How can I make God more real in my life?
In the West we have plenty of God-alternatives to fill our life with: in our hyper-prosperity we can cram any number of things and people into our lives, leaving no space even to notice whether or not God is real. It’s not that God isn’t at work, isn’t present in our world, but more that so few of us stop to recognise him. If we are serious about wanting God to be more real, more evident to ourselves and to others in our lives, then we are committing to see and live life with different glasses than most people around us.
To know God more immediately and tangibly, we do not have to lock ourselves away from life. But at the same time if we want to be able to switch off from all the distractions of life, to hear him and get what he’s doing, then we have to make space for that. In the history of the church people who follow Jesus have always wrestled with the tension (a good tension) between needing to draw aside from the busyness and the distractions of life and make time just for God, and needing to be in the world, engaged in life and being part of what God is doing out there. Jesus did both. From the beginning of his public life, his biographers tell us that repeatedly Jesus went out alone in the wilderness to pray. And yet his default mode was around people. He drew aside to listen to God, to be alone with him, but he came back to do what God said – to love people and be part of a community, to heal them and teach them and inspire them, to show them what God was really like.
God wants to be “real” to us. Becoming a human being was the ultimate demonstration of that. Israel, the people God had chosen to be his people thousands of years ago (according to the Bible) and who he had rescued, looked after, led and spoken to over generations had time and again missed it, doubted God and chosen to give their attention to other things instead. God railed against how they kept getting him wrong – they were all about being religious and fasting and sacrificing, and yet were ignoring the poor on their doorstep, the injustice and oppression that so many were suffering under (for examples of this see Isaiah 1:11-17 or Isaiah 58 in the Old Testament). God’s response was to come down to our level, become a man, show us up close what he was really like.
Jesus’ life shows us what God is really like. But it doesn’t just exist as a historical record of what God looked like 2000 years ago. When Jesus returned to heaven he promised his followers that they could live with God’s presence as a daily reality because he was sending the Holy Spirit to them. Everyone who gives their life to Jesus has the presence of the Holy Spirit living in them, so God is very present and very real in every believer. But it still takes some work on our part to experience that more fully. To know God and experience him we need to give him our attention and make space for him to be our God.
What does that look like practically? Well, in terms of teaching yourself to be more aware of God and make space for him there are things people call “spiritual disciplines” – good habits you can develop that many find helpful in developing this awareness of God. They don’t exist as exercises for their own sake but only as practical tools that allow God space to transform us. They are things like making time to read the Bible and books by other Christians on the same journey, taking time out to talk and listen to God, getting involved in practical acts of service, being part of a community of other Christians also trying to follow God and make him more real in their lives, and sharing with other people what you have seen God do and listening to their stories. These are things many people find helpful. You need to find things that help you hear God, learn from him, enjoy him. It’s always good to talk to other Christians about what they find helpful and what they don’t.
Knowing God more deeply in every dimension of our lives is something amazing and it is God’s desire to answer our longing. We were made to find total joy and fulfilment in God. It’s a lifelong adventure.