The second half of the class has been spent talking about the various spiritual disciplines which aid our discipleship process, and I have been using Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline as the textbook. We're not covering the entire book, just certain chapters. But even in re-reading those certain chapters, I found myself drawn back to a deep well that I hadn't been drinking out of very often.
I've made little secret of feeling burned and stressed out. But I now know a good chunk of the reason why. I lost the reality of the presence of God. Seriously. I did.
For the past couple of years, I can attest that my prayer life--and even when I prayed for things with my congregation and with congregation members in hospitals, in homes, or what have you, I felt like I was praying to a God who was far off--who was seated in heaven who reigned from on high. It was this God that I was beseeching with my prayers and petitions--hoping upon hope that He would come down and right the wrongs, the illnesses, the drought, or what have you. And while it is certain the Father does indeed sit upon the throne in heaven, it is also certain, His presence is also here on earth right here and right now.
What helped to remind me was Foster's story of a prayer he prayed with a child. I'll recount it from his book:
Imagination often opens the door to faith. If God shows us a shattered marriage whole or a sick person well, it helps us to believe that it will be so. Children instantly understand these things and respond well to praying with the imagination. I was once called to a home to pray for a seriously ill baby girl. Her four-year-old brother was in the room, and so I told him I need his help to pray for his baby sister. He was delighted, and so was I since I know that children can often pray with unusual effectiveness. He climbed up into the chair beside me. "Let's play a little game," I said. "Since we know that Jesus is always with us, let's imagine that he is sitting over in the chair across from us. He is waiting patiently for us to center our attention on him. When we see him, we start thinking more about his love than how sick Julie is. He smiles, gets up, and comes over to us. Then, let's both put our hands on Julie, and when we do, Jesus will put his hands on top of ours. We'll watch the light from Jesus flow into your little sister and make her well. Let's watch the healing power of Christ fight with bad germs until they are all gone. Okay?" Seriously, the little one nodded. Together, we prayed in this childlike way and then thanked the Lord that what we had prayed was the way it was going to be. Now, I do not know exactly what happened, nor how it was accomplished, but I do know that the next morning, Julie was perfectly well. --pp.41-42Now, before you go off thinking Foster is saying that if you do such a thing, then everyone you pray for will get well, let me stop you quickly. He isn't saying that. He makes that clear throughout his chapter on Prayer. But what Foster does in this story and did for me was illustrate the very present nearness and presence of Christ in my life and in our lives. Jesus is here--a very present reality in our midst. And for the past week or so, it has drastically changed how I approach things.
For instance, on Tuesday, I went to visit one of my shut-ins. On the way to her home, I "imagined" Jesus to be in the car with me. I talked to him and sat in silence to listen for a response. After the visit, I told him how much I enjoyed visiting with this woman and the time we spent with her. As we drove, I pointed out to him the various stock tanks that were very low and needed water. I talked to him of the people who had cattle on these lands whose livelihoods depended upon rain. The prayer was a conversation, not a requisition. It just felt completely different. And fulfilling. Will it rain? I don't know, but I know for certain Jesus knows we need it. That's what matters.
There are stories of those who practice the presence of God in this manner throughout the minutes of the day. Brother Lawrence. Frank Laubach. And others. I'm not there yet. I would like to be. I have found it's a struggle with three kids, phones ringing, preparing for sermons and Bible studies. But, for those moments when my mind and heart is aware, it makes a huge difference.
"Jesus, keep me aware of your presence."