Sunday, July 29, 2007

God's Presence 12: Distractions

In life, there are many distractions. To the right is a television, which is one of many things in our world that causes us to be distracted from the important things in life. Distractions often keep us from the presence of God. As Brother Lawrence says in his eighth letter (p. 43): "Our minds are so flighty. But I remember that our God-given will governs our strength. It must recall the mind of God. Otherwise our spirit may wander, dragging us down to the things of this earth."
What causes you to be distracted? Hopefully the answer to this question is fairly easy for you. Because if it is not, then you will be distracted without even knowing that you are being distracted. If we want to even hope to keep ourselves in the presence of God, then we must be aware of those things that distract us so that we can seek to overcome them with God's help.
Brother Lawrence gives us some words of wisdom in this when he says: "I think the remedy for the problem is to confess our faults to God and humble ourselves before Him." When we can acknowledge that it is a struggle to keep focused on God, then we put ourselves in the right place; the place that helps us to acknowledge that we need God's help in this. Instead of getting upset at our struggle, we recognize that we struggle. As Brother Lawrence says: "being upset will only distract you more. Allow your will to recall your attention gently to God. Such perseverance will please Him."
It isn't about always being focused, but being aware of how and when we are not. By seeking to be more aware, we then are again "practicing" having God's presence in our lives! This is what it means to take our faith in God and our relationship with God seriously.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

God's Presence 11 (The Hand of God)

Brother Lawrence starts out his seventh letter with some powerful words: "We have a God who is infinitely good and who knows what He is doing." (p. 41) Have you ever wondered if God knew what He was doing?
One of the primary questions people ask is: "Why do bad things happen to good people?" The problem with this question is that it infers that either God is doing the bad to good people, or that God doesn't stop the bad from happening. But people tend to forget that much of the bad that exists comes from people who choose to do the bad. And those who aren't choosing the bad can be a result of their actions. Bad also comes to those who make bad choices (but people don't want to take responsibility for their own actions, they would rather blame God).
Romans 8:28 tells us: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." If you have trusted God for any length of time, you have experienced this in your life; God coming into your life and bringing good out of the bad that has happened. And so with this in mind, Brother Lawrence says: "His perfect time is when you may least expect it....Thank Him for strength and patience He is giving you, even in the midst of this trial, for it is an evident mark of His concern for you."
Trials can make us strong. Trials can give us a spirit of perseverance. Trials help us to appreciate the good we have in life. Trials are a badge of honor, as we understand that God cares enough for us to allow us to go through the trial so that we can learn the lessons God wants us to learn.
This is why Brother Lawrence encourages us to communicate with God always. As we are constantly communicating with God, and letting God communicate with us, we will be able to know of God's presence, and God's work, and God's care for our lives. So we can know that we "have a God who is infinitely good and who knows what He is doing." We have a God whose hand is upon us, over us, around us, and works in and through us!

Monday, July 23, 2007

God's Presence 10 (The Full Treasure)

In his sixth letter (p. 40), Brother Lawrence talks about finding the full treasure that is described in the Gospel. Jesus told a wonderful parable about finding a great treasure in the gospel of Matthew 13:44-46, "44The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 45"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."
The full treasure of the gospels is the kingdom of heaven. And this is not just something that exists in heaven, but something that we can have here on earth. Jesus taught that the kingdom was something that could be received here on earth. Matthew 5:3 says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." And in Matthew 5:10, Jesus said: "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Jesus taught that as we seek to know God, and follow God, and seek to live the "right way" that God instructs us, then we would be able to see and experience the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Jesus made it clear that it was not to be seen by everyone: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21)
What is so important about discovering the kingdom of heaven. Well, Jesus seemed to think that it was more valuable than pearls or treasure. Finding the kingdom of heaven will bring peace to your life, because you will be resting fully in God and God's will for you. As Brother Lawrence says: "I don't know what's become of me. It seems that a tranquil soul and a quiet spirit come to me even while I sleep. Because I am at rest, the trials of life bring me no suffering. I don't know what God has in store for me, but I feel so serene that it doesn't matter. What do I have to be afraid of when I'm with Him?"
Can you say that, that you don't fear anything and that your life is serene? Seek after God's kingdom by seeking God and God's ways, and you can.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

God's Presence 9 (Being Loved By God)

One of the desires in life is to be loved. We long to be loved with a pure love. Unfortunately, much of life brings heartache as others can only love us with conditional love (I love you when, I love you if...). But Brother Lawrence, in his fifth letter (p. 35) reminds us that God loves us with the fullness of pure love.
This pure love does not come from methods or programs. Brother Lawrence says: "On the contrary, I found methods to be discouraging. My intent, at the beginning of my Christian walk, was to give myself to God all at once. I did this out of love for Him, because I wanted to pay for my sins and renounce everything that offended Him." Are you aware of what offends God? It is difficult to love and be loved by God if we don't know what offends God. The Bible is clear in what God desires. At the core, Micah 6:8 tells us, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
Instead of worrying whether or not our walk is good enough, we need to humble ourselves and understand that God loves us as His created being; unconditionally. He does want us to be just, and to love, and to be humble. But He loves us even when we are not. He loves us because we are part of Him; created in His image.
As we allow ourselves to be loved in this unconditional way, we then are freed up to really live for God. We are then motivated to seek to please God with our lives because we want to give thanks to God for this love and this life we are given. As Brother Lawrence says on page 37: "This King, Who is full of goodness and mercy, doesn't punish me. Rather, He embraces me lovingly and invites me to eat at His table (Revelation 3:20). He serves me Himself and gives me the keys to His treasury, treating me as His favorite." And in response, we are to give God our simple, loving attention as much of the day as we can.
In trying to remember God in this way, we remain in God through Christ.

Monday, July 16, 2007

God's Presence 8 (Finding Contentment)

People search for contentment in life. But most people struggle to find it. Brother Lawrence, in his third letter (p. 31) says: "I honestly cannot understand how people who claim to love the Lord can be content without practicing His presence...When I am with Him there, nothing frightens me."
People struggle to find contentment, because they don't know where to look for contentment. Usually, people have a pre-conceived idea of what will bring contentment to their lives, and then they go after it. But the problem is, many people, even when they find what they are looking for, still don't find that they are content.
Brother Lawrence says: "God won't allow a soul that is searching for Him to be comforted anywhere other than with Him." So, if we want to be content, we need to find it in having a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. And this makes sense, because the One who created us knows how to bring contentment to our lives; the One who created us is the only place where we will feel complete.
The apostle Paul also gives us some wisdom on this idea of being content in Philippians 4:12-13- "12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength." It is through God giving us strength to live that we will have the ability to be content.
So, contentment doesn't rest on how much or how little we have, but rather or not we are connected with God. The "Practice of the Presence of God" then, is about "calmly recalling our spirit to God whenever it is distracted." As we get distracted, we then remember to re-connect with God, and God will bring us these feelings of being content. Brother Lawrence ends this letter by saying: "The Holy Spirit dwelling in us leads us to love God in a diversity of ways. God be with you all."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

God's Presence 7 (Spiritual Fulfillment)

Today I want to talk about spiritual fulfillment. The world tells us to set the pace, do what we think will bring us fulfillment, seek to make ourselves happy, and so on. If we could be fulfilled through the world, then why do so many people go through life unfulfilled? It is because fulfillment can only come through God, the creator who created us. Only our creator knows what will fill us. And primarily, what we need to fill ourselves with is God's presence.
In his second letter, p. 29, Brother Lawrence, in his book "The Practice of the Presence of God" says: "I still believe that all spiritual life consists of practicing God's presence, and that anyone who practices it correctly will soon attain spiritual fulfillment. To accomplish this, it is necessary for the heart to be emptied of everything that would offend God. He wants to possess your heart completely. Before any work can be done in your soul, God must be totally in control."
The problem for most people is that God is not in control of their heart. What usually controls people's hearts is their sinful, selfish desires. That is why they struggle to feel connected with God; struggle to feel God's presence. We would rather do something for ourselves, than do something that connects us with God. Prayer, reading the Bible, Bible study, worship, are not as exciting to people as going to the beach, going to Disneyland, or going to a sporting event. Consequently, people live their lives in want, wishing for fulfillment.
Again, Brother Lawrence says: "I would urge everyone to be aware of God's presence, if for no other reason than because His presence is a delight to our souls and spirit." We are aware of physical hunger, but not as aware of the hunger of our souls and spirits. Let us make it a priority in our lives to seek after God so that we might experience the fulfillment God has for us.

Monday, July 09, 2007

God's Presence 6 (Staying Close to God)

We see here in this picture to our left babies staying close to their mother. This same idea is what I want to talk about today as we continue our series in the book "The Practice of the Presence of God." Brother Lawrence says: "For more than forty years, this brother's principal endeavor has been to stay as close as possible to God, doing saying, and thinking nothing that might displease Him." (p. 25) Brother Lawrence did this for the simple reason of the pure love that God had for Him, and the desire to please God.
Brother Lawrence talks about how amazing the joy is that he experiences when he is able to stay close to God. He refers to it as "a constant inner joy." As I think about these words from Brother Lawrence, it makes me think about the gospel of John, 15:4-5,
"Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can yo unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing." The joy comes from living a life of meaning; a life that bears fruit.
Brother Lawrence goes on to say on p. 26, "men are blind, content with too little." What he means by this is that God has infinite treasures to give us, but we would rather have the treasures of the world, than the treasures that the creator of the world has for us!
He then goes on to talk about how we need to examine our inner selves. Why do we need to do this? So that we can be responsible for our own actions. If we let the Holy Spirit reign in us, then the Spirit will make known to us all those things that should be removed, and all those actions which need to be forgiven. In this way, we can stay pure and seek God all the more.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

God's Presence 5 (Seeking and Knowing God)

In today's blog, I want to look at the "Fourth Conversation" from the book The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. In this conversation, Brother Lawrence talks about renouncing all those things in life that do not lead to God. In life, there are many things that attract us. But many of these things actually keep us from seeking God and knowing God. We don't acknowledge this, but it is true. There are times when we would rather focus on the things of the world, than on the things of God. We are not following what the apostle Paul tells us to do in Colossians 3:1-2, "1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things."
Brother Lawrence says that this continuous conversation we should be having with God is an important part in helping us to live the life God has for us to live. He says: "All we have to do is to recognize God as being intimately present with us. Then we may speak directly to Him every time we need to ask for help, to know His will in moments of uncertainty, and to do whatever He wants us to do in a way that pleases Him."
So the challenge is to search our lives and see what might be keeping us from intimately knowing God. It could be a book we are reading, or movies we go to see, or friends that we hang out with. To give this up we have to surrender ourselves to God. But when I look around, I see people more concerned with what they want, than what God wants. I don't see people surrendering themselves to God.
Brother Lawrence also says: "The Lord will cleanse and humble us in order to make us more like Christ." But the question is, do people want to be more like Christ? They come to church, but is that so that they can feel like they have done their duty, or is it to be more like Christ? The conversation concludes with Brother Lawrence encouraging us to rejoice in our difficulties, because they will help our faith to be purified and to become precious.

Monday, July 02, 2007

God's Presence 4 (Dealing with Difficulties)

It is wonderful to see someone like Brother Lawrence remind us of what is important in life. We tend to take life and ourselves too seriously, and make ourselves the center point. But Brother Lawrence states that it is important to our faith to understand the exalted position of God; God is far above us. Because of this all that we do should be for the love of God. As we live in this way, we open the door to receive God's blessings upon our lives.
The goal for Brother Lawrence was to think of nothing but God. As he became more and more accustomed to this, when there would be times when he wasn't thinking about God, it would cause him to feel unhappy. In this way he could begin to have his unconscious control his conscious mind. Whenever he would bring himself back to God, the evil thoughts of his mind would vanish right away.
In terms of dealing with the difficulties of life, Brother Lawrence knew that the Lord would provide the strength he needed to endure it. In this way he wasn't afraid of anything. Brother Lawrence knew to depend upon the grace of God which made his life easier.
Brother Lawrence wanted us to understand that it doesn't take skill or knowledge to go to God. "All that is necessary is a heart that is dedicated entirely and solely to Him out of love for Him above all others." How wonderful it is to know that we don't have to hold a certain position, or degree, or level of understanding to give ourselves to God and receive the presence of God into our lives.
May our challenge today be to give ourselves over to God's grace, and trust in God to help us through this day.