[Tuesday June 22, 2010
7:45am: I wake up and pray this: “Lord, I am waiting in silence, longing to hear your voice. Say something today.”
8:50am: I packed up my books, journal, a cooler with food and water and headed to my favorite little hideaway by the American River. I sat down and heard nothing. Weird. Really weird. This may be the outdoors, but I’m sitting close to a main road and a bike path. The silence continues. Okay God, this is not funny. Say something!!
3:00: I am sitting, stunned and exhausted. God just spent the past six hours talking…and talking…and then talking some more. J I have sunburn, a mild headache and more clarity than ever now. Below are my thoughts, some quotes, Scriptures, as well as wisdom and direction He gave me during this time. I pray that God uses this to stir something in you like He did in me.]
The Presence of God
“I want the presence of God Himself, or I don’t want anything at all to do with religion…I want all that God has or I don’t want any.” A W Tozer
I love this quote. I truly, in my core, believe that if I can’t have all of God, I don’t want any. Call me selfish, call me crazy, but I don’t want a lukewarm relationship with Jesus.
Being in the presence of God is different for everyone. For some people complete silence in the comfort of their home is needed. For others, listening to worship music or reading through a Classic theological book at a café is necessary. I have a friend who is a pilot who says that he feels closest to God when he’s in the air. For me it’s usually been in one of three places:
1. Nature. Whether that’s hiking Half Dome or sitting in the castle gardens in Prague, as long as there are trees and sounds of the outdoors, I’m all set.
2. While I’m creating. I realize this is vague, but anytime I pick up my camera, a paintbrush, a sewing needle, or even while creating a new culinary masterpiece (kidding) I can’t help but see the ultimate Creator there with me.
3. (Ok, this last one would probably be embarrassing to anyone else, but I just don’t care if you judge me.) J The third place is the floor of my kitchen pantry. Yep, lying on the cold marble floor, staring up at the ceiling. The door can be closed and hell, if I get hungry I’ve got options. God has shared some valuable information and life lessons with me while I’ve lied crying on the floor eating a power bar. There is a story that started this, but I’ll save that for another time.
There’s lots of conflicting opinions on being in the presence of God, including the need for silence and solitude. Now there’s a difference between solitude and silence and I want to make sure to address my understanding of both. Solitude is simply the practice of being absent from other people and other things so that you can be present with God. In solitude, we rest from our attempts to re-create the world in our image. Wow, is that a challenge or what?? We rest from arranging our relationships and manipulating people with our words. In solitude, we say to God, “I am here to be changed into whatever you like.” In solitude, we learn to “wait on the Lord.”
Silence is the practice of quieting every voice, including your own inner and outer voices. It is written of one of the Desert Fathers, Abbot Agatho, “that for three years he carried a stone in his mouth until he learned to be silent.” A rather extreme measure, but it demonstrates how difficult it is for us to be silent. You all know me well; I can sit and talk for hours about all sorts of things and unless I warn you when we first meet or you have amnesia, you just gotta stop me. If not, you’re in for a looooong dialogue.
Silence is also necessary to free ourselves from our tendency to control. That was a daily struggle for me about a year ago. I wanted to control everything in me and around me. Silence frees us from the tyranny we hold over others with our words. Thomas Merton wrote, “It is not speaking that breaks our silence, but the anxiety to be heard.” When we are silent, it is much more difficult to manipulate and control the people and circumstances around us. Words are the weapons we lay down when we practice silence. We give up our insistence of being heard and obeyed. Silence forces us to surrender to the will of Another.
The book Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard is one that I highly recommend and thankfully had with me today. Willard says this about silence,
“Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life.”
I’ve read this quote so much that I practically have it memorized, but it struck me in a new way today. I want you to think about trying this experiment soon: Sitting in complete darkness and silence and revealing out loud my deepest desires, fears, etc. Hmmm…it sounds good, but can I really be that vulnerable?
I did this for the first time in August of 2003. I was sitting in a near empty condo with countless questions. I had hit rock bottom and couldn’t begin to think of how to climb my way up. Crazy as it sounds, I had been a Christian (not practicing though) for almost 5 months but had not experienced God so significantly than this night (even including the day of my conversion and baptism.) I sat in my closet, in complete darkness and cried out to God. The experience of that night is haunting and yet so beautiful. I am crying now as I write this. Friends, if nothing else, hear this: God is not just an experience. Practicing his presence doesn’t always mean a ritualistic morning quiet time or a Sunday morning worship service. It doesn’t have to be a set time or place. Those three settings I listed above are generally where God and I meet intimately. But I don’t limit him to that and I don’t dare think He won’t show up anywhere else. Even in complete darkness.
Alright, let’s get practical. So you show up and are ready to be in the presence of Jesus. Now what? Well, since you asked…
There are two spiritual practices that happen when we pray; contemplation and transparency. Transparency is sharing your heart at a deep level with God (and others; this is done in small groups or prayer meetings as well). It’s the time when we pour out our deepest hurts, joys, fears, etc below the throne of God and leave it there. The second, contemplation is the practice of listening to God. Simply put, shut your mouth and open your ears. The former seems to be easier than the latter. We see prayer as our time to bitch at God about what we want but don’t have, thank Him for what He’s graciously given and offer up petitions for sick relatives, job stability, relationships, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I do all of these things almost every time I pray, so don’t think I’m condemning it. I just wonder what would happen if you paused before saying ‘Amen’ to stop and listen. Just listen. Maybe God wants to share His heart with you right then and there. Prayer is a two way street, a complete conversation. That means that two beings are talking and listening. I have to give myself and God the space to do both things in my prayers. Be transparent, than contemplate.
Being an artist and a visual learner, I try to always keep a journal or sketchbook next to me when in deep prayer or meditation. I draw pictures, I write poetry, whatever God gives me during that time that I am listening, I copy on paper. I don’t want to leave, go about my day and forget something He said. If you have never journaled before, shame on you. (just kidding) Seriously though, go to the bookstore and pick up a notebook. Start writing what the Lord reveals to you. You’ll look back in a few weeks, months and even years and be encouraged and gifted once again by the truths and wisdom He shared.
A W Tozer says one of the most honest and challenging ideas about engaging in the presence of God: “Stay in that place till the surrounding noises begin to fade out of your heart and a sense of God’s presence envelopes you…Listen for the inward Voice till you learn to recognize it. Stop trying to compete with others. Give yourself to God and then be what and who you are without regard to what others think…Learn to pray inwardly every moment. After a while you can do this even while you work…Read less, but more of what is important to your inner life. Never let your mind remain scattered for very long. Call home your roving thoughts. Gaze on Christ with the eyes of your mind. Practice spiritual concentration. All the above is contingent upon a right relation to God through Christ and daily meditation on the Scriptures. Lacking these, nothing will help us; granted these, the discipline recommended will go far to neutralize the evil effects of externalism and to make is acquainted with God and our own souls.
In conclusion, I’ll say this, When you pray, your prayers are heard by the same God who answered Moses’ prayer for water in the desert, the same God who gave Abraham and his barren wife a son, and who made the slave Joseph, second in power only to Pharaoh. He will do great things in and through you if you answer His call and be willing to listen.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. “ Philippians 1:6
Alright, that’s all I’ve got for now. Any of you that are reading this (and therefore are people I value and trust in my life) that want to respond, please do! Part of this journey is being in community and hearing what God is communicating to others. Don’t hold back. Email, call, text, send a messenger pigeon. I want to hear your stories and how I can be praying for you!