We’ve all experienced plateaus. Whether it was in our physical exercise regimen, our job skills, or even our spiritual lives, we have all had those seasons when we have felt stuck. We aren’t going backwards, but it seems that our forward progress and growth was very limited, if present at all. However, in time that plateau turns into a negative as our plateau evolves into lifeless routine, or even willful neglect.
As I was studying recently the concept of God’s presence, He drew me to several passages in the prophets about God’s “dwelling with us”. Ezekiel 43:9, Joel 2:27, or Zechariah 2:10-12 all make the same truth claim…God’s known presence with His people led them toward righteousness and increasing holiness, and away from wickedness and idol worship. In other words, God’s presence was not just a deterrent for committing sin, but it also cultivated a greater intimacy with the Father. As I thought about this idea more, God reminded me of the parallel of this lesson about His presence to parenting. When I am near or present with my children and they know I am there, they not only tend to stay out of trouble, but we are able to build up the health of our relationship. I believe it is this concept of God’s presence through Jesus Christ that is the key to helping us evaluate and address those times when we feel ‘stuck’ or ‘plateaued’ spiritually. So, how would you evaluate your sense of God’s presence with you, personally? Does He seem near? Does He seem active? If your response to these questions are ‘no’ or ‘not as much I wish’, then the next question is…how do we nurture our sense of God’s spiritual presence with us?
To get ‘unstuck’ we usually need to radically shift our thinking and we need to change our routine. In terms of shifting our thinking, we can learn from the medieval monk, Brother Lawrence who taught and modeled in his writing, Practicing the Presence of God, that acknowledging God’s constant presence will be reflected in our prayer time with Him. Do we limit our conversation to God in only narrow, well-defined times, i.e., the worship service or our daily quiet time? Do we limit our conversation with God to only times of crisis or trouble? Or do we consult God throughout the day, regarding all things? Do we go to God merely with a list of petitions, or are we truly transparent with Him regarding all that is going on in our hearts. In addition to changing our thinking, dislodging our plateau might mean ‘doing’ something very different in our routine. Go to bed earlier so that you can wake up earlier to spend a greater amount of time with Him. If you have never practiced journaling, experiment with writing your prayers out. If you have never fasted, consider doing so to spark spiritual momentum. Purposely, spend an hour in audible prayer. Whatever the details might be…let this Christmas season be one that is marked by a greater understanding and a greater practicing of God’s presence with us – this is the essence of Immanuel.