“Can you be close to God when you’re not suffering?”
This is one of the most common questions I get after I speak.
I understand that worry. I’ve faced it myself. It can seem that sufferers get the inside track on intimacy with God, joining an exclusive club that no one else can enter. I have even found myself half wishing for trials so my walk could be deeper.
Yet trials are not the only way to meet the Lord. They are not the only way to grow. Suffering is not the only way to have the abundant life God offers us.
But in some respects, it’s the easiest way.
When I am suffering, there is nothing else to think about but God. I am drawn to Him in incalculable ways. I see my need for Him with every breath. But when everything is going well, it’s more of a struggle to see God.
But I must remember that God ordains my days and gives me exactly what I need. He purposefully shapes me through all of my experiences. So when He is showering blessings, I should enjoy them and be content. In abundance and in need. In plenty and in want.
In both trials and joys, God can be found.
He says so in His Word. And in His Word He says simply that we need to call upon him. Draw near to Him. Seek Him.
I can do that in both good times and bad times. But in the bad times, God is all I have to hold onto. In the good times, I can feel like time with God is something else on my to-do list.
God is not changed by my circumstances. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Only my perceived need of Him changes.
I am learning about this even as I write. For the first time in 20 years, I am not in the crucible of suffering. It’s wonderful, but at the same time I have to fight for my walk with God. I mentioned in an earlier post that God is whispering, and I need to listen closely to hear Him.
So before I spoke at a local conference this weekend, I wanted an answer for those people who wonder how to find God and experience His presence when life is going well. I prayed that God would show me what to say.
I knew we had to be humble. Dependent. Needy. But I wondered if there was anything else.
So I asked God.
The answer I got seemed abundantly obvious. It was so simplistic that I wasn’t sure if there was something more to it. But I sensed in the silence that there wasn’t. The way to draw close to God is to be with Him.
It seems so simple. And it is.
Spending time with God is an essential part of the Christian life.
Everyone in the Bible with an intimate walk with God, whether they were suffering or not, spent extended time with God. We are familiar with faithful sufferers, like Joseph and Paul, whose faith was forged through their adversity. But we also see Job and Daniel, who walked with God before their trials ever began. Before their faith was tested, the Bible records that Job consistently talked to the Lord and Daniel prayed fervently, on his knees, throughout the day, every day.
They spent time with God even when they didn’t feel desperate because they longed to know God.
Every life-giving, deep relationship involves time. There’s no way around it. I cannot know anyone if I do not spend time with them. And I, in my limited finite capacity, cannot even begin to know God without sitting with Him.
Much of the reason that I am close to God in suffering is because my desperation draws me to Him. I talk to Him constantly and pray more earnestly. I ransack the Bible for promises that I can hold onto. I want to understand His ways. I need His wisdom.
In looking for ways to connect with the Lord, I search diligently. I know that this connection is the only way to find hope in the midst of despair.
In good times, I also carve out time with God, but sometimes it serves more to increase my intellectual knowledge than to really know Him. I don’t always approach my time in the Word with hunger; often I go apathetically.
When I do not sense my need, I’m less intentional about spending time with God. I don’t meditate on Him. I don’t sit in silence. I don’t wait expectantly.
These are spiritual disciplines. Silence. Listening. Attending to God.
I can practice them in prosperity and in poverty. These disciplines force me to pay attention to what God is doing in my life. But in times of struggle, they don’t feel like disciplines- they feel like necessities. And that is a blessing.
Last week I walked into a bright room in the daytime, sunlight streaming through the windows. The space was beautiful and had a single lit candle on a table, though I scarcely noticed it in the surrounding light. I was drawn to other things in the room- the people, the architecture, the furnishings.
A friend pointed out the candle to me, remarking that she had barely seen it in the midst of the sunshine. If the room had been dark, the lit candle would have been the focal point. It would have captured our attention immediately.
I have been pondering that statement for days. That lit candle is much like our experience of God’s presence in our lives.
When life is going well, and the future looks promising, it requires effort to focus on a single lit candle. It’s easy to overlook. I’m likely to be captivated by my surroundings if I’m not attentive and purposeful.
But when life is difficult, and everything looks dark, I am riveted to a lit candle. It is my only hope. I am unknowingly drawn to it because of my need. The darkness shrouds the room’s contents so they don’t hold much appeal. They can only be enjoyed in conjunction with the light. So I must sit near the flame.
God is with me in both pleasure and pain. He shapes me through the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary moments in my life. They all count. They are all opportunities to know Him. They are all ordained by Him.
I just need to pay attention.
photo courtesy of Jonathan Davidar