The meat sweats.
That’s what the men at the “Beast Feast” were unwittingly welcoming into their lives a few years ago.
Carbs were prohibited at this protein bash.
If it hadn’t formerly contained the breath of life, it was disqualified from being a consumable choice in this men’s gathering replete with bluegrass music, Big Green Eggs, and plates loaded with carnivorous delights. Jimmy Buffett would have been proud.
As I stood in line for barbecue that had been artfully tended with care in a smoker the previous night, I was heartened to lay eyes on a dear man and friend whom I hadn't seen in quite some time.
That’s Your Fault!
In my exuberance, I offered a hearty salutation, “Why, hello Johnny!” With, I’m sure, a big goofy smile on my face, I cheerfully and earnestly continued, “Boy, I sure haven't seen you in a long time!”
And with nary a moment’s hesitation, my masterfully straight-shooting friend, stunned me with the rapid and unexpected retort:
"That's your fault!"
That joyfully blunt interlude has always stuck with me, partly as a chuckle generator, but also, because my friend, whom I admire, in part, because of his no frills directness in speech, unintentionally supplied me with a memento for my spiritual life that day.
Although folks in our Calvinist circles aren’t always so fully prepared to act as if this were entirely true, we can discern clearly that the Scriptures, in a manner of speaking, can sometimes be heard to suggest rather bluntly, “that’s your fault” to us when we find our spiritual experiences paltry and discover that God himself seems like a distant high school friend we remember we sat next to in Chemistry (or was it English?), but don’t really know too much else about these days.
At various street corners in the Scriptures, we hear a raised voice, like a newspaper boy of old, hawking the day’s happenings and seeking the interest of any who’d listen:
“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
“You will seek me AND find me WHEN you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
A Haunting Disregard
I know these invitations from the heavens.
But as I indulge my addiction to what Paul Miller calls “the narcotic of busyness,” I often discover them crammed in the mailbox of my life, soggy and seemingly useless from the rain of my disregard.
Pierce Pettis once captured this haunting disregard we experience:
“Oh the presence of your absence follows me, on trains and at the movies, sitting next to empty seats.
I wouldn’t mind you going, if the emptiness would leave, oh the presence of your absence follows me, and you’re not there…”
There it is, the achingly undesirable condition of living with the gaping hole of a beloved’s absence. An absence so fiercely defined, it can only be described as an undeniable presence.
For him, and all jilted lovers, it is an unwanted state of affairs.
We certainly would enjoy NOT being in that condition with God, wouldn’t we? We, theoretically, at least, want to live in close connection to our Lord, right?
Shoe-Horning God into Crammed Lives
But yet, we may be accidentally ordering our lives to guarantee the absence of the One for whom we were made. By shoe-horning Him who heals us into crammed lives rather than unpacking those lives to order them around Him, we may be ignorantly planning never to know or to enjoy God as He intends and as we crave in ways of which we aren’t always cognizant.
CS Lewis once suggested that though there was no guarantee of the sense of the presence of God in a follower’s life, he knew how to promote God’s absence with confidence:
“Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health, and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.”
Of course, Lewis was ignorant of the allurements of Facebook and all its ethereal cousins.
This isn’t merely another iteration of our new favorite pastime of piling on about social media overuse.
It’s simply a recognition that whether by pervasive athletic commitments, binge-watching Netflix, obsessive over-work at the office (or in our yard), or yes, getting turned to stone by the Medusa of Instagram---“we no longer” as Helmut Thielicke, noticed in 1950’s Germany, “have the opportunity to ask the question of eternity or listen to its question to us...this is the tepid, almost unconscious way of deciding against God.”
“Allowing Oneself to Be Torn Away From God”
Thielicke was sure that almost any of the features of modern life could prove expert temptations for us, which he aptly described as “allowing oneself to be torn away from God.”
He, like other perceptive spiritual teachers have maintained, knew it wasn’t ordinarily anti-Christian philosophies or persuasive arguments that lure people from the faith or dislodge them from their haven in God, but usually just plain carelessness.
John Flavel, the 17th century Puritan likewise insisted, “I never knew grace to thrive in a careless soul.”
And he lamented as one charged with the care of these souls:
“There are some men and women who have lived forty or fifty years in the world and have had scarcely one hour’s discourse with their hearts all the while....The improvement of our graces depends on the keeping of our hearts.”
And esteemed 20th century pastor, AW Tozer, pondered the critical and alluring question that some of us may wonder or may feel a root of dissatisfaction and curiosity about but haven’t yet found words to express it. He asks:
Why do some persons "find" God in a way that others do not?
Why does God manifest His Presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience?
Upon consideration of the varied servants of God who seem to have qualitatively different connections than others, he offers:
I venture to suggest that the one vital quality which they had in common was spiritual receptivity. Something in them was open to heaven, something which urged them Godward. Without attempting anything like a profound analysis I shall say simply that they had spiritual awareness and that they went on to cultivate it until it became the biggest thing in their lives. They differed from the average person in that when they felt the inward longing, they did something about it. They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response. They were not disobedient to the heavenly vision. As David put it neatly, "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek."
Could the puny confidence we have in God be due to flabby, under-developed “spiritual response” muscles in us? Could some of it be, as my achingly direct friend insisted to me that day, “OUR Fault?”
It’s certainly worth finding out. And God sure does entice us with promises that practically dare us to give him a shot.
Philip Yancey describes a rabbi who taught that experiences of God could never be planned or achieved. “They are spontaneous moments of grace, almost accidental.” His student asked, “Rabbi, if God-realization is just accidental why do we work so hard doing all these spiritual practices?” The rabbi replied, “To be as accident prone as possible.”
We can’t force God’s hand, but we can absolutely enhance our own likelihood of a sweet and renewing “accident proneness” by “drawing near” uncommonly often. Perhaps, as a result, we ourselves will meet uncommonly often with innumerable “spontaneous moments of grace.”
And in the process, I just know we’ll discover that these moments are far tastier than a plate of smoked meats, and that’s sayin’ something.---
Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at email@example.com