Day 20, Chapter 20: The Lingerers
When I was a student at Christ For The Nations Institute thirty-five years ago- back when I could run for miles and still had a six-pack, all my hair, and no wrinkles - I was diligent to spend quality amounts of time everyday with God. I had actually developed this lifestyle prior to attending CFNI. Before work each day I'd wake up an hour or more earlier than necessary in order to spend time praying and reading the Word. I loved hanging out with God then, and still do.
My practice while a student was to pray and/or spend time reading Scripture for at least an hour before school began with chapel at 8:00 a.m. Chapel didn't consist of a message but was thirty-five minutes of glorious worship. Combining these two things meant that I had a good hour and a half at the beginning of every day to enjoy the pleasure of His company.
Many days I would also pray another thirty to forty-five minutes after our last class ended at noon. I would then rush to the cafeteria before it closed at 1:00 p.m. During these forty-five minutes I would pray and meditate over what I had learned that day, as well as anything the Holy Spirit would bring to my mind to intercede for. These times of lingering became special to me, and I believe they were to the Lord, as well. I mention this two plus hours per day I spent with the Lord not to boast, but to emphasize the fact that anyone can develop a love for His presence. I was anything but a spiritual giant at this time of my life, only very hungry for God.
One afternoon at my usual 12:45 time, I came down from the balcony, where I often spent this last forty-five minutes with the Lord. The student council was selling tickets for a banquet, and they were just putting their supplies away, preparing to leave. Two of them, a guy and a girl, were carrying a folding table to a closet. The girl, whom I had never met, was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. I decided right then to marry her!
I quickly grabbed her end of the table, demonstrating my chivalry and muscle. The student council member on the other end of the table, whom I knew, introduced us. It took me a few weeks to get the nerve to ask her out, but when I did she quickly said yes. She, too, was smitten. Ceci and I were married nine months later. That, my friend, is what happens when you linger with God!
Okay, you may not be rewarded with a spouse, but good things do happen to "lingerers." I've always believed God orchestrated the timing of our meeting just to demonstrate how much He enjoyed our times together. It would be just like Him to do so - He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Of course, the greatest reward is simply the privilege of connecting with Him.
One definition of linger is "to leave slowly and hesitantly." If you don't find yourself leaving God's presence slowly and hesitantly, there's a short somewhere in the connection. When you truly connect with Him, it's like a warm bed on a wintery morning - you don't want to leave it. Regular visitors to the throne of grace become lingerers, pure and simple.
Charles Swindoll shares this story:
“I vividly remember sometime back being caught in the undertow of too many commitments in too few days. It wasn't long before I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at meal times, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions through the day. Before long, things around our home started reflecting the pattern of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable. I distinctly recall after supper one evening the words of our younger daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me something important that had happened to her at school that day. She hurriedly began, ‘Daddy, I wanna tell you somethin'andIwilltellyoureallyfast.’
“Suddenly realizing her frustration, I answered, ‘Honey, you can tell me... And you don't have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.’
I'll never forget her answer: ‘Then listen slowly.’”1
You'll never find yourself having to say to your heavenly Father, "Then listen slowly." He has plenty of time for you and loves it when you linger in His presence. In fact, His biggest problem is our limited time with Him, not our lingering. We are often in such a hurry we actually want Him to listen really fast. But He isn't our spiritual Santa Claus, wanting us to take our two minutes in His lap, give Him our wish list, and be on our way. He is Abba...Papa.
Our Father is not easily offended. He is patient and long-suffering, and His loving-kindness is everlasting. But still, I can't help but wonder if He doesn't get offended at the way we treat Him. We give Him such little time, expecting Him to listen fast and perform quickly. I have a friend who actually believes the Lord once told him, "Don't defile My presence with your impatience."
David, the shepherd and psalmist who became king over Israel, was a lingerer; he loved being in God's presence and he left slowly and hesitantly. David once said, "One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple" (Psalm 27:4). Notice the words dwell, behold, and meditate. Those are lingering terms. He also said, "O Lord, I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells" (Psalm 26:8). You don't make statements like that unless you've learned to linger.
First we learn to linger, then he becomes addictive and we love to linger. Listen to David's language: "I love the habitation of Your house." I enjoy reading about David and his walk with God. It has been revealing and enriching to observe their relationship in the Scriptures - the good, the bad, and the ugly. One thing I especially like is that David kept it real, sharing with God his most intimate thoughts. Whether he was joyful, discouraged, lonely, or on top of the world, David talked to the Lord about it. He knew God wanted to be involved in his world, and he wanted to be in God's.
Eventually, a change came in their relationship, a change so subtle that most people never think about it. Many people love God's presence. Thankfully, the worship movement of the last thirty to forty years has taught many of us the difference between singing and worshiping. And as we have learned to truly worship, we've discovered the glorious truth that it attracts His very presence (Psalm 22:3). Through this process, we've come to expect and enjoy the presence of the Lord.
David understood this and was a passionate lover of God's presence. As much as he loved the Lord's presence, however, David was never called "a man after God's presence." He had the awe-inspiring honor of being referred to by the Lord as "a man after My heart" (see Acts 13:22, italics mine). There can be a huge difference between pursuing God's heart and experiencing His presence.
It is possible to be in a person's presence and never make it into their heart. There are plenty of people I'm willing to hang out with, but very few I’ll allow into my heart. That part of me is reserved for the people I've spent enough time with to know I can trust their motives and intentions. I need to be confident my heart has value to them. It is breakable; I want it handled with care.
God is no different. His heart can be broken. His emotions can be wounded and His hopes dashed. He allows many into His presence but is much more selective with His heart. His presence is free, but His heart will cost you time and effort. But oh, how worth the effort He is. Pay the price to find His heart, no matter what it costs you!
I emphasize to young leaders that when considering their futures, not to focus first on developing a vision or a big dream. So often young people are challenged to dream big, to develop a large vision. Personally, I've discovered how easy it is for my own ambition and selfish desires to sneak into my plans when I begin with the dream itself. I urge them to seek God's heart, not a dream. When they find His heart, hidden inside they’ll also discover their purpose and destiny. Then they can dream, knowing it's God's dream for their life.
Sadly, you may not encounter much competition on this quest for God's heart. Many love His presence and are willing to sing a few songs once or twice a week to enter it. Few, however, are after His heart. Choose to become one who is. Don't settle for a cursory look; be a lingerer.
Talk to Him slowly, listen to Him slowly, and leave Him slowly.
Pray with me:
Father, You are worthy of our time and attention, of the greatest affections of our hearts. You are generous in rewarding those who diligently seek You with greater glimpses of the beauty of Your heart.
Forgive us for our impatience, Lord, when approaching Your throne of grace. Like Joshua at the Tent of Meeting, we want to be those who love to linger in Your presence, leaving slowly and hesitantly. This one thing we ask for and seek: to dwell in Your house all our days, beholding Your beauty and meditating upon Your Word. Lingering... lingering…
We want to go further still than enjoying the glorious place where You dwell. We love to enjoy the pleasure of Your presence, but want also to seek after Your heart. We know there's a high price that must be paid to enter that intimate place, but we’ve determined to give the time and effort to find and know Your heart. We will linger, longer still…
In Christ’s name...Amen.
Today’s post was taken from my book The Pleasure of His Company.
Watch the video here:
Charles R. Swindoll, Man to Man (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), p 272.