“And my soul is getting restless for the place where I belong…”
As the final word of that phrase rang into the nighttime sky, the entire audience drew in a unified breath, chills passing throughout each of their bodies as raw emotion flooded the entire amphitheater all the way up into the open-air lawn at the very perimeter. From my spot upon that lawn, I could do nothing but close my eyes and soak in the moment, a second wave of chills passing over me as the audience suddenly broke into a chorus of applause, myself included. There was but one man standing on the stage before me – with nothing but a guitar in his hands and a microphone before his lips – but his voice as it burst across the arena was like that of church choir singing as one breath:
“—I can’t wait to join the angels and sing my heaven song.” I had never heard truer words in my life.
That concert (which had been my very first experience of Phil Wickham) was almost two years ago, but that single line still haunts me to this day: “My soul is getting restless for the place where I belong… I can’t wait to join the angles and sing my heaven song.” I had never had someone so perfectly summarize that longing which each of us feels so deeply within our souls, that aching pain that leaves me lying in bed each night wanting more. As those words pierced the night nearly two years ago, something within me shifted, something that had been there all along yet had remained hidden by my own ignorance of its presence. I became aware of the agitation within me, aware of the discomfort deep within my soul.
I became restless.
The first verse that comes to mind when I think of this restlessness is the staple verse of Paul’s letter to the church as Philippi: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). This is the sentence that has forever seemed to resonate deep within my heart, that mindset of someone so optimistic that they almost seem – wait for it – pessimistic. In the context of this verse, Paul is saying that a servant of Christ cannot lose anything, for to live is to be given the opportunity to share the Gospel with others while to die is to be quickened in the process of at last seeing Jesus face-to-face. Paul continues, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (v22-24). Paul sounds almost suicidal in his desires for death, but it is revealed that his desire for death is because he sees death not as the end but the beginning of life, that true life which begins once we reach eternity. Paul concludes that if he is alive that must mean that God still has something planned for him – and thus he would never take his own life – but cannot help but deny that restlessness that lies at his very core: he realizes the task that lies before him, but he grows impatient in his longing to be with his Creator.
Do you feel this way? Do you feel that same longing for Christ as Paul did, so much so that you could say that “to live is Christ” and “to die is gain”? Is your soul restless for the place where you belong? Like King David, can you truly turn to the Lord and say, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psa 42:1). Does your soul pant for Jesus like a dying animal pants for a stream of water – do you see Him as so essential to your life that to go without Him for even a short while is to die? Do you have that passion for Him, that longing? Or what about in Psalm 63, when David speaks of longing for the Lord deep into the nighttime? Do you lie in bed, incapable of sleeping because you are so lost in the many ways in which you can grow closer to the Lord come morning time? Is that you? Are you longing? Are you uncomfortable? Are you restless?
At last we reach the true question: why aren’t you?
NOW LET’S BE HONEST…we don’t really see men and women like this anymore, and that’s a problem. What happened to the days when the thought of God being the Groom and us being the Bride actually made sense to us because we constantly sought that deep a level of intimacy with Him? Why don’t we see men like Abraham or Job or Moses or David or Paul or Habakkuk or Enoch or Isaiah walking around today, living lives so forfeited to God that people are left in awe by their faith and passion and longing and restlessness? I’m not saying that these people don’t exist, but why are we so satisfied to not be like them ourselves? Why are we satisfied after going to church once or twice a week, thinking we’ve done our fair share when it comes to God? Is that how relationships work? No! Where is our passion, where is our zeal, where is our restlessness? Why are we so comfortable being comfortable?
At the beginning of this write-up, I mentioned that I resonated with Phil Wickham and Paul’s words alike when they spoke of their restlessness. And I do. But this isn’t to say that I’m anywhere near the place where Paul was, nor do I think I can come close to even fathoming what David meant when he described longing for God just as an animal longs for water. But I want to, I really do. I am restless, but not restless enough. Do I long to be with my Creator more than anything this world could offer? Yes, but that is likely because I have never experienced the threat of death to the point that I would prove myself truly a coward – Paul experienced that threat daily, yet he still made that bold proclamation. Is my soul restless for heaven? Oh yes, I long for eternity the majority of my days, but I frequently get so caught up in things this “vacation” – that is, my life on this earth – has to offer that I place my desire to stay here over my desire to go home. Have I laid in bed, sleepless, as I ponder how I can grow closer to God in the days to come? Yes, but near as often as I would like. The Bible is filled with characters who are supposed to point us in the direction of God by giving us clear ways in which we can pursue Him, yet so often we claim biblical application when in fact we merely pursue biblical fascination. We are perfectly happy investing our time into the Bible and fangirling over its many stories and characters and coffee-cup-one-liners, but why don’t we actually do the work it takes to apply it to our lives? We can make these cute little metaphors in weekly sermons that leave us feeling spiritually rich for an hour after we leave, but why don’t we see men and women of today’s era exemplifying that same restlessness attributed to the men and women of old?
We need to make a change, my friends, and it all begins with you. Realize that the Bible is not merely a history book meant to bore you with its lengthy passages and fancy prose – it is a love letter from the Creator and Sustainer of all life, sent directly to each and every one of us as an everlasting covenant of His eternal love and grace! Sixty-six love letters – each unique, each different, each written with the sole purpose of displaying more and more aspects of His love – all bound into a single book that is placed before you, so that you could read those letters one by one, soak them all in, and at last say, “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (Song 2:16). We need to stop looking at God as just a Father, just a King, just a Master, just a Creator. He is those things, but He is also so much more: He is a friend, a companion, a lover who is with us until the end. “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So [we] are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).
Stop being so satisfied in being lukewarm, my friends. Let the Lord light a fire deep down within our souls, that we might grow to be friends of God like Abraham, servants of God like Job, banners of God like Paul, and men and women after God’s own heart like David. Let us reject passivity and willingly take on the loving pursuit of that Lover who has already made the first move and who now waits for us to find Him as we search for Him like a deer panting for the water. Let us be so consumed in doing the Lord’s work here on earth that we cannot wait for the day when He returns or calls us home at long last, that we might see our groom face-to-face and live in perfect unity and intimacy for the rest of time.
Let’s stop being satisfied with just being.
Let’s be restless.