When I first had dinner alone with my beautiful (now) wife, I remember the feeling of wanting the night to go on. I enjoyed being in her presence. I wanted to get to know her more. There was great conversation and laughter. I wanted to linger longer.
I’ve been pondering that word over recent weeks. Linger. It’s not a word that often comes out of my mouth. It’s not common in our everyday conversations.
While speaking recently at Crossway’s young adults retreat the word jumped out as the worship team led us in the song Touch of Heaven:
You have all my attention, I will linger and listen, I can’t miss a thing!
The songwriter is declaring his desire to intentionally spend more time than usual in the presence of God, wanting to give God his full attention; yearning to hear from God.
Over the past week since singing that one line, I’ve been lingering on the word itself – unpacking in my own mind what does it look like for me to linger more – both with God and in other areas of my life.
The dictionary defines linger like this: “to remain or stay on in a place longer than is usual or expected, as if from reluctance to leave.”
With that definition suddenly this one little word has become challenging.
When I worship, when I pray, when I open up the Scriptures, when I engage in other spiritual disciplines, when I get time out with God in the busyness of life, do I yearn to stay in this place longer than usual or expected – more so, do I have a reluctance to leave?
Often, I don’t! That’s the sobering reality for me and I don’t think I am alone in this.
We live such busy lives. We squeeze the margins. There is always competing demands. And yes, this pattern of life can all too quickly become our default and it becomes easy to play the busyness card in so many areas of life. And yet – as the Psalmist powerfully highlights – yearning will always trump busyness.
“You God are my God, earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you,
In a dry and parched land, where there is no water.”
The Psalmist goes on to demonstrate that he had learnt to linger – he had intentionally carved out patterns and practices that enabled him to spend habitual time with God.
As I sense was the Psalmist’s experience so it has been true for me – when I find the time to linger, yearning grows and when the yearning for more of God deepens, so the lingering becomes easier.
I have a mate who serves as a community chaplain. He describes his job and prayer in the same way – he says he “lingers with good intent”. He spends time in the same places in his local community, getting to know people, developing relationships, engaging in conversations, looking for opportunities to love and serve; seeking to live and model the good news of Jesus.
And as he says: “Prayer’s the same for me – I’ve learnt the more I linger in God’s presence with my eyes and ears open, the more I just keep turning up and giving him the time and space, the more I grow in my relationship with Him and the more I want to keep coming back for more.”
Calvin Miller penned many years ago that busyness was one of the “giants” that stood in the way of Christians growing in personal and spiritual intimacy with God. Fast forward to today and things have only got faster and faster for most of us in the 24-7-365 world we live in.
I have always found his dining metaphor helpful and challenging.
Miller says to many of us have become satisfied with “drive-through, fast-food” dining when it comes to how we see and spend time with God, compared to the picture of a long, candle-lit, unrushed dinner for two.
We don’t linger in a drive-through, but we do linger over a candle-lit dinner.
So, what does this mean for us in day to day life? I’ve been challenged afresh that it comes back to intentionality – it comes back to creating the time, space and habits that enable lingering to become more a part of everyday life.
What does it look like to linger a bit more each day with God in different ways, in different spaces? What does it look like to intentionally carve out some longer lingering time once a week or once a fortnight to go to a space where we can “catch our breath” with God?
It can be as simple as pausing for a few minutes to take in something around us – like I did this week when walking to work. I walk past a beautiful tree every day – but I sensed it was time to linger in the shade of the tree. I took a photo of the tree. I allowed my mind to run and ponder tree metaphors in the Scriptures. I found myself catching my breath under the tree’s canopy. It would have been so easy to quickly walk by, in a hurry to get to work – but I had time to slow, to pause, to linger.
So often we have the time but it’s about re-training our minds to take the time, in the midst of the rush of life.
Similarly, in my Life Group we have taken time over recent weeks to intentionally linger on one passage in the Gospels. We have encouraged each other to keep reading a familiar passage on a regular basis over a few weeks – to linger in it. It has been very encouraging to see how God has used this to speak, encourage and challenge us all in different ways.
Beyond time with Jesus, I’ve been challenged afresh to look more broadly at my habits and patterns and look at how I can intentionally linger more with my wife and kids. How can I relationally linger more with others God has put in my life. How, like my mate, can I linger more with good intent?
Let me leave you that one little word – linger. Lingering on the idea of lingering has been soul refreshing for me. I want my yearning for God and the things of God to continue to deepen and grow. It’s good to have been reminded again of the vital importance of lingering longer in this crazy, busy world!