For the past two years, I have been writing a book exploring what dwelling with God looks like in our culture of busyness and distraction. The book writing process is taking a long time because, well, I’ve been busy. I’ve gotten distracted. You can see why God has some things He wants to teach me on this topic. And so I’ve been asking: How can I be like David, who said with sure and steady focus, that he had one goal in life: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Psalm 27:4.
I want to spend quality time with God in a way that draws me closer to Him and changes the way I love people. But I just can’t seem to find that kind of time.
Keeping My Eyes Focused
It’s easy to blame the culture in which we live as the problem: we are continually pestered to seek instant gratification, seduced by fast and shallow entertainment that pleases us, and encouraged to overload our schedules so we don’t miss out on all life has to offer. With so much to see and do, who has time to gaze upon His beauty or linger in the house of the Lord?
This last week has been eye opening for me, as I’ve considered the jarring and unexpected shift in my all-consuming schedule. The problem should be fixed, and dwelling with God should be easy for me now that my schedule has cleared and I have the time. But now I realize that I’ve been focused on the wrong problem; my heart has been the issue all along. My head has been asking, “how do I find the time?” while my heart needs to be asking, “how do I find God?”
Here’s what I’ve learned:
- God dwells with His people facing challenging circumstances.
- Sometimes God allows His people to face hard circumstances as an opportunity to turn their hearts wholeheartedly back to Him.
Dwelling with God in the Desert
Remember when God led His people out of slavery in Egypt into the desert? They left their home and wandered into unchartered territory. God dwelled in a pillar of cloud by day and by night in a pillar of fire in order to guide them. They didn’t know what their next step was to be, but God was right there leading them. “Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” Exodus 13:22. He led them, in their midst, through challenging, unchartered circumstances.
God then directed them to build a tabernacle, which means “dwelling place.” This tent would be a place of meeting between God and His people; it would serve as a reminder for them to know He was with them. God told Moses: “I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt, so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” Exodus 29: 45-46. He had delivered them so that He might dwell with them; God wants to be in close relationship with His people.
God’s Dwelling Place Redirected
Over time, God’s people built a permanent temple to replace the tabernacle. But He allowed that dwelling place – the temple in Jerusalem – to be destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army, and many of God’s people taken into exile in Babylon. God allowed His dwelling to be destroyed and for the lives of His people to be once again thrown into upheaval – in order to turn their hearts back to Him.
Regarding the exiles who had been pulled out of all they knew, the prophet Jeremiah declared this word from the Lord, “My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down-I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” Jeremiah 25:6-7.
When God allows something hard, even when it feels earth-shattering, He uses that hard circumstance for the good of those who love Him. He invites us to return to Him, to re-orient our hearts back to Him. To again remember our desire to seek Him in His temple.
Dwelling with God Today
I’m learning that we don’t dwell with God in hard times by doing the right things for the right amount of time. We find God, who is right here, by re-focusing our hearts – daily, hourly, as often as we need – on Him. A heart desiring to seek Him in His temple is a great place to start, and frankly, it’s a great place to end up.
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place for all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God….Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:1-2, 12.