We have sensory receptors. Our eyes transduce light, our ears sound, and so on. When it comes to processing the information that light, sound, touch, and the other senses convey to us, our experiences, our temperament, our IQ, our personality style, and our world view all influence how we process the words our eyes read or ears hear. So then, how do we see or hear God in it?
At our church, we are spending 2017 trying to see and hear more of God, and even taste and see that God is good (Psalm 34:8). We want to feel God’s Spirit fill us and wash over us. This talk of the senses in relation to knowing God is intended to fully awaken us for the sake of knowing more of God than we now know. It is both metaphor and literal knowing.
One of the points I have tried to emphasize is that God is present, is speaking, and is active – right here, right now. If we can’t hear and see God, it might be because we are too distracted. We’re paying attention to other things and God in God’s freedom chooses to allow us to choose to ignore him. Living in America in 2017, there is plenty of noise vying for our attention. TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter, streaming news, streaming video, You Tube; it all competes for our minds. With our eyes drawn to all this media, how do we ever focus and see and hear and know the God who loves us?
We need to develop our brains and then get our brains in tune with our sense receptors so that we are ready to see and hear God amidst the noise. The first thing to do is to block it all out (temporarily). This mostly happens in daily devotions. Get up early when the world is still relatively quiet. Pray and read the Bible, but before doing that, sit in silence. Ask God, ‘O Lord, what do you want for me today?’ Then sit in silence and await God’s reply.
As you do this, you’ll notice a million things that creep into your mind; the grocery list; last night’s football game; an argument with a friend; an important meeting at work; scene from the Netflix show you are binge-watching. When we try to quiet our minds, even for five minutes, these things and countless others try to jump in.
One way I have combatted these distraction in my own devotions is to close my eyes and imagine myself sitting on the bank of a gently flowing river. I am quietly waiting for God to speak. As I do, last night’s argument with my son parks itself right in the middle of my thoughts. I do not try to forcefully eject that thought from my mindsight. It’s there. So I gently nudge it to the river, and when that distracting thought is in the water, I watch it float down the river, eventually right out of my mind. Then I am quiet again, listening to God. Sometimes, my quiet meditation is completely eaten up sending distractions afloat down the river. Other days, I am able to achieve quiet before the Lord and thus listen.
After time spent in silence (some days 2-5 minutes, other days a bit longer), then I move into confession, thanksgiving, and pray for things (‘God please help my daughter do well in school today;’ ‘God, my friend’s marriage is falling apart, please help him;’ etc.). Finally, I spend time reading the Bible. That initial period of silence before the Lord is the first step in developing my God receptor. I block out the noise and listen to the Spirit in my spirit.
After blocking out the noise, I then put the colors on the canvass. Lately I’ve been watching old videos of the bushy-haired painter, Bob Ross. I don’t actually want to paint, but I find it relaxing to watch him paint and talk about painting. Bob Ross always begins by painting the canvass with liquid white. It gets the canvass wet and ready to receive the other colors he will affix to it. How do we get the canvass that is our mind/spirit ready so that God’s messages will be received and will stick throughout the day?
We prepare our canvass (mind/spirit). We don’t go into the day with a blank slate. We color our minds so that when we receive stimuli, it comes through a specific filter, a Holy Spirit-tinted filter. The coloring of the canvass begins on Sunday morning when the people of the church gather together in worship. We pray together. We sing together. We hear the sermon. Maybe the sermon is helpful; maybe it sparks push back from you. Either way, it should stimulate your brain not only to hear the scripture read, but also to think deeply about how the scripture’s message speaks to your life today.
After Sunday worship, throughout the week, we color the palette by the reading the Bible. You can read in chunks, several chapters from different books in one sitting. Or you can reading one passage and spend time reflecting on what it says. Either way, you’re covering your brain with a layer of the Bible story; that in turn will affect how you take in stimuli that comes throughout the day.
For example, you hear someone promise to do something. Trust me! He says. This is serious, and I swear on the Bible you can count on me. You hear that, and somewhere in the recesses of your mind, you remember that last week you read Matthew 5:35-37. Jesus said, “Do not swear at all, either by heaven or by the earth … let your ‘yes’ be yes, and your ‘no’ be no.” Maybe you remember specifically that these words come from the Sermon on the Mount. Maybe you don’t. But these words of Jesus are on your canvass and in this moment come into play when your friend swears on the Bible and then crosses his heart and hopes to die.
This is a simple ‘for instance’ of how coloring your palette works. We set our brains by consistently reading scripture. We come to prayer and to the Bible moldable, allowing the Word of God to shape us.
First we spend time blocking out the noise. Second we prepare the palette of our brains (our mindsight) through engaged reading of scripture. A third way we develop our God receptors is intentional looking. We head into the day constantly telling ourselves, “I am seeking God in this,” whatever “this” might be. It takes practice.
Maybe you have a conference with a professor who is making life hard for you as a student. When you had your devotions in the morning, you reminded yourself to “seek God in this, whatever ‘this’ is.” As you drove to campus, you again reminded yourself. But then, in the professor’s office, fighting to not be intimidated while stating your case to the person who controls your final grade, you get nervous. You are a mixture of anger, fear, and frustration. You forget all about “seeking God in this.” Afterward, on top of being frustrated by the meeting, you’re frustrated that it feels like you handled the way anyone would not the way a disciple of Jesus should. In the pressure of the moment, you totally forgot to ‘seek God in this.’
That happens! All the time! Failures are moments where we are more oriented toward the world than toward the eternal Kingdom, but God is a giver of unending grace. God doesn’t hold our failure against us and we don’t need to dwell on it. God encourages us to keep stepping toward Him. Continue, day after day, reminding yourself to “seek God in this.” The first time you really do it, you’ll be surprised. You look back at some interaction or experience and realize, “Wow! I was actually conscious of the Spirit’s presence, and now I can see how God was at work.”
There is much, much more to seeing, hearing, and knowing God. However, when we begin by daily blocking out the noise, preparing the palette of our mind/spirit, and seeking God in every encounter, we discover just how differently the world is. When we see live with sensitive, heightened God receptors active, we realize God is at work in the world and we are in the process of aligning ourselves with God. After a month of consistent, committed execution of the three steps identified here, we see more of God and we’ll see the world differently. We’ll begin to see from a Kingdom perspective.