Part One, Part Two, Part Three
In this final post we will consider one way the church throughout history has pursued a greater awareness of Jesus’ presence. It must be noted that the mature Christian is comfortable living in a mystical, supernatural world. Mature Christianity is not for those skeptical about the third person of the Trinity. There is room in her life for God to do the kinds of supernatural works that only God can do. In other words, the work of healing the soul is a work of the Spirit. It’s one we are invited to participate in, to be sure, but we must not be afraid of acknowledging what is plain in scripture: the Spirit, like the wind, works in mysterious, unpredictable, supernatural ways. Cultivating communion with Christ is thus like getting up to watch the sunrise. Depending on where you live, how old you are, what the day before was like, and dozens of other factors, the way you go about watching a sunrise will likely look different than someone else. There are a few consistent practices, though. You must wake up. You must show up. You must wait. Sometimes, you’ll climb a mountain to see the sunrise. In other instances, you’ll simply walk out onto the back deck and plop down in a comfy chair. The responsibility given to each of us is putting ourselves in a position to experience the sunrise. Once we’re in position, we must trust that the sun will in fact rise. No amount of effort on our part can make it rise. A posture of hope and trust is necessary. The analogy may be pushed further still. As history tells us, the sun does in fact “rise” every morning. Even when it’s raining outside, even when it’s cloudy, even when you can’t see a single ray of sunshine, you know the big orange ball of fire is still burning away at the center of our solar system. So it is in the rhythms of mature Christianity. We put ourselves in a position to experience the presence of Christ, trusting that he is there each and every time and hoping that every once in awhile we will be aware of it.
Two Way Disciplines
The majority of Christians I’ve walked with drive strictly on one way streets when it comes to our spiritual disciplines. The Christian is the one driving, so to speak. We must read through our Bible plan. We must journal our thoughts down. We must pray through our prayer list. The direction of traffic moves from our mouths to God’s ears as it were. These kinds of disciplines are good, necessary, worthy practices. They are also primarily childish practices (in the best possible sense of the word). The mature must integrate two way disciplines into their walk with Jesus. This is where the flow of traffic moves from God’s mouth to our ears. This is where we are not giving to the Lord, but receiving from him. Many Christians long for God to speak to them. I am convinced that the problem is not God’s lack of communication: it is our lack of listening.
If you pay attention to the rhythms of Jesus’ life, you’ll find he frequently sneaks away to isolated, quiet places. Mark 1 provides us with an example:
Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.
Jesus stepped away from the busyness of life and ministry in order to be cared for, refreshed, and nourished by God’s presence. He intentionally (and regularly) experienced the freedom from the distraction of people by creating space for solitude. The human soul needs a safe place where we have no one watching our performance. In these places, we can be honest with God and ourselves in ways that are much more difficult amidst the noise of life. Being alone with God allows the masks all of us wear to come down. Simply put, solitude frees us to be vulnerable before the Lord in ways most of us cannot be while our children are in the other room or music is playing or our phone is dinging. In the space filled with silence, we wait for the sunrise.
Receive the Word
Many of us will be either too skeptical or too scared to sit in silence and listen for God. We are in good historical company if that is the case. Throughout the centuries, Christians have practiced the discipline of “Lectio Divina” to guide their pursuit of the presence of Christ. This is where we approach the scriptures in order to be read by them. We lay aside our reading plans and our compulsive need to consume large portions of text. A few verses are selected, perhaps a story from the life of Jesus, and then read aloud. The Christian then sits in silence for a few minutes and pays attention. What stood out to me? How is the text making me feel? What memories are coming to mind? The cycle repeats again, reading the Bible aloud and then silently paying attention. The ways in which God’s word speaks to a willing soul are quite remarkable in moments like these. When we put ourselves in a posture to receive the word, to be exposed, encouraged, corrected, or healed by the presence of Christ, God is abundantly faithful to provide. After several readings, we return to the Lord whatever he has given to us. If it’s hurt, we ask him to heal us. If we are convicted, we ask for forgiveness. The point is putting ourselves in a posture of willingness and surrender, seeking to receive from our father.
Make no mistake, this is a supernatural process. But it is no less supernatural than the incarnation, or the trinity, or any number of other beliefs we hold dearly. This discipline will expose your addiction to being “productive”. It will reveal your need to be incessantly busy. It may be helpful to borrow the tax collectors prayer from Luke 18:13 when countless to-dos and random thoughts spring to mind. Return to the word, to the silence, praying “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner,” and begin again. The goal is not to get this process right or make something happen. We are trying to get Jesus, and getting Jesus is often like watching the sunrise. The best we can do is put ourselves in a position to experience it, to watch, and to pray.