I’m often asked if I’ve read the latest book by “Famous Author,” heard the latest message by “Famous Speaker,” or done the most recent Bible study by “Famous Teacher.” Almost always I sheepishly admit, “No, no I haven’t.” I try not to admit that I’ve never even heard of such a person, book, thing. I usually end the awkward conversation with something like, “I’m just not a good Bible study girl.” And though I use it deflect from the fact that I’m just not cool and trendy, there is nevertheless an underlying element of truth. The simple fact is I don’t long for the next great Bible study.
I long for God’s presence.
And, dare I say it?, the two don’t always go hand in hand.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to go deeper with God. I wrote last week about digging deeper as we seek to escape, or rather, to define, those sandboxes to which so many of us feel relegated. I think most of us can acknowledge that sometimes the lives we lead feel small and insignificant. There is some deep, hidden-away place inside that knows we were made for a bigger life.
We are intended for a bigger life. We are many things to God. But as His people we are adopted into a special lineage – that of God’s chosen people. Before the Israelites entered the promised land God divided them into twelve tribes. Each tribe save one was given land. The Levites were not given a share of land. They were called to be priests before the Lord and an intermediary between the people and God. God was to be the focus of their service; He was to be the source of their provision; and He was to be their significance. God alone was to be their portion and their inheritance (Deuteronomy 18:1-2). By this adoption, we today are also priests/priestesses before the Lord (1 Peter 2:9). This means that God alone is our portion and inheritance. All by Himself, He is enough.
What does this have to do with going deeper? Well, God told the priest, Eli, “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind” (1 Samuel 2).
Very simply, we learn the heart and mind of God by spending time with Him and by letting that time – by letting His presence – change the way we live. For a lot of American church-goers, this often should start with less Bible study and theology lessons and more quiet, more prayer, and more time simply reading the Bible for ourselves.
We’ve become so accustomed to letting our pastors, Sunday school teachers, and big box Bible study authors do the work of seeking after God for us. Our excitement in serving Him so often comes from the newest tidbit of knowledge we gleaned from our most recent Bible study. But that kind of excitement is fleeting because knowledge by itself is passive. It’s only God who is able to take knowledge and add to it revelation; in our response to that revelation, he activates life change and grows wisdom within us. This is real living.
We tend to seek God AND something else. God and Bible study. God and an extra church service. God and service. God and programs, events, and activities. The only result is exhaustion, a feeling of isolation, and an echoing sense that there must be something more. We finish that awesome Bible study and find ourselves back again at that apathetic or complacent place we started, wondering vaguely what’s wrong – and that’s only if we stand still long enough to examine it at all.
So what does it mean to go deeper and how do I do it?
Sit down and be quiet
You know what busyness does to us? Busyness eventually forms callouses over our hearts. Those callouses form a tough barrier that makes it really hard to experience the presence of God and hear the voice of God. I say this to women ALL.THE.TIME. Simplify your life. Cut down on your commitments. Start saying NO to stuff. Yeah, I know. I’ve heard every argument running through your brain right now. I’ve made the same arguments. But I’m right about this. Being still and quiet is about the hardest thing for any red-blooded American woman to do. Do it anyway. For more than three days. For more than three months.
Read your Bible
For a season, put away the Bible studies, the Bible study methods, the commentaries, and everyone’s idea of how you should study. Just read it. Underline or highlight things that stir your heart, or speak to you, or challenge you, or convict you. Stop right there and just think about it. Don’t worry about finishing the chapter so you can mark it off. Sit still and start to talk to God about what you just read. Talk to Him as if He were sitting next to you and is your best friend or your husband. If you start reading in one place and it doesn’t stir something in you, read from somewhere else. Chuck the One Year reading plans and everything else and just read. Forget methods, formulas, and agendas. Read. Your. Bible.
Put the Bible down, shelve the Bible studies, turn off the online sermons and just worship God. Sing. Dance. Raise your hands. Lie on your face. Cry. Laugh. Sit quietly. Play music. Make your own music. Tell Him how you love Him. Tell Him how you long to feel His presence. Tell Him that you need to know He’s real and that He’s present. Tell Him what you’re thankful for. Put words and physical expression to the longings of your heart where God is concerned.
Just talk to Him. Forget about formulas and correctness. If going deeper makes you feel like you’re drowning, or leaves you feeling inadequate, or you just don’t feel anything from Him, then tell Him that. If you find yourself feeling apathetic and spending time with Him is just a chore, then ask Him, repeatedly if that’s all you can think of at the time, to cause your heart to desire and long for Him. Pray for others. Pray about your relationship with Him. Ask Him questions. Not for days, or weeks, but for months and years. As time passes, you’ll learn of your own how to approach Him, how to talk to Him, and how to hear His voice. He’s faithful like that. The original and best teacher is the Holy Spirit.
Tough it out
Remember those callouses I mentioned earlier? If you’ve been skimming the surface in your relationship with God for a long time, or if you’ve been substituting church services, theology, and Bible studies for that relationship, then you may have grown some callouses. Don’t panic. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t grow discouraged. And don’t worry if your time with God doesn’t produce the emotional response you might be looking for. Do the work. Discipline your mind, body, and heart. It’s a relationship. Sometimes it requires work, sometimes sacrifice, sometimes patient endurance. Toughen up and tough it out. I promise He’s gonna show up.
Focus on Fruit
Searching for significance? Longing to make a difference? Wanting to reach people and don’t know how? Stop worrying about volunteer hours, service projects, and church activities. Does your life produce fruit in keeping with righteousness? In other words, does your life reflect honest and genuine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control? Are you eliminating behaviors and activities that hurt God’s heart and choosing things that please Him? Are you focused on giving from within yourself of the abundance God has given you? At the end of the day, the most significant thing you can do is to be real. Examine your motives. Before serving, volunteering, or leading, find out why you want to do it. If it’s for the wrong reasons, then cool your heels until you can be sure you’re doing it with the right motivations. Acknowledge where you’re struggling and lean into God with everything you have – only He can bridge that gap between where we are and where we need to be.
Get cozy with God’s people
You’ll never do this all on your own. More often than not God chooses to work through people. If you need to hear God’s voice, there’s a good chance He’s going to speak through someone else. If you need to know He hears you, chances are He’s going to affirm that through another person. If you’re discouraged, afraid, lonely, or doubting He’s probably going to minister to you through someone else. Don’t isolate yourself. Find a person or group, make a commitment to them for the long haul, and go deep together.
Understand that I’m not saying we shouldn’t listen to sermons, do Bible studies, or serve. All of these and more are part of the Christian experience, contribute to a vibrant Body of Believers, and help us grow. They are important. But there are times when we need to pull back because we’ve allowed those things to take HIS place in our lives and we’ve traded Him for them without even realizing we’ve done so. We need to undo that damage and then listen for His direction as we again begin to participate in those externals.
A.W. Tozer wrote, “I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me thy glory, I pray thee, that so I may know Thee indeed.”