Where on earth do we find God?
This is a question that I have been thinking about for some weeks. Perhaps I’ve set myself up with an impossible question. Another way to say this might be in its negative form; Where might be the places in life that you would probably least expect to ‘find’ God?
My thinking about this started with a conversation with a friend. She was discussing the way she finds it difficult to connect with God through online services. Perhaps we all relate to the challenge of this, in various degrees. As I assured my friend, she is definitely not the only person to find it difficult to find a lack of live congregational worship difficult in lockdown. I have to confess how rebellious my wandering mind can be at times. For instance, when trying to concentrate on the words of a beautiful hymn or prayer, when competition comes from the beat of teenage music softly (hopefully softly!) pounding from the ceiling above; or an appeal for my attention from the other side of the room, as the cat calls for me to open the door.
The truth is, that for many of us, place is important. Not surprisingly, a key place we find God is in corporate worship in beloved and familiar surroundings of church. Whether we find a connection in the familiarity of traditional liturgy, or in the heart-felt worship song accompanied by keyboard and guitar, there is something about being in the space, being that place with young and old, whatever our background or status; something about ‘being’ together helps us realise that we share in this amazing grace that covers us all. Before long, thank God for scientists and medics, we will be returning to this wonderful privilege.
But it perhaps worth pausing to consider what we might learn from this absence of spiritual comfort. It is important to notice that this is not the first time in biblical history that the People of God have been prevented from meeting together. We might think back to Old Testament exile. The pain of forced migration to live under foreign rule. Something we considered if you caught the sermon – thinking about the message of Isaiah to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Psalm 84:2 expresses the longing to be free to worship in poignant imagery that shows an integration between corporate worship and a personal sense of God’s presence; “My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” Similarly, we might think of the persecuted church that was particularly likely to be readers of John’s Gospel (the latest of the four). And yet the persecuted church are not, sadly, simply biblical history – Christians suffer today for their faith in countries such as North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Pakistan. And while I would not presume to make any comparison between this and our own temporary estrangement from church buildings- but how might learn from considering ways that the courage and faith of others might speak to the question;
Where on earth do we find God?
I am not pretending to reduce these hugely important questions to simplistic answers to these in this short space. But I do think it’s an important conversation. I simply offer three things I have found to be helpful as I have talked and prayed with others. Firstly, there is a question of our own expectation. As the Psalmist wisely prayed, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.”
I think there is considerable poignancy in reflecting, firstly, on the negative question; where do we not expect to find God? Throughout Scripture we discover that God is in the hidden places as much as in the obvious place, such as temple celebrations. Moreover, Jesus reveals that he is ‘hidden’ in people we meet who are in need and in the simple ways we show his love. In Matthew 25:35-40 we read; “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Whether through giving to foodbanks, shopping for neighbours, or taking time to speak to encourage or to pray for others. God is present as we share in his heart for the poor and the forgotten- and perhaps not in the way we would expect.
Another question is one of hidden beauty and of the ordinary, everyday places. But I will hold that thought for next week expect to say that this brings us back to the question of online services and meetings. The truth is, that for all my struggles, as I look back I know I have also grown through the mixed gift of online worship. My teenage kids playing music and the cat at the door are not simply distractions to worship, they can become part of the reality of my life that I bring in prayer. Honest, real, ordinary prayers of thanks for pets and requests of blessing for family that I bring before our loving God when I only seem to have a muddle of distracted thoughts to offer.
At other times I have known a sense of God’s presence, which is still with us in a real and powerful way whether we meet physically or virtually. We find God so often through the faith of others. All the more if we at a time that we have run out of our own resources, the prayers of others lift us; like the man carried on his mat to Jesus (Mark 2). Next Tuesday (16th Feb, 7pm) we are holding an online ‘taster session’ for a series of lent prayer meetings. These are designed to help us still our busy thoughts to focus on God, by listening to a Gospel story each week, and lingering in the Word together. Whether you pray for hours each day or are a novice to prayer, whether to participate through sharing some thoughts or simply listening to what others day – all very welcome! More details to come, (or ask James for more details) and let’s encourage one another to seek God and know him more.