Why can’t I feel God’s presence?

I think I forgot to post this article when I wrote it for Christian Today – it’s done pretty well on the internet and I’m not surprised – it’s a common question, and it’s an important one! Knowing the presence and peace of God is one of the most wonderful aspects of Christian faith. We may not always have it, but seeking it is always worth it.

Quotes from Mother Theresa

Mother Theresa has been in the news as she has been made a saint by the Catholic church. Hence why I looked out some inspiring quotes from her for Christian Today. Interesting how much emphasis she put on loving those closest to us, which is often the hardest to do. It’s easy to feel compassion for the suffering who are far away, and donate a bit to charity – but loving those in our own community and especially in our own house is more difficult.

God is love

I’m reading a lot of Neil Anderson books at the moment, and I recently came across this gem, actually from one of his colleagues, Steve Goss. I thought I’d share it with you.

Here is a basic truth: God is love. You already knew that, didn’t you? But od you really know it, have you made a deep connection with it? For example, if God really is love, it means that he simply cannot not love you. The love of God is not dependent on the one being loved but on the character of the one doing the loving. God is love. That’s his nature. He couldn’t not love you. It doesn’t make any difference whether you perform excellently one day, and mess up the next. God will still love you because God is love. Nothing can make God love you more or love you less. It has nothing to do with you – or what you do or do not do – it’s all about him.

Faith is seeing things as they really are. If you saw that truth as it really is, would it have an effect on how you felt about yourself and consequently on your behaviour? More than likely. This is where the rubber hits the road in terms of how the rest off your life as a follower of Christ works out.

From ‘Free to be yourself: enjoy your true nature in Christ’ by Steve Goss.

I think if we all really knew this truth, it would transform the church, and then the world…

A beautiful prayer

I’m just finishing Heinrich Arnold’s book, ‘Discipleship’, which I’d heartily recommend. Lots of helpful wisdom, very Biblical, very absorbed in the reality of Christ’s presence with us. I thought I’d share one little prayer, which I think is beautiful:

The Spirit pierces hearts like a sword
that cuts through bone and marrow.

We plead: give us your Holy Spirit
and pierce us deep into the past,
into the present, into the future.

May Jesus enter deep into our hearts and change them.

May he reach his hand into our past,
to the ultimate beginning of our being.

The Holy Spirit can change all things.

We believe this.

For this, Jesus experienced godforsakenness
on the Cross.

Darkness and light: the crucifixion and ISIS

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Today I was given a clear picture of the scene of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, as I was reading Matthew 27. I saw how much hatred there was in the crowd, and in the religious leaders, and in the soldiers. The crowd was shouting for Jesus to be viciously tortured and killed – full of murderous rage and evil. The leaders were desperate to find something wrong in Jesus and to condemn him for blasphemy – and so have him killed and tortured. The soldiers were mocking and taunting him and drove nails into him. There was no compassion, no mercy – just hate and evil.

And yet Jesus did not fight back, he did not try to defend himself. He did not try to justify himself. He remained pure, and good, and holy. Even when he was in agony on the Cross, he still said to his Father: ‘Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’. The darkness was raging around him, throwing its worst at him, hating him, hurting him and cruelly mistreating him. Yet Jesus remained the same – pure and loving – and full of mercy.

It struck me very clearly and forcefully how the evil of the crowd was darkness, but how brightly Jesus was the light. As it says in John 1:5:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

It also struck me how similar kinds of darkness have expressed themselves throughout history. The crusades, the gas chambers, and the modern-day atrocities committed by ISIS are all examples of the darkness expressing itself. All too often, it prompts evil and hate in return. But to have the mind of Christ is to stay pure, stay loving, stay forgiving in that situation. That is completely impossible for a human being, but it is possible for Christ living in us. That light cannot go out – we must let it shine within us, and keep the darkness out of our souls – even when the darkness rages outside.

The search for true intimacy and love

I love this post about developing intimacy with God. So often, intimacy is confused with romance or sex. But true emotional intimacy and love is what we all need. The ultimate source of this is God. I’d really recommend reading the post. Here’s a quote:

The first step to developing an intimate (and fulfilling) love relationship with God is to admit that the abundant life He promises will never be found in another person. Instead, as the definition of zoe (life) shows, true abundant life is internal and it’s found in Christ alone.

Once we have that intimacy and love relationship with God, then we can start to share our love with others.

She writes again in a different post about emotional intimacy, which I really agree with:

There is one particular key to open the Intimacy Door in your relationships: it’s called the Key of Acceptance. Because intimacy means that we allow another person to “see into” us and they allow us to “see into” them, the Key of Acceptance must be used. After all, no one wants to allow someone to “see into” their heart who is controlling, judgmental, critical, sarcastic, unforgiving, abusive, selfish or just plain nasty.

So, if you want others to open their heart to you, you’ve got to give them a safe to do so. Why? Because the truth is that while most of us may act like we’re not afraid of anything, in the deepest part of ourselves, our hearts are very tender, fragile and generally fearful of relational pain. For hearts to thrive in intimacy, they’ve got to feel safe and accepted.

This is true for all relationships – whether romantic or platonic. But perhaps, first of all, we’ve got to accept God’s love for us, deep and truly from the tips of our toes to the hairs on our head.

Pearls of wisdom from “The Cloud of Unknowing” (Christian contemplative prayer/meditation)

The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works (Penguin Classics)

I’ve just finished reading the medieval Christian book “The Cloud of Unknowing”, which is a classic of Christian mysticism. I always take such books with a pinch of salt, because I think you’ve got to approach mysticism carefully and use the Bible as your boundary. But I did find a lot of great wisdom in this little book. Here are some examples, with quotes:

1) Seek God for God alone, and not what He can give you

Peace, love and the Spirit are wonderful benefits of contemplative prayer – but not always. And one of the blocks to knowing God that I’ve found is if I’m only doing the prayer to feel good. Instead, it’s important to just seek God and God alone – love requires that we are not seeking for only what we can get.

Lift up your heart to God with humble love: and mean God himself, and not what you get out of him… Try to forget all created things that he ever made, and the purpose behind them, so that your thought and longing do not turn or reach out to them either in general or in particular.

There’s encouragement to wait in prayer, even when it seems difficult:

When you first begin, you find only darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing. You don’t know what this means except that in your will you feel a simple steadfast intention reaching out towards God. Do what you will, and this darkness and this cloud remain between you and God… Reconcile yourself to wait in this darkness as long as is necessary, but still go on longing after him whom you love.

2) Christian meditation / contemplative prayer is very different to Eastern, Buddhist styles of meditation

It’s not a game of trying to seek knowledge, and pride is a danger.

Whoever hears or reads about all this, and thinks that it is fundamentally an activity of the mind, and proceeds then to work it all out along these lines, is on quite the wrong track. He manufactures an experience that is neither spiritual or physical. He is dangerously missed and in real peril.

Indeed he points out that you need a foundation of knowing your own sinfulness, meditating on the Cross and the kindness of God.

See to it that there is nothing at work in your mind or will but only God. Try to suppress all knowledge and feeling of anything less than God, and trample it down deep under the cloud of forgetting.

Although the Christian meditator is seeking to lose ‘self’ it is ONLY to give it to God in love – to surrender all we have to our Creator.

3) As you reach towards God, run away from all that is bad

By its very definition, if you are seeking God you must turn away from all wrongdoing – all sin.

In itself prayer is nothing else than a devout setting of our will in the direction of God in order to get good, and remove evil… all evil is summed up in sin… if we pray with intention for the acquiring of goodness, let us pray, in word or thought or desire, no other word than ‘God’. For in God is all good, for he is its beginning and its being.

Being aware of this great separation can be a help if we’re struggling with sin, or with hiding from God:

Feel sin in its totality – as a lump – without specifying any particular part, and that all of it is you. And then cry ceaselessly in your spirit this one thing: ‘Sin! Sin! Sin! Help! Help! Help!

4) The fruit of contemplative prayer is love, and intimacy with Christ

This kind of prayer is done to know God more, and to love him more.

The nature of love is that it shares everything. Love Jesus, and everything he has is yours.

…He may, perhaps, send out a shaft of spiritual light, which pierces this cloud of unknowing beteween you, and show you some of his secrets… then will you feel your affection flame with the fire of his love, far more than I can possibly say now…

Happy praying!

A summary of Tom Wright’s “Surprised by Hope”

I love this quote from Wright’s “Surprised by Hope”, which I think summarises the whole book quite well:

Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God.”

It’s expanding on 1 Cor 15:58: “Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless”.
I find this massively encouraging! Keep loving, peeps…

Stuff. Addictions. Simplicity. Why live a simple life?

Shopaholic

Shopaholic (Photo credit: Monerda)

What do you worship? What can’t you live without? It might be your fast car, lipstick or your football team. It might be your new house, your carefully selected wardrobe or your TV. It might even be your partner or your job. I think that making a list of these things can really help us to learn spiritually.

If we look at Jesus, we see someone whose only priorities were loving people and his Father. He told us in Matthew 8:20 that he had ‘no place even to lay his head’. He was homeless, and without possessions. He was supported by some disciples, we learn in Luke, and he was blessed with other people’s perfumes and hospitality. But his life was one of pure simplicity: loving, teaching and serving.

If this is our model, we can question some of our attachments to things of this world. Are we actually addicted to our techology and our material possessions? An alcoholic can’t live without his drink – what’s the difference with being attached to other kinds of material objects? What would happen if everything went up in smoke – the computers, the DVDs, the clothes and the cars?

Perhaps material objects were meant only to serve us and help us in our life – but we’re in a situation where most of us are serving them instead. I love this which flies round social media now and then:

We were created to
Love people and use things
The world is in a mess because
We are loving things and using people

The less stuff we have and need, the more we can give to others: of money and time for example. The less time we spend buying and earning, the more time we can spend loving. Let’s follow the example of Jesus, and worship only the Father, and seek our treasure in heaven alone. God is the only thing worthy of worship, after all.