Living a life of godwardness
You are a made thing that needs anchor points. Anchor points establish rhythms of godwardness in our lives. Godwardness is the attempt to faithfully live out Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” But we can distinguish between two different types of godwardness, what I call “direct godwardness” and “indirect godwardness.”
Direct godwardness involves an intentional and direct focus on God himself. Prayer, worship, confession, reading the Bible—in all of these activities, we are attempting to engage with God directly. Indirect godwardness, on the other hand, involves a subtle and subconscious awareness of God’s presence while actively and intentionally engaging in the world he has made. Eating a meal, playing softball, driving a car, mowing the lawn, writing an email, making love, having a conversation, reading a novel—in these activities, our attention is on the world around us. Our lives ought to be structured by regular rhythms of direct and indirect godwardness, moving back and forth between direct interaction with God himself and active engagement with the world. Up to God, out into the world. Up to God, out into the world. This is the rhythm of our lives. Let’s consider a few examples.
A Devotional Life
Personal and family devotions, in which we read the word of God and seek his face in prayer—adoring him, confessing our sins, giving thanks, and making requests—anchor us on a daily basis. They are essential in cultivating a mind that is set on things above, because you cannot set your mind on things above if you never take time to actually direct your attention to things above—to Christ and the gospel and the glory of his appearing.
A regular devotional life anchors us in the love of God and helps to order our desires and set godly boundaries on our affections for the things of the world. It helps to keep our love of created things from becoming idolatrous. In such times, we remind ourselves that we are hidden with Christ in God and that our future is secure, and this enables us to put to death the earthly passions that war against our soul. If you need help in cultivating a devotional life, I’d recommend the book Habits of Grace by my friend David Mathis. It’s an excellent one-stop shop for growing in your desire for Christ and the things above.
Or consider worshiping with God’s people on the Lord’s Day. This is corporate direct godwardness, as we worship God with his people. Or, more accurately, corporate worship is a mixture of direct and indirect godwardness as we set our minds on God himself but with a deep awareness of his people around us. We lift up our prayers to him, but we do so with the prayers of his people, both in the room and around the world. We raise our voices to him in song, but as we sing and make melody to him, we also address one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). Corporate godwardness is the anchor for our week. And it’s absolutely essential. Biblical authors tell us that we must not neglect meeting together (Heb. 10:25) but instead to encourage one another and stir one another up to love and good deeds.
At my church, when we worship the living God on the Lord’s Day, we always walk through the gospel in our five-step liturgy that involves a mixture of prayers, Scripture, and song (and which we summarize using five Cs). We begin with the call to worship, in which God through the pastor invites us into his presence. We then move to confession, as we corporately and personally repent of our sins. We then move to consecration through the preaching of the word, as God sets us apart for his service and renews our minds in conformity to his will. The sermon always lands at the Lord’s Table, as we partake of the bread and wine together in Communion. And finally, we conclude with the commission, as God sends us out into the world with the mission to make disciples of all nations. We gather every week in the eager expectation that God will meet us, that we’ll see the worth of Jesus, who is our life, and that sight will transform us from one degree of glory to another.
In the absence of corporate worship and personal devotions, we will inevitably anchor ourselves in something else. Our spiritual lives will drift. Yes, we can meet with God in nature—at the lake, in the deer stand, on the mountains. God is present everywhere. But these encounters with God in nature cannot replace encounters with God in his word and with his people. We must not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some. Without corporate worship and personal prayer and reflection on the Scriptures, our engagement with God in nature is hollowed out. We begin to remake God in our own image. We begin to be anchored in our own private ideas of what God is like rather than the work of Christ and the revelation of God in the Scriptures.
It’s not a question of whether we’ll have our minds set on something. The question is what that something will be. Will it be Christ, or will it be our jobs, or television, or social media, or our families? All of these are good as planets in our solar system, but they are terrible as the sun. If we try to make them the sun, if we set our minds on them and seek them supremely, they fall apart and fail us and go wrong.
I regularly ask myself a series of questions to evaluate whether my direct godwardness is rightly orienting and anchoring my daily life:
1. How often does direct godwardness (however brief) spontaneously erupt? As I go about my day, do I find myself regularly going godward with prayers and supplications and requests and thanksgiving and adoration? Is God always in my field of vision so that no matter how intently I’m focusing on the task at hand, direct communion with him is never far away? Is he always present, even when he’s not being addressed?
2. Is there an increasing awareness of God’s presence in everything I do? In other words, is there a growing sense that I’m never far from God, that he is always close at hand, that he is always marking me and speaking to me and guiding me through life?
3. Do I find myself desiring to linger in prayer or song or Scripture reading? When life thrusts itself upon me again, and I must put down my Bible in order to make breakfast for the kids or head off to work, do I find myself wishing I had a few more minutes? More importantly, do I eagerly look forward to the next time that I can be alone with God? Do I look forward to the next time when I can worship God with his people?
4. Is the word of God fresh in my heart? Or is it a dead letter, a sign that I’ve been merely checking the devotional box on my to-do list?
5. Finally, and most importantly, is there fruit in my life? Am I making progress in holiness? Am I putting to death what is earthly in me? Can I see evidence of growth in godliness over the past six months, twelve months, two years? Not that there aren’t still struggles or setbacks. But am I slowly and steadily becoming a more loving, joyful, caring, patient, thankful, and humble person? Does my life increasingly display the fruit of the Spirit?
Grounded in the Love of Christ
All these efforts to actively orient our lives by Christ must flow from the fact that we have died with him and have now been raised with him and hidden in him. Our labors to fix our minds upon him must be rooted in the finished work of Christ. He is our Savior. He is our Lord. He is our treasure. He is our life. Our lives are thus marked by rhythms of godwardness as we seek him directly and indirectly. We pray and meditate on the Scriptures regularly, attentively, and with perseverance so that God is always the supreme object and the supreme model for our desires. Then we enter our days anchored in the gospel and rooted in the love of God with our hearts and minds tuned to his presence and reality in the things he has made. We seek to enter our daily tasks alive—to God, to the wonders of his world, and to the needs of others.
Throughout our day, wherever we are, we seek to be all there, fully present to the people around us and to the tasks at hand. We punctuate our day with moments of direct godwardness—before meals, during solitary commutes, in the midst of breaks in the action, before and after difficult tasks, and a thousand other possibilities. We orient our weeks by gathering with God’s people in worship, collectively singing praises, confessing sins, hearing the word preached, and sharing fellowship at the Lord’s Table. Our worship on the Lord’s Day leads us to an encounter with the grace of God in Christ, rooting us and grounding us in the love of God and the cross of Christ and then sending us out into the world as salt and light, ready to proclaim and portray the gospel in our words and works.
Content adapted from Strangely Bright by Joe Rigney. This article first appeared on Crossway.org; used with permission.