At the gym where I exercise I will occasionally see someone who has really lost weight and has toned up. Curious as to the source of their transformation I inquire as to their secret. It is common to hear them say, “Oh man, its definitely this Atomic-Turbo Protein Supplement that I’m now a dealer of!” “Really? Did you change anything else in your routine?”, I ask. “Oh yes”, they respond. “I have been running 20 miles a week and have cut all sugar from my diet. You want to buy a gallon of my A-TPS?” Gratefully I say, “Perhaps another time. But thank you for the insight.”
A few years ago I thought that something had spiritually changed in me. I felt lighter, less preoccupied and much more peaceful. I knew something had changed when people started coming up to me and asking me why I was joking and smiling so much. They wanted to know the secret of my transformation. I found myself frequently saying, “Oh man, it was definitely the time I spent with that counselor.” They might follow with, “Was there anything else going on in your life?” I would respond, “Oh yes, there is the time I regularly spend alone with God.”
At this point it is not uncommon to catch a fleeting, despondent look along with an admission that the whole prayer and time alone with God-thing has never really worked for them. Neither is it uncommon for folks to just want to change the topic. Its no surprise. We’ve all wrestled with prayer. Its a mystery and many approaches to it requires time. The fruit of prayer grows slowly and only those who persevere will enjoy its taste. Sadly many have figured out ways to get by without meaningful time alone with God.
However, to invite us back into the mystery of prayer, here is Jesus telling us….
Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. Matthew 6:6 MSG
Here is what Jim Branch (in his Introduction to the Blue Book devotional) tells us…..
“Find a place that is set aside for you and God alone; a place that helps you be attentive to him, a place that will not be full of distractions or noise….Also pick a time when you are at your best, fully wake and alert. As your time unfolds each day try not to keep an eye on your watch; just allow your time to happen…Let the Spirit of God be your guide. The key is to be consistent. Over time you will begin to notice that God is near… “
Here is the advise of another who persevered and learned to meld prayer as an attitude even into the reading of scripture;
Take in fully, gently, and carefully what you are reading. Taste it and digest it as you read. Use the passage to sense the presence of the Lord and stay with the passage until you have sensed the very heart of what you have read…your purpose is to take everything from the passage that unveils the Lord to you. Jeanne Guyon (1648-1717)
Those who have lingured long enough to taste and see that the Lord is present know that crowds, noise and busyness are three main enemies of the spiritual life so they have retaliated by finding the time and the place to regularly and privately explore the mystical union between themselves and God.
And it is mystery isn’t it? Even though our Father knows what we need before we ask him, he still insists that we ask. He even instructs us how in The Lord’s Prayer…
Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right; do what’s best— as above, so below (from the MSG) for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever (NAS)
Is it possible that the global revival that we had entrusted to Billy Graham and others to spark was always intended to start in our own hearts? Is it conceiveable that the radical thing that God has always intended for the earth was the kingdom of God and that, astonishingly, it has been in the hearts of his children all along? Won’t it be a surprise to discover that God intended Christ in us – the life of God, and the hope of glory, to be the final catalyst in the consummation of the ages?
While we are devouring christian literature (even the bible), cramming our brains with more information, our spirits are likely starving for the birthright of our intimacy with God that is only discovered experientially and privately. The Father didn’t say “If” we pray, he said “when” we pray.
Without the new testament cannon a handful of people filled with the holy spirit became the early Church – an unparalleled agent of change in human history . The men and women of that movement had been profoundly influenced by one primary thing, which even the high priests noticed.
Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 NAS
I do believe that with Jesus’ simple instructions to come to the Father, he has handed us a major key to his kingdom as well as our personal invitation to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. If we are busy and decline to respond as he has instructed then I fear we may be virgins at risk of not having our lamps full when they are most needed.
So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth. Come, let us return to the Lord. Hosea 6:1-3 NAS
Don’t become so well-adjusted to (the pace of) your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Romans 12:2 MSG (emphasis mine)
Important Disclaimer I have tasted of something that is allowing me to enjoy my relationship with God more than ever. But, I don’t trace what transformation I have experienced back to a patented devotional formula or book. I view my devotional life as an effect (or outcome) not a cause. Legitimate change can only come from Christ in me (a great mystery with which I grapple with words most mornings). The kingdom of God is present now wherever Christ is reigning. My new smile is best accounted for by the simple truth that he has become Lord in practice over some additional domain in my heart.
Some debilitating lies were dismantled in my heart with the help of a counselor, it is true. But, the main work is simply God’s Spirit, in the normal course of life, restoring my birthright as his son and his friend. With this as my identity, devotional times have been transformed from obligation to opportunity, from correspondence to communion.
In false humility, I started to say that I haven’t arrived yet, but that is not true. I have. For years, in my insecurity, I sought God with what I thought was all my heart but in retrospect, I think it was actually all (or mostly) my flesh (which, by the way, is religion). I thought if I could just repent deeply enough or acquire that missing piece of information, that just around the corner I would discover the abundant and intimate life I believed existed but that had always eluded me.
My heart was a religious hamster wheel. To my unspeakable joy and delight, after I had spent all my energy, I discovered that it had all been unnecessary. For me to press on to know the Lord meant to acknowledge that in Christ, I had arrived! There was absolutely nothing that I could add that would alter God’s existing affection and devotion to me. I didn’t realize his grip on me until I relaxed my grip on him! Honestly, it was like being born again, again. This is my story and I love to tell it.
Father, by the power that is in us in-Christ, help us to break free of the pull of this earth’s spiritual gravity. Help us to see that by letting go and by celebrating what already is, we are lighter creatures who can soar even today as eagles on the updrafts of your love and affection. This time around, help us to cherish and act upon the invitation as it is extended to us once again. Help us to learn how to just simply and honestly be with you. And Lord, please birth your kingdom in our hearts. Amen.