I just don’t feel God’s presence in my life.
For pastors, counselors, and others in ministry leadership, this is one of those common refrains heard on a regular basis. And yet it’s amazing how a simple phrase can indicate such a deep sense of crisis. In our churches, we have many tools that those seeking Him can use to open up an encounter with the living God, and yet for many people, as soon as Sunday worship is over, the preoccupations of normal life take over and the feeling of distance returns. Undoubtedly, this can be true just as much for those in leadership as those outside it.
What if the way forward isn’t simply to try harder in the rhythms we already have, but to consider an alternative way to develop our faith and the faith of others? What if the answer to being more spiritual isn’t all in our heads, but in God’s created world as well?
The world of creation matters because Jesus consecrated it by becoming human, taking on our flesh, entering into the atoms and molecules of our world. He walked dusty roads, bumped up against the shoulders of hopeful crowds, held scaly fish and crusty bread in His hands. He made water into wine, healed real human bodies, and offered His own body as a sacrifice on the cross. And it was that same body, resurrected from the dead, that restored hope for His disciples and other followers.
For us, the incarnational reality of Jesus doesn’t simply call us to live new and redeemed spiritual lives, but to seek spiritual renewal through the tangible aspects of the world around us that we apprehend through our five senses. In this way, everything we encounter through our senses might be a pathway to living out a rich life of faith.
Here, then, are five ways to encounter God in the ordinary aspects of our lives:
For ancient Christians, there were two books that revealed God to the world: Scripture and the book of nature. They were especially aware of the vivid language of the Psalms giving testimony to nature’s capacity to speak to the divine. As Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (NIV). When we enter into nature and recognize the beauty in it, we do more than open up a potential spiritual experience; we encounter the living God through the stuff of earth itself.
For the early church, music played more than just a role in worship; early Christians saw the whole of creation as an ordered, cosmic song. Both in and out of corporate worship, we can see how singing helps us encounter a heavenly reality through our earthly bodies. It reveals the mystery of faith, that just like Christ, whose bodily incarnation brought about the hope of eternal life with God, the very embodied act of singing might reveal to us the ever-present heavenly reality that is our ultimate destiny.
3. Visual art
Through color, texture, tone, perspective, and other aspects of creative depiction, we might apprehend the ordered cosmos of God’s dynamic life. Whether that be through observing a painting, a photo of a beautiful sunset, or even a thoughtful film, the beauty of visual arts might be a way to see the glory of God shining through the stuff of our world.
Our capacity to understand the world is especially made real by our sensory capacity to feel. Often, the worst experiences of sadness and doubt are from a sense of being cut off from the world. Contact is an immediate and potent way to be brought back into the awareness of God’s grace. From the feeling of rough tree bark to rain falling on our faces, from the softness of a beloved pet’s fur to the warmth of a hug from a friend, contact might remind us that God seeks for us to encounter Him, in word and in the world.
In the beginning, there was a garden full of delectable fruit; at the end of time, there will be a glorious feast in heaven. The whole of the story of redemption is bookended by food, and at the center of history, Jesus breaks bread and pours out wine as a sign of His own redemptive offering of Himself. The psalmist tells us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8, NLT). Not only is holy communion an expression of this grace, but whenever we gather together to eat any meal, we might see it as God’s hand of love reaching out to us and nourishing our souls through our bodies.
If we can learn to attune our senses to God’s glory in the world around us, we will see our spiritual lives transformed, as the faith in our hearts begins to be put into practice by our hands.