Prayer

A Little Lower than God! Part 5: Open the Door, then Close It!

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In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol we’re introduced to Ebenezer Scrooge, a man “secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” Individuality becomes pathological when taken to extreme. We’re made for love and love requires a community where we find others to love. Nevertheless, the spiritual life begins alone and requires a regular return to solitude if it’s to flourish.

We have been considering the self as a contained space, a city that is to be enclosed within walls (Prov. 25:28). Last time we heard Jesus speaking of the self as a house. He says he stands at its door knocking, waiting for an invitation to come in. Once we’ve opened the door and embraced the presence of Jesus, he promises to eat with us. That is, he promises an intimate, satisfying experience such as good friends enjoy around a dinner table. God invites us to a delicious fellowship, firstly with him alone–a fellowship in which we come to know the unique, particular love God has for us personally. Without that experience we will not truly love others. Jesus’ certainty of this kind of relationship with his Heavenly father gave him the ability to love the disciples right to the bitter end (John 13:1).

Therefore, once we invite Jesus inside, he directs us to close the door, at times, to everything and everyone else. “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mat. 6:6). Today it is increasingly difficult to slam the door as hundreds of ads, demands and other distractions try to pry their way into our inner world daily. However, If we don’t find this “secret place,” we’re not likely to enjoy our spiritual life a whole lot.

I was taught that inviting Jesus inside means that he comes into the deepest part of me. He is there whether I feel him or not. However, if I come to believe that Jesus only dwells beyond my conscious mind, my expectation of meaningful interaction with him will fade. I begin to believe I can’t experience his presence and I end up living with an empty place at the table. It is as though I have opened the door to Jesus, but then bade him go straight to the basement until I summon him in time of need.

To be sure, there is great value in believing that Jesus lives in the deepest part of me whether I sense him or not. This assurance encourages me during times when I feel distant from God. However, if it morphs into a life of always feeling distant from God something is drastically wrong. He’s deep down in the basement and I’m not even really sure which room he’s in. I don’t go there much anyway.

The idea of Jesus in my innermost being is pretty much inaccessible to me in daily life. What lies beyond my consciousness is of no great practical value. The critical thing is  knowing that I can talk to him as one rational being to another. I can invite him into my ordinary thought life in any room of my house. When I get anxious because of my job or my family or my health I can go, as it were, to the kitchen where Jesus waits for me to share my concerns with him over a cup of tea. When I have conflict with someone, I can invite Jesus to pace back and forth with me in the living room as I wrestle with how I can overcome my anger. In the family room, I can give thanks for the enjoyment of family and the company of friends.

If we shut the door to be with God alone, Jesus says the Father will reward us. If this has anything to do with some great position of power, as some Christians allege, it does so only incidentally. It is not God’s power but his love that woos us. His presence is all the reward we need (Gen. 15;1).

“Father, we long for that intimate fellowship with you. We’re amazed that you long for communion with us too! Help us to be faithful in shutting the door to all that is outside. May we learn to experience the great love which you have for each one of us individually. Then we will be able to fulfill your heart’s desire of loving others as Jesus loves us.”

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christian · Prayer

Responding to the Spirit (excerpt from “Whispers that Delight”)

The Spirit of Our Actions is What Counts

When we speak of responding to God in prayer, therefore, we do not mean an intellectual exercise of trying to discern our marching orders for the day (though he could direct us to specific actions, as we shall see). Our Father’s first order of business is not to assign tasks, but to transform hearts. He seeks a profound response, something we cannot manufacture by human ability. God is a Spirit and his kingdom a spiritual one. His interest lies in the attitude or spirit with which we carry out even the smallest task. Not what we do, but how we do it matters most. Jesus highlights this truth when he draws the disciples’ attention to a widow putting two small copper coins in the offering box (Luke 21:1-4). Her offering, though appearing paltry, dwarfed all the others because she gave with great love and self-sacrifice. The amount of money given was irrelevant. The only measurement that mattered was the size of her heart. On another occasion, Jesus conveys this principle to his disciples by telling them that something as inconsequential as the giving of a cup of cold water, when done with the right attitude, has eternal benefits (Mark 9:41).

God concerns himself with our spirit, something we cannot change on our own. He must work his grace into our lives through prayer. By looking to Jesus, not only do we understand that our response to God should be one of love, we are also empowered to carry it out. Just spending time listening to him automatically makes us more loving people in the same way one coal irradiates another. Frank Bartleman describes a prayer meeting during the great Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit in the early 1900s when Jesus manifested himself for several hours to Bartleman and a friend. He said, “my whole being seemed to flow down before him, like wax before the fire,” and, Jesus “ravished our spirits with his presence.” The story fascinates me primarily because of the effect Bartleman says the encounter had upon him. “For days that marvellous presence seemed to walk by my side. The Lord Jesus was so real. I could scarcely take up with human conversation again. It seemed so crude and empty. Human spirits seemed so harsh, earthly fellowship a torment. How far we are naturally from the gentle spirit of Christ!” When we spend time with Jesus we conduct ourselves with a kinder, gentler disposition. He sweetens our spirit and softens the hard edges of our personality.

Without a revelation of Christ’s love, we cannot respond adequately. God demands our all and we will not give it unless we know his love by experience. We cannot give ourselves to someone we do not fully trust and we can only trust if we believe the person has our best interest at heart. The revelation of divine love loosens our grip on self-will and allows us to surrender to God’s will.