The Precious Pursuit of His Presence | Patty Stump
"God has impressed upon my heart that each day is a fresh opportunity to seek Him with a renewed passion."
Life can be loud! Whether from external, audible noise or internal, mental messages, our minds can be bombarded with information, ideas, to-do tasks and laundry lists of details and demands that vie for our attention. These noises of life can be exhausting, taxing our thoughts, hindering our hearts, encumbering our emotions and even diminishing our spiritual well-being. Thankfully, with age, we begin to recognize the futility of these endless endeavors, often more aware of God’s quiet whisper to first and foremost prioritize the pursuit to simply be still and seek meaningful moments with him. (See Psalm 46:10.)
A girlfriend recently shared that she is seeking to spend 20 minutes each day away from distractions with the sole intent of lingering with a single-minded focus on God. She further shared her desire not to let her own thoughts consume these moments but to quiet her heart and mind so that she might hear and rightly discern God’s thoughts. This may sound simple, but most of us who have tried to sit still and focus on God have discovered that this pursuit can be quite challenging. Why?
Our minds tend to wander, cell phones alert us to texts and incoming calls, pets whimper, washing machines ding and calendars distract us with an assortment of things to remember that we’re afraid we’ll forget. The clamor and clutter of life boldly impose a deceptive sense of urgency upon these moments as if an impatient whisper presses us to recognize that our supposed idleness needs to come to an end so that the more pressing, though lesser, things of life may be tended to. And then, we shift our focus, allowing the ordinary disguised as important, to crowd out the truly important, setting in motion once again our mental engagement and moment-by-moment movement into the routines of our daily affairs.
What a familiar cycle this can be for us as women as we live in this world yet hunger to be women intimately acquainted with God and wise in his ways, drawing our life from his Word. I have contemplated my friend’s daily decision to draw near to God (James 4:8). I have felt the same tug at my heart to quiet my mind, seek him fist and linger in the sweet stillness that invites him to reveal himself more fully to me. (See Matthew 6:33.) And while I am well acquainted with the tendency toward distractions, I’ve also recognized three strategic steps that strengthen my ability to draw near to him and quiet my mind.
First, I tune in to my thoughts. Much of what we dwell on is not worthy of a moment of our time and actually undermines our well-being. What a waste. God exhorts us to align our thoughts with his Word, thinking on whatever is true and honest (Philippians 4:8). Such a focus is life-giving and allows him to change us from the inside out. Romans 12:2 states that we are transformed, changed from the inside out, as we adjust our thoughts to be in line with God’s Word. As we take a mental inventory of our thoughts, God’s Holy Spirit stirs us in ways that enable us to identify where we need to make adjustments. Nothing attractive comes forth in our lives when we allow our thoughts to be undisciplined.
Next, take out the trash. Our thought lives have patterns that developed over time, much like the subtle etching away that occurs with the recurring trickle of rainwater. As the years go over the course of our lives, our experiences include delights and disappointments, love and loss, mountaintop moments and unbelievably deep valleys. The cumulative impact, if we leave destructive thought patterns untended, can leave us vulnerable to becoming calloused, indifferent, and possibly even dismissive of God’s Word (Mark 4).
Satan will seek to distract us from regaining clarity of thoughts and tenderness of heart (Galatians 6:9), desiring instead that we continue to linger in the lowlands on matters that are disheartening, discouraging, disagreeable, divisive and even doubting of God. The outcome will be a weakened spiritual faith, diminished joy and the inability to experience the fullness God offers (John 10:10). Thankfully, God alerts us to Satan’s schemes as we shift our thoughts to him, take out the trash in our thoughts and exercise our spiritual muscles with discipline (1 Timothy 4:7), holding our thoughts captive unto Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), focused on him first and foremost.
The third point for pursuit comes into focus here: tend to our hearts so that truth becomes deeply rooted. Proverbs 4:23 exhorts us to watch over our hearts with diligence, for from it flows the springs of life. This truth presses us into the necessity to fix our focus on God (Hebrews 12:1–2). I have certainly discovered that this pursuit and spiritual discipline requires intentionality even if only for twenty minutes. My mind wanders, and my thoughts can be weighed down in the world’s ways of worry and fretfulness. Yet while I struggle in these areas, God has impressed upon my heart that each day is a fresh opportunity to seek him with a renewed passion (Lamentations 3).
Philippians 3:13 exhorts us to forget what is behind us and focus on what’s ahead. For me, that includes the pursuit to prioritize sitting quietly in waiting on God in what can be incredibly meaningful moments. As I do, he quiets my thoughts, renews my strength, steadies my steps and increases my stamina. What a small investment to make in the scheme of my day. What a significant impact on the unfolding of my days. A few passages speak to these truths, including Isaiah 40:29–31, Isaiah 43, Isaiah 48:17 and Galatians 5.
Now for the best part of all: the sweetness that stirs as we exercise our spiritual muscles in tuning in, taking out and tending to our hearts and letting heavenly truths fill and ground our thoughts (Colossians 3:1–2). This is essential in quieting our minds, for as we fix our focus on him, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1–2), all else begins to fade from focus and into a proper perspective. How marvelous it is as we sit in his presence, resisting the pull of distractions and mental turmoil in order to dwell upon God, inviting the Holy Spirit within us (1 Corinthians 2:11–13) to sow God’s promise of peace into our lives (Philippians 4:6–7), clarity to our priorities (James 1:5), strength amidst weariness (Isaiah 40), calm in the midst of chaos (Philippians 4:19) and undeniable anticipation as we do life in a fallen world.
This anticipation stems from the awareness that God has guided us through various seasons of our lives, tended to our hurts and touched our hearts. It’s an anticipation that radiates from our lives as we grow in knowing him more intimately and his promises more personally, able to smile at the future (Proverbs 31:25) as we pause with him in the precious pursuit of his presence.