Recently I challenged our church to spend a day praying and fasting for some big decisions the leadership was wrestling with. During my lunch for the day I took a walk down the street to a small secluded area with some pretty cool pine trees stretching to the sky. I stood under them, mesmerized by their beauty, and as I watched them sway back and forth I thought about how carefree they seemed. Just blowing sweetly in the wind, reaching to the heavens.
I've always liked Psalm 46. To this day it is perhaps my favorite Psalm and one of my all-time favorite passages. It is full of fantastic thoughts and encouragements like, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of need" and, "He causes wars to end throughout the earth."
Of course, the most well-known passage from Psalm 46 comes from verse 10:
I was reminded of Psalm 46:10 ... be still ... and I started to wonder why I wasn't "still" very often. Of course, my mind raced to all of the usual excuses: ministry, family, demands on my time, feeling exhausted because of lousy sleeping or eating habits. I came up with a ton of excuses, and I thought they were all very good reasons. (I'm an expert at making excuses sound like viable reasons.) Then I started to ask a deeper question ..
Why am I avoiding God?
Well that is an entirely different question. Why DO I avoid God? I know I hear God best when I am still before Him, so why am I doing everything I can to keep busy, even when I'm not? Here's what I came up with:
1. I DON'T LIKE BEING WRONG.
When we were younger my brother and I picked up a phrase that has always stuck with me. At some point I suppose I decided it was a great motto to live by. It goes like this: "I may not always be right, but I'm never wrong!" (I wish!) The truth is, I'm wrong a lot! From parenting to being a husband, and especially in the arenas of pastoring and following Jesus, I get it wrong more than I get it right. Over the years I found that not only am I very good at rationalizing excuses, I'm also extremely adept at hiding my wrongness! But not in front of God. When I'm still before Him, when I have nothing to hide behind, I'm bare and exposed, and all of my wrongness comes front and center. It is in that moment that I realize I'm far too focused on all that is wrong in my life instead of all that is righteous in me because of Jesus. Ever since I was a kid I remember hearing that we are all sinners, that all of us have fallen short of God's standards ... but that's not what defines me. What makes me who I am is the next verse:
2. I DON'T LIKE BEING CORRECTED.
Of course, not wanting to be wrong leads to another avoidance for me: being corrected. Who likes to be corrected, even when they know they deserve it! The Bible is clear that God disciplines and corrects us out of love (Proverbs 3:12), and while that encourages me concerning His motives, it doesn't mean I like His actions! Most of the times I am avoiding His presence it has to do more with my guilt than it does His grace. I'm like the little kid who doesn't want to face mom or dad when He knows he's been caught doing something wrong, so to avoid the punishment, he stalls! Often, that's me ...
3. I'M LAZY.
By lazy I don't mean lay-around-and-do-nothing-all-day lazy, I mean I-don't-want-to-have-to-change-my-life lazy. Making life changes is hard work, and it always comes with a cost. It is in the stillness of my time with my Creator that He tends to show me how He wants me to be a better creation ... that's also when He reveals the cost of that change. As the old gospel song goes, "There's not a victory without a fight. There's not a sunrise without a night. There's not a purchase without a cost. There's not a crown without a cross." Sacrifice and surrender are hard, and they always demand a price, that's why Jesus said to follow Him we would have to be willing to pick up and carry the most brutal, cost-inducing, torturous device known to man: a cross (Matthew 16:24).
4. I'M SUPPOSED TO HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS FIGURED OUT ON MY OWN.
At the risk of being sexist, I think most guys struggle with this one. I'm supposed to be the guardian. I'm supposed to be the provider. I'm supposed to be the advice giver. I'm supposed to be the one with all of the answers, especially when people come to me as a pastor. Even though I learned a long time ago that some of the most powerful words I can say in ministry are "I don't know," for some reason that thought doesn't apply to me personally. I'm supposed to know what's right and best for me.
There are actually times that I find myself avoiding God, not because I don't want His help, but because I don't need to want His help. Does that make sense? If I get still long enough I will recognize what I already know - I need Him, and I'll have to admit it, not to Him, but to ME!
5. I FEEL UNWORTHY OF HIS AFFECTION AND ATTENTION.
Maybe this is the one I struggle with the most. Yes, I have pride issues, but I often find myself balancing my pride with my insecurities. I buy into the lie that I'm not worth God's time or His attention. If I were a better person ... If I was more obedient ... If I was more successful ... If I was anything but me ... then I would be worthy of Him, but me ... as I am?
It's a lie, I know it is, but it's a powerful one. Sometimes I find myself avoiding time alone with my Father because I don't want to hear what He has to say, but most of the time I avoid Him because I'm ashamed. Ashamed of my sins. Ashamed of my struggles. Ashamed of being me and not a better version of me. It's easy to get caught up in the "when you were still in your sin" part of the Bible because we're always stuck in sin, but never forget that THAT is only a half truth. The rest of the truth goes like this:
I don't know if any of these reasons resonate with you, but I challenge you to ask yourself, "Am I avoiding God?" If you are, get to the bottom of why. When you discover that, you'll be amazed at home much easier it is to be still, and you'll realize just how much you've missed it.
Lord, thank you for inviting me to be still in Your presence. You ARE an ever-present help in time of need; help me to look for you in times of peace too.
Lord, this week, help me to be still. Give me the wisdom to discover what is keeping me from You and the strength to deal with it. Show me how I can better be still before You, and in that moment, reveal more of Yourself to me.
Thanks for never giving up on me, for being my Father, my friends, and my Redeemer ...