made the point that he would meet them on the other side (Matthew 14: 22)

Lewis Smedes has written:

Waiting is our destiny as creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for.
We wait in darkness for a flame we cannot light,
We wait in fear for a happy ending we cannot write.
We wait for a not yet that feels like a not ever.
Waiting is the hardest work of hope.[18]

In the Old Testament alone, there are the injunctions to wait upon the Lord. In the Old Testament, the word wait often had the connotation of looking eagerly, hoping and expecting.

There were huge gaps in the lives of Abraham, Joseph and Moses. The only significant event in the forty years of Moses’ exile in the Midian desert, apart from meeting God in the burning bush at the end, was his marriage to Zipporah.

Jesus would have done more in His three years of ministry than what was recorded, as John tells us: ‘Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.’ (John 21: 25) However, we are told that Jesus had time for breakfast with His disciples and had numerous meals. In order to accommodate what was necessary, He had to say ‘no’ to other requests.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders commented: ‘Saying no makes the difference between working crazing hours and hitting deadlines without stress.’ She suggested that the time commitments that do not contribute to your day should be identified and then decline gracefully the requests that take time from the work that you should be focussed on. She continued: ‘Staying no to time commitments that don’t align with your priorities or needs can lead to a small amount of initial discomfort but save you hours of time in the end.’[19]

There is the encouragement that ‘Even the youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.’ (Isaiah 40: 30 – 31)

A W Tozer reminds us: ‘God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.’ [20]

There is the theme running through the Bible of God not rushing His purposes as we would. There are so many reasons why He could have sent His Son before the time that He did, but He chose the perfect time (Galatians 4: 4).

Sometimes, it feels as though waiting patiently is counterintuitive. King Hezekiah said something to that effect: ‘I waited patiently till dawn, but like a lion He broke all my bones; day and night you made an end of me.’ (Isaiah 38: 17) However, the passage does continue that God did visit the king and restored him to health, with the effect that he ‘will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul.’ (38: 9)

God does not bend a deaf ear: ‘’Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?’ (Psalm 56: 8)

We sing songs like ‘To be in your presence, not rushing away,’[21] ‘Be still, for the presence of the Lord,’[22] and ‘Still, my soul, be still’[23]; yet our actions belie what comes out of our mouths. As A W Tozer said: ‘Christians don’t tell lies, they just go to church and sing them.’[24]

There is the timeless hymn:

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide with Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.

Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.[25]

When we have lost the transcendence of our amazing God because we are ‘too busy,’ our boat will drift because there is nothing to anchor it. In a 1992 essay for the Forbes magazine, Peggy Noonan explained it thus:
‘I think we have lost the old knowledge that happiness is overrated – that, in a way, life is overrated. We have lost, somehow, a sense of mystery – about us, our purpose, our meaning, our role. Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this to be the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short one. We are the first generations of man that actually expected to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has caused such unhappiness. The reason: If you do not believe in another world, if you believe this is your only chance at happiness – if that is what you believe, then you are not disappointed when the world does not give you a good measure of its riches, you are despairing.’[26]

The prophet Habakkuk tells us: ‘the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.’ (2: 20) It corresponds with the verse: ‘Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.’ (Psalm 96: 10) If we do not take time to be still, we cannot fathom the awesomeness of our God.

Our hearts are often displayed in the words of 1 John 2: 15 – 17: ‘Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives for ever.’

The extent of our busyness often is a demonstration of where our hearts are. We often work too hard because there are ‘things’ that we want, instead of being satisfied with the good things that God has placed in our lives. Perhaps it might be the desire for the latest mobile phone; or the wanting to send our children to as many activities as possible because we do not to commit to family time; or to go on the perfect holiday location (which we will punctuate with relying to text messages and/or e-mails, whilst sending our children off to the holiday club).

It is questioning our motives, passions and desires. We need to determine whether we hold onto our family, possessions or even ourselves before God. It is noticeable that many Christians are unwilling to enter thoughts about death and eternity, because they are having such a good time down here and do not want to let go of the present. It is true that Christians can look indiscernible from the world.

We can be looking for love in all the wrong places because we have not sat down and thought about it. It is when we discern our own thoughts before God and with the help of the Holy Spirit that the situation may become uncomfortable, and yet it is the only way forward in this life. It is like God the divine surgeon taking His scalpel in an operation (where we have no option but to be still) in order that we can be healed.

We are told: ‘Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.’ (Proverbs 16: 3) However, we often make the mistake of being still long enough to bring our proposals to seek the wisdom of the Lord, but then we are surprised subsequently when things go pear-shaped. It is as though we do not look down the same page of our Bibles and see the following words: ‘In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.’ (Proverbs 16: 9)

In the midst of the Preacher’s words stating that there is a time for different seasons of our lives, it states that there is ‘a time to be silent and a time to speak.’ (Ecclesiastes 3: 7)

In I Kings chapter 19, Elijah was on the run after the triumph by God on Mount Carmel against the false gods. However, the prophet was despondent as he thought that God had abandoned him as he sat in a cave on Mount Sinai. God told Elijah to stand before Him as God would pass by. There was a mighty wind, earthquake and fire, but God was not in any of those elements. After these came a gentle whisper through which God spoke to his servant. God did not shout in the showy or the spectacular although He can, but in the stillness that God speaks to us today. The wonder of it all is that we all have opportunities to hear what He is saying to us in our situations, regardless of what they are.

It is in the times of quiet that we learn to obey. The word obedience does not only mean to do what we are told, but it also means to listen (the Latin obmeans ‘in the direction of’ and audire means ‘to hear.’)

God gave us weekly opportunities so that we can spend time with Him: ‘Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you…Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched hand . Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.’ (Deuteronomy 5: 12, 15)

We can come before God on a daily basis: ‘when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’ (Matthew 6: 6)

Oswald Chambers reminds us: ‘Our only task is to maintain a vital connection with Jesus Christ, seeing that nothing interferes with it.’[27]

It takes time and effort to develop our relationship with Jesus. ‘I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips…Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him’ (Psalm 34: 1, 8)

To walk with God takes time and cannot be hurried, spending time with Him. Eugene Peterson summed it up by stating that: ‘A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman.’[28] An apprentice should take time to study the plans and the methods of the Teacher, not rushing ahead but keeping in step (Galatians 5: 25).

We are reminded that ‘There is only one relationship that matters, and that is your personal relationship to a personal Redeemer and Lord. Let everything else go, but maintain that at all costs, and God will fulfil His purpose through your life…Always remain alert to the fact that where one man has gone back is exactly where anyone may go back…Kept by the power of God – this is the only safety.’[29]

Growth is not an instant process, but the slow and deliberate building of ourselves by the Holy Spirit so that we become increasingly like our Lord (Colossians 1: 10). Like a mustard tree (Matthew 13: 31), the development of our faith will be in spurts on occasions; but, more often, it will be in those quiet times where there is nothing discernible appearing to happen.
As antidotes to these particular malaises in our society, when we think about our own spiritual growth, Jesus illustrated it by telling parables of the sower (Matthew 13: 1 – 9), the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13: 24 – 30), and the mustard seed (Matthew 13: 31 – 32). There were also the metaphors of the fruit-bearing trees (Matthew 7: 16 – 18), the vine and the branches (John 15: 1 – 8), and the calling of people into the Kingdom of God as a harvest (Matthew 9: 37 – 38; John 4: 35 – 38).

We should have our thought processes transformed by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12: 2) so that we develop patience as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22). We need to realise that it takes time to cultivate this fruit. Paul also illustrated it by the picture of trees, which also need time to develop (1 Corinthians 3: 6 – 9).

Billy Graham observed: ‘Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.’[30]

Paul gives us the encouragement to be ‘strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.’ (Colossians 1: 11) It is this patience that is the outworking of the inner strength. There are no shortcuts as this strength can only be built up by spending time with Christ, to learn from Him who was meek (literally ‘strength under control).

In addition, we should be looking out for others as we are instructed in the Bible: ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.’ (Hebrews 13: 2)

We should following the example of our Lord for He also was pressured to do everything in the short time He had on earth: ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.’ (Hebrews 4: 15)

We could and should be convicted by Jesus’ words when He said: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

‘Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

‘The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25: 35 – 40)

Todd Dekruyter has commented on the necessity of thinking how we can implement the implications of Jesus’ words: ‘In addition to giving to your local church, there are many opportunities to make an impact on the community around you. Global missions. Local schools. Crisis pregnancy centres. Children in poverty. Struggling single moms. Refugees fleeing conflict. It’s easy to look at all the needs and opportunities in the world and say, ‘I can’t do it all. I can’t take on this many issues…’

‘God gives each of us individual burdens for specific needs of the Church and the world. Think about your purpose, about the needs and issues that move you to tears. Visualise them. What if there were only three, maybe four, things you could say with your life? Would you want those things to be said on accident, or would you want to pick the ones to be said? Use those priorities to focus your giving.’[31]

Jefferson Bethke uses a better term: formations, meaning to be in the ‘process of formation.’ He differentiates it from a goal as the latter is ‘the object of a person’s ambition or effort; and aim or desired result.’

He then expounds the difference:

One is about the end. The other is about the present.

One is about doing. The other is about being.

One is about results. The other is about process.[32]

Kate Merrick tells of how her family unplugged from digital connectivity when they moved from the United States to Israel for experimental treatment for their daughter’s cancer. She described the lesson learnt: ‘Presence is more than making eye contact with your people or setting your phone down or practising zen-like meditation. It’s in investing in your people, your situation, your actual life, not the people or situation or life you wish you had. Presence insists upon leaning into the daily grind, holding your ground when you’d rather check out. Practising presence calls for a certain open-handedness with God and where he is taking you. Practising presence is looking plain old life square in the face and saying, Yes you’re beautiful and you’re mine. Let’s do this.’[33]

It is important to recognise that God is the supreme example of taking time as a servant. He gave Himself out of eternity and came into time to save us. There was no time that was wasted and He was the master of it, achieving all that He had to in the time that He wanted.

When we stop and consider who He is, our response will be: ‘Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.’ (Psalm 95: 6 – 7)


[1]Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality (Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1997) p. 237
[2]Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, p. 14 https://www.preachtheword.com/bookstore/remedies.pdf
[3]Simon Tugwell, Prayer: Living with God (Templegate Publishers, Springfield, Illinois), p. 35
[6]‘Christ be in my waking’ written by Stuart Townend from the album ‘The Journey’ (Integrity Music, 2010)
[7]Quoted in Frank Powell, ‘6 reasons you seriously need to slow down,’ Relevant magazine, 17 September 2015. https://relevantmagazine.com/life5/6-reasons-you-seriously-need-slow-down/
[9] C S Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper Collins, New York, 1980), p. 198
[10]Heidi Jo Fulk, ‘The Pursuit of Quiet,’ Revive our Hearts, 9 March 2017, https://www.reviveourhearts.com/true-woman/blog/pursuit-quiet/
[11]Heidi Jo Fulk, ‘The Pursuit of Quiet,’ Revive our Hearts, 9 March 2017, https://www.reviveourhearts.com/true-woman/blog/pursuit-quiet/
[12]Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (Fount, London, 1998) p. 394
[13]John Ortberg, God is closer than you think: If God is always with us, why is He so hard to find? (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005) https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/God_Is_Closer_Than_You_Think.html?id=0jZb7kjsq1IC&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=rabbi&f=false
[14]John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, vol. 2 (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1949), p. 116
[15]Quoted in Richard J Foster, Sanctuary of the soul: journey into meditative prayer (IVP Books, Westmont, Illinois, 2011) p.28
[16] Helmut Thielicke, The Waiting Father: Sermons from the Parables of Jesus, translated by John W Doberstein (Harper & Row, New York, 1957) http://pmoser.sites.luc.edu/idolanon/ExcerptSecretGrowth.html
[17] A E J Rawlinson, St. Mark (Westminster Commentaries, Methuen, 1925) p. 88
[18]Lewis Smedes, Standing on the Promises (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee, 1998)pp. 41 - 42
[19]Elizabeth Grace Saunders, ‘9 Ways to Say No to Busyness and Unrealistic Deadlines,’ Harvard Business Review, 29 March 2019, https://hbr.org/2019/03/9-ways-to-say-no-to-busywork-and-unrealistic-deadlines
[21]‘To be in your presence’ written by Noel Richards (Thankyou Music, 1991)
[22]‘Be still for the presence of the Lord’ written by David J Evans (Kingsway/Thankyou Music, 1986)
[23]‘Still, my soul, be still’ written by Keith & Kirstyn Getty & Stuart Townend (Thankyou Music 2008)
[25]‘Take time to be holy,’ words by William D Longstaff
[26]Quoted by Ross Kaminsky, ’Reading and Rereading the Wondrous Peggy Noonan,’ The Spectator, 5 November 2015,   https://spectator.org/64567_reading-and-rereading-wondrous-peggy-noonan/
[27]Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Discover House, Grand Rapids, 1992), 25 March
[28] Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Inter Varsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2000) p. 17
[29]Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
[31]Todd Dekruyter, ‘4 ways to give before you have extra money,’ Relevant magazine, 10 April 2017, https://relevantmagazine.com/article/4-ways-to-give-before-you-have-extra-mone
[32]It is expounded in Jefferson Bethke, To Hell with the Hustle: Reclaiming Your Life in an Overworked, Overspent and Overconnected World (Nelson Books, Nashville, Tennessee, 2019)
[33]Kate Merrick, Here Now: Unearthing Peace and Presence in an Overconnected World (Nelson Books, Nashville, Tennessee, 2019) pp. 102 - 103

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