Twenty or so years ago, I received the best piece of editing advice I’ve ever gotten:When in doubt, cut it out. I know, I know. It sounds simple, but those six humble words revolutionized how I work with and consider language. My professor was trying to drive home the point—that sometimes less is more when it comes to words and that the way to make a paragraph (or even an entire essay) more impactful is to remove every scrap of text that’s getting in the way.
The same, I think, can be true of our spiritual lives.
In his classic work The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer says, “When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself. The evil habit of seeking God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation. In the and lies our great woe. If we omit the and we shall soon find God, and in Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing.”
There is no shortage of ands to choose from these days, many of them very good things: Bible studies, small groups, volunteering opportunities at church and in the community, conferences, committees, discussions of doctrine—the list is almost infinite. But Tozer is right—“in the and lies our great woe.”
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I leave church feeling more frazzled and burnt out than when I went in. Sundays with children are hectic enough, but my husband is often busy with deacon responsibilities that are thrown his way. Being president of the women’s council, I, too, am often distracted. The actual worship of God, what we are ostensibly there to do, can sometimes feel like an afterthought. And we don’t fare much better the other six days of the week, I’m sad to say.
“When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself.”
It’s hard to abide in God when we can’t manage to sit still for a few minutes to calm our minds. I know we can’t do away with all our church commitments, but there is wisdom in saying “no” to some things, in striking a balance between doing and being. After all, God isn’t grading us on how busy we are for Him.
Dr. Stanley discusses this very thing in a sermon titled “A Hunger and Thirst for God”:
Well, isn’t reading the Bible enough? Not really. And all these other things that you may be engaged in—that’s not really it. His desire is that you and I get to know Him, not just knowing that He saved you, that you have a home in heaven. He wants you to know Him personally and intimately like a close friend—a friend with whom you can be comfortable every day. You don’t have to try to please Him. It is a relationship of intimacy. It is a relationship of friendship that goes far, far beyond what most people understand.
Consider your closest and most satisfying relationships. Are you forever busy, always go-go-going, or can you simply be together? Can you share silence that feels more intimate than a face-to-face conversation? That’s the kind of closeness God desires to share with us, but more often than not, we fill that space with so much spiritual clutter. And when our hearts begin to ache from the sheer loneliness of isolation, we don’t stop to ask ourselves why that is. We don’t “cut it out.” Instead, we often double down, thinking God will feel nearer, that He will finally be pleased with us, if we fill our calendars to overflowing with holy works.
He wants you to know Him personally and intimately like a close friend—a friend with whom you can be comfortable every day.
But here’s the thing—God is already pleased with us. Pleased and utterly delighted. (See Psalm 18:19, Psalm 147:11, Psalm 149:4.) And anything that distracts us from that glorious truth, no matter how good it may be, should be put aside. Perhaps, in time, there will be room for such things again. Or maybe we’ll lay them all down, never to pick them up again. Either way, with our hands and our hearts free, we’ll be able to love and be loved in a more genuine way than we ever dreamed possible.
Illustration by Adam Cruft