Thursday, September 27, 2007

Acquiring God's Presence

We read on the picture to the right, these words: “To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” [Marilyn vos Savant] In many ways, we might think that acquiring God's presence is the same as acquiring knowledge or wisdom. Brother Lawrence, on pages 69 & 70 of his book "The Practice of the Presence of God," leads us into a better understanding of how we can acquire God's presence in our lives.
1. The first means is a new life, received by salvation through the blood of Christ. Brother Lawrence starts in the obvious place, that we can attain nothing from God apart from the blood of Christ. First and foremost we must have faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. It all starts here!
2. The second is faithfully practicing God's presence. This must always be done ... without giving way to anxiety or problems. Jesus Himself was clear to us that the worries of this world can keep us from God's presence. Jesus says this in His description of the seeds that fell on the thorns in the "Parable of the Sower." In Matthew 13:22, Jesus says: "As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world ... choke the word, and it yields nothing." To let ourselves be influenced by God's presence, we can't allow ourselves to get caught up in our worries. We must let God's presence envelop us in a way that keeps the worries out!
3. The souls eyes must be kept on God, particularly when something is being done in the outside world. Since much time and effort are needed to perfect this practice, one should not be discouraged by failure. Romans 12:2 tells us "
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Because we have the Holy Spirit within us, we can know the mind of God. And when we know the mind of God, we can rest in the knowledge that we are in God's will. That is what the practice of the presence of God does for us, it keeps us in God's will. So when we are "in" the world, we don't have to act like the world. God's presence will keep guiding our way.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Giving Attention To God

One of the aspects of practicing the presence of God is learning how to give our attention to God. It is easy in this world to get distracted. There are so many choices of things to do; so many ways to be busy. In his book the "Practice of the Presence of God" (p. 67), Brother Lawrence talks about how giving our attention to God helps to bring confidence in our lives.
A friend of Brother Lawrence's said it this way: "By dwelling in the presence of God he has established such a sweet communion with the Lord that his spirit abides, without much effort, in the restful peace of God." How wonderful it would be to have a "restful peace" in our lives. This was a struggle even for the disciples. Remember how they were in the boat, in a storm, and were fearful, so much so that they had to wake Jesus up. Jesus questioned them: "Where is your faith?" It should have been in the presence of God; as should ours!
On top of this, when we give our attention to God, we are able to rejoice in the blessings of life. God is blessing us in so many ways we aren't aware of, usually because our attention is somewhere else. In the difficulty of life, it is important to note that God is at work. But even more, God is helping us to overcome all the difficulties we face. As the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:37, "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."
And then Brother Lawrence concludes this writing with these words: "The presence of God is, then, the life and nourishment of the soul, which can be acquired with the grace of God." Just as the body needs food for nourishment, so does our soul. As the Bible is like the meal we need to eat, so experiencing God's presence is like the dessert; the extra special nourishment that blesses us beyond measure!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Union With God

Brother Lawrence reminds us in his book on page 65 that the only way that we can have "union with God is through salvation." We must be saved, through Jesus Christ, to be in a relationship with God, because without the cleansing we receive from Christ, our sin keeps us from truly knowing God and experiencing God.
Brother Lawrence goes on to say: "a saved soul comes to know God through a series of experiences, some of which bring it into closer union with Him and some take it further away. The soul learns which activities bring God's presence nearer." This is very true. There are experiences in our lives that cause us to be separated from God. We walk down a path God would not have us walk on, and we feel far from God; we wonder where God has gone. But then there are those experiences when we feel God's presence in a profound way.
This is what the "Practice of the Presence of God" is all about; being in the most perfect union with God in which we can be. "The most perfect union with God," Brother Lawrence says, "is the actual presence of God. Although this relationship with God is totally spiritual, it is quite dynamic..." Dynamic. Powerful. Life-changing. To get to that place where we experience God in our spirit (on a spiritual level) cannot be taught, but only experienced! It is the most profound of experiences.
Brother Lawrence also says that this perfect union with God "is an inexpressible state of the soul--gentle, peaceful, respectful, humble, loving, and very simple..." To be in the inexpressible state only comes from disengaging ourselves from the things of the world (material desire, love of money, selfish actions, etc...) and walking in the beauty of the design of God (loving one another, forgiving others, showing grace and mercy, and on and on). As we seek to follow the example set for us by Christ, we will then experience the connection with God that finds its way into our soul!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Adoring God

One of the aspects we should have toward God is how to adore God "in Spirit and in truth." When Jesus was talking to the Woman at the Well, He challenged her in this way, by saying in John 4:23-24,
"23Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

Brother Lawrence helps to instruct us in this with three points:
1. "First, to adore God in Spirit and in truth means to adore Him as we should. Because God is a Spirit, He must be adored in Spirit. That is to say, we must worship Him with a humble, sincere love that comes from the depth and center of our soul...we must repeat it until it becomes part of our nature..." The truth is, in any aspect of life, to be good at something we must repeat it regularly. This is true of the way we love God as well. As sinful people, we love conditionally. To learn how to love God from the depths of our being will take work and practice.
2. "Secondly, to adore God in truth is to recognize Him for what He is, and ourselves for what we are. Adoring God in truth means that our heart actually sees God as infinitely perfect and worthy of our praise...." Until we see God as greater than we are, we will not feel the need to worship God. We might appreciate God at times, but it will not be adoration; it will not be devotion. If you stop and think, you will see that God has been there many times to help you, guide you, protect you. If you talk to other Christians, you will find this out all the more. If you seek to know God, you will discover that God is greater than you are, and worthy of your love, praise and devotion.
3. "Thirdly, to adore God in truth is to admit that our nature is just the opposite of His. Yet, He is willing to make us like Him..." How wonderful this is to know, that God desires to help us be more like Him. Through Jesus Christ, God can impart to us His unconditional love, His power, and His wisdom. God helps us to overcome our sinful nature, and allows us to make a difference with our lives. God is able to take the difficulties we face, and bring fruit out of them.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Practice Makes Perfect

Brother Lawrence tells us, "The most holy and necessary practice in our spiritual life is the presence of God. That means finding constant pleasure in His divine company..." (p. 59) To achieve anything good in life, we must practice. Even the most talented of people have to practice to become better. If we want to be the best we were created to be, we must practice. But the trick is that it is not practicing the behavior of being perfect, but practicing the behavior of being in the presence of God. As we are in God's presence, He will lead us to become more perfect in our being.
So how do we practice to become perfect? As Brother Lawrence says, "We must try to converse with God in little ways while we do our work...purely and simply reveal our hearts.." We can be in the same room with someone, and not converse with them. We must make the effort to be in a conversation. It is the same with God. Since God is always present with us, we need to make the effort to converse with God. And the conversation doesn't need to be deep and earth shattering. Just simple thoughts. And it doesn't have to be in a quiet sanctuary. It can happen while you are doing your work, driving your car, or walking down the street!
What will help us in this process, is as Brother Lawrence says (p. 61) "...believing that He really lives in our hearts..." When we believe this, it becomes real to us and we can know. Even more, we experience God's presence the more we live our this belief. In our coming to God in this way, we allow God to have "His good pleasure to do with each of us whatever He chooses.." This is when the joy of life really comes upon us.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Spiritual Maxims

As we get to page 57 in Brother Lawrence's book "The Practice of the Presence of God," we get to some "Spiritual Maxims" from Brother Lawrence. He talks about how when we believe, hope, and love, then "all things will be possible to us in God." He talks about how these maxims can help lead us toward perfection.
Maxim 1: "We should be considerate of God in everything we do and say....We must make a firm resolution to overcome, with God's grace, all the difficulties encountered in a spiritual life."
The spiritual life is wrought with many challenges. Just living day to day for many people is a challenge. As Garfield says: "'Good morning' is a contradiction in terms." But God can give us the power, by His grace (meaning that we don't deserve the presence of God's power). to be able to live a spiritual life. The more we seek to do and say as God would have us do and say, the more able we will be to live the spiritual life.
Maxim 2: "From the very beginning of our Christian walk, we should remember who we are and that we are unworthy of the name of Christian, except what Christ has done for us..."
This is a good reminder of what the apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" We are really nothing without Jesus Christ, because we stumble over our sin so regularly. But in Christ, we can really become something!
Maxim 3: "We must believe with certainty that it is both pleasing to God and good for us to sacrifice ourselves to Him. Without this complete submission of our hearts and minds to His will He cannot work in us to make us perfect."
It is true that in life we will make sacrifices for those things that are most important to us. I will make great sacrifices to be available to coach my son's baseball team because I know it is important to him that I do this, and it is a great bonding time for us. If we do not believe that sacrificing our time to God is valuable, and if we do not believe that living for Christ is important, then we can never hope to do this in our lives.
Maxim 4: "The more we aspire to be perfect, the more dependent we are on the grace of God....The world, the flesh, and the devil wage a fierce and continuous war on our souls...Although this total dependence may sometimes go against our human nature, God takes great pleasure in it..."
We cannot even hope to be perfect without Christ, because it is Christ who makes God's power available to us. And in Christ, we have righteousness imparted to us. We have to will ourselves to become dependent on Christ, so that we can live the way God created us to live. God is pleased in this, because when we humble ourselves, God can work in and through us.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

God's Presence 17: Deliverance

One of the desires we have when we are under attack or in a trial is to be delivered from this trial. Most of us want to be delivered "now." But God has His own timing for our own good. As Brother Lawrence reminds us in his book, p. 53: "I cannot thank God enough for the way He has begun to deliver you from your trial. God knows very well what we need and that all He does is for our good. If we knew how much He loves us, we would always be ready to face life--both its pleasures and its troubles."
Peter challenges us in this thinking as well, as we read in the Bible from 1 Peter 1:6-8, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy." While God will deliver us from our trials and burdens, God will often let trials come into our lives for a purpose. Brother Lawrence says it like this: "You know, the difficulties of life do not have to be unbearable. It is the way that we look at them--through faith or unbelief. We must be convinced that our Father is full of love for us and that He only permits trials to come our way for our own good."
The only way that we can become convinced of this, is to follow God and know God more and more. The longer we know God, and the better we know God, the more history we will have to experience God's power, love, and faithfulness in our lives.
As you go through the trials of life, trust in God, and God will deliver you in due time!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

God's Presence 16: Courage

Life can be difficult; life can be challenging; life can be a struggle. With this in mind, we hear these words from Brother Lawrence: "Take courage! God often allows us to go through difficulties to purify our souls and to teach us to rely on Him more. As we are told in 1 Peter 1:6-7, 'In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.' So offer God your problems unceasingly, and ask Him for strength to overcome them. Talk to Him often; forget Him as seldom as possible." (p. 51)
In other words, when we seek God and remember God, then we will tend to give God our problems more, and worry less. We usually worry because we are concerned about how things will come out; we are afraid they will come out badly. But to worry means that we don't understand who God is, and what God wants to do in our lives. To worry means that we are taking our eyes off of God, and focusing on ourselves.
So Brother Lawrence encourages us with these words: "Remember that God never leaves us unless we go away first. We should be careful never to separate ourselves from His presence." Now it is very possible that we separate ourselves from God unwillingly. Maybe we get busy and our mind gets distracted. Or maybe we get caught up in something that seems like it will fulfill us, but in the end it doesn't.
Continue to practice being aware of God's presence, and by doing this, it will give you greater courage and assurance of God's love and power and authority in your life.