Undistracted Seeking: When Believers Need Blinders
“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord” Jeremiah 29:12-14a
The best mirror into my soul at any given stage of life are poems. Though not often worthy of an audience, they’ve always been excruciatingly true to my emotions in that moment. This one was written more recently than I might like to admit:
Here’s how it sits
Like a clod in my throat- I can’t swallow
I can’t breathe
Like a burden that has been white knuckled so long, it’s fused into my skin
It’s mine; it’s me.
Did you intend to lead a chase?
To be the legend hunted in vain?
To evade those who pursue-
Or who once pursued?
I feel cold in my marrow. Frustrated by what isn’t pumping through me
Shackled by this knowledge
And yet, where all should be new, I feel ancient and forgotten
In anything but freedom
Like everything evolves but this faith.
Almost as soon as I wrote it, I wanted to erase it and repent. But, I kept it because it was true at that time, and in many others throughout my life. God was feeling a million miles away. Like a carrot dangled, but across an impossibly deep chasm. I have never been one to deny He was real- that facet of faith has always been easy for me. But, how to know Him and how to overcome my self-made obstacles was another story. I have lived in a perpetual state of striving against this distance, and then settling for it. I’m not often where I feel like I ought to be in my connection with the God that I love.
But, the problem with that poem is it implies God has made Himself elusive. That there is such a thing as searching and seeking with all your heart and coming up dry. We could spend a lifetime unable to reach a deep and intimate connection with God, but if we believe scripture and that God’s promises are fully true, then the fault for that chasm can only rest on one side: Mine. Jeremiah 29:12-14 tell us that true, wholehearted seeking DOES result in a discovery -- the greatest treasure of all -- an understanding of the beauty of Christ in all its fullness, and an intimacy with the God of all the universe. Whether this is the treasure we know we seek or we attempt to replace it with a million other dazzling things, this is the key that unlocks our deepest joy, a “fullness of joy" (Psalm 16:11) that no earthly thing can provide.
I have definitely tasted that joy. Enough to know it as more than just a distant promise that I must accept in blind faith, but as a reality that is attainable. He’s whet my mouth with the taste of His fullness, where all else pales in comparison and everything -- even the best things in life, fall into place under His beauty and authority. He has let me catch a glimpse, knowing it will keep me coming back for more.
But, why are there times the pursuit seems pointless? When I feel that I truly have a desire to know Him and be clay in His hands; to watch Him work through me and for me, and yet I lack a passion for His word and I continually falter awkwardly with prayer? How can I love Him but not be willing to stretch myself or face any inconvenience in order to know Him more deeply?
There is no answer but that He has not been given lordship. I have been distracted. He may be one authority in my life, but one of many. I also bow to the lord of comfort, of “me time”, of materialism, of money, of friends, and even of family…to name a few. I have dipped a finger in His sweetness, but I have not swam in His blood. I have rested my head on His shoulder, but I have not slept in His arms. I have accepted His kindness, but not washed His feet with my tears. If I can write that poem, something He intends for me to have is lacking. I’m not saying those sentiments aren’t normal, but I am saying they’re a shame. The God that made Himself to meet the need He made me to have is standing before me, but I have failed to keep my eyes fixed ahead.
Growing up, I had an old mare named Pepper. She was given to me for free, likely under the assumption she had little time left. Her age and limited usefulness was no matter to me. At the age of twelve and completely horse-obsessed, it seemed like the most generous gift imaginable. All of that is to say, every time I rode her away from her stall, it was a battle to keep her from stopping for every patch of greenery along the way. She was distracted by smells, movement of any small rodent or bird, and every single thing that she deemed edible. She needed the reigns held tightly, a consistent tapping of the heel on her side, and some tugging here and there to keep her head up and her legs moving forward. I think about the invention of the blinders that harnessed horses wear, which keeps their side-lying and wandering eyes undistracted. There is nothing but blackness in any other direction but forward. Where their visibility is limited as a result, they are left to trust and rely solely on the guidance of the driver who holds the reins. By force, they are made to look and move ahead. When the picture ahead is nothing but a blur at best, they are directed by the one in control.
I long I could be so blinded to distractions. That the only focus of my heart would be the Lord and the eternal promises He has set before me. That I would be oblivious to whatever glittered and gleamed to the left or right. I wish, too, that as the goal ahead becomes difficult for me to focus on in my humanness, I would not stand still, but continue to move forward in faith that He is in control.
When our mind is only on the task at hand -- the difficulty; the drudge of it all, we lose sight of our goal and we distract ourselves to cope. In those moments, when we have looked away from home, when eternity with the Lord seems eons away, when a poem like mine describes our faith- we need blinders. Those moments of weakness are real, when we face temptation or when it’s difficult to put one foot in front of the other. These can be expected from time to time. We must power ahead, praying desperately for the Lord to keep our eyes on Him and His promises, even when they are hard to see. When we are weak, dry, broken, old, tired and discouraged, we must pray for the Spirit’s help against distractions and all the immediate gratification the world bombards us with that will ultimately leave us drained dry. And that, most importantly, God would set our minds again on eternity. So that we aren’t just coping, but thriving in our faith.
That same horse, when I had taken her as far as I wished to go and turned her around toward home, behaved completely differently. Her ears perked forward, her step quickened (so much that I now had to keep the reigns pulled back to keep her from running more than her old heart could handle). She knew that the reward for her performance (as lousy as it might have been) was pellets and oats and bran, a good brushing, and a lot of scratches. She knew the weight and heat of the saddle was coming off, the bit would be removed, and she could rest. A wolf could have trailed us, meadows of tall green grasses could have swayed by our side, and she wouldn’t have skipped a beat. Not even her age and achy joints, tendency to trip over her own hooves, or bad eyesight could have slowed her down.
Isn’t our home and our reward a million times greater? Shouldn’t we have a spring in our step as we imagine the weight of the world and the burden of sin and death removed in heaven? Romans 8:23 says that even those of us with the Spirit of Christ are in a state of groaning as we wait for the redemption of our bodies, but because of what lies ahead, we wait eagerly. When we look forward to our heart’s desire being met through unbroken communion with the Lord, what should hold the power to distract us? When Jesus is our end goal, our heart longs for home- where we will be with Him. The more He becomes our all in all, the less we can become discouraged and distracted. The more we long for His presence and His glory, even the best the world can offer becomes like rubbish in comparison (2 Cor 4:16-18). The dearer Christ becomes to our heart, the less days we might feel compelled to write a poem like mine or have similar thoughts.
When He is Lord- truly Lord, He is not difficult to find. We seek, we ask, and He is found. Believe it.
In my life I have felt frustrated so many times with where my religion stood. I wasn’t feeling a fire beneath me to reach the hurting or lost. Opening up my comfortable life for others to potentially tamper with was something I knew I ought to desire, but couldn’t truly say I did. I haven’t often felt spiritual. Prayer is dry more often than it’s passionate. I am the horse looking every which way, eking through the task until it’s over, and not feeling any presence of power from the Spirit I claimed to house in my heart. But, the culprit isn’t the religion or the spirituality that others might see on the outside, it’s the relationship in my heart. Have I just wistfully thought of the Lord others seem to know, sadly lamenting that He isn’t that way to me or, worse, assuming they must be making it up? Have I only picked up the Bible out of guilt and read until the guilt subsided and a box could be checked?
I’ve had a religion without a relationship, and it’s not worth having. Nothing can run us ragged quite like performing for a God we haven’t even let ourselves fall in love with. And even when we love Him, it can still run us ragged to perform for a God that doesn’t desire that from us. I’ve also tried to be spiritual without the relationship and it’s a joke. Things like praying aloud in a group, saying I’ll pray for someone when they’re hurting, talking about God’s power to heal, participating in worship when the words are registering blankly in my head. It’s the worst. Our faith will absolutely seem repugnant to ourselves and to others around us when it’s not an outpouring of a genuine relationship, and the genuine relationship comes from seeking.
Just imagine seeking the Lord in the very way you know He asks you to, consistently and eagerly. Imagine laying aside hindrances; eliminating distractions and showing up surrendered. Imagine fixing your eyes fully on Christ and what He holds in store for you. And then doing this day after day, until it is habit; until it characterizes you. Imagine a life where prayer is continual, where gratitude is automatic, where trust is crazy, and where faith is formable. Imagine what would happen if you asked the Spirit to reveal God’s Word to you in a new light, so it might refresh and excite your heart and mind. Imagine hearing and then doing. Just doing. Not evaluating or wishing or talking about it, but simply obeying. This would be seeking. When I see I haven’t been doing that, I can conclude that there is something available for me that I haven’t yet experienced. There is a relationship with the Lord that I haven’t even imagined possible.
When I think that I clearly haven’t yet sought or found the relationship with God that I long for, excitement fills me even more than shame. I can continue to lament over the small doses I’ve been limited to so far, or I can leave what is childish and move onward and upward, a possibility given my by His grace! The power that raised Christ and brought me from death to life continues to exist. It has not settled or weakened with time. God longs to display His power and glory in our lives every single day! Where that deep chasm existed, now there is a Cross that spans the distance, on which we can confidently cross and gain full access to the Father. Praise Jesus for this grace!
"For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe" I Timothy 4:10
After I wrote that poem, during the same hour, I wrote another. I don’t offer the second without the first, because even David in the Psalms struggled and wrestled with understanding the Lord, but ultimately came back to humility before Him. It’s okay to bring true emotions to God. But, we must always land ourselves at His feet, willing to listen and learn. In that posture, we must brace ourselves and be willing to be changed.
Mercy, open your blanket and warm me
Hold me against His chest, trap me inside His arms, Force my chin
Upward to His face
And wipe the tears that are falling.
I shouldn't be admitted inside,
Much less invited to stay,
so I am appealing to you, Mercy
Justice, how I'd like your eye to turn from me
To glance over this, distracted
But, then, I would not esteem Him,
Like a child that has never been punished, from whom nothing is expected
So, see my sin and convict my spirit
Where my vision is dulled, give clarity
Let there be a broken sorrow
Forgiveness, wash me in your crimson cleansing
Let the shame and the sorrow be carried
down and away in your flow
Leave no trace of the dirt-
In His eyes or mine.
Oh, please let me feel as clean as you've made me
And, may I sit in your torrent forever?
Grace, sweet grace, fill my lungs with your air
You've made me and kept me alive.
Performance and guilt, like a cancer have sickened and spread
Revive my whole being with fresh freedom,
Blow away even the heaviest failures
Sweep through me with a mighty gust, again and again and again