A couple years ago, my young adults group went on a retreat to the mountains of West Virginia for a weekend. That Saturday, I woke at 4:30 am because my body thinks, “This is not my bed! I must leave it as soon as possible!” I went to the lodge for an hour until it got lighter, then went up to the chapel (a wooden platform with a cross behind it facing some chairs) in the forest for a little God time. It was the best God time of my life. I thought it was life-changing.
For the next week or so, I was different. I was happier, friendlier, and more at peace. Then it faded. By the end of the second week, I was back to normal, save that I had a longing to get back to God’s presence like that.
So why couldn’t I just stay there or get back there easily?
I think we usually have three reasons for not being able to find God’s presence again easily once we’ve left it:
1. He doesn’t want us to because absence breeds longing. You’ve missed someone before, be it a parent, spouse, child, or close friend. You know the longing you get for that person and how excited you are to see him or her again. Not being with that person makes your moments with them more valuable.
This is important when God is trying to build your desire for Him. If you had all of Him you wanted all the time, you might soon get full, especially if you think you’ve plumbed the depths of God. He wants you to want more of Him and seek Him, and so He may not be easy to find for a while. If you keep searching Him, though, He will be there for you.
2. We are looking for something we want more than God. In my last post, I described finding a bonfire in a desert and leaving it to search for something shiny in the desert, either because you want it or so you can give it to the host. When we look for something other than God, we often find it; that’s part of the problem.
All good things come from Him, yet we often seek for things we want without going through Him. We may pray for a spouse or money or a good job – and there’s nothing wrong with these things themselves – but then we go hunting for them under our own strength and knowledge rather than relying on God to guide us to them. When we get things, even good things, from a source other than God, it will inevitably end up being worse than God’s will for you.
The other part of the problem is that it’s difficult for us to focus on more than one thing at a time. I know women can think about several things at once (I cannot fathom that), but truly focusing on multiple things is difficult, if not impossible. If our search is outside the camp, so to speak, then we’re not with the caravan’s host. How can we draw close to God while we’re running from Him?
3. We want to prove we are worthy. The Pharisees spent their lives proving they didn’t need the Savior they were prophesying. They were obeying all the rules, but weren’t following God. It would be like being outside the caravan and still pretending you’re part of it simply because you are acting according to the host’s rules for joining the caravan. The important part has never been the rules, but the host.
Then there’s the little matter of not being able to earn your spot by the bonfire in the first place.
As one last point, there’s no benefit to seeking what you want outside of the caravan. There’s nothing in the desert that’s good for you that your host is unwilling to give you. God is a good Father; this means He wants you to have good things, but that He gets to decide what’s good for you and what isn’t. If you aren’t getting what you want, perhaps it is time to let Him to decide what is best for you and remain inside His camp.