All too often, we limit our search for God to what takes place in our churches. But He is at work everywhere in the world. And, if you're looking, you can find Him when you least expect it.
Here's how you can find God in unexpected places:
Ask God to help you see through eyes of faith. Understand that in the world of faith, some things have to be believed to be seen. Ask God to increase your faith, and train yourself to look for traces of Him at work.
Keep your mortality in mind. Look beyond our culture's obsession with the physical body. Rather than spending most of your time and energy trying to look young and fit, accept that your body is temporary. Take good care of it, but focus mostly on spiritual growth, since your soul is eternal.
View sex not as a rival to spirituality, but as something that points toward it. Realize that sexual longings are actually yearnings for transcendence and intimacy that can only be fully satisfied in a relationship with God. Don't let sex stop just at skin level; go deeper, into the soul. Know that sex is not simply an end in itself, but rather a gift from God that should be stewarded faithfully.
Look up. Ask God to give you His perspective on situations so you can keep the big picture in mind and avoid being weighed down by smaller concerns. Spend time outside in nature regularly, and let it give you a greater sense of awe for the Creator. Wander away from streetlights and look beyond them to the stars. Let the glory of the natural world - both the beauty of its design and the horror of its fallen state - overtake you so that the details of your life's routines seem less urgent. Take time to thank God for His enormous efforts to restore what sin had spoiled in the world.
Ponder the Incarnation. Don't just think about God's Incarnation at Christmas; ponder it throughout the year. Remember that God chose to enter time and space and put on flesh to live among us because of His great love. Know that His Spirit is with you in all circumstances.
Find God on the job. Know that your work is important to God - no matter what type of work you do. Expect Him to use your efforts to bring about good. Seek to use your God-given talents to the fullest and put forth your best effort in every assignment, whether big or small. View your work as a ministry even you work in a secular field. Remember that God is your ultimate boss.
Don't let media substitute for relationships with real people. Realize how easy it is in today's world to spend most of your time interacting with media (such as television and the Internet) rather than with live people. Limit the time you spend with media so you have plenty of opportunities to build relationships with other human beings. Reach out to people God puts on your heart - people who may be lonely and not know how to reach out to you. Remember that God has placed a desire for real relationships within all of us.
Read and write. Recognize the great power of words. Read God's Word, the Bible, as well as other material that draws you closer to Him. Express your own thoughts and feelings by writing them out. Ask God to use words to help transform you more into the person He wants you to become.
Learn from revivals across the world and throughout history. Get to know the stories of spiritual revivals in various places and various times. Know that God goes where He's wanted. Decide to invite Him into your life more by seeking Him more.
Find God in the rubble. In the wake of disasters, look for God's mercy and love expressed through the service of people who follow Him. When you experience faithful people comforting the grieving, binding wounds, offering food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, working together in unity, praying for each other, etc., realize that you have seen God at work.
Understand why terrorists hate America, and what we can do about it. Realize that, as much as we revile terrorists, we can learn something valuable from their perception of us. Understand that many people in Muslim countries draw conclusions about "the Christian West" from watching our media, which includes many violent and sexually explicit shows. Recognize the profound difference between being a cultural Christian (someone who happens to live in a country with a Christian heritage) and a committed Christian (someone who follows Jesus as a model for living). Decide that you will be committed to genuine Christianity, and express that faith by living a pure lifestyle and serving others. Focus on holiness more than materialism. Support Christian organizations that help people worldwide by demonstrating God's love to them in acts of service. Be a part of showing the rest of the world that not all Americans are arrogant, selfish, decadent, or uncaring. Help make our society the best it can be, so that other nations will be motivated to emulate us rather than strike out at us.
Learn from eccentrics. Don't discount eccentric people who seem to float through life without a well-managed plan. Understand that sometimes God can use you more powerfully if you're not aggressively organizing your goals and planning your schedule. Give yourself some breathing room to freely listen and respond to how God's Spirit leads you, moment by moment. Don't be concerned nearly as much with what other people think of you as you are with what God thinks.
Own your capability of making moral choices. Realize that none of us are helpless, ignorant victims of overwhelming forces. Understand that you are morally responsible for the choices you make, and that those choices will affect not just you, but also your family, friends, and society around you. Know that God stands ready to help you make the right choices in every situation. Rely on God's power as you face decisions.
Let God move you to protest injustice. Whenever you sense an urging to do something to help right a wrong, recognize that God may be speaking to your heart. Don't be afraid to take action to protest unfair policies and advocate for causes. Ask God to motivate you to care about issues about which He cares.
Give God thanks for progress. Take time to learn about significant progress that's been made in your lifetime to deal with global problems such illiteracy and environmental abuse. Thank God that genuine progress is being made, as faithful people rely on His strength and work for positive change.
See the connection between body and soul. Rejoice that research has found that those who follow biblical values in their lives live longer and healthier lives. Know that by making choices that are good for your spiritual health, you'll also likely be improving your physical health.
Recognize history's relevance to today. Study world history and read old literature - such as Shakespeare's plays - to see how many of the important issues in the world today are timeless. Listen to elderly people's stories of how God has redeemed their mistakes and healed their wounds. Get a sense for how God has been at work throughout history, and trust Him to continue to act powerfully today.
Learn from the church around the world. Consider what you can learn about spiritual warfare from the church in South America, about suffering from the church in China, about passionate evangelism from the church in Africa, about intercessory prayer from Korea, about an appetite for God from Russia, and about the need for revival from Europe. At home in the United States, strive to be a faithful part of our global society.
Bridge the gap between givers and receivers. Don't look down on people who are currently more needy than you. Realize that every person has seasons in life to give and to receive. Accept God's grace as a pure gift - not something you can earn. Once you embrace God's great, unconditional love for you, you can offer genuine love, with no strings attached, to other people.
Find God in the miracles of forgiveness and grace. Don't be afraid to accept God's forgiveness for your sins and His grace to live a better life. Be willing to forgive others because God has forgiven you. Seek to live a faithful life as a way of expressing your love to the God who loves you.
See the freedom of prisoners. Volunteer at your local jail or prison, or read about some prisoners who have found spiritual freedom in the midst of physical confinement. Be inspired by how they can find genuine joy even while suffering.
Give without expecting anything in return. Let your motivation to give time and money to others be simply love for God and a desire to do what's right. Don't give to try to manipulate people or earn material rewards. Trust that God will reward you in the best way, as He chooses.
Laugh at yourself. Recognize the humor in our attempts to live in this fallen world and deal with our human foibles. Be grateful that God always stands ready to help us. Let humor melt away your stress.
Adapted from Finding God in Unexpected Places by Philip Yancey, revised edition copyright 2005 by S.C.C.T. Published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc., Colorado Springs, Co., www.waterbrookpress.com.
Philip Yancey is the author of 17 books, with a total of more than five million copies in print. His books include Soul Survivor, What's So Amazing About Grace? and most recently, Rumors of Another World. He lives in Colorado with his wife, Janet.