A day of peace
A few Saturdays ago I had a quiet day.
I didn’t visit family, I didn’t catch up with friends. The only people I saw were those at the shops when I ducked in to buy some groceries and those at the park when I went for a run.
I spent most of my hours writing. The other part reading. Some time eating, some time doing random household tasks.
My pace was slow, unhurried, restful. I accomplished a few things, but not much. And I didn’t care.
It was a far cry from my past few weeks which had been packed with half-marathon training, visiting my Mum in hospital, and having my sister come live with me.
It was lovely.
But it was also dangerous.
That night I went to bed thinking, if only all my days under the sun could be like this. Full of peace and fun and rest and God.
And then I paused. A question, a sneaking doubt, wiggled into my consciousness. Hold on a minute. I reigned back my half-conscious stream of reflection, and focussed on the last object on my list. Had my day actually been filled with God?
Lying in the darkness, with contentment and satisfaction wavering in the corners of my bed room, I begun to feel uneasy.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as though I blatantly ignored God all day. I spent some time with Him, reading His Word and praying. Throughout the day while I was enjoying the gifts of peace and time I even spared a thought every now and again to the fact that they were His gifts. I had even felt at times abstractly grateful towards Him. In fact, if I were only to look at the time I spent with God, my day had not been too different to other days. Or, at the very least, it wasn’t an uncommon sort of day, time-with-God-wise.
Why then, with my blankets drawn up to my ears, did I have the urge to thank God for a day “extra-filled” with His presence?
Why did my Saturday feel so ‘godly’?
After a bit of pondering the dots connected. I had associated God with this Saturday, because it had been good.
I had enjoyed great fun and much-needed relaxation. The sun had shone bright, my coffee had been just the right temperature, and the adrenaline after my run had reached just the right level. I had pondered and dreamed and smiled. All these things were good; they all brought me joy.
And I had mistaken that joy for God.
You see, I know happiness comes from God. True happiness comes only from Him. I’ve felt it. I’ve tasted it. I know this reality.
God is good.
My Saturday was good.
Ergo, my Saturday was filled with God.
Whether right or wrong, in one sense I found automatic leap from ‘happiness’ to ‘God’ encouraging. It was evidence that the Spirit is shaping and changing me. That despite my sinful heart God is working to make connections, little and feeble as they are, about Truth and Reality. About God and Life.
You see, it’s a huge leap for me to even begin to equate ‘happiness in God’ on the same level as ‘happiness with the parts of my day’. In a not so distant past, the pleasures of a good book would have seemed much superior (although I never would have admitted it) to the pleasures of dwelling in God’s presence.
Perhaps that has begun to change.
Thank you Lord.
A pleasing tragedy.
And yet, not all was good. After all, I had subconsciously concluded that because I was happy, God must have been close. Because I spent the day joyful, I must have spent the day with God.
This is troubling.
You see, if God gives us happinesses, it is possible to enjoy them without reference to Him. Warmth, good food, friendship tend to bring joy to Christian and non-Christian alike. A Christian’s happiness in them ought to be of a different kind however, (an inseparable joy in both the Giver and the gifts, to the extent where the gifts themselves are meaningless without the knowledge that they’re from the Giver) – but often it is not. To be honest, I suspect most of my happiness that day arose more from the simple (God given) pleasures of a beautiful sky, a good sleep and the joys of daydreaming, rather than a delight in God himself.
And secondly, sins can make me happy. As sad as it is, things that are in themselves wrong in the sight of God, as well as delights wrongly prioritized, can bring me joy. This counterfeit happiness is what draws us from God.
And so my simple, automatic even, leap of logic that night was terribly dangerous. It might, if left unpondered, have been my undoing.
Good day = God day
Such a simple equation. I almost accepted it. I almost (but for the grace of God) conned myself into thinking that because my day was fun, it had been centred on Jesus.
This is how the worship of the Lord is reduced to the worship of Me.
The shift is very subtle. It goes from ‘God’ to ‘God and other things’ to ‘other things and God’, becoming simply ‘Other things’. All it takes is one association, one acceptance without questioning for sin to take root.
I suspect it’s the most common form of idolatry in Christians. When we think and believe we are worshiping God, only to discover on judgement day that we were worshiping nothing at all.
“Go away from me, I never knew you.”
That night God kept me back from the precipice of my own sin. From the edge of what would have been a pleasing tragedy.
Peaceful days are overrated
My day was a good day. I enjoyed it. But you know what? In terms of my relationship with God, it was no better than the Mondays I spend eating breakfast in the car and racing around work.
God was no more present on that Saturday than He is every day.
Rest and relaxation does not equate to peace with God. He is no further away when time is jam-packed full of activities and work and service, than He is when I slowly sip tea on the garden bench.
Watching the sunrise doesn’t bring God closer. Spending time by myself in silence and solitude as I wander along a track beside the river does not bridge the gap between heaven and earth any more than driving to work does.
But it can certainly feel like it.
It’s true that Peace and Quiet can be worship. They can be a response to God. They can remind me of Him. They can help me praise Him and allow me to spend more time with Him, reading and praying. But not always. They are not inherently good. They are not, by themselves, holy.
Thankfully our relationship with God rests on more than whether or not we can clear our diaries for 24 hours.
Instead it relies on something a lot more reliable, and Someone a lot more unchangeable. Only God Himself in the form of Jesus can bring me close to Him. He did it on the cross, and He continues to do it, day in and day out, regardless of my schedule. Our ‘closeness’ in this sense never changes. It was accomplished once and for all on Calvary and is not altered by how busy or how restful my day seems.
That’s not a license to forget about God, or never have a break. Instead it’s a license to be just a tiny bit suspicious of the feelings aroused by our peaceful days, and a tiny bit less critical of our relationship with God on our busy ones.