When I was a small business consultant, I would often discuss the essential practice of focusing on the important and not only the immediate. To be certain, the immediate requires our attention. However, if all we do is focus on the immediate, the important will grow to a critical mass that threatens to destroy the business venture.
Similarly, in the spiritual life, we must learn to distinguish between the subtle and the apparent. If we focus only on the apparent, we will miss the gentle, leading of God’s Holy Spirit and find ourselves trapped in legalism and external forms.
As Elijah discovered, God’s voice is always heard in the still, small voice. (1 Kings 19:9-18) The accuser shouts in the apparent, encouraging pride in the individual and dissension in the body of Christ. The accuser resides in that form of godliness that denies its power. (1 Timothy 3:1-5)
So how do we focus on the subtle?
Jesus taught us to retire to our inner sanctum and pray to our Father in secret. (Matthew 5:6) By this Jesus is directing us to have a private prayer life that is characterized by quiet contemplation of God and inner gratitude towards God.
Jesus condemned the act of proudly proclaiming prayers in public so that our piety would be noticed by those around us. The issue Jesus is warning us of is not praying in public. He often prayed in public. But he steers us away from ego, vanity and pride. Prayer (public or private) should arise from our humble submission to God’s will and word.
In our inner sanctum of quiet stillness, we can shift our attention away from the cares and concerns that threaten to plunge us into the abyss of fear, doubt and inadequacy. We turn full-faced into God’s mercy, love, provision, and power. God is our supply and in him we lack nothing. Our cup overflows with God’s goodness. In Christ, there is no need of desire for ego, vanity or pride.
It is so easy in our complex and busy lives to feel anxious and overwhelmed. But we will never find peace in trying to accomplish everything others try to burden us with. It is only in silencing the world and focusing on the subtle presence of God who never leaves or forsakes us that we will find the help and strength we need.
So, in the midst of our turmoil, let us all pause, take a deep breath, and bring our focus on the subtle presence of God. Let us hear his still, small voice in the sound of silence. And let us move forward with the words of Jesus in our hearts, “In this world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” John 16:33