There has been a lingering question among Christ followers ever since the earliest days after Jesus rose to sit at the Father’s right hand. That question has driven people to take some rather bizarre actions. Jesus told his followers that, in some unexplained way, he would always be present with them. “Abide in me, and I in you,” Jesus told them. In another place he said, “As you are going on your way, make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe the things that I have commanded you; and look! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The question is a simple one…“How”?
This question is difficult to answer. Well, actually, there are probably as many answers as there are people asking. Some of them better than others. I have read many ‘How to…’ books and articles. They pore over the Scriptures and try to glean whatever tips they can. The Psalms are a favorite field from which they harvest seeds that sprout into various methods and procedures. A few years ago someone ripped a process out of context and made a lot of money on something called The Prayer of Jabez. There seems to be no lack of people who try to distill some easy, painless way to touch the heart of God. But, in my experience, our Western ‘have it my way…right now!’ mentality will not work.
There were people in the early years of this era who also searched for God. Some of these were called Anchorites and hermits. Men and women would go into the wilderness in order to separate themselves from the distractions of society. The wilderness served as a metaphor for the realm of the devil. This idea came from Jesus’ experience after his baptism. He was taken to the desert where he was tempted. Anchorites desired to follow his example. They spent hours each day in prayer and contemplation. Many reported receiving ‘consolation’ or a special grace from God during these times. God was present with them.
Throughout Church history there have been people who have experienced God’s special presence. These ‘mystics’ practiced many different ways of prayer. In the 16th century St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Ávila offered their lives to God through prayer and service. They worked to establish a lay order called the Discalced Carmelites. (Discalced meaning ‘without shoes.’) Prayer and contemplation were their food and drink. Later, another monk named Brother Lawrence learned how to live in the presence of God through diligent practice. He spent his days serving his order in the kitchen. Nothing glamorous. But, he continually brought his thoughts and mind to dwell on God. These are but three examples of people who sought for God’s presence and found God to be a gracious friend.
As I have studied the lives of people like these, I have found that there is no simple method. There is no ‘Users’ Manual’ that provides step-by-step instructions with exploded diagrams and footnotes. I began my own journey in the inward life by realizing that being present with God was the first step. I took 3 words in Hebrew to describe this: hineni Adonai avedka. “Behold, Lord, Your servant.” These three words were the first ones out of my mouth each day as I prayed. They became a declaration to myself and to God that I was present. I worked hard to focus my heart and mind on being present. It is a discipline that takes time to learn and more time to practice. Please note the words ‘worked hard’ and ‘discipline.’ Evan as the days became weeks, then months, and I began to notice the task becoming more and more a natural part of my day, I had to work at it. After awhile, I realized that God had been providing the necessary grace for me to even begin. What had seemed like my own idea and practice was actually God fulfilling the words that Jesus had spoken to his disciples. Jesus was ‘with’ me. He was present. Maybe, he was just waiting for me to join him.