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Posts Tagged ‘presence’

Presence 2What do I really want? I have struggled with this question for years. I’m not quite sure how it became such a stumbling block. Sometimes I think I feared that if I spoke my wants, they might sound petty and mundane. Or, worse, I would put my wants out there and they would never be fulfilled. Clearly, by revealing my wants I feel vulnerable.

You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever. [Psalm 73:24-26, NIV]

The synonyms reveal the complexity of the word “want:” choose, need, crave, prefer, require, wish, ache, aspire, covet, fancy, hanker, hunger, long [for], lust, pine, thirst, yearn, and of course, desire. And here’s one answer to my query. Want is generic and covers a broad range of seeking. It’s ok to “want” the daily things of life, from a cup of coffee to a red dress. But want does not capture what God is asking of me within.

In Psalm 73, the word “desire” is more like “take pleasure in” or “delight in.” This is not about longing or wishing, it’s about a state of being, a contentment in being with God, in God. So often, I find myself leaving that place and “hankering” for something else. I am ambushed by the world’s noise and images; every commercial on television, every ad on Facebook, every magazine is telling me what I should be wanting. More, more, more.

But God wants me to enter into the Presence, abide there, and rest.

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Welcome carpet

Who is inviting whom inside? Traditionally, we think of our commitment to the Christ as inviting Presence into ourselves, much like Martha opened her home to Jesus. But what if we are missing something critical in the transaction?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. [Luke 10:38, NIV] Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. [John 15:4, NIV]

Yesterday, I re-discovered a wonderful podcast called “Pray As You Go,” and the question was presented about whose hospitality? For you see, in actuality, it is a two-way street. The Holy Spirit dwells in me and I, in turn, am invited to dwell within the Holy Spirit. I am invited into mutuality.

I am not saying we are equal, not at all. That kind of thinking can get a person into trouble, imagining herself as a God, capable of rendering miracles much like Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty.

Instead, it’s another way of thinking about the “secret place,” but more literally, within the heart of God. Because of Jesus’s humanity and godhood, it is possible to indwell Spirit. I am invited. The door is open. And in the same way, I am asked to keep my own doors open to God on earth, the Holy Spirit of Jesus. And the more we spend time within, the more we become one.

I think I may have misunderstood along the way that this oneness was automatic at my transformation, my first “welcome, please come in” acceptance of Jesus. But more and more, I am convinced that it’s a process of living together, like an old married couple. Sure, we’re committed and it’s forever, but the nuances of relationship and “knowing” come over the years.

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keep walkingAnd yet, there are times–in fact, many times, when our hearts are full of hope, our spirits are at rest, and our eyes are looking forward, but the way does not clear. And despite these words:

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; . . .

[Psalm 112:6-8, NIV]

We are shaken and we fear and we hesitate. That’s right. It happens.

I know these things for I lived them. I have walked with confidence and I have seen the glory of the Lord, like a true Shekhinah. I have shaken in the Presence and I have heard the voice of God. I have trusted when there was nothing to trust and I have known steadfastness. My faith is strong.

But that doesn’t mean I am not human. Nor does it mean that I do not fall in my faith. I weep and I call out to God, who has seemed to forsake me. I have walked the lonely corridor where no door is open and no light shines ahead.

Why do I write this? Because I was reminded yesterday in service, to keep going. Just keep going. There is something in the going that eventually reveals the underlying truth. Only when I have stopped, even briefly, have I seen the effects of fear grow roots. And to move, after stopping, gets harder and harder, the longer I delay.

I walk. I go. And my confidence in the Presence of Christ Jesus returns. First as a whisper, but eventually as a song.

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Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Today I am the dove who asks for God’s strong hand to carry me, to disentangle me from the barb wire of my current circumstances, to confirm my faith in the Way and to show the doubters how God provides. I know my afflictions are minor compared to the great tragedies of the world, so I claim the dove as my emblem.

Remember how the enemy has mocked you, Lord,
    how foolish people have reviled your name.
Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts;
    do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever. [Psalm 74:18-19]

I am looking for a confirmation or perhaps I should confess, I’m looking for a sign. That’s so childish, I know. But if I am honest with myself, that’s the truth. I am quieting myself as much as I can in the midst of a very busy week, each night a program or meeting or work that requires my attention. In between, keeping the house impeccable for showings as well as taming the flourishing vegetation after our heavy rains. Calling in repair men and dear friends to do those things I cannot do. And prepping for book group and writing for writing group and volunteering for church and Opera House Foundation. All the while, looking for a place to move within my new, much smaller budget once our house does sell. And then, balancing the adult kids, one pregnant, another frustrated with me and my “needs,” and another out of state. Yada yada yada.

Hear my prayer, Oh Lord. Keep me mindful. Help me practice your Presence in the cracks. For this reason I fast, to step away from the daily preparation and consumption of food at the least. People spend a lot of time on this, I see, from planning a meal to purchasing the ingredients to preparing it, eating it, and cleaning up.

The tears come easily. I am at the six month mark this weekend of losing my husband. The time is harder now than it was before in many ways. This grieving thing is a harsh and unpredictable road. It’s so much more than simply loss of a loved one, it’s the transitioning to a new lifestyle, a new identity, a touchless world, an aloneness, and a limbo, always in doubt of the future.

Despite all the idiosyncrasies of Mike, he was a rock to our family, a given in the midst of change. Not that God is not a rock, of course. But I am not so full of the Christ Spirit that I do not need or want the comfort of my mate. We survived a lot of troubles and disappointments together. We stood the test of time, half my life.

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anxietyHistorically, I have not been an anxious person but when I checked the definition, I recognize a build up of some anxiety over the last few months, understandable I suppose, as a relatively new widow. The future carries a lot of unknowns that have generated emotionally charged days. Anxiety is a state of mind created from an expectation of future threat. I get that, totally, as they say. But I am told, instead:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Phillipans 4:6-7, NIV]

The essential information here is that anxiety can be pushed back successfully, but not by trying to “not be anxious.” Instead, I am encouraged to actively transfer my anxious feelings into and onto the Holy Spirit, that Presence within, that gift of God, who is willing to apply a strong filter. The future is still unknown and filled with dangers even, but a God perspective minimizes its impact and ability to cause actual anxiety.

It’s important to ask for help. That’s where the prayer part fits in.

grief angelI believe God is actually OK with me learning how to handle some difficult situations (as part of maturing). The more time and energy I spend with God, the more I am able to walk with God, be more like God, and dwell in the Presence of Christ’s Spirit. But, it’s important to keep tabs on this relationship. My tendency has been to blunder along and convince myself that I can do it all, I can manage, I can handle hard feelings and I can make lots of decisions, all the while working full time and running a household (at least, what’s left of it). That’s the old me who used her busyness and quick thinking and “bull in a china shop” approach to everything in order to side-step the anxiety, a fear of failure, overwhelming loss and grief.

That will not work this time. I have discovered that I, too, can drop into a kind of general malaise that manifests as anxiety that is peppered with muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue, and problems in concentration.

So, I’m asking God. Right now. I’m asking for that transcendent Jesus to go to work now. Thanks.

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Photo by Wayne Karberg

Photo by Wayne Karberg

I know just enough about “cultivating” anything that it’s hard work. Last summer, I had my first 10×10 vegetable garden. Just getting the dirt right was huge and honestly, somewhat costly. So, when I ask God to “teach me” how to do something, I understand there’s going to be work involved. I’d like it to be a fairy godmother thing, but it’s not.

Teach me your way, Lord,
so that I can walk in your truth.
Make my heart focused
only on honoring your name.
I give thanks to you, my Lord, my God,
with all my heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.  [Psalm 86:11-12, CEB]

So, what will this teaching look like?

Since I probably don’t naturally comprehend the “way” of God, I mean, not really, there will be nudging, I’m sure, and correction. I don’t like correction. Honestly. It’s not that I think I’m perfect (although some of my issues come from trying to be); I get defensive all the time as though getting suggestions for an upgrade or recommended modifications to my behavior means I’m worthless. Where did that black and white response originate?

Okay, along with adjustments to my path, I will also need to learn how to focus. Great. Back in the day when multi-tasking was the buzzword, I was golden. But now, the latest and greatest productivity gurus are recommending single focus, laser vision, and essentialism. Guess what? God expects the same kind of focus. Over the years, I have had a few of these intense experiences; I have been in God’s Presence, and when I was, the excess baggage fell away. It’s a form of “flow,” but spiritually-based.

And yet, despite those wonderful encounters, it’s not my norm today. So, for me to learn God-flow, I must be much more intentional. I will have to actually say “no” to some of my favorite peeps and activities. That’s where the teaching/learning will start. I get that. I can’t expect to center on God’s presence while running from one meeting to another, one commitment to the next. In this week alone, I will have worked or volunteered or attended an event every night of the week in addition to my clocked in 37.5 hours.

energizer-bunny-downPart of me is running from the grief, I know it. Another part of me is caught up in the momentum, like a wind, and I’m not sure how hard the landing will be if I stop flying, so keep going, the energizer bunny is back. But the cost?

Here is the correction: I took on Lent with a vengeance, as though participating in Photo-a-Day or Praying the Hours or creating a devotional or blogging every day here, would focus my energy, my heart, my soul, and mind on Christ. And God has blessed those efforts, but they are not the stuff of “being still” with God.

This is how I know. We are promised: if we spend time in God-flow, thanksgiving will burst forth naturally. And why? Because, when we are in that flow and experience the wonder, magnificence, and holiness of God, we are inspired to appreciate God’s Presence. An authentic response to God in Earth and God in Me and God in Thee is thanksgiving and praise. God is God, the Alpha and Omega, who was and is and is to come. Thanks be to God. Make that real in me.

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underwater with godHow can I get better at prayer? I know the answer, more or less. Nike gives me a hint: “Just Do It!”

But what makes a good pray-er? What makes my prayer better than yours or even better than the one I prayed yesterday? It’s not just quantitative. But, if I pray more often or longer, will that make me a prayer warrior? God forbid if I’m back to navigating the challenges “praying continually.” On one website, I read that a prayer warrior is one who prays continually (sigh) AND prays effectively!

Now, that’s another challenge. Unfortunately, I’m most people might assume that the primary measure would be answered prayers or well-timed prayers. No surprise, there are websites that have the “12 secrets to praying effectively” or “15 steps (with pictures) to pray effectively” and so on.

But then I read these words:

I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.
Your ways, God, are holy.

    What god is as great as our God? [Psalm 77:11-13, NIV]

It’s not about me and what I say or do. Effective prayer is connecting with a Holy God, surrendering to the Presence of God within, conversing with, in, and through the Holy Spirit, by calling on the mediation of Jesus, the Christ, who makes it all possible.

God is Holy. I cannot “move” God or convince God or manipulate God. I am, however, invited to learn of God and to delight in God.

Righteous Father, even the world didn’t know you, but I’ve known you, and these believers know that you sent me.  I’ve made your name known to them and will continue to make it known so that your love for me will be in them, and I myself will be in them.” [John 17:25-26, CEB]

Just so.

Right now, prayer feels like I’m trying to sit on the bottom of the pool. I’m holding my breath. I’m treading water. I’m working hard. But the goal is to float and eventually, even breathe (total trust). Easy does it.

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