In our new series of articles on ‘Spending time with God,’ contributors from each of our different Bible reading notes share their personal reflections. First, Sheila Walker, writer for New Daylight January-April 2024.
12 January 2024
My first thought is that this article could be very short. After all, if it is true that, as Paul says to the Athenians (quoting Epimenides), in God ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28), then it is impossible to spend any time without God. The psalmist is equally aware that, even if he takes the wings of the morning, like it or not there is no escaping from God. He is the one whose centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere.
But I have a feeling that something more is expected. How, amid all the stresses and distractions of modern life, am I to become aware of his presence? And why should I want to? Back, then, to the drawing board.
Now that implies a cost. What kind of cost? Well, it could cost me a few minutes of sleep; a bit of scrolling through emails and social media; the next Sudoku puzzle; even, if I’m mega-serious, a meal. To begin with, I may be very aware of that cost, but as time goes on, by the grace of God the rewards will far outweigh it. Which is not to say that it doesn’t continue to be a challenge. As the old rhyme has it, Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon their knees. And so the temptation to cut, skip and forget continues.
I wonder if our age isn’t taken hostage to Kipling – ‘If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run’. Doing is considered more praiseworthy than being, and easier to measure and judge. Our time, however long or short, is a gift from God and yes, of course, we are to make the most of it. But how to know what that ‘most’ consists of, unless we find out from the giver? Jesus calls his disciples, now as then, to be with him before going out to do stuff.
‘Like it or not there is no escaping from God. He is the one whose centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere.’
Ah, now comes the crunch. This ‘with’ is a rich and heavy word, laden with meaning far beyond a casual occupying of the same space or moment of time. It invites my full attention, my keenest listening, my openness and availability, body and soul, for whatever may be revealed to me. I listen for the melody beneath the cacophony. I seek to sense the current beneath the breaking waves, the wind of the Spirit amid the squalls that blow me off course, the words of comfort, wisdom and peace for broken lives.
Sometimes I am blessed in these and other ways; sometimes I will move on, feeling I’ve heard nothing, sensed nothing, learned nothing. But that is not true. It is impossible to waste time with God. Always his Spirit will respond to my invitation to come in, and will bless me, even if I’m not sure how that may have happened.
And the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question: who is this God, and how will I recognise him? Inevitably we all have our own concept of God, whether or not we can express it in so many words. And inevitably all concepts will be woefully inadequate: informed and misinformed by our own circumstances and teaching. As C.S. Lewis puts it in his ‘Footnote to all prayers’:
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
the coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
(From Poems by C.S. Lewis © copyright 1964 CS Lewis Pte Ltd. Extract used with permission.)
The good news being that God will, indeed, hear me and seek to help me to glimpse him as he truly is, and to see as he sees: whether through his creation, his word, his Son or his people.
‘God will, indeed, hear me and seek to help me to glimpse him as he truly is, and to see as he sees: whether through his creation, his word, his Son or his people.’
But why ring-fence time in this way?
While it is true, and will remain true, that in this life we all ‘see through a glass darkly’, this is perhaps the number one way to improve our vision.
First, it can help me to see myself as God sees me. When all the distractions are stilled, for the moment, what remains? Who am I, when I am alone before God? At different times, this may be either a comforting or a sobering revelation: either way, it will be salutary and life-giving, for our God is the epitome not merely of justice but of infinite love, mercy and renewal. I therefore remember that I am loved, valued and belong to a bigger story, God’s story.
Second, it can help me to see others as God sees them. None of us is free from prejudice, from the influence of our family, culture, circumstances; much of the tension and conflict we experience springs from lack of understanding and therefore lack of compassion. As I hold before God those whose need is prompting my prayer, I am giving the Holy Spirit time to inform those prayers, to align them with his wise and gracious will. It is not always easy to remember that every person is created in the image of God, bears that divine spark and is called to become a child of God.
Third, it can help me – if indeed I am truly blessed – to see something of God. Spending time consciously in his presence is no guarantee that I will receive any dramatic revelation or experience, but it is surely true that God will honour my intention and commitment.
Discerning God in all things
Revelation may indeed be imperceptible, by osmosis as it were, yet is none the less real for all that. As Richard Rohr writes, usually ‘we see things pretty much in their materiality, but we don’t see the light shining through’. Increasingly I will find myself beginning to discern God in all things, becoming more aware that indeed there is no time spent, no circumstance, no emotion which I do not share with him whose name is Love. Tough love, yes, at times, but that is the nature of true love.
Esther de Waal, writing of the need to spend time with God, says: ‘Without this, I know that I will probably become either exhausted, or lethargic, unbalanced, dis-eased.’ So will I. So might you?