For the past few weeks, I’ve been experiencing some strange things going on with my heart–literally, not metaphorically. I’ve experienced elevated blood pressure, tightness in my chest, slightly labored breathing, and feelings of anxiety. It got so bad that I landed in the hospital for a couple of days while they ran tests and tried to figure out what was going on.
As it turned out, my heart is structurally perfect. The doctor was actually impressed with my endurance during the stress test. I say that only to point out the very real presence of something debilitating in the absence of anything concrete to blame it on.
Two Sundays ago, the day after my discharge from the hospital, I sat in my office preparing to preach and began to feel that now familiar pressure build in my chest. The increasing sound of blood pumping through my ears began to notify of me of it’s presence louder and louder. It was starting again. What would happen if it continued while I was on the stage in the Worship Center? Would I have to excuse myself as I had during a funeral only a couple of days earlier? Would I wait too long and actually pass out? The anxiety continued to build.
I decided that in order to focus on the task before me, I would take the last of a pain medication my shoulder surgeon had given me that not only alleviates pain, but provides a gentle sense of calm. Nothing strong that would “knock me out,” but would allow me to settle down enough to focus on what I needed to do. Fortunately, it helped.
As I reflected on that event, I struggled with a reality. I wrestled with the fact that I was able to experience what felt like pure joy during the entire worship experience. The cares of the world were held at bay and my focus was completely on the presence of the Lord and His grace in my life. I was both blessed and disturbed. Does it really take some kind of sedative to get to that point of focus on what’s most important? If so, something is drastically wrong!
By God’s grace, during my regular times of listening to sermons through podcasts, I heard a sermon the following Monday morning by James MacDonald entitled, “Refreshed by Grace.” It was exactly the thing I needed to hear from the Lord to help me move in the right direction of experiencing real joy from the Lord, Himself, without the aid of the pharmacy.
One of the things James talked about was how we often confuse the doctrine of God’s omnipresence (God being in all places at all times) with the doctrine of His manifest presence. That’s huge and very true. Because we know that God is always here, we can easily take that for granted so that we fail to experience God making that presence known to us. This is why we’re told over and over to actively seek Him. Why is that necessary if He’s already there, unless there is some special blessing of His presence that is not automatic, and not necessarily constant.
A second major point that James made was how Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1 to be, “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Realizing the definition of grace is, “unmerited favor,” James pointed out that we often focus so much on the “unmerited” part that we neglect the aspect of “favor.” That is to say that we rightly realize that we are unworthy of God’s grace, but fail to live in the reality of Gods FAVOR towards us. He is for us! He wants to provide for us!
Why do we not experience more of that in our lives? Simple: We don’t pursue it. We don’t pursue HIM! We are so distracted with everything else in life that we fail to stay focused on the mission of knowing Him and making Him known. We need the laser focus of a soldier, eliminating distractions and remaining intent on experiencing God’s manifest presence in our lives. This is what Paul said in verses 3-4 of that passage in 2 Timothy.
I know this is true because I’ve experienced it. I know what I haven’t had and God allowing me to experience something of a “manufactured” feeling of joy and peace on that Sunday morning left me wanting more–not more medicine—more of Him. More REAL joy and peace and His presence. I want to experience such peace in Christ that anxiety and stress melt away in the comfort of His sovereignty. So, how do I get it?
That’s where the question comes in of “How much do I want this?” That’s the rub, isn’t it? We tend to want something for nothing, don’t we? We want the proverbial cake and eat it, too. It doesn’t work that way in the real world, though. I’ve always been told that whatever is worth having is worth working for. With the exception of God’s gracious gift of salvation, I’ve found that to be true. I believe it is true with the experience of God’s manifest presence. Probably much more so because God will not tolerate competition; He will not allow idols and false gods to take his place which, in reality, that’s exactly what many of the distractions I allow in my life that prevent me from pursuing Him whole-heartedly are.
What does it mean for ME? That’s what I have to now answer. For me, it means removing major distractions in my life and replacing them with an intentional focus on experiencing the manifest presence of God and a pursuit of the very real joy of the Lord. If that’s my birthright as an adopted child of God (Romans 8), then I’m taking it! In my life, the major distractions lie primarily in the realm of social media, so that’s what has to go, at least until I can master them without finding myself mastered over. As of right now, I’m removing personal social media from my life completely at least for the month of February. All of it.
Since I believe it can and is useful and there are many things that can be accomplished through social media, anything I might think is beneficial to share will go through Tyler and onto our church Facebook page or here on my personal website. Twitter is gone, too. The only interactive media I will utilize is this blog (which will automatically send updates to other social media platforms).
That said, I hope you will follow my journey and maybe we can mutually encourage each other in our quest for more. I will try and update here regularly in my pursuit and, hopefully, you can glean some ways in which you can experience joy, as well. Feel free to interact with any posts I share, but if you want it to be two-way, you’ll have to comment here on my site or I probably won’t see it.
Oh, one more thing to add: Since I’ve had a week or so to simmer on these truths, yesterday at church was so different for me. God granted me the experience of His manifested presence during our corporate worship at The Gathering. I was so thankful that He showed me that life in Him is more joyful than anything and better than any manufactured sense of peace can ever give!
I appreciate your prayers in this journey and if there is any way I can encourage or pray for you, I hope you’ll let me know. Soli Deo Gloria!