Archive for October, 2019

Gazing Upon God

How can we gaze upon God when we can’t see him? He is invisible. No one can see him and live he tells us. Yet he wants to reveal himself through the eyes of our faith. We see him through the Word, nature, circumstances and in many other ways. But he also can reveal himself through our contemplation. What’s that?

I recently read a book entitled Embracing Contemplation – Reclaiming A Christian Spiritual Practice. Many of my thoughts that follow are based upon this book.

Biblical contemplation is gazing on the face of God as he reveals himself through the Spirit. “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (27:4, NIV).

We depend on him to reveal himself. We don’t conjure up the presence of God and dictate what we see. Instead, we expect to receive an experience of his presence as he chooses.

This makes my “skin crawl” even as I write this. I am a conservative evangelical and have been trained to cling to the Word and mediation to insure purity of experience of God. In practicing contemplation, we depend on God to show himself to us as a direct experience through the Spirit, not indirectly through nature, circumstances, and people’s lives.

We trust God to use the Word to reveal himself in a deep way to our hearts. It’s one thing to know God loves us; it’s another to experience it. “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully” (Ephesians 3:18-19, NLT). God uses his Word and our minds to reveal to our hearts how much he loves us.

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Why mess with biblical contemplation? After all, it can be risky. It’s subjective. It requires depending on the Spirit to reveal God. But don’t we depend on the Spirit to interpret Scripture – if not we run the risk of legalism – taking it literally but missing the spiritual truth?

Biblical contemplation helps us avoid a dull, lifeless spirituality that’s practices at the thinking and behavioral level and misses the heart. We can learn to embrace the Christian life as an experience of God and not just knowledge about God. “So, all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NLT).

We can’t make it happen. We depend on God to reveal himself. Our job is to prepare our hearts to receive what he wants to show and tell us. It can involve meditating on Scripture but goes beyond just thinking about God, but also communing with him.

I have been practicing contemplation lately to request him to reveal a happy memory. I then ask him where he was in the scene and if he wants to say anything to me from the scene. I often ask him to keep me from forcing an image or putting words in his mouth. I then wait, but usually not long for an image or his words. All this serves to build an experiential relationship with him of trust and love.

We do need to pray and concentrate on what he wants to reveal and expect he will.

May we learn to experience the love of Christ in a deeper way through the Christian practice of contemplation, so we “will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:19, NLT).

 

 

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God is always with us, but mostly we live as if he weren’t. Jacob wrestled with him all night and didn’t realize he was wrestling with God. “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16, NAS) Jacob later said. How often do we fail to realize God is in our circumstances, although he controls them all?

Many days I fail to see God in most of my circumstances. I seem go through a day as if I were on my own again, making life work through my wits and wisdom. I feel good about the pleasant things and complain regarding the painful ones.

God expects us not to fear because we always have him with us to protect and help us through every painful and scary circumstance. “Do not fear, I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10, NAS) he says to us.

And yet I fear – why? Because I am more aware of the overwhelming circumstances which I believe I am going to face alone than his promise to help, strengthen and uphold me in them. The challenge is to believe what God promises, not what my sinful nature is screaming at me. May we grow in obeying the commandment to put to death the screaming of our old nature by depending on the Spirit, and listen to the quiet comforting from Jesus that we are safe (Ephesians 4:22-23).

His presence shows up in little ways – in the eyes of a child, in the plea for help from someone needy, in the life of a godly person, as well as in the life of Jesus. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, NAS).

So how do we become more aware of Jesus throughout the day and depend on his presence?

First, we need to accept the fact he is sovereign. Nothing happens to us that he hasn’t ordained or allowed. “The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything” (Psalm 103:19).

We need to look for him in our circumstances – not necessarily understanding why, but accepting the fact our circumstances have his approval.

We can find Jesus in the Bible as the Holy Spirit takes the Word and applies it to our hearts – not just knowing the truth but experiencing it at the trust and feeling level as we rely on him.

We can find Jesus in books. A couple of years ago I sought God for what role he wanted me to have in furthering spiritual formation in our church. After reading a book called Visioning by Andy Stanley and taking some tests from the book, I understood it was not God’s will for me to lead the charge but to support the one who did have that responsibility.

And we can become aware of his presence in what he has made. We just returned from a vacation in Portland, Oregon, where we stayed on the edge of a forest filled with redwood trees, squirrels, birds and vegetation covering the steep slopes. I felt God’s presence and peace there.

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May we learn to become aware and experience his presence in all areas of our lives as we walk with him through a difficult and sometimes scary journey.

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