Monday, August 12, 2013

The Abiding Life {Reflections on Prayer}

“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.”

Yes, Lord.  Here in the quiet place it’s so peaceful.  I know You love me, and I love You, too.  There’s nothing I’d like more than just to stay here.

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.”

If you. . . oh.  Um, which commandments exactly, Lord?  There are so many. . . .  Love God with all my heart, maybe?

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

But that means I’ll have to leave this place and go back out there into the. . . the noise and busy and unpredictable, and after all You did say my joy would be full.  How can I have full joy fighting traffic?  I must have heard you wrong.  Let me look at the context.

Oh, here’s more about more about love:  “If anyone loves Me. . .”  (I do, Lord; You know I do!)  “. . . he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him.”

So are You saying that the only way I can abide in Your love right now is to clean up the breakfast dishes?  But if I do that, You, the entire Trinity, will make Your home in ME and my joy will be full?  I don’t feel very joyful about housework and e-mail and errands, but I’ll take Your word for it.

And so I leave the prayer room, and it’s back to business as usual until the next crisis hits.  That attitude flies in the face of Christ’s promises in John 14-15, though.  Again, my understanding of God is far too small, and I settle for just a smidgen of what He desires to give me.  He brings me to His banqueting table, and I only eat the salad!

He doesn’t want me to “leave the prayer room”; He wants me to take it with me all day long, abiding in His presence and love through step-by-step obedience to His commands.  He wants to give me His fellowship just as continuously as Christ knew the fellowship of the Father.  In John’s Gospel especially, we see Christ Himself as the model of the abiding life, “prayer without ceasing,” to use Paul’s words.  Throughout the book, He converses with the Father, thanking Him for the loaves and fishes and for hearing His prayers.  He does only what pleases the Father, what He sees the Father doing.  He speaks only what He hears from Him.  We receive the impression that He is always “gazing with inward eye upon the wonder that is God” (A.W. Tozer), always listening, the windows of His heart open toward Jerusalem.  Fittingly, we see a life of true prayer, communion with the Father, throughout John’s account, and we read one extended conversation with Him in John 17, but I have not been able to find the word “prayer” a single time in that gospel.  And wonder of wonders, He offers us the same continuous experience of His presence and love!

He offers the experience of prayer as “the breath of the soul” (Hallesby).  Tozer writes much of this in The Pursuit of God, as inwardly beholding God, and living the whole of life in the Holy of Holies.  Writing from kitchen duties in a medieval monastery, Brother Lawrence’s letters (published as Practicing the Presence of God) speak of “a silent, secret and nearly unbroken conversation of the soul with God.”  He also describes making “our hearts a spiritual temple where we worship Him without ceasing.”  Through over forty years of practice, he discovered indeed the joy of abiding in His love:  “One must be acquainted with a person before loving him.  To be acquainted with God one must think often about Him; and when we do love Him, we will also think very often about Him, for our heart is where our treasure is!”

As only a novice in this, I still become distracted, worried and bothered about much service, a Martha.  Dust that I am (but Your dust, Lord!), it takes creativity and effort to keep my heart fixed.  So I may keep a hymnal in a cookbook rack by the kitchen sink, carry (on a good day) Scripture memory cards with me for grocery lines and stoplights, and tape verses and quotes all over the bathroom mirror and kitchen cabinets.  For the same reason, my husband (who has taught me much on this) has crosses of liquid paper on his watch and on the frame of the computer monitor.  When I lose focus, these small reminders draw my mind back to my Lord.

Even more than Paul, I do not by any stretch of the imagination write as one who has already become perfect, however, but merely as a fellow pilgrim, lifting up the Lord and His work for us and  pressing on until the Perfect comes.  My deep desire and prayer is for all my life – and yours – to be coram Deo, before the face of God; for life itself to be a prayer, a sacrifice of praise to Him, a love-offering broken at His feet.  Lord, teach us this love.

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