Receptive to God’s presence

Wherever we are, God is here. No point is nearer to God than any other point. No one is in mere distance any farther from or any nearer to God than any other person is. A.W. Tozer wrote these truths about the omnipresence of God in the fifth chapter of The Pursuit of God, The Universal Presence. He then asked the question, if God is everywhere, then why doesn’t mankind celebrate that fact? The answer is simple: men do not know that God is here.

In previous chapters, Tozer wrote about the manifest presence of God. The presence of God and the manifest presence of God are not the same thing. God is manifest when we are aware of his presence but God is always here whether His presence is clear to us or not.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 139:7-10

Why does God manifest His presence to some people and not to others? Does God love them more? Or does the answer lie with us?

Tozer pointed out that if you think about any of the great saints whose lives and stories are well-known (not just people from the Bible), you will see that they were all unique individuals. Moses was not like Isaiah. John was not like Paul. C.S. Lewis was not like St. Francis. God did not choose to reveal Himself to these men because there was something really special about them.

What quality do all of these people have in common? Tozer concluded that it was spiritual receptivity – being open to God and being responsive to that inward longing that so many of us feel. Spiritual receptivity is not just one thing; it is “a blending of several elements within the soul.” Spiritual receptivity is not a constant quality; people possess it to varying degrees. We must actively cultivate these “elements within the soul” if we want to be open to God’s manifest presence.

God is here but man does not always know it.

During this Lenten season, my church is reading Scot McKnight’s 40 Days: Living the Jesus Creed. In the reading for day nine, McKnight wrote about a God who is “on call.” When Scot was a teenager, he foolishly drove an old car 100 mph on a two-lane highway. The road crested slightly and the car was slightly airborne. Then the road curved and Scot realized he couldn’t make the curve at such a high speed. Through the mercy of the God who is always on call, Scot was able to slow down enough to navigate the curve.

We are made aware of God’s presence through personal experience. Like Scot McKnight, I have had a couple of near-misses on the highway when I was very aware of and thankful for God’s protective presence! I have felt God’s comforting presence in moments of grief and emotional turmoil. I am aware of God’s guiding presence as I navigate the difficult spiritual tests of this life.

Tozer did not attempt to identify any of the elements of spiritual receptivity. From my own experience, I’ve listed a few elements of the soul that open me up to God’s manifest presence.

Devotion

The greatest commandment (part of what McKnight calls The Jesus Creed) is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Simply said, it is to love God with everything you’ve got! It is having a personal relationship with God and making God the most important part of your life.

Many religious people treat God as just an icon or a set of beliefs. Loving God is more than loving the idea of God. As Jason Gray sings, this is more like falling in love than religion. I need a truth that lives, moves, and breathes. It’s gotta be more like falling in love than something to believe in. More like losing my heart than giving my allegiance. Jesus made God real to me and swept me off my feet!

Humility

I just read a non-religious article about the power of intellectual humility. The author wrote that humble people are more open to learning from others because personal growth is their goal, not social status. Likewise, spiritual humility is the key to spiritual growth.

I think of humility in two ways. One, I am the small ‘c’ created being and God is the the big ‘C’ Creator. He is omniscient. There is so much I do not know about countless topics, even in comparison to other mortals. I can’t see the future; God already knows it. He is powerful; I am weak. Two, God is holy. He is the source of all that is good and moral. I am confronted daily with my sinfulness and inability to ever be pure in my thoughts and deeds.

Humility makes us receptive to God because we have to first acknowledge our fallibility and weakness to seek God’s help. Humble people are open to learning from Him. Humble people get their courage and strength from God.

Honesty and Openness

I believe that God reveals himself to those who are honest with themselves and with Him. We can’t hide our thoughts and feelings from God. Before an all-knowing God, it’s pointless to pretend to be something we are not. Before an all-seeing God, it’s pointless to cover up our thoughts and feelings. God is not fooled or impressed with our pretenses.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

In the psalms, I find the kind of honesty and openness that characterizes a person who is receptive to God’s presence and to the transforming power of the Spirit. David was honest with God about his fears. At times, David felt ignored and rejected by God. He was honest about his frustrations with injustice. In Psalm 10, David asked, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” He then went on to complain at length about the actions of the wicked before acknowledging that God sees the troubles of the afflicted. God hears the cries of the afflicted. God is not indifferent to our suffering. God defends the oppressed. God is here.

Hunger

I eat several times a day. It’s hard for me to ignore hunger and the allure of my favorite foods. I am fortunate that I never have to be hungry for long because food is almost always readily available.

To be receptive to the presence of God, we have to long for God just as much as we long for our favorite snacks. God is readily available. We must long to fill that gnawing spiritual emptiness that exists when we are not fed by God.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:6

Lord, you are here. You are always near, even when it feels like you are far off. You are always on call. I am always in your hands. Thank you for loving me and protecting me from harm. I pray that you will cultivate the elements of my soul that make me receptive to your presence. Search me and show me the errors of my ways. Fill me with your goodness! Give me eyes that see and ears that hear your truth. Amen.

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Photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash