Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Entering the Presence of God

January 18, 2016

Most of the time my world is pretty cerebral. Emotions and I are not always on speaking terms. This applies to my life in Christ as well. When I listen to people speak of their spiritual life in glowing terms describing heights of ecstasy or intimacy, I have often wondered what is wrong with me that I don't have those kinds of experiences. Most of the time when reading the Bible, it reads like words on a page, and only rarely do I have one of those "aha!" moments in which God seems to be speaking a word of revelation to me. It works like the rest of my life -  pretty cerebral.

Recently I picked out a book that's been on my shelf for some time. Written by James Finley, a former Trappist monk, the subtitle of "Christian Meditation" is "experiencing the presence of God." Some of it is a bit oozy-woozy for my tastes, but there are some gems in it. For example, "As wonderful and consoling as feelings of God's presence might be, they are not God." That is an important observation. Years ago in a sermon, I put it this way: "The God of your experience is not the same as your experience of God." How we feel at any given moment is no indication of God's presence in our lives. A heroin high may feel good, but it isn't God. Everyone wants to feel good, but good feelings aren't the measure of our devotion or of God's favor.

Finley continues, "If our meditation is devoid of any sense of God's presence, we are to remind ourselves that the absence of spiritual consolations, though perhaps difficult, is but the absence of what is infinitely less than the infinite union with God that alone fills our heart." That is a profound statement. We grieve the absence of the experience which is itself less than God. So we keep seeking. The Psalms are replete with gut-wrenching cries of those who felt abandoned by God. So I continue to read and pray, and struggle with this business of meditation and my impatience with it.

Ultimately, obsession with the experience is doomed to failure because when I worry about the experience, I am focused on myself and not God. Staring at one's spiritual navel is no way to enter the presence of the living God. Psalm 100:4 tells us how it works. "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise." No matter how or what I feel, this is the sure door into the presence of God. My pastor when I was a teenager had a sign on his desk; "Praise the Lord Anyway" it proclaimed. Pretty good advice, which I will follow tonight, no matter what I feel.

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