I have been reading a new book called Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There by Leonard Sweet. It is a really good book about paying attention to God’s work in and through our lives and it has had me thinking (and preaching) about a few things. Here’s a smattering of those thoughts. (All quotations are from this book.)
Being able to see and to point out where God is at work is of great importance when it comes to our faith and encouraging the faith of others, but also of great importance, maybe even more so, is simply that in order to partner with God to bring love and redemption to this world, we have to be able to see where He is at work so we can join Him in that work. We have to see Him to be able to follow Him.
So, why don’t we see Him at work?
Probably the first that comes to mind is we simply aren’t looking for Him. We aren’t choosing to be aware of His presence in our lives. We see what we choose to see. I don’t know how many times I will tell Anne or Ty to go get something and they can’t find it. The item is usually in plain sight, but they are so sure that it isn’t there and can’t be found that they don’t find it. In essence they are choosing not to see it. The same thing happens with God. We aren’t convinced that He is at work, so we don’t really look for signs of His presence. We may say we are waiting to hear from God, and the answer may be staring us in the face, but we don’t see it because we aren’t really looking.
Sometimes we don’t see God because even though we are looking, we aren’t looking in the right places. We are looking where we think He will show up based on our expectations, but not where He actually is. God doesn’t appear when and where we expect Him to. When we set our own expectations of God and then don’t see those met, we tend to give up on Him. In contrast, “when we live expectantly, we are living with the hope and the expectation that Christ will come through, but we’ve left the terms open. Living expectantly means always being aware of Christ in us, yet waiting for the how, when, where and why to come…” Some examples of this would be the way we choose to see God in church, but not in a song on country radio. We choose to see God in the Bible, but not in a secular novel. We give God our attention in certain situations, but He is in all situations if we will be open to hearing Him.
Another reason we don’t see Him is if we aren’t receptive to Him so we don’t recognize Him. That could be because we don’t have enough of a relationship with Him to recognize Him.
Sometimes we don’t see God because we are willing to settle for the idea of Him rather than the real thing. Karl Barth tells a story about riding a streetcar in his “home city of Basel, Switzerland. He took a seat next to a tourist, and the two men started chatting with one another. “Are you new to the city?” Barth inquired. “Yes.” said the tourist. “Is there anything you would particularly like to see in the city?” asked Barth. “Yes,” said the tourist, “I would like to meet the famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Do you know him?” Barth answered, “As a matter of fact, I do know him. I give him a shave every morning.” The tourist got off the streetcar at the next stop, quite delighted with himself. He went back to his hotel and told everyone, “I met Karl Barth’s barber today.” This is an example of how we “sit next to Christ all the time and yet fail to see that it is really Jesus Himself,” because we are willing to settle for something less.
Sometimes we don’t see Jesus just because He doesn’t make himself easy to see. It may be that we are prevented from seeing Him or it may be that He needs us to WANT to see Him.
There are probably many more reasons why we miss Him, but what we really need to know is how to see Him.
First, we have to want to see Him. We have to choose to open our eyes to His presence. He doesn’t enter where He isn’t invited. Remember, we see what we choose to see, so if we choose to see Jesus, we will. But isn’t easy to see and understand God at work. We have to try.
Then, we have to be awakened to the fact that God is already here—even if we haven’t recognized or seen Him. He is with us always. Our eyes must be trained to look for certain things—in our lives and the lives of others—that signify God at work. We have the ability—we just have to use it. In Nudge, the author says this, “Suddenly there it is: the world. I’m connected to the far reaches of the planet…All I need is the right apparatus, the right wireless card (or radio or tv or whatever) that can “connect” me with what was always there but was invisible and unavailable until the receiver was activated.” God is, was, and will always be here and active, we just have to activate our receivers. We have to pay attention.
We have to look all around—past and present to see God at work. We have to pay attention retrospectively in addition to being present in the moment. “We can do post game analysis and become more aware and more tuned in to what God is doing and the way God reveals himself in circumstances if we see backward. Most of us first see God after the fact. We live forward; we understand backward.” I am sure we can all remember times when we didn’t see God’s presence until after the fact. The poem Footprints in the Sand, would be an example of that. Sometimes we will see God best as we look back.
Once we do see Him, we will want more. ”One of the worst aspects of drug addiction—crack, meth, heroin—is that once you’ve experienced it, you can’t ever “unknow” it. The same principle applies to Christ’s love and His kingdom” and His presence. Once we have had a taste of Christ at work in our lives, we want more of it.
Christ is alive—He is risen and sent His Spirit to be with us and work in and through us. This isn’t a story that is over and passed, but a continuing one. And this “evidence of God’s immanent presence ought to be capable of breaking in on us each day the way air and light and sound do if only we know of what to look and listen for.”
My challenge for you this week is to start each day asking God to open your eyes so that you can see Him at work and then to walk through your day expecting to see God at work in unexpected places. Don’t put Him in a box, just open yourself up and pay attention to see Him in His time and in His way.
How have you seen God at work in your life recently?