Lately, I have been pondering one of my greatest enemies to intimacy with God.
It's everywhere. Though I strive for a simple, uncluttered life, I am besieged by the tyranny of "stuff", which pervades American society and is practically part of our national identity.
Stuff isn't bad. Stuff can be great. But really....we have too much stuff. In our homes. Our brains. Our bodies. Our relationships. I could go on. We are bloated with stuff. And if you don't believe me, I encourage you to spend a year in a less-developed country and see if you don't agree that overabundance characterizes our society, and it's not always a good thing.
It's not just about owning twenty pairs of shoes or a hundred kitchen gadgets, or trolling E-Bay on a weekly basis for the latest fashion jeans.
It's about distractions. Our stuff can manifest as checking six email accounts and Facebook ten times a day; surfing through six hundred television channels; poring over videos on You Tube, and spending time on ten thousand other activities that suck up every minute so that the essential gets neglected. (The problem is, if you are like me, then you find yourself being tricked into believing that Facebook and email are more essential than spending a little time with God).
Stuff has also infected the church. Programs, Christian books, and classes and courses for everything under the sun-from basket weaving to couples counseling, to Bible studies- fill our brains and schedules with "stuff."
Ideas, information and knowledge- which are continually on the increase, thanks in part to the Internet- can be valuable mental stuff, but in excess, they bloat the mind. Then the intellect gets stuck in a whirlwind of reasoning and analysis, and fails to cooperate with the Spirit in the Spirit's quest to impart Godly wisdom to it.
I condemn nobody for succumbing to stuff. And I'm sure not everyone is like me. My stuff manifests as a myriad of unprofitable ideas and information that compete for space in my brain; as three telephones and six email accounts that constantly clamor for my attention; as advertisements that promise to give me this or that, and take me from here to there to everywhere. The stuff manifests as invitations to a multitude of church activities...but why am I not doing the essential, like feeding that guy under the bridge a sandwich? Do you know what I mean?
I mean...do I really need to read another Christian book to grow in my walk with the Lord? Do I need to answer every email in order to stay ahead in my work? Do I really need to attend another women's event at church to alleviate my depression?
In my life, I find that the pervasiveness of stuff crowds out the one thing that I need most...time alone with my God, so that I can enter into a more intimate relationship with Him. Activities, classes, television programs and books about God, don't count, but I've been fooled into thinking that such things will bring me closer to Him by teaching me about Him. While they do have a way of bringing me into His presence, observing God from afar, or from someone else's perspective, isn't the same as sitting down to have a cup of coffee with Him, one-on-one.
So I grieve when my time with God gets shuffled to the bottom of the pile of...well, stuff. Too often, conversation with Jesus and soaking in the presence of my Lord is what I do when all else gets done, because after all, I think that He is patient. Anyway, my time with Him doesn't always produce some fast, tangible result that I can link to my survival- such as paying the bills or making dinner.
Of course, God is with me always, but acknowledging Him here and there throughout the day doesn't seem to produce the same results in my relationship with Him as when I dedicate my full time and attention to Him for an hour or two daily.
I need to work for my daily bread, and Facebook and email connections feed me with much-needed social interaction. But these, and other things, have a way of creeping into the realm of the non-essential, and even wasteful, so that I cease to remember that, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4).
I know it and yet I don't. If I knew in my heart how essential it was to feed on my Lord daily; to drink of the water of Life, to spend time in His presence, getting to know Him instead of about Him, my resistance against the demons of stuff might
be greater. But I sometimes get tricked by the allure and sparkle of stuff.
Stuff sparkles; but all that glitters isn't gold. The only real gold in this world is my relationship with Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit- the Trinity, or three heavenly beings that together, comprise the God of the Universe. I am grateful that He continually reminds me of this, so that my forays into the vortex of stuff are temporary.
When stuff assumes its proper place in my life, I am at peace. I sense the presence and love of God more strongly in my life. I have greater discernment and wisdom. Worldly knowledge takes its proper place in my intellect. My reason submits to the Spirit, instead of following the devil or my biochemistry on a wild goose chase of analysis that ultimately lands me into a pile of tears.
Stuff can be good, if it's created by God. But I'm learning how to filter out, remove, and refuse the unessential and unprofitable, so that what matters most- my relationship with the Creator of the Universe- remains fulfilling, and bears the fruit of peace and joy in my life. It is a challenge in our society to push back the stuff, but I believe that when we make an effort to do so, in order to pursue a more intimate relationship with God, we reap benefits that are far more magnificent and wonderful than anything that the world, with all its stuff, can provide us.
I can think of no better benefit than knowing God and His love for me, and being able to give that love back to the world. Receiving from God is a process, but if we are faithful to spend time with Him, I believe that over time, He brings the reality of His love, and who He is, into our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits. What could be better?