And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate. (Genesis 18:6-8 ESV)
I don’t cook. I’ve never been able to cook. The summer between my junior and senior year of high school I worked at the YMCA as a day-camp counselor. Since I was the last one hired for the summer crew I got the joy of being the floater. Basically all this meant was that I took the place of each group leader the week (or weeks) they took vacation. So each week I was leading a different group, and groups were broken up by age and gender.
The fateful week that I was told to take the middle school boys was one that has left me with many memories, and scars. But in particular I remember one of the activities that we were tasked with: cooking brownies. Standing in the kitchen with a box of brownie mix in front of us, no one emerged as a superior, or really even competent. So we fought with this desert for about an hour, trying to get the mix right, trying to understand what actually constituted a “pre-heated” oven, why the instructions were so vague, etc… But, eventually, we were ready to pull the pan and enjoy our hard fought, confectionary creation. This sentiment of anticipation was almost immediately overcome with disgust as we all tried to keep those squares of filth in our mouths without gagging. Something had gone terribly wrong. In fact, a cat – an unholy, unregenerate, Gentile cat – actually had an opportunity later to eat the brownies and after sniffing twice, kitty rolled out with no brownies in paw.
That is an extremely lengthy story to explain my humble culinary condition, and to say that I have no idea just how long this meal would have taken to prepare. I don’t know how do bake, slaughter, or broil, and, truth be told, I’m not the greatest at even serving it properly after it’s prepared (serve from the right side, never refill drinks toward the guest, silverware/utensil placement, etc…).
But with all of that being said, what I do know for certain is that this was not a meal that was prepared in a couple of minutes. It was much more involved than dumping Chex Mix into a bowl and serving with a smile. When Abraham asked the three mysterious men from the heavenlies to stay, he wasn’t just going to offer them coffee and conversation.
Time spent with God (one of the three men being God here, theologians call this Old Testament appearance of Jesus a Christophany), however, is supposed to move differently I believe. Abraham pleads with them to sit, rest, and spend some time with him and then proceeds to frantically race around trying to get everything together. Our time spent with God is a balancing act between the urgency of the moment and the deliberate nature of the encounter.
In God’s presence, whether in a church service, a devotional time, or just a spontaneous experience of His comfort, there is the desire to engage that moment in a way that “gets everything out of it” that we can by working through the moment, figuring out what got us there in the first place. But there is also the sense that we want to bask in it, to lay back and let the very real sense of connection with the Maker of the Universe surround us like the sound of rain on a hard roof. This paradox of urgency and rest is, in my opinion, one of the hallmarks of God’s presence.
Similarly, often in the Scriptures, we see those who encounter God being moved to want that moment to last on, to perpetuate itself, to become the norm in their life, but simultaneously, those same people are driven to serve and work, and as Isaiah said in God’s throne room, “here am I, send me!” That’s a fairly curious response from someone who has found both the place of cleansing and comfort. Why would his response be to ask God to send him anywhere other than there? Isn’t “there” enough? Time spent with God is both charging and challenging. It offers us a taste of the relationship we were designed for with God, and it compels us to be used to advance the work of God in the world.
On some level I suppose the point I am attempting to get across today is more simple than I’ve expressed. We ought not be surprised by some freneticism in God’s presence. Like Mary and Martha with Jesus, some of us will be better at serving Him to a fault, and some will be better at staring at Him to a fault. There is a tension there, but a glorious tension. If we were supposed to understand it all, we would. Some of the mystery of the moments with God are supposed to remain mysterious, and in those mysteries we will have some difficulty knowing exactly how to react. I guess maybe its enough to know that for the soul that longs for God, there isn’t really a bad way to spend time in His presence. God enjoys our company. He values the time that we spend in focused adoration of Him, even if that functionally looks like us just trying to figure out what to do in the moment.