Success or Presence

As I sat down this morning to begin my personal time in God's presence, the thought came to me that the only effective kind of worship is my mind is focused in the present and not slipping into the past or the future tense. This idea of living in the present tense is something I have pondered for years off and on, but today I realized how silly it must be to think one can cultivate a meaningful relationship with someone if most of the conversations avoid thinking about one other in the present mode. It would make for very awkward conversation at best if one person refuses to look at the other or resistes letting their mind engage actively in real time while they are talking to the another.

If I only speak as if I am living in the past, or only dwell on the future about what might happen while I constantly avoid engaging my senses in what my relationship and feelings and thoughts are right now, it only allows for a very shallow relationship to develop. The only way to deepen friendships with anyone is to get real with them, to bare our souls and make ourselves vulnerable to them presently which requires that I share how I am feeling right now and what I am thinking right now.

That is not to say that I will never talk about the past or the future. Those parts of me will certainly enter into conversations of good friends. But if I am always uncomfortable sharing my current feelings and emotions and ideas and only dwell in the past or the future, then it will be impossible for the relationship to go much deeper than just a casual friendship.

Yet when it comes to my relationship with God, I have observed that it is all to easy to relate to Him more in the abstract rather than engaging the same part of my mind and heart that I would use if sitting face to face with a close friend having an intense conversation. The very concept of prayer has become so religified and formal that it often minimizes the possibility of connecting with God intimately as what needs to happen to enter into a transforming relationship with Him.

Interestingly after I sat down and picked up my first devotional book to read for today, the topic touched on exactly this very same issue. It was as if God was priming me ahead of time in order to remind me that He already knew what He wanted to discuss with me this morning. So He put it into my thoughts before He reinforced it through another channel. I always feel encouraged when He does that kind of thing, for it makes it more obvious that He knows everything – past, future and present – as if it were all in the present. But for me to reciprocate and connect at a deeper level with Him I must choose to focus my mind and heart primarily in the present moment as I interact with Him if I want to experience the kind of growth in knowing Him that He wants for me to have.

Let me share what I read and then comment on more.

We are apt to imagine that if Jesus Christ constrains us, and we obey Him, He will lead us to great success. We must never put our dreams of success as God’s purpose for us; His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have an idea that God is leading us to a particular end, a desired goal; He is not. The question of getting to a particular end is a mere incident. What we call the process, God calls the end.
What is my dream of God’s purpose? His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm and unperplexed, that is the end of the purpose of God. God is not working towards a particular finish; His end is the process—that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea. It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God.
God’s training is for now, not presently. His purpose is for this minute, not for something in the future. We have nothing to do with the afterwards of obedience; we get wrong when we think of the afterwards. What men call training and preparation, God calls the end.
God’s end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now. If we have a further end in view, we do not pay sufficient attention to the immediate present; but if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is precious. (My Utmost 7-28)

How easy it is for me to assume that what is most important is the accomplishment of some program, executing some event, or creating some grand plan for God that I need to be involved with presently. I have noticed that my overall sense of courage or depression can ride up and down with how much excitement or anticipation I have based on what has just finished or what is about to take place. Yet I am convicted by this passage and by the Spirit of God that what He wants for me and what is more beneficial for my growth in knowing Him is simply a transparent, honest openness each moment where He and I can instantly interact about whatever is going on in our thoughts. Those thoughts may include things from the past or future or present, but the attitude of the conversation needs to be with an intentional consciousness of His presence.

Sometimes I realize how silly it must seem to God when I think about Him from a different perspective than in a present tense. It is like standing right in front of a person while ignoring they are there and speaking to someone else about that person. That happened to me one time and it made it vividly clear to me how it feels to be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment. My dad and step mom were sitting around a table with me and they began discussing me as if I were not even in the room. Awkward is hardly a strong enough word to describe how that made me feel. I was amazed that anyone could act that way right in front of someone – as if they were oblivious to the fact that I was quite available to be involved in the conversation. It seemed so rude to talk about me in front of my face with no indication of recognition that I was sitting right there.

Yet when it comes to God who has made it explicitly clear He is never absent from us for a moment, how often we talk and act and think as if He were far away or is maybe only in the past or the future. Why does it seem so difficult to be willing to engage that part of our mind that is necessary when we choose to directly connect with someone. I am not saying we should never talk with others about God outside of using first-person speech to Him. But I am speaking of the disposition of the heart and the attitude of the mind.

What also struck me as important in this devotional was how easy it is sometimes to view the events or accomplishments in our lives as the main focus or the basis of our relationship with God instead of simply resting and trusting in His present care for us each moment. I think Chambers is right on target when he emphasizes that what God longs for most is for us to learn to live intimately in His presence with an intentional consciousness as our higher priority rather than focusing so much on what has happened in our past or what we think He is going to do in our future.

This reminds me of what I have learned about the nature of the fall of Lucifer. The biggest problem that launched the rebellion of sin in this universe occurred when Lucifer made the tragic mistake of shifting his own base of value and identity from the internal, active, present-tense dependence of his heart relationship to his Creator, to thinking that his value and identity came from any other sources – like his stunning beauty and his superior abilities or his great influence over all the other created beings. As soon as he began to depend on external things to rely on for his identity instead of simply resting in his relationship to the Father and living in that love for him, things began to spiral out of control and sin took the universe in a tragic new direction.

Knowing this is the original sin that got all of us into the massive mess we now find ourselves in, it is easier to see that the process of salvation is about restoring us back to the right foundation upon which we need to base our own sense of identity and value. Anything or anyone other than God that I depend on to prop up my sense of worth or define who I am will become a threat that might undermine the only reliable Source there is to give me real worth. And to keep reminding myself of my real worth as God sees me, I need to actively and frequently engage in real-time, intentional, present-tense interaction with Him so that I train my heart to embrace my new identity that is only found in Christ.

As Oswald Chambers reminds me of here, success is not found in grand schemes I develop and execute for God or in accomplishments I can point to in my past. Rather, true identity and worth are only found in living in a real-time, moment by moment consciousness of God's love for me and keeping my heart open to whatever He wants to share with me at any instant. This is the way Jesus lived His life on earth and is the only way any of us will be equipped to follow His example.

This reminds me of a quotation I learned many years ago.

The Son of God was surrendered to the Father's will, and dependent upon His power. So utterly was Christ emptied of self that He made no plans for Himself. He accepted God's plans for Him, and day by day the Father unfolded His plans. So should we depend upon God, that our lives may be the simple outworking of His will. {DA 208}

Chambers uses a most vivid illustration of this principle from the story of Peter walking on the water with Jesus. I love that story because it has so much to say to my own life of growing faith in Him. I admire that Peter was bold enough in his trust in Jesus to ask Jesus to invite him to join him in walking on top of the waves. We too often dwell on the fact that Peter momentarily lost his focus on Jesus and allowed fear to interrupt his excursion. But in reality that story is descriptive of all of us as we learn how to live in present-tense, active faith practicing dependence on Jesus to keep us above all the dangers that try to intimidate us from so many directions.

Jesus, thank-you for this reminder that You want me to interact with You like a real, present friend and not just a historical figure or someone who lives far off in distant space. Of course You know how forgetful or distracted I can be, so I am trusting You to keep reminding me to rest in Your presence and enjoy the gift of Your presence with me intentionally all the time.
You know that sometimes I become so intensely focused on something I am doing at work or a conversation I am having with someone that I sometimes lose sight of Your nearness. You don't condemn me for that, but I do sense You sometimes have to alert me of the danger of letting other things bring fear or pride into my heart and take my attention away from You.
I am so amazed at the wonderful revelations of truth about You and Your Father that You keep pouring into my life. Everything You are teaching me keeps reinforcing the early truth about Your gracious character of unconditional love and forgiveness that You brought to my attention not too many years ago. Now I see You amplifying this awareness through more and more sources who are responding to Your love and truth from all over the world. Your glory is beginning to permeate deeper and farther until what You predicted in Revelation 18 will finally become a full reality soon. I want to help spread this glorious truth about You where I live and to the people affected by my influence. Continue to transform me into becoming a better reflection of Your heart as I learn how to simply dwell and rest in Your presence more intentionally and consistently. Do this for Your reputation's sake.


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