Monday, May 23, 2016

Born from the Experience

I’m sitting in the peaceful piney woods of East Texas this morning listening to the chorus of birds and worshiping the Creator of it all. I am here this weekend for a 10-mile trail run with a few friends. 

Yesterday, during my early morning prayers before I drove over, God spoke to me through his Word, “God’s presence is my good” (Psalm 73:28). This phrase caught my attention so I sat with it a while meditating. The Spirit compelled me to linger with this phrase so I wrote it on a sticky note which I stuck to the back of my phone. All through the day each time I reached for my phone the note reminded me to pause, reflect, and thank God for his presence. As the day wore on I distinctly felt God saying, “You don’t need to run the trails tomorrow. Just go and enjoy my presence out in my creation.”

My friends were a little perplexed when I told them I would be staying in camp this morning rather than running with them but that’s okay. I’ve learned to accept that ‘many are called but few are chosen’. I’m blessed that God graciously gave me this simple faith in him. I’m very grateful that he has rewarded this faith with his presence which is indeed my good.

While praying, reading, meditating, and just plain enjoying God’s presence I noticed a little tag sewn inside the tail of my Prana shirt which read, “born from the experience.” This catchy little marketing slogan communicates that Prana clothing was created from their experiences in yoga, rock climbing, and trail running. This phrase also brought to my mind how our Christian life—everything we think, say, and do—should be ‘born from the experience’ of knowing God. When I say born from the experience of knowing God I’m not talking about a one-time, once-and-done, static conversion experience of being ‘born again’. The abundant life Christ calls us to is a vibrant, ongoing, moment-by-moment dwelling in the presence of God. It is an ongoing experience of Christ in us.

Looking back to the Prana analogy, their clothing is born from their experiences, but we cannot have good, deep experiences in yoga, rock climbing, trail running, or any other human activity without investing hours of training and practicing our basic skills. Likewise, we simply cannot experience the rich abundant life in Christ with a five-minute daily devotional and a church service on Sunday. You cannot abide in Christ quickly.  Abiding is a slow growth process requiring long stretches of time alone with God.  We see a biblical example of this in the story of Epaphras in Colossians 4:12-13. Paul tells us Epaphras “is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus.” Paul goes on to say, “He is always wrestling in his prayers for you…For I testify he has worked hard for you.” Agonizomai, the Greek word Paul used which is translated ‘wrestling’, means to endeavor with strenuous zeal.  It was used to describe athletes who gave themselves fully to their sport, thus capturing the essence of deep, intensive prayer.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find teaching or examples of this deep abiding in our contemporary evangelical church. But God has not left us without guidance. We need only look back at the great saints and mystics of the past. By examining their lives, we can see this great cloud of witnesses had experiential knowledge of God which led them to abide in Christ. Knowing God became their one all-consuming passion and God rewarded their faithfulness. Many of these saints left writings to help those of us with similar passions for God.

I recently discovered the writings of French Christian mystic François Fenelon (1651-1715). He wrote:
Two main points of attention are necessary to maintain a constant spirit of prayer that unites us with God. We must continually seek to nurture it, and we must avoid everything that tends to make us lose it.
In order to nurture it, we should follow a regular course of reading. We must have appointed times of secret prayer and frequently recall our minds consciously to God during the day. We should make use of quiet days or retreats when we feel the need of them or when they are advised by those more experienced than we…
We should be very afraid of all things that have a tendency to make us lose this state of prayer and be very careful to avoid them.

He concludes:
It is when these truths are inwardly incorporated in us that our praying begins to be real and fruitful. Up to that point, prayer was only a shadow. We thought we had penetrated to the inmost depths of the gospel, when in truth we had barely set foot upon its border.

These are simple instructions that have been proven effective in the lives of many great saints over the centuries.  Simple but very hard to implement in our present, distracted culture.  However, as with any sport or hobby, if we truly want to excel in our spiritual life we must invest the time to develop our basic skills of silence, solitude, reading, and deep prayer.  As these proven practices become a part of our daily lives we will become aware of God’s moment by moment presence with us.  God’s ineffable peace will be ‘born from the experience’.

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