The gifts of God — vitality, love, forgiveness, courage against evil, joy at our depths, and everything else that flows from the terrible work of Christ — may be found only in the company of God. And we keep company with God only by adopting God’s purposes for us and following through on them even when it is difficult or initially painful to do so. To place ourselves in range of God’s choicest gifts, we have to walk with God, lean on God, cling to God, come to have the sense and feel of God, refer all things to God. Contrary to our self-interested impulses, we have to worship God with a disciplined spirit and an expectant heart.
But just here lies our main evasion, the one we have all practiced a thousand times: like the Israelites indicted by Jeremiah, we “forget God” (Jer. 2:32, 13:25, 18:15). For weeks at a time we go through the motions, never seriously attending to God, never focusing on God, never — with all the weight of mind and heart — turning ourselves over to God. The thought that by such negligence we keep on wounding the only being who loves us with a perfect and expensive love, the thought that we are deeply entangled not only in our sin but also in the bloody remedy for it — these thoughts become bearable and then routine. At last we put them away and sink into functional godlessness. When we are in that state, God does not seem very real to us. So we do not pray. The less we pray, the less real God seems to us. And the less real God seems to us, the duller our sense of responsibility becomes, and thus the duller our sense of ignoring God becomes.
It’s important to emphasize that the loss is ours. The loss is God’s, but it is also ours. It’s not just that we owe God our respects and fail to pay them. Despite certain modern assumptions, life with God isn’t mainly a matter of knuckling under to our superior — the image modernity so much detests. We do have to trust and obey God, we do have to express our devotion to God, but not merely because God is stronger than we are, and surely not because God wants to bully us into submission. We must trust and obey because those responses are fitting. After all, we know something of God’s goodness and greatness. We know that we have been made and rescued by God. We know that we have been graced by God — forgiven, accepted, renewed as slowly and arduously as addicts. Indeed, only inside the cradle of grace can we even see the true depth and stubbornness of our sin.
This knowledge of God and ourselves opens us up to a whole range of opportunities and duties — to worship God, to try to please him, to beg his pardon when we fail, to receive God’s renewing grace, and, out of gratitude, to use our lives to weave a whole pattern of friendship, service, and moral beauty.