Category Archives: Spirit-Led Living/Spiritual Growth

Articles on how to grow spiritually and how to flow better with the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life

“But, How Open?”

Benefiting from Buddhism is a series of articles on how to learn from and grow through interaction with those who think, believe, or live differently than we. In the first article, How do Christianity and Buddhism Mix?” we looked at our different options. Do we want to be Blenders, Borrowers, or simply Inspired? In the second article, “What is an Authentic Spiritual Journey?” we talked about the importance of honesty, openness, intentionality, and eagerness for those who are serious about spiritual growth. But the question remains, how open should we be? For the Christian who already believes that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, what is the real goal of being open? And, what kind of openness is appropriate for Christians and truly fruitful on an authentic spiritual journey?

Conversation in the Pagoda

What is the Holy Spirit saying?

Contrary to what you might think, staying open in the midst of a conversation is less about the thoughts, beliefs, and feelings of the other person and more about God. While each of us has so much we can learn from other people who think differently than we do, the priority is on listening for what the Holy Spirit wants to say or do through the encounter.

When you are sensitive to the Holy Spirit in interpersonal relations, you are likely to become more understanding and less judgmental. You will feel more compassion and want to respond to that person with respect and kindness as a fellow human being. The Holy Spirit is not going to prompt you to water down your commitment to Christ, but may show you something you would not have seen or thought of otherwise. The Spirit may also remind you of a truth in Scripture or in your faith that you have forgotten or put aside, but now need to take hold of once again. By being open to the Spirit in such circumstances, the possibilities for God to work in your life are limitless.

For example, within just the past couple of months, the Spirit spoke to me very meaningfully through encounters with Buddhists, Muslims, and an agnostic. An hour discussion sitting on the floor with a Buddhist monk in Mandalay reminded me (once again) to not assume I know what others believe just because of the clothes they wear or the label associated with them. His articulate philosophy inspired me to do a better job making sure others know the heart of my faith and life.

Listening to a renowned Buddhist philosopher, Mandalay

Through a brief conversation in a small city square, a Muslim mother told me how she could manage raising five small children with her husband thousands of miles away in Pakistan. Her simple faith reminded me to look to God for strength to do whatever I’ve been called to do.

An agnostic friend of mine blew me away with his ridiculous acts of generosity. He refuses to take credit and insists that he does what he does to meet some need of his own. But his example led me to prayer, to ask God for the ability (grace) to not let my fear and greed hold me back from giving more spontaneously and generously to those in need.

Not one of these people read a verse from Scripture or referenced Jesus Christ, and clearly none of them would call themselves a Christian. Yet the Holy Spirit used the encounter to speak to me, to touch me, and to move me another step on my spiritual journey in ways that I deeply treasure.

Pakistani Muslim friends, Chartres, France

I’m not worried about being too open to others, because I know how much Jesus Christ means to me, and I am continually looking to the Holy Spirit to help me sort out and benefit from all that I am experiencing. However, I don’t want to suggest that you don’t have to be thoughtful and prayerful about listening to others.

Talking with someone who articulately believes something different can be very disorienting, confusing, or troubling for many different reasons. Yet, rather than run away from the discomfort, and certainly rather than letting yourself just get swept away by every new idea that comes along, learn how to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the encounter. The following are 10 suggestions that might help.

Making the Most of the Encounter—10 safe steps you can take with the Holy Spirit

  1. Ask the Holy Spirit to prepare you to hear God’s voice through your encounters with others, and to lead you to the people you can learn from.
  2. Reach out to others. Sounds pretty simple, but most of us stay within our own little, safe circles. Seek out those who think or believe differently than you, and look for an opportunity to exchange views and experiences with one another.
  3. Ask God to help you to listen without judgment and to love without strings. The goal of an encounter is not to quickly size someone up, but to genuinely connect mind to mind, heart to heart, and soul to soul.
  4. Expect and ask for the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the encounter. Notice whatever strikes you as interesting or important in the conversation. Particularly take note of whatever is true, good, or beautiful, no matter who said it or who did it.
  5. Ask questions. Be curious. Seek better understanding wherever needed or wanted.
  6. Be ready to share with the other person how your faith in Christ and your experience with God have been a gift to you. Don’t use theological or formulaic language, but talk from your heart, as you would to a friend. What is true in your own relationship with God that is worth telling someone else about?
  7. Identify further questions or concerns for yourself that arise from the encounter. What do the ideas or feelings of the other person make you wonder about your own faith or life experience? Try to put your question into words.
  8. Actively seek out answers from reliable sources: Scripture, your pastor, mentors, or other trusted resources. Don’t stop with identifying your question. Look for answers.
  9. Pray your questions and concerns. In other words, hold up what is confusing or troubling you to God, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and work in you through the ongoing process of seeking greater understanding.
  10. Thank God for the gifts of the encounter. What were you able to offer the other person that brings you joy? What did you receive from the experience? What will you do next based on your experience—for the other person, for yourself, or for someone else?

How open should we be to others? Open enough to receive everything the Holy Spirit may want to do in us or through us through the encounter.

A prayer “Loving Creator, thank you for the many different ways that you reach out and speak to us. Please help me to be more open to others and to whatever the Holy Spirit wants to show or teach me through them. Please speak to me in all of my daily encounters, and lead me to deeper levels of faith, hope, and love in every possible way. Amen.”

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“What is an Authentic Spiritual Journey?”

Monk at Mandalay Monastery, Myanmar

First of all, an authentic spiritual journey is the one that is, not the one we aspire to, not the one we create in our minds to fool ourselves, and certainly not the one we fake to impress others. We may feel scared to admit the truth about the quality of our relationship with God, but we don’t need to be afraid. Such honesty can actually be quite liberating, freeing us to build a more vital spiritual life upon a solid foundation—the truth.

By letting go of pretense, we can more fully appreciate the love and grace of God, who forgives us and sets us free to truly love and accept ourselves. The more we stop worrying about what others think of us, and look instead to Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), the more likely we are to find the way, the life, and the truth we are looking for (John 14:6). Upon a foundation of truth and grace, we are in a much better position to start out fresh on our journey to discover more of the riches that can be found in Christ, more understanding, more truth, more of whatever it is the Holy Spirit wants to show us or do in and through us. It is at this point—more honest, yet hopeful; flawed, but forgiven; humbled, yet empowered—that we must get our priorities straight. We must line up our actions with our deepest held beliefs and values. But what does an authentic spiritual journey look like? An authentic spiritual journey: A case study Son and grandson of Protestant missionaries, Hermann Hesse was dissatisfied with the emptiness and over-reliance on the intellect that he perceived in Western society and the Christian religion. In his angst he sought insight in psychoanalysis and Eastern religion. Finally, in 1951, as the fruit of his own quest, he published Siddhartha, an evocative novel that has since inspired and captured the imagination of millions around the world. His story traces the life-long, spiritual journey of a fictional character named Siddhartha, who is positioned as a contemporary of the founder of Buddhism, Gotama (aka Gautama, Buddha). As a true seeker, Siddhartha is willing to look for answers wherever he can find them, and to experiment with different ways of being in the world. He is trying to find the truth about life—not intellectually, but practically. He wants to know what truly makes sense in the here and now.

Buddha at Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Siddhartha sojourns with the ascetics for a few years, yet finds such extreme self-denial unsatisfying, and leaves their company. He welcomes the arrival of Gotama, and listens carefully to him; but, in the end, he cannot agree fully with his teachings, and chooses not to be one of his disciples. Siddhartha then swings from asceticism to self-indulgence in his search for truth and fulfillment. He plunges freely into the pleasures of sexual love, wealth, and luxury. However, eventually, the emptiness and the corroding influence on his soul from living so dissolutely drives him to take to the forest. There he lives the rest of his life very simply, in the company of a ferryman, who teaches him to listen to and learn from the river. By the time he grows old, Siddhartha concludes that love is the most important thing to pursue. He increasingly becomes disillusioned with any kind of teaching, with ideas, and even words themselves. Increasingly, he is drawn simply to “action.” Concepts, theories, and articulated philosophies are not as valuable as simply focusing on the manner in which one lives, and the affect one’s life has on his or her soul. Sadly, the intellectualism and spiritual barrenness of Hesse’s day obscured the relevance of the Christian faith for his life’s deepest longings and questions. So much of what he was looking for, and what he came to believe about the tremendous importance of love, simplicity, humility, and gentleness, was already right at hand had he only been able to experience the love of God and leading of the Holy Spirit. He went searching for truth but did not take Christ with him. The real contribution of the novel, in my opinion, is not in where Siddhartha ended up. The jewel of the story is not in Hesse’s blend of spiritual beliefs taken from multiple religions and his own imagination and experience, having created his own eclectic spirituality, as all “Blenders” do (see the first article in this series, “How do Christianity and Buddhism Mix?”). Rather, what inspired me was his portrayal of an authentic spiritual journey, as far as it went. Siddhartha faced his own dissatisfaction with life and religion as he knew it, and sought help and a better understanding. He thoughtfully and respectfully engaged those who thought differently than he. He was open to learning from others. He was willing to experiment with different ways to live out his beliefs and convictions. He was willing to change, and he didn’t stop pursuing the truth until he found what he was looking for. Or should we say, …until he found a way of being in the world that he could live with. You may not be satisfied with where Hesse’s Sidhhartha ended up on his spiritual journey, as I am not. Yet are you willing to search as sincerely and earnestly as Siddhartha did to find answers that truly “work” for real life, for your life and relationships, in the here and now?

Spiritual pilgrims on the Camino, en route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Final thoughts Different religions define their spiritual goals and methods differently, but every major religious tradition affirms what most of us know from experience: The journey necessarily involves movement and change, and little happens without a sincere and dedicated investment of ourselves in the process. From a Christian point of view, spiritual growth depends upon God as well as us. We can only grow by God’s grace and activity in our lives through Christ and the Holy Spirit; and our part is to seek to know, love, and serve God—and love our neighbors as ourselves—in ever deeper and more profound ways throughout our lives. An authentic spiritual journey, then, will be marked by honesty, openness, intentionality, and earnestness—and, over time, real growth in how we think, how we live, how we relate to God, and how we love. In Scripture, we’re also taught to seek union with God as our ultimate destination, to look to Christ as our guide, and to depend on the Holy Spirit as our source of strength and power. As we experience life-giving changes that reflect Jesus Christ and the fruit of the Spirit, we will know that God is at work, Christ is leading us, and that our efforts have been worthwhile.

Questions to ponder

• How much do I want to grow closer to God and to live more authentically?

• How could I be more honest, open, intentional, and earnest in my spiritual journey?

• What help do I need from the Holy Spirit in order take the next step?

Suggested prayer “Loving God, I know you are the source of my life and the only real hope that I have. I don’t want to live in pretense or with so much emptiness. Thank you for waking me up. Please take my hand now, and lead me forward on my spiritual journey. Show me what I can do, and must do, to live more authentically and to pursue you more wholeheartedly. Amen.” This posting is Article 2 in a series of articles on “Benefiting from Buddhism.” © Timothy C. Geoffrion, 2012.

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“Questions”

Crucifix in sacristy window, Chartres Cathedral

(Click on photo to enlarge)

I’m living with lot of questions lately. Burning, existential, spiritual questions. They keep bugging me and just have to be answered.

I suspect that part of the problem is that I don’t always really want to know the answers. But at the same time, I do want to know. It’s pretty obvious that I’m never going to be satisfied—or at peace—until I see what I need to see, and then act on the truth God reveals.

• What does it mean for me to be faithful to God?

• What does it mean for me to pick up my cross daily?

• What does God truly want me to give of myself and my resources in light of the gross inequities and great suffering for so many throughout the world?

I’m not looking for trite answers here. I already know what the Bible says about each of these questions. I’m trying to pierce the fog of self-deception and cultural blindness to see the truth about how I’m living out my faith (or not), what’s truly in my heart, and what Christ sees in me and in the world. I’m trying to be more open to hear how God wants to answer these questions for me.

I don’t have an axe to grind, and I’m not reacting. I want the Gospel I preach to others to revolutionize my own life in all of the ways that Jesus intended. And I want to better serve Christ and his kingdom, and not keep tripping so much over my own stubborn, self-centered, self-serving tendencies.

I feel calm when facing these questions, on one hand; and yet increasingly desperate, on the other. Not desperate so much out of anxiety or fear, but out of a growing sense of the enormous need in the world and my minuscule capacity to do much about it. I’d like to do more, and I’d like to be more.

And so, in my growing desperation, I’m becoming more and more aware that I have to make some choices—maybe some radical choices—if the future is going to be any different than the past. I’m talking about making changes in how I respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in absolutely every context of my life, and in how I give of myself and my resources to others on a regular basis.

For example, I’m increasingly dissatisfied with my trying to have the best of both worlds. I have spent most of my life both attempting to enjoy a meaningful relationship with God and to minister effectively to others, while simultaneously living to please myself as much as possible. And it’s not working. Or at least, I’m not at all satisfied.

Some days, I feel overwhelmed by all these questions. At other times, when I am more grounded, I can let go of what is way outside of my control or understanding. When I feel well connected to God, I can rest in his grace and focus on what is within my power to do.

However, at the same, the Spirit is still calling for changes. I’m beginning to see that the question is not, “How much can I do for Christ and his kingdom, given that I will continue to serve myself as well as possible?” The question has increasingly become, “What could I do—or, better, what would God do through me—if only I would let go of my self-serving choices and behavior?”

The more I keep asking these questions, and am not be afraid of what the Holy Spirit might show me, the more I see that God is actually starting to answer them. He’s using the process of asking the same things over and over to change me in ways I resist, but like. Greater clarity and conviction are emerging little by little—not always with words or concepts, but I can feel the shifts, and I can see that I’m changing for the better.

I’m a bit uncomfortable with this process. I’m not in control, and I’m a little (a lot?) worried sometimes about where all this might go. At the same time, it feels right.

What questions are you living with right now? I’d really like to know how the Holy Spirit is bugging you…and changing you through the process.

A Prayer “Loving God, thank you for the questions that lead me to better places. Please draw me more fully into Jesus’ life and death. Please help me to not lose heart as I have to face the utter darkness, despair, and desperation of the cross. Give me courage and strength to die to myself, and lead me by your power to resurrection in every area of my life possible. May your good will be done.”

I’m writing from Chartres, France. When these words are posted, I will be teaching the The Spirit-Led Leader course at the Ukraine Evangelical Theological Seminary in Kiev. Please pray for Jill’s complete healing from her pulmonary embolism (see post “To Live or To Die”), and for my teaching and coaching of seminarians and pastors this spring (www.fhlglobal.org/ministries). Thank you. May this Easter week be a time both of dying to self and of experiencing resurrection for you.

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“Just Do It! Oh, really?”

Dialogue with the Disillusioned: Why Keep Praying. Article 5.

(Climbing in Finnisterre, Spain)

The really sad thing here is that these “wiser, deeper, more thoughtful Christians” [to whom you refer in your online response to Thinkingwomanmillstone] still believe that the supreme being of all reality is sitting around giving them advice on how to turn lemons into lemonade, instead of being aware that they are doing it themselves through mature reflection on their experience; that they, not a figment of their imagination, are coming up with their own solution for their problem.

After all, practically speaking, how does what you describe functionally differ from what I describe? No gods, just people working it out using guts and common sense — and a crutch they don’t really need in the place of a self-confidence they don’t yet have.

A self-confidence people like you actively work to keep them from developing, striving instead to keep them dependent on a being that, as far as anyone actually knows, does not exist. (GalapagosPete, 6/10/10)*

In 2009, Hollywood produced its own critical take on religion and the human impulse to put their faith in God in the movie, The Answer Man. The main character, Arlen Faber is a national sensation—a much sought after religions guru, who captured 10% of the “God-market” after publishing his best-selling book, God and Me.

Turns out, though, that his claim to have heard from God is a lie. In fact, he is actually a disillusioned, cynical, dishonest jerk. Faber sells religion to make money, but doesn’t believe his own teaching, and certainly doesn’t live by it. As one disappointed fan of God and Me—and former fan of Faber—remarks at one point in the story, “He may have written the book, but he sure didn’t read it!”

From the screenwriter’s disillusionment comes a perspective on religion and life that says, in effect:  “Everyone suffers in life, and God—if there is one—won’t help. No one truly hears from God, so don’t expect answers to your prayers, and certainly don’t listen to those who claim to know anything about God. Instead, listen to your heart, and believe in what you can do on your own.”

Such an angry rejection of faith and a brave, romantic reliance on human potential may be understandable and even inspiring to some, but remains unsatisfying to me and inadequate for most people. The assumptions of these “secular humanists” (as philosophers would call them) are naïve and their hope illusory. They may be right to be skeptical of any religious system, but too quick to reject belief in God. They arrogantly take faith in their own abilities, and too easily shortchange the value of seeking a meaningful relationship with God. Ultimately, such faith in self is based on a lie, because it simply cannot deliver on its promise of relieving angst and creating a better world.

So, what’s the alternative? Taking God out of the equation certainly isn’t the answer. Rather, the solution is to let God transform your heart and mind by his love and grace, and to let your life and work in the world flow out of spiritual vitality rooted in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Hope for the world will never come from secular humanism, a religious system, or any ideology, but only from humble human beings who are committed to serving God out a living relationship with God.

Such spiritual vitality begins by seeing yourself as a beloved creation of a good Creator, who has provided a Savior to meet your deepest needs that you cannot meet on your own. Believe that you are designed to know, love, and serve a personal God, who calls you to know, love, and serve others. Then, the more you experience the love and grace of God for yourself, you will actually gain greater capacity to show that love and grace to others as well.

Such a vision for life will help you to get beyond your own self-centeredness to want to serve God’s good purposes for your life, and to join God wherever the Spirit is at work doing good. Without such a vision, most of your noble intentions and humanistic ideals for society are going to collapse rather quickly when you don’t get what you want or need. Without this kind of personal relationship with God, you simply are not going to have enough to draw on within yourself to sustain your good intentions.

No matter how smart, capable, dedicated, or “lucky” you may be, you still need God. You need God’s Spirit to cultivate a heart of love within you. You need Christ to show you how to move beyond selfishness to true devotion to the well-being of others (including those you already love the most). And you need the Holy Spirit to lead you, to guide you, and to empower you to use your abilities, opportunities, and resources in ways that best fit God’s good purposes.

Seeking to know, love, and serve God is not about using belief in God as a crutch when you should be learning how to rely on yourself more, as if they were mutually exclusive options. Rather, maximizing human potential calls for doing all you can to grow personally and to develop your self-confidence in the context of seeking the kind of relationship with God that will be truly life-giving and service-empowering.

You don’t have to choose between faith in God and developing yourself, then. You just need to wisdom to know what part God plays, and what part you play, and how God and you can best work together to do what you simply cannot do on your own.

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith…” (James 1:306a, NRSV)

A Prayer

“Loving Creator, thank you for helping me to better understand who I am and what my place is among others in this world. Please continue to help me to grow fully into the person you intend for me to become, and to develop the kind of relationship with you that most honors you and best serves your good purposes. Teach me when to rely fully on you, when to stand on my own two feet as a healthy adult, and how to integrate these two kinds of confidence in one Spirit-led person.”

*To read the original Huffington Post article that prompted this and other responses from bloggers, click here,When Prayer Makes a Difference in Suffering.

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“Seeking God for Real”

(Best day on the Camino with my son, Tim)

To what extent can you honestly say that you are “seeking” God?

I’m talking about going beyond what we’ve been discussing over the past few weeks. Seeking God may certainly include studying (learning what the Bible says about God and God’s love), reflecting (drawing on your past experience to draw near to God in the present), and asking God for what he most wants for you (to reveal God-self and Christ’s love to you). Yet, actively seeking God is more creative and more open-ended than looking for specific, prescribed outcomes.

Instead of asking for a specific grace (as we talked about last time), you enter into a posture of readiness to learn, to see, to feel, or to experience whatever God might want to teach, show, or do in your life. Though you may be driven to seek God out of your own need and desire, the more mature your seeking becomes, the more you will seek to know and experience God on God’s terms and in God’s timing, in ways that fulfill God’s purposes for your life.

This kind of seeking is both active and passive. You take initiative, and yet wait patiently. You are earnest and diligent in your pursuit of God, while expecting God to reveal God-self in surprising ways, independent of your efforts. You insist on never letting go of your desire for God, even while you continually empty yourself of all concrete expectations and demands. You keep knocking on the door of heaven like the persistent widow, while praying, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

In 2006, when my family and I were walking the Camino, I had many opportunities to seek God in prayer. In fact, the whole 500 mile pilgrimage over the Pyrenees and across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela was largely about seeking God. At one point I began praying, “God, help me to know you better, and specifically to know you as abba, father.” I had no idea how God might answer this prayer. It wasn’t up to me to figure that out, but to stay open, observant, prayerful, and ready.

One day, not long after I started praying this way, I got my first answer. Though Jill questioned my sanity, Tim (my elder son) and I took an alternative route over the mountains and met up with Dan (my younger son) and her twelve hours later. The scenery was spectacular. The experience was the best of the pilgrimage so far. Hours in silence or simple conversation, in such beauty and hardly seeing another soul, created a peaceful, joyful feeling that was so deep neither of us could imagine ever feeling otherwise.

Yet, the best part of the day for me was simply being with my son. The joy did not come from what we did or said as much as it came from being in his presence when we both felt completely free to be ourselves and to enjoy the various experiences together.

Spiritually, the most powerful moment came when I suddenly realized something about God the Father that had never sunk in before. If God loves me as I love my son, surely God delights in just being with me as I was delighting in being with my son. If I can feel such joy just seeing Tim so happy and peaceful, I have to think that God—whose parental love must far exceed mine (see Psalm 103:13; Isaiah 66:13)—must be thrilled to be with me any time I am experiencing life as he intends for me, and I am conscious of the depth of his love and relationship with me. (Excerpted from One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living.)

What is God going to show you if you seek him more earnestly and diligently each day? I don’t know exactly. Seeking God doesn’t try to answer that question before undertaking the journey.

Rather, we seek God in order to find what we cannot find otherwise. And when we knock, and no one answers; when we ask, and you do not receive; when we seek, and we do not find, then we must continue to knock, ask, and seek. And wait.  There’s no other place to turn for what we most need and desire.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Luke 11:9, NRSV).

The Point In addition to studying, reflecting, and asking to know and experience God more fully, actively seek God in the midst of your daily life. Open yourself to insight and experiences with God that you cannot predict or orchestrate. Ask for eyes to see whatever God may want to reveal to you, and then keep looking.

A Prayer “Creator God, I want to know you better and experience you more fully. Please show me more about who you are in ways that I can understand and believe. Help me not to be afraid of you, but to trust you to reveal what I most need to see, according to your will and purposes for my life and our relationship.”

© Dr. Timothy C. Geoffrion, http://www.spirit-ledleader.com

Please feel free to copy or send to as many other seekers of God as possible!

Proper crediting of author and source required.

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“Ask for What God Most Wants for You”

(The Camino: Cruz de Ferro, Spain)

What do you ask God for when you pray?

Most of us routinely ask God for help in one way or another—a very biblical, natural, and helpful practice. However, we can easily get stuck on our physical and material needs, or on our ideas and desires for our life, when God wants something far more significant and lasting for us.

Instead of just asking God for what you want or think you need, seek the most important gifts he has for you that best fit with his will for your life.

When I was on a seven-day silent retreat a few weeks ago, we prayed several times each day, using methods developed by Ignatius of Loyola. Each time we went to prayer, we read Scripture and asked God for a “grace”. We weren’t asking for forgiveness, but for a particular experience of God. For example, we asked for the grace…

• to see and experience the enormity of God’s love,

• to see our sins and how they are affecting our life and relationship to God,

• to recognize the magnitude of God’s mercy,

• to be able to love God more fully, or

• to be able to follow and serve Christ better.

These are the experiences God most wants for us, because they are the ones that have the power to truly transform us and to move us more fully into the life God intends for us.

When I was 13 or 14 years old, I wanted to know if God truly loved me. I knelt by the side of my bed. My eyes were closed. I clasped my hands together. I prayed, “God if you care about me, show me. In some way, help me to believe that you truly love me.”

While waiting for an answer, I suddenly saw in my mind a huge hand extended through the clouds toward me. I knew at the time that I was probably creating an image that fit with what I wanted to believe. However, something else within me said that God was responding to the cry of my heart. I’m convinced God was revealing his love to me that day, because the joy I felt, and the comfort I received, fit with how the Holy Spirit has frequently ministered to me ever since.

Similarly, in the Psalms, David praises God and describes God’s help in his life like a hand descending from the sky. He wrote. “[The Lord] reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters” (Psalm 18:16).

Then, what David experienced through a personal experience, God has done for all of us in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Talk is cheap, and feelings are fleeting. The love that you most need will reveal itself in action. You can know you are deeply loved when someone intentionally does something for your well-being, especially if their gift comes at a personal sacrifice—as God’s incarnation and Jesus’ death dramatically illustrate.

God’s love you is already well established in the historical, concrete existence and life of Jesus. You never have to question it. And at the same time, it is not uncommon for God to reach out to us in various ways to convince us of his love and presence. Perhaps the revelation will come as a feeling, through a vision, in a dream, by a new understanding, or by setting you free in a new way. The Holy Spirit may speak a timely word to you, love you through someone else, or work through you to bless those around you in some way. Or, you may simply be given an inexplicable peace or joy.

You cannot know how God is going to reveal his love to you on from day to day, and you can’t manipulate or control God’s interaction with you. But you can ask. You can ask for a special grace to draw you closer to God and to experience more of what God has already revealed to you in Jesus.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19, NIV)

The Point To move from knowing about God to experiencing God more personally in your life, let your prayers be guided by what God most wants for you. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the depth of Christ’s love for you. Ask to become increasingly convinced that God is present with you and truly does care about you. Ask that your heart’s desires will be increasingly purified until nothing is more important to you than your relationship with God and your ability to love and serve Christ. Ask, and it will be given.

A Prayer “Eternal God, you are beyond my ability to understand. I often cannot perceive your presence in the ways I would like, and I long for more of your touch. Please reach out to me in some way that I can grasp that I may be assured of your love and your care in my life. Help me to treasure my relationship with you above all others, and to accept your love on your terms.”

Suggestion: Start a journal expressly for the purpose of recording the ways that God reveals himself to you, loves you, and helps you to sense his presence and care for you.

*For more on knowing God and my experiences in seeking to know God through experience, see pp. 124-125, One Step at a Time.

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“Drawing on the Past to Draw Near in the Present”

(The Visitation, Chartres Cathedral)

In response to last week’s article, “Why we think God might love us,” one reader wrote, “I do not just want to know about God, I want to feel God in me!”

If this at all describes what you want, there is hope. While you cannot control God or your dictate your experience with God, you can “draw near to God” with confidence that God will “draw near to you” (James 4:8).

But how does one draw near to God?

In the next three articles, we are going to look at three powerful spiritual practices—reflecting, asking, and seeking—to help you move from knowing about God to experiencing God more personally in your life. First, the practice of spiritual “reflecting.” 1

No matter how distant God may seem at the moment, what has been your personal experience with the presence and love of God in the past? If you think back to the many significant moments or turning points in your life, what could you point to as evidence of God’s activity? When have you felt God’s touch?

You may have received an answer to prayer or had a special experience with Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Perhaps you perceived God’s love through someone else or an extraordinary series of circumstances. If you are feeling distant from God or want to feel his presence more, now may be a very good time to stop and ask the Holy Spirit to refresh your memory of all the ways God has been and is at work in your life for good. (Take a moment now to jot down the first few memories that come to mind.)

In the Magnificat, Mary celebrates in song what God was doing for her and would do for all of humanity through her son Jesus. At the time of the “Visitation” at the home of Elizabeth, Mary sings about the great works of God—not ideas about God, but the concrete actions of God. In reflecting on her experience with God, she is filled with joy and praise, perceiving the love of God in her life.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

(Luke 1:46-49, NRSV)

When I look at my past through the eyes of faith, I can see how the Holy Spirit has worked through many significant events, people, and circumstances to shape who I am and my relationship with God. I meet someone special, take an incredible class, experience a great success or devastating tragedy, discover something profound or powerful in Scripture, use my talents in ways that open my eyes to meaning and purpose in my life, or make a critical decision with far-reaching consequences. Each experience then joins a whole train of other significant life-changing moments, which together become my testimony of God’s work in my life.

While anyone can point to noteworthy “chance” encounters or “coincidences” that have altered their life significantly, when you look at your life through the eyes of faith, you will see God at work. Then, not only will you think differently, you will feel differently as well.

Why? Because as you let the Holy Spirit open your eyes to the truth of God’s love and activity in your life in the past, you will be experiencing the Holy Spirit in the present. And, with Mary, the more you sense that you are truly blessed, the more you will have your own song to sing.

When you look back over your life so far, what in your experience suggests to you that God knows who you are, cares about you, and is in fact at work in your life for good purposes?

What is your song?

I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. (Psalm 77:11-12, NIV)

The Point: To move from simply knowing about God to experiencing the presence and love of God more personally in your life, you need to create enough space to let the Holy Spirit speak to you. Start by taking some time alone to look back on your life. Pray for eyes to see the many different ways God has been at work in your past experience, so that you may be better able to see and feel God in the present.

A Prayer: “Dear God, by faith I believe that you love me and are at work in my life, but sometimes I feel so alone and empty. Please help me to see where you have been active in my life over the years, and to feel your presence now. Teach me the song of praise and gratitude that only I can sing, because the lyrics express all the ways you have loved me and love me still.”

1 Many of the ideas from this article are discussed at greater length in One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living, pp. 126-129.

© Timothy C. Geoffrion, 2010. All rights reserved. Please share this article with as many people as possible, with proper acknowledgment of authorship and web-address.

Photo: © Jill K.H. Geoffrion.

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