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Turning Aside to Consider

This entry is part 1 of 54 in the series

"One Thing Have I Desired"

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Creation’s teaching is to be carefully discerned, though. Creation reveals God, though not unambiguously. Creation exists in God, and God is in creation, and yet God is distinct from his creation. We are not to see creation as identical to God. Creation now contains mixed messages, with the distortion brought about by sin. What humans make of creation is necessarily mixed with common grace, original sin, and in some cases, the special grace of the Gospel. Generally speaking, if all things are ‘of him, and through him, and to him’, then we can expect creation to reveal God, and to be rightly experienced when we see it as his handiwork for his glory.

The Bible tells us that Moses saw the burning bush, he said to himself, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight.” And then, most significantly, the Word tells us that when the Lord saw that he turned aside, God called him. We might speculate on what might have happened had Moses not turned aside. After all, the Lord could have simply called Moses – he didn’t need to set up a burning bush. It seems that when a person is willing to notice God’s works, pay attention to them, and not simply carry on in his distracted way, God will reveal something to that man. How many things in our day might God be wanting us to turn aside to and contemplate?

This is a discipline of recognition. Lewis captures this well: “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”1

One of the attacks on the church is to make us deaf to God’s glory and meaning in creation. Non-stop busyness, the frenetic pace of modern life, and undeveloped powers of reflection conspire to expel thoughtful contemplation. Sadly, many Christians increase the noise in their souls by adding distractions. The brief quiet they might have between appointments gets filled with the car radio, the iPod, surfing the web, hours on Facebook, Twitter, or blogs, DVDs or TV, apps and computer games, or more trips to the mall. The result of too much of these things is that they divide our attention, they scatter our thoughts, they disquiet the heart, they absorb our interests, they shift our focus to temporal matters, they make us curious about what does not matter, inquisitive about other people’s business, and generally thoughtless about meaning. Blaise Pascal said “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”

Tozer spoke to a quieter world on the distractions present in his day.

Among the enemies to devotion none is so harmful as distractions. Whatever excites the curiosity, scatters the thoughts, disquiets the heart, absorbs the interests or shifts our life focus from the kingdom of God within us to the world around us—that is a distraction; and the world is full of them. Our science-based civilization has given us many benefits but it has multiplied our distractions and so taken away far more than it has given.
One thing is certain, however: we cannot turn the clock back to quieter times, neither can we hide from the persistent clamor of the 20th century. We must learn to live in such a world as this and be victorious over it.
In the normal course of things a certain number of distractions are bound to come to each one of us; but if we learn to be inwardly still these can be rendered relatively harmless. It would not be hard to compile a long list of names of Christians who carried upon their shoulders the burden of state or the responsibilities of business and yet managed to live in great inward peace with the face of the Lord in full view. They have left us a precious legacy in the form of letters, journals, hymns and devotional books that witness to the ability of Christ to calm the troubled waters of the soul as He once calmed the waves on the Sea of Galilee. And today as always those who listen can hear His still, small voice above the earthquake and the whirlwind.
While the grace of God will enable us to overcome inevitable distractions, we dare not presume upon God’s aid and throw ourselves open to unnecessary ones. The roving imagination, an inquisitive interest in other people’s business, preoccupation with external affairs beyond what is absolutely necessary: these are certain to lead us into serious trouble sooner or later. The heart is like a garden and must be kept free from weeds and insects. To expect the fruits and flowers of Paradise to grow in an untended heart is to misunderstand completely the processes of grace and the ways of God with men. Only grief and disappointment can result from continued violation of the divine principles that underlie the spiritual life.”2

Consecrating creation means thoughtful examination. This attitude is alert to meaning in creation. It often ‘turns aside to consider’. It is in pursuit of the meanings of objects, of activities, of nature, of our work, of our callings, of our pleasures. It asks for meaning in all places. Leisure time, the human body, home and house, and garden, reading habits, watching habits, listening habits, economics, human sexuality, technology, medical ethics, the sciences, politics, and education – these we should at some point turn aside to consider, and consecrate to Christ. The thoughtful Christian wants to understand all of life in light of God. He believes what Abraham Kuyper said: “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!” Once we read God’s works with an understanding of God’s Word, we will gaze on beauty and magnify God for what we see.
Very importantly, when we understand creation properly, we can beautify it. That is, we can shape and use it in ways that reflect God and please him. We can bring God’s order to our families, vocations, bodies, and so forth. We order the world according to God’s pattern, as image-bearers.

The ability to turn aside, consider and consecrate comes from minds saturated with God’s Word. Psalm 1 tells us to meditate on God’s Word day and night. To meditate on God’s Word day and night means it must be in us, not just in front of us. We need to take God’s Word in with the kind of interest that will cause it to remain with us while we drive, make meals, clean, teach, plan, calculate, and fix. With such an intake, we meditate. We allow the Word to percolate in our minds and think on it with reference to the world, and think on the world with reference to the Word. Andrew Bonar wrote of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “His morning hours were set apart for the nourishment of his own soul; not, however, with the view of laying up a stock of grace for the rest of the day, – for manna will corrupt if laid by, – but rather with the view of ‘giving the eye the habit of looking upward all the day, and drawing down gleams from the reconciled countenance.”3

Again, Tozer; “Retire from the world each day to some private spot, even if it is only the bedroom (for a while I retreated to the furnace room for want of a better place). Stay in the secret place till the surrounding noises begin to fade out of your heart and a sense of God’s presence envelops you. Deliberately tune out the unpleasant sounds and come out of your closet determined not to hear them. Listen for the inward Voice till you learn to recognize it.”4

The unexamined life is a kind of death, said Socrates. No believer who wishes to love God in creation can be content with a thoughtless, ‘meaning-less’ life. We must count ourselves dead to continual distraction, and deliberately turn aside to consider. With consecration and cleansing comes conformity to Christ – obediently acting like Christ does towards the created order.

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David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary and Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

  1. C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York, NY: Harcourt, 1963, Mariner Books edition 2012, Kindle e-book), 75. []
  2. A.W. Tozer, The Set of the Sail (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1989), 117. []
  3. Andrew Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’cheyne, (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, repr. 2004), 55. []
  4. Of God and Men (Camp Hill, PA: Wingspread Publishers, electronic edition, (Camp Hill: Zur Ltd. Database, 1987, Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007 []

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