Living in God’s Presence Part 2

I have a confession—and I do appreciate the ridiculous paradox of what I’m about to say—but I didn’t have high expectations for my blog post Living in God’s Presence.

Up to the point that I hit send on the email to my pastor, and later when I pressed publish on my website, I wondered—in contrast to the message of the entire post—if maybe I was confusing obsessive tendencies for Godly zeal.

Then I started reading feedback and realized something—this questioning… this uncertainty… hit home with other Christians. This quiet doubt that was snaking its way into my head and heart was also at work worming its way into the heads and hearts of my brothers and sisters.

We are not alone.

None of us are alone. We all want to find and follow God’s will. We are all wondering at times if we are failing.

As my pastor often says, “Our want-to is there but our how-to is broken.”

Some of the feedback I read asked deep and difficult questions. I wanted to share two comments that impacted me.

On the subject of not divorcing the spiritual from the natural, Lisa Quintana of Think Divinely remarked:

“…I wonder if we don’t bring God into things because we don’t trust He’ll answer? Or maybe we don’t know how to discern the answer? I know that is my struggle. I pray about most everything, but there are times when I simply cannot hear the Shepherd’s voice, or I don’t trust my ability to hear. Then I second guess myself. Maybe that is not so uncommon? In our distracted world, to me at least, it’s getting hard to hear my Lord. I even take times of silence seriously – and it’s still hard to know with certainty. So, that is my struggle, and it could be at the root of the “divorce between the natural and supernatural.” If we can’t discern between the two, the ‘natural’ inclination (pun intended) is to defer to tangible things. It’s not the best choice, but it’s honest.”

And regarding the nature of submitting everything in prayer, Chip Mattis of Twelve2nds said:

“This one hits close to home. I’ve had the same conversation with people in my life, whether we should pray about particular things.

“On the one hand, submitting my entire life to God in prayer is something to aim for. It is hard enough submitting the big things to him let alone the minutia of my day. But I know that I can’t withhold any part of my life. If God hasn’t touched every part, then there’s always a part of me that either doesn’t trust him or is actively rebelling.

“On the other hand, it brings up the question around what it means to pray. The nuances of prayer are tough to comprehend. Am I praying when I’m thinking about God? Do I literally have to have a brain conversation with God when I’m wondering what to say in a conversation with my friend or at the ballot box? Or is a life of continuous prayer one of submission and surrender where I naturally conform to God’s will? Do I more naturally execute God’s desires in my life when I’m more submitted and surrendered? These are tough questions.”

The learner in me loved Lisa’s and Chip’s comments. Their depth provided me with an opportunity to push further and gain new understanding.

Am I Following God’s Will?

I once heard Ray Comfort address the idea that some Christians pray for direction and then wait earnestly for a sign, voice, or obvious direction. Ray presented the case that God has already given us all the signposts we need in Scripture. He added that we also have the counsel of Christian friends and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

His points resonated with me. Because I was once one of those Christian who waited for God’s clear-cut direction, searching the skies for a sign. Now I realize God’s leading is more nuanced and I am hungry for understanding of what life, lived in submission to God’s Spirit, looks like?

So how do we marry the idea of seeking God’s direction in everything—as Chip is referencing—while maybe not having a ‘brain conversation’ over every single instance.

1. Mind & Reasoning

I believe the beginning of the answer lies in Proverbs 16:9. “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”

2. Submission to God

And in Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”

3. Immersion in God’s Word

And 2 Timothy 3:16-17. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

4. Godly Counsel & Accountability

And Proverbs 19:20-21. “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days. Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.”

Examples of Following God’s Will

What did this look like in practice?

How about the life of Paul? Paul had all of these going for him.

1. Mind & Reasoning

One of the greatest minds to ever live, Paul was all about strategy. This wasn’t a man who disengaged his brain. Paul chose to preach in some cities while skipping others. He visited vital centers of trade and culture. He hit cities of pagan importance (think Artemis of the Ephesians). And he targeted synagogues first where he could preach to potential believers who would bring with them an already strong foundation of Scriptural knowledge.

Paul was logical, no-nonsense, get-things-done. And he was also a perfect example of the fact that sometimes God waylays our perfectly planned strategies. Paul writes in Romans 1:13, “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.”

2. Submission to God

Of course Paul was also the one who wrote the words, “Always. Without ceasing. In everything.” No matter what plan and strategy Paul had architected with the amazing intellect God had given him, he was minute-by-minute open to God’s right to step in and change it.

In Acts 16, we see God changing Paul’s plans multiple times. Acts 16:6-10 says, “They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

These were not instances where Paul asked God’s will and waited inert. Paul acted out strategy he believed in and humbly submitted to God when the Spirit stepped in to redirect the path.

Paul acted out strategy he believed in and humbly submitted to God when the Spirit stepped in to redirect the path. #godswill #biblestudy Click To Tweet
3. Immersion in God’s Word

Paul. Oh how I love Paul. Paul loved God’s word. Paul knew God’s word. Paul wrote 2 Timothy 3:16. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

Paul also said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” And Christ said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”

But wait a minute…

Paul never physically met Jesus. He never observed how Jesus walked, talked, or ministered. The Gospels weren’t even in circulation when Paul wrote this imitation command to the Corinthians.

So how can Paul imitate Christ, who he has never seen?

How could Paul imitate Christ, who he had never seen? #biblestudy Click To Tweet

Because Jesus is the Word and as a former Pharisee, Paul had hidden God’s word in his heart. Paul even went so far as to assert that he was, “…as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”

Paul could imitate Christ through the example of Scripture and the power of Christ’s Spirit. We can do the same.

Paul could imitate Christ through the example of Scripture and the power of Christ’s Spirit. We can do the same. Click To Tweet

I’ve been married a long time. In the first few years, I had to ask my husband what he’d like me to bring home from the grocery store. Now, after years of hearing his answers, and observing what he buys himself, I can—without much conscious thought—grab that Mountain Dew from the cooler on my way by. To ask him if he wants a Mountain Dew? Well, that’s just a waste of energy.

I know this is a dumbed-down idea, but when we accustom ourselves to seeing what God does, hearing what He wants, and knowing what He finds acceptable through time in the Word, then we can react to different scenarios already trained in His will.

4. Godly Counsel & Accountability

Then comes the times when we just aren’t sure. The times when it’s hard to do the right thing because there are multiple ‘right’ things to do. What do we do?

We ask our brothers and sisters for help and prayer and guidance.

But this requires transparency. And transparency can be a terrifying concept. It requires us to get down and dirty with each other. It makes us vulnerable and scared. But it’s how God designed his body to work.

Paul writes in Galatians to bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Our brothers and sisters can see things we can’t. They offer perspectives we don’t have. New ways of looking at situations…and often they bring just the right piece of advice.

Living in God’s Presence

Living in God’s presence is an adventure-filled journey that will take us an eternity to understand. But with submission, humility, repentance, and reverence, a life lived with ever-increasing closeness to His heart is possible.

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25 thoughts on “Living in God’s Presence Part 2”

  1. I love the initial premise of this post. Obsession or zeal? Sometimes it’s hard for us to tell the difference. Is the Spirit leading me or are my fears and obsessions?

    Only prayer, counsel, and time will tell.

    Great post!

  2. So glad you followed this up Part 1 with this, referencing Paul. Paul is awesome because he acknowledged who God made him to be and allowed God to use him. I love that you mention how he acted on his own strategy while being open to God’s leading. One thing I find fascinating about Paul’s open heart for God’s plan is when godly people tried to convince him not to go to Jerusalem where the bad guys were waiting for him. But he was so committed to God’s plan and so in tune with Him, that we went anyway, “ready not only to be bound, but even to die…for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). He lived in God’s presence, whether in body or spirit.

    1. And that brings up another interesting point, Stephen: how do we become so in tune with what we know to be true that we are willing to stand firm even in the face of counsel from godly friends? As always, you bring a thought-provoking perspective.

  3. Our want-to is there but our how-to is broken, totally love this quote from your pastor. This statement hits at the heart of so many of our problems. We want to follow God but our compass is broken at times. We want to turn from sin, but our sinful nature takes control. We want to but we don’t know how. Thanks

  4. Hey Stephanie,

    I love your heart, your vulnerability, and your candid honesty. Thanks for sharing Lisa and Chip’s comments and for this continuation of the conversation. I’ve often shared the same struggles and had those hard conversations with others. How do we know what to do and which way to turn? And while I like all the points you make here, there are two things that stand out to me.

    1. I like how you said Paul didn’t disengage his brain. The Lord gave us our minds for reasoning. 2. I love the points you make about godly counsel and accountability. Look at Psalm 37:30-31 in the NLT,

    The godly offer good counsel;
    they teach right from wrong.
    They have made God’s law their own,
    so they will never slip from his path.

    I strive to be careful who I seek counsel and advice from. It must be a believer who is godly and makes “God’s law their own.”

    1. Ooh, Karen…I love that! “They have made God’s law their own.” What a beautiful picture that paints. Like you, I’ve sought out trusted friends who I know love God first and love me enough to say hard truths. Very important. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

  5. Love this topic! I always go back and forth between whether it is God’s direction or my hopes and dreams or both. Is continuous dialogue better or is that just me rambling? Such good insight here.

    1. Brittany, I say I’m a habitual vacillator. I don’t even know if that’s a word! But I find myself going back and forth, back and forth. I completely understand that. Thank you for reading!

  6. Stephanie, I really appreciate your insightful post, especially your encouragement to first vertically to God and to Scripture, and then look horizontally towards our trusted community. I think we often have it reversed – looking outwards and relying on the horizontal influences to guide us rather than trusting in God and his Word to guide us. I also agree that we need to be consistently in his word to ground us because otherwise we can fall into self-doubt, questioning, doubting, second guessing. And as you write – “this questioning… this uncertainty… hit home with other Christians. This quiet doubt that was snaking its way into my head and heart was also at work worming its way into the heads and hearts of my brothers and sisters.” This can be so pervasive and controlling. So relying on God and the solid foundation of Scripture is the way for us to battle through and grow in confidence as we take action and submit to God’s will and leading for our lives.

    1. I love how you say, “battle through…” because your point is so powerful. The word is our sword and without it, how could we possible try to battle through our doubts? Thank you for sharing!

  7. First, thanks for the shout-out. You’re right, this topic is one I’ve been thinking a lot about and it’s so important for the Church to wrestle through it. I’m glad my thoughts resonated.
    Second, I think all your points are spot on. To know God’s will is a challenge. It’s a quest I’ve been on since I was young. What is God’s plan for me? Why was I made? As I age, I have learned these are the wrong questions. What is more important is to answer God’s call for today than some ethereal call for tomorrow.
    When our family was considering whether to plant a church a wise older pastor told us about finding God’s will. It comes down to 3 things: what are my talents, what is the opportunity, and what is my desire. The Venn Diagram where those intersect is God’s will. I’ve lived by this ever since.
    Thanks for sharing this truth, and please, be assured, your posts are really important. Keep it up!

    1. A Venn Diagram where these intersect…that is an amazing idea. I am writing it down right now. It is so true though. God has gifted us, he provides for us daily, and he has instilled desires within us so why wouldn’t this idea work? Thank you, Chip. Also, thank you so much for the encouragement. You couldn’t know that I’ve been asking myself this very question, “is this important, is this making a difference?” Your encouragement is timely and appreciated.

  8. I liked the quote from your Pastor, “Our want-to is there but our how-to is broken.” So much truth there. Your point about Paul’s submission to God with that minute-to-minute openness to God changing his plans is a great too. My Pastor has taught on that one. We (I) tend to get frustrated when plans get changed, and need to remember that God sees things we don’t and has reasons we don’t understand! Awesome post, Stephanie!

  9. I think many times Christians have not really grasped the power that the Holy Spirit can have through you. I know it changed for me when I started to ask daily to be emptied of me and FILLED with Him. The less of “us” that can influence are steps, THAT’S the best way to be!! It’s when you start to understand the confidence in His leading, the confidence in His goodness, the confidence in our Jehova-Shammah as He is always there guiding us. Whether it’s to seek counsel or to wait. He will lead us best!!

    1. April, I agree. And even more, I don’t think that I really grasp the power of the Holy Spirit. Only this morning, I was hit again by the fact that I don’t have to carry my burden or fix my problem. He will do it. Such a relief to submit to that. Thank you for reading.

  10. “when we accustom ourselves to seeing what God does, hearing what He wants, and knowing what He finds acceptable through time in the Word, then we can react to different scenarios already trained in His will.” Perfect! Well said and so true!

    I’ve also found that on the way to a better understanding of His will for me, when I think I’ve heard His voice on some direction, I can ask Him, “Lord, is that You?” And usually He bears witness in my spirit and gives me peace that it truly is Him. But in those times when I still feel unsure but think I’m pretty sure, I feel it’s better to do what I believe He has said and let Him redirect me if it wasn’t really Him.
    I’ve found that, like many parents, He often doesn’t give the next set of directions until I, as His child, have listened to and obeyed the ones He has already given.

    1. Wow, this is such a great example. I love how you suggest to ask and trust that he will redirect. Also that as a parent, he is waiting for us to follow one direction before he gives a second. We joke that my son can’t handle more than 2 directions at any time. Maybe that’s how I am with God. Thank you for this perspective.

  11. “We all want to find and follow God’s will. We are all wondering at times if we are failing.” Yes times a gazillion. I think we all feel what you are feeling and grapple with what you are struggling with. You are so not alone. Such a wonderful post!

    1. “Yes times a gazillion.” Love it! How wonderful that he allows us to find and fellowship with each other in order to be strengthened, encouraged, and built up. Thank you for reading, Nicki.

  12. Stephanie, this is another thoughtful and inspiring post. We all struggle with each of the notions that you mentioned here. I appreciate your strategies using right-thinking (reasoning framed within submission to God), scripture-immersion and faith-family accountability. One thing I know for sure, I cannot trust my “feelings” alone. May we enjoy God’s presence as we seek him and his will through all of these. Blessings!

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