Book Summary: The Healing Light by Agnes Sanford

The Healing Light by Agnes Sanford

Barbara and I chose to re-read this classic book on healing. I read it over 40 years ago and thought it a bit strange. But when I heard that my mentor Dallas Willard had very high respect for her and in his last days, kept this book and the Bible at his bedside table, I knew it was time to revisit.  I still think she has some odd ideas – but I haven’t been involved in praying for people like she had so I wanted to give her a second chance.

Her terminology often raises red flags but I think that her power to be an instrument of  healing in so many peoples lives stems from a Christ-centered life. Would that we all could pray and see as many people healed as she has. I would encourage you to read it with an open mind and glean what value you can from the book.

Introduction

The book opens with an introduction that I quote extensively:

The scientific attitude is the attitude of perfect open-mindedness,” writes Agnes Sanford. “It consists in an unshakable faith in the laws of nature combined with perfect humility toward those laws and a patient determination to learn them at all cost. Through this humility scientists have learned how to conform to the laws of nature and by so doing have achieved results. Through the same meekness those who seek God can produce results by learning to conform to His laws of faith and love.

“The first step in seeking to produce results by any power is to contact that power…

“The second step is to turn it on…

“The third step is to believe that this power is coming into use and to accept it by faith. No matter how much we ask for something it becomes ours only as we accept it and give thanks for it.”

Glenn Clark, who wrote the introduction, says that there is something besides following these steps and that is “a climate of faith.” He goes on to say that the book isn’t just about healing. It is a guide to redemptive, creative living. (NOTE: Glenn was the founder of Camp Farthest Out – A Global Outreach of Creative Christian Living). We have taught extensively to our prayer teams about creating a climate of faith when praying for others.

Chapter I God Works Through Us

Agnes starts with an analogy about healing prayer. If you have an electric iron,Iron it does no good to speak to the iron and say “Iron this shirt.”. You first have to plug it in. She says that it is the same as connecting to the healing power of God. We cannot just speak to an illness and see it change. We need to speak to it out of our connection with God. This is reminiscent of Luke’s (the physician) words when he makes the enigmatic statements: “And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” (Luke 5:17) and “all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.” (Luke 6:19). Why these statements? Isn’t the power of the Lord with Jesus to heal at all times? Yes, because He was connected to the source. And is this power to heal something that flows like electricity? Luke seems to think so. So, even though her terms are a bit strange there is some Scriptural basis for this terminology. Her central point in these opening chapters is that this healing power is none other than God Himself.[1]

Later in this first chapter she talks about how joy “is the heavenly ‘OK’ on the inner life of power.” In other words, when we experience joy in trial, it is God’s wink to us that all is well. You cannot fake it. In her example of the healing of her baby, it was the joy of the minister who prayed that turned on the light for her.  The baby was healed because:

The life of God flowed through him [ the minister ], and could therefore be turned on by him for the healing of a child. He knew it, and therefore had the courage to speak with authority.

We have often taught others about the prayer of command. She taught me something I missed all these years. Amen – meaning “so be it” is a prayer of command. When we say amen, we are saying a prayer of command.

Going back to her electricity example, she says that for electricity to work it’s magic in a house the house needs to be prepared for it. So with us, for the power of God to work through us, we need to be prepared for it.

The Kingdom of God is within you,” said Jesus. And it is the Indwelling Light, the secret Place of the Consciousness of the Most High that is the Kingdom of Heaven in its present manifestation on the earth.  … Learning to live in the Kingdom of Heaven is learning to turn on the light of God within.

Few of us in the north would ask God to produce a full-blown rose out of doors in January. Yet He can do this very thing, if we adapt our greenhouses to His laws of heat and light, so as to provide the necessities of the rose.  And he can produce a full-blown answer to prayer if we adapt our earthly tabernacles to His laws of love and faith so as to provide the necessities of answered prayer.

I am not so sure about this next statement (the first of many!):

Some day we will understand the scientific principles that underlie the miracle working powers of God, and we will accept His intervention as simply and naturally as we do the radio.

This implies that the miracles are based on scientific principles not yet discovered. I could say that: “Some day we will understand God’s laws [the deep magic using Lewis’ terminology] that underlie the miracle working powers of God…” The next statement shows that this is what she meant.

If one thinks of a miracle not as the breaking of God’s laws but as His own using of His laws, then the world is full of miracles.

The difficulty I have then is whether we will know on this earth these laws.

God does nothing except by law. But He has provided enough power within His laws to do anything that is in accordance with His will. His will includes unlimited miracles. It is for us to learn His will, and to seek the simplicity and the beauty of the laws that set free His power.

There is a lot to unpack in this – but suffice it to say that we are to always be praying in accordance with the will of God which will be in keeping with His laws.

Chapter II – The Scientific Attitude: Choosing A Healing Prayer Objective

I have often embarked on prayer projects. I have never heard anyone else describe them as such. Agnes invites us into such prayer projects:

One decides upon a definite subject for prayer, prays about it and then decides whether or not the prayer-project succeeds. If it does not succeed, one seeks a better adjustment with God and tries again.

I have used this approach for years and have learned so much about God and prayer for which I am eternally grateful. Little did I know that I probably learned it from Agnes years before. She attempts to describe the scientific method and then applies it to prayer. She believes (and don’t we wish that all scientists applied this) that humility in the face of the data is essential for the success of the scientist. They must go where those “stubborn facts” and data point independent of preconceived ideas. And she then turns it to us:

Through the same meekness those who seek God can produce results by learning to conform to His laws of faith and love.

The first step in seeking to produce results by any power is to contact that power. The first step then in seeking help from God is to contact God. …So the first step is to relax and to remind ourselves that there is a source of life outside of ourselves.

The second step is to turn it on, by some such prayer as this “Heavenly Father, please increase in me at this time Your life-giving power.”

The third step is to believe that this power is coming into use and to accept it by faith. No matter how much we ask for something it becomes ours only as we accept it and give thanks for it.

And the fourth step is to observe the operations of that light and life. In order to do so, we must decide on some tangible thing that we wish accomplished by that power, so that we can know without questions whether our experiment succeeded or failed.

Let us understand then that if our experiment fails it is not due to a lack in God, but to a natural and understandable lack in ourselves.

We need to be careful with this last statement. We may think as a result of this, that healing thus depends on us getting the right approach and the right words and action. Sometimes Agnes comes across that way. Later, you will hear another reason that healings do not happen and having the wrong process is not one of them. That is why I don’t think that is what Agnes is saying. My approach has been at this stage in the project to ask God what went wrong – recognizing that my approach may be wrong or it may not be God’s time to heal yet. This is the first hint at where Agnes and I differ. She believed (I think) that all will be healed if but we can get “it” right. More on this later in the book

One way the experiment can fail is that: “We might be mistaken concerning our need of these things” that we are asking for. Again, my approach is then to bring the very prayer itself before the Father and see if this is really something that needs to happen.

I love her next suggestion in our project: Start simple.

Let us choose one of the very simplest of prayer-experiments, remembering always that it must be tangible; that is, it must be something that we can put the finger on and say either “This has been done.” Or “This hasn’t been done.” … Let us not be afraid, then, to choose for our first prayer-experiment an objective that is simple and personal.

This objective must of course be in accordance with God’s will, for it is as difficult to make God’s power operate contrary to His will. …a wise seeker after God had better study the laws of God and adapt his prayers to those laws.

Agnes then surprises us with her suggestion for a simple prayer project. For me, it would be something like: “Safe travel to the store.” Simple. Measurable. But for her:

The simplest and most direct of all prayer-projects is the healing of the body.

In tracing her reasons for this, she sheds some more light on her understanding of God’s will in the matter of healing. She believed that because the Father delights in giving us good gifts and therefore since the gift of health is good, the Father always delights in granting healing. She goes on:

But those parents and teachers who dimmed the shining of His eternal Glory in our infant minds taught us that God often willed us to suffer. “Well, God’s will be done,” they sighed, when prayer for health brought no relief from pain.

It is a giant leap of logic to say that because we are not healed and therefore suffer, that God wills us to suffer. It is far more complex than that – but again – hold on. More later.

We see that the lack of success in healing is not due to God’s will for us but to our failure to live near enough to God so that He can accomplish His will in us.

Deciding once for all, then, that God is a loving Father who delights to give good gifts to His children, let us learn how to accept those gifts. Let us choose as a prayer-objective the healing of the body, because it is the most simple and the most obvious prayer-objectives.

Here she plays some of her cards on the table. We don’t succeed in prayer because of “our failure to live near enough to God. I am not convinced that anyone is always close enough to God to accomplish the healing of everyone we pray for.” This is an easy out when someone isn’t healed. “At this time in my life, I am just not close enough to God for them to be healed.”

One of the questions I am often asked about prayer for healing is whether or not we need to pray multiple times for healing. Healing from a cold according Agnes, may only take a few minutes. But:

If we have sought Him for the rebuilding of bones or nerves or sinuses, the complete healing may take time and patience. In which case, while we seek daily to reconnect our spirit with the Spirit of God in prayer, we need not repeat any request for healing that we have said. … That does not mean that we should pray only once for the matter. Most of us need every day to enter into God’s presence and focus our attention first upon Him and then upon the area that needs healing, so that God may have every opportunity of continuing his creative work in us.  But after the first time, we may say, “Thank You,” instead of, “Please.” “Thank You that Your Life is entering into me rebuilding everything toward health.” We may then use our creative imaginations and make a picture in our minds of that perfection which we hope will be ours. And finally we may look steadily at that picture until it is accomplished. Thus by harnessing the imagination and training the will, we can arouse and build our faith.

Agnes tells of a little boy with a leaky heart. She has him imagine himself as a football player running down the field with a healthy heart each night. A month later his heart was perfect. Thus he had wrestled with God as his partner against the powers of destruction and had prevailed. The will of God for him was not a leaky heart, but health.

I am not going to question if the boy was really healed. I believe her. I am just not convinced that it was the power of the game he played each night.

Chapter III Turning on the Light of God’s Creative Energy

I always cringe when a preacher starts getting into physics. And I cringe a bit when Agnes does it. She states that we are made of energy. But we are made of both matter and energy and one can be converted into the other. So it is a true statement but only tells part of the story. But when she then makes a theological application:

when we establish a closer connection with God in prayer, we should receive more abundant life—an increased flow of energy.

Here is where we take what she learned and readjust it consistent with what know of God and of His universe. I don’t know what to call it (she calls it energy), but we definitely receive more from God as we get closer to Him in prayer (e.g. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”). I just don’t want to call it energy which has a clear material definition in physics.

The vibration of God’s light is so very real that even a child can feel it, and it was my experiments with children that showed me the action of an invisible but powerful light-vibration shining from the Father of Lights.

I too, along with those that we have prayed for, have experienced heat when God’s healing power is in action. I often use it as an indication that God is at work healing. And it is very physical and can be measured with physical instruments. I am just not ready to call it “the vibration of God’s light.” I see it more as the Spirit of God moving upon the body and setting in motion the body’s natural healing mechanism. Have you ever felt the heat around a wound or a sprain. This is the healing action of our body.  So, let’s just allow Agnes the right to call it electricity or God’s vibrating light. No problem. Let’s keep learning from her, because as Dallas Willard told a skeptical Richard Foster, “When Agnes prays, things happen.” Here how she describes how to initiate this healing power of the Spirit:

I just forget everything else and think about God and believe that He can do it. And He turns it [the electricity] on, and when He is through with it, He turns it off.”

She gets a “scientific” explanation from a scientist that confirms her understanding and terminology. But again, let’s keep drawing upon what is real and factual in what she is saying. She notes that children perceive the heat more often than adults. This is not my experience, but she has prayed with more children than me – so let’s go with it. She explains that this is because our hearts have become dull to God’s truth as adults. And that may very well be. She later makes another deduction that this manifestation of heat is literally God himself.

In talking with an injured G.I., Agnes tells him that God can hurry up the natural processes that go on in the body. Here is how she told him to pray:

Come into me now and help nature in my body to mend this bone, and do it quick. Thanks. I believe you’re doing it. Then make a picture in your mind of the leg well. Shut your eyes and see it that way. See the bone all built in and the flesh strong and perfect around it. Then after you see the leg well, give a pep talk to all the healing forces of your body. Say, ‘Look here, I’m boss inside of me and what I say goes. Now get busy and mend that leg.’ And then congratulate them and tell them they’re doing a good job, because they won’t work for you unless you encourage them. And after this, forget them and think of the life outside of you again, and say Thank You, God. I believe it’s going to be O.K.’ ”

Again, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. We are told to believe what we have asked for. So for Agnes, that means to visualize it as well. That has not been part of my healing prayer protocol, but I like it as a tangible way to believe that we have received what we have asked for. I believe that as Jesus spoke to inanimate objects we can speak to our bodies as part of the healing process. So let’s move on.

Here is her summary:

    1. Choose the same time and the same place every day, make yourself comfortable and relax.
    2. Remind yourself of the reality of a life outside yourself.
    3. Ask that life to come in and increase life in your body
    4. Make a picture in your mind of your body well
    5. And give thanks that this is being accomplished

I like this as something simple we can give people and see nothing out of alignment with God’s way of healing.

Another step she adds for the prayer:

In order to receive God’s life in the body, we must first be able to forget the body so that we can quiet the mind and concentrate the spiritual energies on God.

Quieting the mind is not easy she recognizes. Our nerves can become our masters.

We must teach them to be our servants, adjusting themselves to our demands for more or less tension. This can be done by a simple process of re-education.

Nerves are like children. They respond to suggestion better than to command. In fact the subconscious mind that controls the forces of the body has an almost wanton disregard for command. “Relax!” we tell ourselves sternly, and the nerves laugh at us and tighten up more than ever. “Now you’re relaxing,” we congratulate them, and with a pleased smile they relax. So, we speak gently and soothingly to the nerves all the way up the body and in the head.

Let us now open our spirits to receive the more abundant life of God. How easy this becomes when we realize that God is not a far-away sovereign, but is actually the medium in which we live

This last step—the step of giving thanks! God is standing before us with the answer in His hands. But unless we reach out our hands and take it by giving thanks for it, we are not apt to receive it

I am not sure how to respond to this bit about nerves are like children. I have practiced speaking to parts of my body. I am just not sure about some parts responding better to suggestion than to command.

Chapter IV The Re-Birth of Faith: Re-Educating the Sub-Conscious

When we quote scientists as providing foundational evidence for either our theology or our praxis, we need to be careful – or at least footnote it. Agnes starts off this chapter telling us that psychologists tell us that “nine-tenths of our thoughts lie below the level of consciousness.” I don’t know what she is talking about. What are thoughts? And what is consciousness? Without footnotes or even definitions we are left in the dark. And then it gets even more muddled. She mixes the non-conscious mind (which controls our breathing) with the sub-conscious mind – where there are true thoughts. And then says that what controls our breathing is an inner control center that is part of spiritual body that “acts on orders from God Himself.”

I have to stop. Let’s see if we can summarize what she is trying to say independent of her muddled science. She certainly is trying to prove scientifically that if I say: “I am getting a cold” that this sends a conflicting message to our white blood cells who are trying to fight the cold. Without finding out if this is scientifically provable (and it should be measurable), it still doesn’t make sense. Why does telling our immune system that trouble is coming tell it to slack off. Isn’t prevention the best medicine? Advance warning to put the immune system on high alert? Agnes says it says “Slacken off your defense.” Our adrenal system responds to advance warnings of trouble ahead. Why do our white blood cells not follow suit.

She addresses the question about how are we to deal with accusing thoughts. She says that we should not resist them. She uses Jesus’ words out of context and says: “Resist not evil.” But in the Greek, the word is an adjective. So, most translations include the implied “person.” We are not to resist the evil person. “Evil resisted gains strength.” So what does she think James is telling us: “Resist the devil and he will flee” so that he can gain more strength? She gives us two solutions: Turning our back on troubling thoughts and replacing them with a new set of thought patterns.

if we find ourselves thinking, “One of my headaches is coming on,” we correct that thought.

“Whose headaches?” we say. “God’s light shines within me and God doesn’t have headaches!”

Sorry. I just cannot support that approach from Scripture even though she is trying to prove the approach from science.

There is no record in the whole Bible of a holy man who remained an invalid.

That is except:

    • Isaac’s eyes were dim – he couldn’t differentiate between Jacob and Esau (Genesis 27:1)
    • Jacob – who was given a limp by an angel.(Genesis 32:31-32)
    • Mephibosheth – who was lame and remained faithful to David even as he was deceived by his servants. (2 Samuel 19:24-30)
    • Ahijah the prophet – eyes were dim (1 Kings 14:4)
    • Elisha was ill before his death (2 Kings 13:14)
    • Philippians 2:27 reveals that Epaphroditus had been extremely ill, indeed he had nearly died, but the Lord had mercy on him.
    • Timothy – who had frequent ailments (1 Timothy 5:23)
    • 2 Timothy 4:20 tells us that Paul left Trophimus ill at Miletus

She then says:

we find no instance of an acceptance of illness as the will of God

Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine for his frequent ailments. Isn’t that accepting illness? Wine wasn’t to heal but rather to dull our sense of pain. I hope you the reader don’t think I am nitpicking. I want to learn as much from her as I can about praying for healing because she had a track record that cannot be denied. One other option is to say her success was a sign meant to deceive. That I don’t accept either. Thank goodness we don’t need perfect theology to heal.

Chapter V The Law of Love

This chapter was confusing to me and did not add anything to my understanding of God’s working in the world. Also, there are a number of statements that seem just flat out wrong. So, my summary may not capture what Agnes was trying to capture. It seems she is saying that there is a current of God’s love that can be blocked by us – by “hatred and fear and misery” as well as anger.  Jesus is the one who has unblocked this flow of love.

She claims that the early followers of Jesus expected Him to come back in their lifetime (which appears to be true) but when He didn’t they became discouraged.

Sadly they postponed their glorious vision of a new heaven and a new earth. Sadly they laid aside their hopes of being “clothed upon with immortality” and accepted death.

I am not sure when she thought “accepted death” happened. Nor do I know exactly what she is saying. Do we never accept death? It seems like Stephen accepted death and he was pretty early on. Paul accepted his approaching death a few decades later.

Towards the end of the chapter, she attempts to instruct us towards a pathway to healing as follows:

And we become perfected in love by trying to do it. The method is so simple that any child can learn it. It is merely to connect in spirit with the love of God, send that love to the other person, and see him re-created in goodness and joy and peace.

It is not exactly clear how she wants us to “send that love” but it appears that we do this by projecting it with our thoughts. She gave another example of a man who stopped a bull from attacking by following her method:

“I am God’s man and you are God’s bull,” he thought in silence. “God made both of us, and in the name of Jesus Christ I say that there is nothing but loving-kindness between us.”

When asked what to do if an armed burglar was in your house:

One would project into the burglar’s mind the love of God, by seeing him as a child of God and asking God to bless him. And if one were strong enough in faith and love, the burglar’s mind would change. He would leave the family unharmed and go away.

There is the clear call to pray in this case but I am not so sure that we are to project God’s love into another’s mind. Of course she covers all situations by saying it all depends on your being strong in faith and love. So, if your family gets killed, you have an excuse – you weren’t strong in faith.  I don’t see this in Jesus’ teaching at all.  Maybe by projecting love she means – love your enemies. But I don’t see Jesus telling us that if we love our enemies, they won’t kill us. Ask Stephen.

Chapter VI Re-Education in Love: Healing Laws Liberated

If we apply her teaching to the question, “How do I love my enemies?” we can follow her train of thought:

He must re-educate his subconsciousness. He must form new thought habits of love and compassion and friendliness and joy, so that his instinctive and natural reaction to every situation, every person and every animal may be one of love.

the real reason why most people do not learn Christian love is quite simply that they do not want to do so.

Let us think of the person whom we have selected for the day’s assignment and hold up this person before the mind, surrounding him with the light of God’s love. Some of us see in our minds the picture of Jesus Christ and then see the other person, placing the picture of the one we would forgive upon the picture of Christ. Having done this, we say to the one whom we would learn to like, “I forgive you in the name of Jesus Christ, and I give thanks to God because you are now forgiven. Amen.”

We then proceed to the second step of forgiveness, which is to say, “I bless so-and-so in the name of the Lord,” and to look with expectancy for the changes that the Lord’s blessing will accomplish in her.

We learn to give forth love in learning to forgive our enemies. Then we learn to give a forgiving and healing love to all who cross our paths and need our love

Finally love flows through us spontaneously and naturally to both man and beast—and completing the circuit, flows back to us again from God.

Although this may seem like a “turn-the-crank” fool-proof method, it does in fact have some merit as steps to loving your enemies.

Chapter VII – In the Shadow of His Wings

Heads up on a science alert. Most X-Rays and Cosmic rays do pass through thexray comsic ray body (duh – that’s why we take X-Rays). But hardly any visible light passes through the body completely. If the skin is thin enough, you can see some light passing through our fingers. Our eyes can see some bright light shining through our eyelids. So, watch out for: “Sunlight penetrates the open spaces of the body”

As a sponge is in the ocean and the ocean is in a sponge, so we are in God and He is in us. Rufus Mosley

I actually love that analogy of us in God and God in us.

Many a healing is not finished simply because the one who prays does not hold his faith long enough, is unwilling to seek help in prayer or does not know where to find that help.

[Once, I] spilled boiling oil on my hands while officiating over the cookstove. If I lose my temper at such times, the hand is burned. If I do not lose my temper, the hand is not burned.

As our prayers, our mental training and our acts of forgiveness fuse into a high consciousness of God’s indwelling, we become more and more aware of an inner source of power that can be tapped at will.

This being so, let us gladly seek Him without as well as within.

Again, the principle which I accept is a good one. Our awareness of God’s indwelling can be very instrumental in our ability to tap into His power for healing. If we are going to pray for healing, we need to be as much in God’s presence as possible. But the degree to which that happens does not guarantee healing.

Chapter VIII – Doctors, Ministers, and God

I like the following comment:

If all men could eat only of the tree of Life, planted in the center of the garden, and never absorb into their beings the results of knowing both good and evil, men could live above death and above the pain and illness that lead to death.

Somehow, in all the years that I have read about and heard about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Agnes’ comment opened my eyes. “never absorb into their beings the results of knowing both good and evil” is a great insight. I always had a bit of question about what was wrong about knowing evil. Paul says that we are not unaware of the devil’s schemes. That’s knowing evil and that is a good thing. Wise as serpents to the evil around us is a good thing.

A couple weeks ago I preached a sermon on intimacy with God and one of my sub points was about the Hebrew’s understood knowing and knowledge. For them it wasn’t just an intellectual fact retrieving knowledge but an intimate and personal encounter with the object of their knowing. No wonder we don’t want to partake of the knowledge of evil. And Agnes’ comment about the pain of the results of having that kind of knowledge in us is helpful. Wonderful.

But then:

It will be possible for one who daily receives from God his spiritual sustenance to live without illness or decay for a longer and longer period of time.

Chapter IX Being the Lord’s Instrument for the Healing of the Sick

Agnes has talked of this before in our posture of praying for others, but somehow I am hearing it for the first time:

Forgetting the heart, I fixed my mind upon the presence of Our Lord and invited Him to enter and use me.

How often is that the way I pray? I often concentrate on the one being prayed for and attempting to hear God’s direction as to how to pray. But the preparation described by her seems good and right. Start by concentrating on the presence of the Lord.

But if God had wanted him to live, why wouldn’t He heal him without a healer?” some people ask. God wants us to have electric lights. But He will not put them in a house without an electrician. God has graciously endowed us with the dignity of free will.

When addressing the fact that some who are healed and then gradually lose the joy of knowing Jesus, she attributes it to giving back. Those who continue in the joy and love of Jesus are those who gave back to God and to her. Those who did not continue in joy are those who never give back. She takes “As you give, so shall you receive” and makes it “As you have received, so shall you give.” I am not to sure of this logical reversal. She calls it a law of God that must operate in this world yet she makes: “If you speed, you will go to jail” into “If you go to jail, you will speed.” This can easily lead to a doctrine of works. I have received and therefore I must give back.  It is very different from “Freely you have received; freely give.” Jesus emphasizes the word “freely” by using it twice.

It is not necessary to “be a healer.” It is only necessary to learn to pray for others as effectively as we do for ourselves. … I present first a simple human way of becoming a receiving and transmitting center for love-healing by the laying on of hands.

Chapter X – Further Hints on Healing

I love this bit of instruction and wish that all who hear from God and pray for others to be healed would practice these simple disciplines:

the ominous phrase, “I feel that it is my duty to tell you this.” Neither will we say, “God told me to come to see you.” Maybe He did, but it is most unwise to mention it.

If guided to go to a stranger, we are forced to state the purpose of our call immediately. “I heard your husband was very sick,” we can say. “And I came because I think I can help you.”

Having entered the door, let us not hasten to instruct. Rather, let us quiet ourselves and prepare to listen with the deep comprehension of the one who loves

Often as I sit and listen with keen and loving attention to a tale of woe I pray, “Oh God, please make her say the thing that will lead me into her mind.”

And I go into that door and make myself a part of that problem, no matter how trivial or sordid it may be. I do not stay on the outside and offer sage advice.

“You mustn’t think like that” may be helpful for a third or fourth visit, but it is almost sure to be wrong for the first.

“I surround myself with the protection of Almighty God and in the name of Jesus Christ I say that nothing shall get through to hurt me.

Thus we can enter into the patient’s sorrow with a deep serenity, holding the doors of the mind open always for joy. We grieve with the patient because we love him and so his sorrows are ours.

Yet we rejoice because we know that God through us is mighty to lead him out of sorrow into joy.

How many lives and minds would be saved if only Christians knew that in dealing with the mentally ill, one does not appeal to their reason!

I laid my hands upon her head and communed in my mind with the Father of this child and with His greatest representative among men, my friend Jesus. When I felt His presence without and His authority within, I said loudly and firmly, “In the name of Jesus Christ I direct and order that from this time forth, this child shall never again be afraid at night.”

She doesn’t talk a lot about healing mental illness. But it appears as if she has some experience attempting it.

This is not as easy as it sounds. For in order to make the sick mind well the healer must believe unfalteringly that it will be well.

it is much easier to heal the body than to heal the mind.

How many times have I done this!

A natural impulse when God first sends His “electricity” through our hands is to attach too much importance to this outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

I found myself at one time watching eagerly for this new current of life that flowed through me, feeling disappointed if it did not come and pleased if it did. This distracted my attention from God and focused it on myself.

The essence of all healing is to become so immersed in the Being of God that one forgets oneself entirely

Sometimes the sudden increase of life in the afflicted part causes temporarily an increase of pain, either at that moment or a few hours later

Chapter XI – The Healing of Emotions

This warning is useful but is outside my experience base:

[there is ] a danger in spiritual healing—the danger of becoming either emotionally sterile or emotionally unstable.

This simple practice is useful both for us and for those we pray for with damaged emotions:

rooting and grounding of the emotions in the ordinary, human love of Jesus Christ, expressed through the normal channels of everyday life.

This is a profound truth that again, I either forgot, or it is truly a new insight:

Acts and words can be directly commanded and controlled. We can decide what we are going to say and what we are going to do, but we cannot always decide how we are going to feel.

emotions are not under the direct control of our wills.

I love this idea that we can control our actions and our words but we cannot always control our emotions.

We have practiced and taught this next truth for years. She presents a reason to pray in teams:

[Practicing healing alone can close] our eyes to those lingering faults of our human nature that lie deep in the subconscious.

She believes that the regular practice of confession is a path towards healing emotions. Here are her simple steps towards that end.

Choose the same time and the same place every day for an act of preparation for confession

Relax and lift the mind into the presence of God, and do so with a pencil and paper in the hand. Then divide one’s life into seven periods.

Ask the Holy Spirit of God to bring into the remembrance any unforgiven sins (or any uncomfortable memories as we would probably call them) from these years that still linger in the subconscious.

Write down these sins as they come to mind. Write them down simply, briefly, without using names or mentioning circumstances or any kind of alibis. Having done this, set aside the paper and forget the whole matter until the next day.

On the next day at the same time and the same place take the second period of one’s life and do the same thing. And so on through the seven days.

I am not sure about the same time and place – but I have begun this process but have not finished it yet. I think it is worthwhile.

She describes how she did this and then brought this before a priest who forgave her in the name of the church and offered absolution. She felt nothing until she started home. Then she experienced the Holy Spirit’s washing and cleansing. She knew that Jesus loved her and forgave her.

Through the confessional my heart caught on fire. Its dullness and boredom was burned away, its coldness was turned to warmth, its pride was melted into humility

I had to believe that God had the power and the will to heal that specific disease of that specific person through me, at that time.

Chapter XII The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Agnes returns to this central theme of her belief in healings that don’t happen:

Why did not every Christian who repented on his own knees show forth the results in a life of power? For the same reason that every Christian who believes in God does not receive healing—lack of faith.

In this chapter she continues her treatise on the power of forgiveness – some through the confessional some metaphysically. We are to discern what to use with each.

When looking to pray for healing and forgiveness she offers these two ways:

the way of affirmation and of power and the way of repentance and humility… For the law of rhythm, of balance, holds throughout the universe

We are to balance these two ways of dealing with healing and forgiveness. Throughout this she is demonstrating the need to be attuned horizontally and vertically when praying for people for forgiveness or for healing. Again, something that we practice and have taught.

Chapter XIII Intercession: Healing from a Distance

Agnes brings up something that I believe but rarely practice. We pray at a distance for healing but rarely to invoke the forgiving power that Jesus gave us at a distance. Some of us are okay with hearing a confession and offering absolution when in the presence of the person. But at a distance?

This law [of forgiveness of sins] will work at a distance as well as in the presence of the sick person. But the method of intercession is much more difficult than healing at the bedside of the sick.

In this chapter she reiterates something we teach:

The first step in intercessory prayer is to find out the will of God

Let us begin our intercessory prayer then by quieting ourselves, holding each suggested person up before the Lord and seeking for His guidance concerning our duty toward that person.

[She once was praying for a child and] asked His instructions concerning this matter. The answer was almost as clear as a voice within my mind: “Pray for him now, from this place, and he will recover.”

I prayed, and felt after the prayer that sense of peace and of release that means that the prayer-work is finished. So I knew that the child had recovered.

As we become skilled in prayer, we dare go one step further, to ask “Lord, will he recover?” and then face the answer.

Here again is her explanation of why all are not healed when it is God’s perfect will. We depart ways on this but she at least addresses the possibility.

God’s perfect will for this His child is life, as it is always life. But His infinite wisdom knows that the sum of the skill of the doctors, the faith of the patient and my own spiritual development is such that in this life His will is not to be completed.

Here again she reiterates some simple steps towards intercessory prayer which I find helpful:

the first step in intercessory prayer is to quiet ourselves before God and with His guidance to choose our path, fearing not to follow it wherever it may lead.

The second step is to contact the power that heals and fill ourselves full of it. Love is the healer. In order to fill ourselves with His whole Being, let us think of Him, imagining His presence, seeing Him with the eyes of the mind, trying to love Him with the heart

Let us ask Him to enter into our spirits and fill us with His own consciousness of the Fatherhood of God; to enter into our minds and think within us His own thoughts; to enter into our hearts and feel through us His own love.

Let us beseech Him to come and dwell within us. Let us ask Him to enter into our spirits and fill us with His own consciousness of the Fatherhood of God; to enter into our minds and think within us His own thoughts; to enter into our hearts and feel through us His own love.

This insight is again powerful sounding and new to me. I cannot speak to how valid it is:

And the success of our prayer depends as much on the depth of our love to man as on the height of our love to God

Those in convents and monasteries … have learned to rise into God, but they have not learned to sink again into man. They reach a high state of religious contemplation and there they stay.

Then if we would help man through intercession, we must hold God by one hand and man by the other hand, never separating ourselves either from the love of God or from the love of man.

I like this quote she offers:

Thomas Kelly says, “First He takes the world out of our hearts, so that we can give our hearts to Him. Then He puts the world back into our hearts, so that we can give Him to the world

Chapter XIV Two or Three Gathered Together

This chapter is devoted to praying together for others:

These are different from the fact finding step that John Wimber taught and that I have believed:

For the one who would send forth health must think health and nothing else. If he would inquire of the patient’s symptoms let him do so at some other time, and not turn the hour of prayer into a gossip circle.

If we can see Christ, and Him self-given for the patient, and then see the patient well, healed by the love of Christ, we will be sending forth a pure stream of that love

I saw my wife shrink back from praying for others during a season when our own daughter was chronically ill for 3 years. But I am not sure that this is a valid prohibition. If this was true, I would never intercede. I love the scene from Season 3 of The Chosen where little James is a cripple and yet one of Jesus disciples. The issue that Jesus healed others and not him has obviously not escaped his notice. But when Jesus sends him out with the 12 to heal, little James has to address the issue with Jesus. Basically, Jesus told him that it would be even more powerful for the people to see one cripple heal another.

One should not attempt any work of intercession while in the grip of his own pain. Let him first rise above his own illness and then he can see clearly the wholeness of another.

This is a curious statement for me since the miraculous healings that I saw with Barbara my wife were cancer and arthritis. Even now, my arthritis in my knee has improved through prayer.

Organic diseases, such as cancer and arthritis, are naturally much more difficult than functional diseases. Nevertheless they are sometimes healed.

I like her reasoned answer about concentrating our prayers on our family when there is so much need outside our family.

No mother would refuse to feed her child because she could not at the moment feed every hungry child on earth

This chapter contains a number of stories of healing and protection.

She then lays out some simple steps for praying for protection:

How can one set in motion this protective force and so respond to the prayer-requests of those in danger?

First, let us be still and know that He is God. He is from everlasting to everlasting,

Let us know also that He is love, and that He has made us of Himself and for Himself.

Here is a broad claim that I cannot support:

We must keep this clearly within our minds, for if we once accept death through man’s hate as God’s will for anyone, we lose the power to protect a single one in prayer.

This stems from her belief that death is never God’s will for anyone.

Chapter XV For the Healing of the World

I haven’t said much about the terminology that Agnes uses that I amEarth uncomfortable with but here is one:

Our thought-vibrations are not limited by time or space. The sorrow of a nation is the sorrow of the world, for it creates in the air a thought-vibration of sorrow.

I am not convinced there are actually thought-vibrations that spread sorrow throughout the world. She uses this phrase nine times in the book and doesn’t really explain it. She approaches it as if it is not just a metaphorical description of world views and attitudes of people. But as if it really is some physical thing that happens.  If she means that our thoughts can be transmitted mediated through the Holy Spirit I believe that. But I think she really believes that they are physical. She thinks that we can transmit love and healing in the same way. Lord teach me if there is some reality You wish to teach me concerning this.

This chapter is all about the Biblically sound idea that our prayers are not to just be offered for those we know but the whole world. Certainly Paul and Jesus modeled this. Jesus, use this chapter to make this more of a reality in my life.

How can we pray for the immense needs that are scattered across the globe. Agnes offers some good suggestions for approaching the overwhelming needs of the whole world through prayer:

My own answer to this is to simplify my prayer-objectives; to choose only a few objects for prayer at a time and to make them plain, concise and concrete

In other words, if we are going to pray effectively for the world or a sick friend or one in danger or anything else, we must believe that the thing for which we pray is at that moment being accomplished.

So our first step in world prayer is the seeking of guidance. “Lord, for what or for whom shall I pray at this time so as to further the coming of Thy kingdom?”

Pray for people not just vague nations . Once God has revealed some leaders or people in these nations,

One by one we bless these leaders of nations, hold them up into the light of God’s love and send the love of Christ into their minds.

She encourages us to do this in groups – not individually

The ones we pray for healing are normally open to the healing – but the leaders of the world are usually closed minded. …But how can we direct this great flow of life into a closed mind? By repenting not only of our own sins but of the sins of the world. … And by taking that one to the cross of Christ and there receiving for him forgiveness, healing and life.

This suggested method of prayer for the world, then consists of two parts: first, simplifying our prayer-objectives, and second, praying for the world in the sacramental as well as in the metaphysical way…confessing, that is, the sins of our nation and our world, repenting for them and doing penance for them in our own name and in the name of the nation . . .and having done so, seeing by faith the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven on this earth.

My Conclusions

Agnes has done a valuable service to the Kingdom of God. In her quirky way, she led the way for generations of healing ministries to apply her simple techniques and heal many. You can see her teachings being modified and worked out in the ministries of John Wimber, Francis MacNutt and Dallas Willard.

Here are the my take-aways from the book.

Scientific approachEven though she gets a lot of the science wrong, I love her attempt at using the scientific method to learn how to successfully pray for people and see them healed. It is also my experience that there is much benefit in praying for the body to do what it was made to do – heal thyself.

Prayer of CommandI am going to think of Amen from now on as a prayer of commend. So be it. Dallas Willard’s amen is sometimes: “And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

Start Simple– This is an important principle that runs throughout the book. We may disagree with what is a simple project in prayer, but we agree on the KISS principle. 

The Process of PrayingI love her simple steps that she offers. But I especially like the waiting on God at the beginning of a prayer time.

Visualization of the HealingI was not taught this nor have I practiced it. We are told to expect to receive what we have asked for so I think visualizing it is a good thing and will alter my process to include this.

Focusing on God’s Presence – The strong emphasis on the pray-er being focused on the presence of God is powerful. I am changing the way I practice healing prayer based on this principle.

Prayer ProjectsI love the idea of prayer projects and have been doing it for years with pretty amazing success. This is a much undertaught methodology for prayer.

Team approach to Intercessory Prayer – This too is a much under utilized method of praying. I love the idea of starting small and focused.

Prayer for Protection This is something we learned a while ago and have taught our prayer teams how to do this. Agnes adds some additional insight to the process that I find helpful.

The Healing Power of Forgiveness – Although there was nothing new in this for me, her teaching in this area is very much needed. I am encouraged to pray at a distance the prayers of forgiveness that I have prayed in person. Though not new, I don’t practice it currently and will!

Practical Guidelines on Approaching Healing Prayer – These are very practical and well worth teaching.

[1] She says that when we try to heal just by asking, we are missing the importance of being filled with God Himself.

The Fear of the Lord

A friend has been reading the book Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord by Michael Reeves. For some reason, I never connected with any of the insights he was sharing from the book. (I need to read it myself). I have heard a lot of teaching on the fear of the Lord over the years. Some have emphasized that it really means that we should be in awe of God. This teaching and none of the other teachings really rang completely true with me. Awe and respect are part of it. But there is more to the fear of the Lord than that. I thought that there is real fear that is being talked about when God says: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). Or when Luke describes the church as “walking in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31). Or Paul, when he says that “knowing the fear of the Lord, [he] persuades others.” Or the writer to the Hebrews “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

My understanding of the what it means to have a fear of the Lord is best described with a story and an analogy. Many years ago, I worked as a summer intern at a power plant in Michigan. One day one of my fellow co-workers and I walked into one of the substations outside the plant. This is where the power coming from the plant is transformed in order to be distributed over high voltage lines to the community. The substation was a place where you could literally feel the power of the electricity. It invoked a sense of awe at its immense power. We lacked wisdom as to how to act in the presence of this much power. Somehow, we managed to trip a safety mechanism that shut down the power coming from the substation – which in turn tripped the electric generators. We watched in awe as the knowledgeable workers restored the power at the substation. It took more than an hour for power to be restored. They worked carefully and with wisdom. They had a proper fear of the risks of working with such power but that fear caused them to learn how to properly and safely handle that power. I learned that to work with these substations, one must first fear their power. But then learn how to use that wisdom to work safely with the high voltages. Over time in working with electricity, I would say that we stil fear the power of the electricity but now know how to work with it safely.

Here is how I think this applies to fearing the Lord. Like the substation, the Lord has immense power – more than we can ever imagine. And to work with Him and to walk with Him in His power we should first fear His power (the beginning of wisdom). Truly fear.  And then as we learn His ways and develop wisdom, we can move in the midst of His great power

Jesus demonstrated some of that power when he cursed the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22). And He told his disciples that they can have that power as well. Too often, we are like my fellow intern and me, and we do not fear that power and use it without wisdom. We have not learned to walk in the fear of the Lord’s power.

We fear God like one fears the power of the substation. That fear should lead us to seek wisdom about how to be with God, to work with Him and learn His ways. And over time, we work and walk with Him as those knowledgeable substation workers “in the fear of the Lord.” To learn to walk in the fear of the Lord is the antidote to becoming too flip with our relationship with God.

One last note. Hebrew parallelism is where a Hebrew author says something and then says the same basic idea in a different way. We see this throughout the Old Testament. In Psalm 147:11, the Psalmist says:

11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.

Do you see what he is saying?

The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him and those who hope in Him.

To truly fear the Lord, you are hoping in Him. You are believing in Him. You are trusting Him.

Now I need to read that book!

Present Perfect – Finding God in the Now by Gregory Boyd

Book Summary

This is actually going to be a little more than a book summary. As I have slowed down my reading and attempted to increase the depth of what I take in, I am going back to books I read previously and writing out my notes, thoughts and quotes. Present Perfect is one such book. I wrote about the spiritual discipline that developed out of reading that book in Points of Presence. But I have found that I am learning so much more this second time through. At the end of every chapter Greg Boyd has exercises to help us cultivate the habit of being awake to God’s presence. I am finding that I skimmed over these previously. Now I am finding a treasure in these exercises. You will find them summarized at the end of this blog.

One thing Greg does in the book is to populate the pages with little “Are You Awake” text boxes – like post-it notes. This time through, I have found that these are great reminders to be aware that I am in God’s presence when I am reading. I would turn the page and there was the little post-it. “Are you awake.” I decided to create something using the Windows task scheduler. I will be creating a link to this for anyone interested.  You can program it to any increment. 10 minutes is a reasonable place to start.

I would strongly recommend this book. Although I am not an open theist and even though Greg is a big proponent of this theological perspective, I don’t find any instances of open theism in this book . Don’t avoid this book because you differ with him on open theism.

Introduction: “Now” is Where God Lives

This is a major theme of the book – hence the name – Present Perfect – Finding God in the Now. Greg develops the argument that although God was in the past and will be in the future, He is in the Now (with respect to us). Generally theologians and Christians have the following views concerning God’s relationship to time:

    1. The traditional view – God is timeless – i.e. outside of time completely
    2. God is temporal but everlasting – He exists at each moment of time and experiences temporal succession (one thing follows another in time)
    3. God is not within our time but is within His own time. Some have argued against this by saying that God is then somehow limited by His own time.
    4. God is omni-temporal – God is not in our time but he experiences temporal succession in His being. But He does not have His own time.
    5. Although you can argue that God is timeless many philosophers argue that God is temporal (in time) only with respect to his creation. This is my view. When God steps into our time, as in the incarnation, He is in time. When He speaks to us, He speaks in time.
    6. William Lane Craig has argued that God was timeless in eternity before He created time and became temporal thereafter.[i]

All of this does not impact our experience of God in time. I agree with Boyd that we can only experience God in the present moment – the Now. Even when we work with individuals in the healing of memories and God takes the person back to a past moment in their history, they are still experiencing God and healing their memories in the now. And I think that can be true no matter what the relationship is between God and time. What matters is our relationship to God and time. Any comments to this would be appreciated by me because I completely agree with Boyd’s central premise – We only experience God in our present moment because we only live and have our being in the present moment.

C.S. Lewis talks about this in the Screwtape Letters. These are letters from a senior demon to an understudy. According to Lewis, the demons want to keep us away from thinking about either eternity or the present. They will continuously be tempting us to live in the past or the future. Listen to the words of the senior demon:

[The demon Screwtape writes:] The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience [and I would add – the Holy Spirit] , bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.

Our business [the demons] is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present.

Something to be aware of, is that evil is at work anytime you are dwelling on the past or the future. Lord, help me to live in this present moment with You!

Are you Awake?

This is another major question that he poses for us each and every moment

Are you awake or asleep to God’s presence?

As I mentioned, he scatters this phrase like post-it notes throughout the book. He posts them on his sermon notes. All to remind us – are we paying attention to God’s presence at this moment. When working on my laptop up pops a window every 10 minutes asking: “Are you awake?” At that moment, I turn my focus away from what I am doing to the One who (hopefully) I am doing the writing or reading with! Boyd gives us some instructions as to what we should do at these moments:

Don’t try to feel his presence. In fact, don’t try to do anything at all. Simply be mindful of the fact that you are, in this present moment, submerged in the ocean of God’s perfect love.

Waking up to a Cricket

In this section, Boyd describes the moment in history – the Now – when he was jogging and experienced his surroundings as if for the first time. It awakened in him the desire to be more aware of God every moment.  Hear his words about this experience:

Never before had I realized the extent to which our focus determines what we experience—and do not experience—in any given moment.  Never before had I seen how being absorbed in the past or future causes us to miss the wonder of the present.

The present moment is all that is real. The past is gone. The future is not yet. We remember the past and anticipate the future, but we always do so in the present. Reality is always now. And the single most important aspect of reality is that God is present in it every moment. To forget that God is present in any given moment is to forget the most important aspect of that moment.

Over the past twenty-plus years since my waking-up experience in the woods, I’ve become absolutely convinced that remaining aware of God’s presence is the single most important task in the life of every follower of Jesus.

It is my prayer that God will use this book to help you wake up to his ever-present love and to passionately embrace the challenge of remaining awake to this love

Practicing the Presence of God

At this point, Boyd introduces the three authors who helped him become awake to God’s presence 24/7:

    • Brother Lawrence “Among the many things I learned from this man [a seventeenth-century monk] was the need to stop thinking of prayer as something we do at certain times but not others.”
    • Jean-Pierre de Caussade
    • Frank Laubach

While these three authors differ widely in both their theology and their emphasis, they all emphatically agree that remaining awake to God’s presence in the present moment is the single most important task of the Christian life and that no spiritual discipline is more foundational or transforming than this one.

[Practicing the Presence of God] is, I’m convinced, the bedrock of a vibrant relationship with God and the key to transformation into the likeness of Christ. … I believe this practice is foundational to Christianity and how this practice can transform our lives.

The Simplicity and Challenge of Practicing the Presence

The challenge is not in doing the discipline: it’s in remembering the discipline.

When you notice that you’ve forgotten God, don’t get frustrated or angry. This only produces more mental chatter,

Lawrence, de Caussade, and Laubach each testify that whatever task occupies you at any given moment, you’ll tend to do it better if you include God. Remaining aware of God’s presence doesn’t compete with our attention to other things; it augments it.

Chapter 1 – Mere Christianity

For the Supersaints Only?

Boyd opens this chapter making the case that this practice is not just for monks, missionaries and pastors.

For us ordinary Christians, trying to remain aware of God’s presence moment-by-moment seems like a hyperspiritual pipe dream.

But he claims it is not.

Living Out the Pledge of Life

In this section, Boyd takes a bit of tangent – and builds the case that surrendering our life to Jesus cannot be a one time occurrence.

For the only life we have to surrender to Christ is the one we live moment-by-moment.

He uses the example of his pledge to his wife when they got married. The pledge made at the moment of their marriage was life changing and monumental but the pledge needed to be lived out every moment from then on.

Rather, the actual life I pledged to my wife was the life I have lived each and every moment since I made that pledge. The only life I have to give to my wife is the life I live moment-by-moment.

The important question is not, Did I once surrender my life to Christ? The important question is, Am I surrendered to Christ right now? For the only life we have to surrender to Christ is the life we’re living this moment.

We make a vow to submit our life to Christ but then spend 99 percent of our time excluding him from our awareness. We make him Lord over our life in theory, but we do not make him Lord over most of the moments that make up our life.

The Heart of New Testament Discipleship

In this section, Boyd builds the case that being aware of God’s presence 24/7 is biblically based in the following scriptures:

    1. Seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) – How can we seek God’s kingdom first when we hardly pay any attention to him throughout the day? “remembering that God exists and that yielding to his will is our supreme objective, even as we strive for other, less important, goals.”
    2. Living in the Spirit / Keeping in Step with Spirit – (Galatians 5:16-18) – How can we keep in step with the indwelling Holy Spirit when we ignore Him most of our day
    3. Take every thought captive ((2 Corinthians 10:5) – How can we do this
      Nelson Mandela

      apart from being aware of every thought and submitting it to the Spirit. “I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed it, but your brain never stops thinking. It’s constantly chattering! If you doubt me, go into a quiet room, shut off the lights, and try not to think. Listen carefully for the voice in your head and see how long you can keep it completely silent. If you’re attentive, you’ll probably discover that within five to ten seconds you’ll be chattering to yourself. You’ll hear things like: ‘So far so good’ or ‘This is stupid’ or ‘Don’t forget to take out the garbage.’  … Our brain never shuts up. To submit every thought to Christ, therefore, we’re going to need to have Christ on our mind all the time. …This doesn’t mean we should try to analyze every thought to make sure it’s submitted to Christ. This would turn our mental focus completely onto ourselves and would pull us out of the present moment. It would also likely drive us crazy.”

    4. Be transformed by the renewal of your minds (Romans 12:2) – Can our minds really be renewed through a few quiet times a week and a church service or two? No! The transformation is taking place moment by moment.
    5. We are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) – If He truly is the head of the body, doesn’t the body analogy require 24/7 connectivity with the head?

I would add to this list:

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7 (see also 11:9)

…praying at all times in the Spirit – Ephesians 6:18

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. Luke 18:1

Chapter 2 – Finding Home  

This chapter takes a few tangents as he attempts to build his case.

Our Insatiable Hunger

In this section, Greg talks about how animals are just fine when they have food and shelter [Don’t tell our grand-dogs that]. But as humans we have an insatiable hunger for life. Yes, we hunger for love and happiness [as do our grand-dogs], but we also hunger for meaning, worth and significance. [Nope – no grand-dogs I know have that hunger]. He goes on:

Our insatiable hunger for a depth of Life that only he can give is a sort of built-in “homing device” intended to lead us to him. The Trinity is our home, and we are never fully satisfied or at peace until we rest in him.

Sounds very Augustinian! (“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”) And he says that when we don’t follow that lead, we replace it with:

False Gods

Greg says:

An idol can be anything we use to meet the need that only God can meet.

and

Whatever we try to derive our core sense of worth and meaning from is our god.

Beliefs and Reality

Boyd hits head on the difference between our beliefs and what we actually do.

many assume that believing Jesus is Lord of their life magically makes him Lord.  …merely believing Jesus is Lord no more makes him Lord of my life than believing Kim Jong-il is the leader of North Korea makes me his follower. For Kim Jong-il to be my leader, I would need to submit my life to him and become a citizen of North Korea. So too, for Jesus to be my Lord, I need to submit my life to him and become a citizen of his Kingdom.

The important question, therefore, is not what you believe. The important question is what you decide to do, moment-by-moment, on the basis of what you believe.

The Futility of Idols

In this section, Boyd develops what should be obvious – but isn’t. False gods and idols will never give us what we need.

Living “As Though”

While the true God lives in the now, false gods always live in the past or future. Chasing them to find our worth and significance always takes us out of the present moment.

How much of your thought-life is spent in the past or future, and what is the purpose for this nonpresent thinking? You may be so accustomed to living in the past and future that you find it difficult to notice how much of your thought-life is spent there, let alone why you spend so much of your thought-life there.

if you are completely honest with yourself, you’ll probably find that most of your past and future orientated thoughts revolve around you and are centered on your attempts to feel worthwhile and significant.

This was a revolutionary thought for me. I never realized that my thought life / my self-talk was mostly about the past or the future. But it is! This idea has helped me immensely to turn my self-talk / my idle thoughts to the sacred present moment.

The very process of trying to acquire Life on our own forces us to miss most of life, for real life is always in the present moment. When we live as though we can acquire Life from things other than God, we inevitably live as though reality wasn’t always in the present moment.

Reorienting the Homing Device

Coming home is simply a matter of waking up from the illusion that you aren’t already there. Yet, while the belief that the love of God is our home can be embraced at one moment and then forgotten about, the actual decision to release the illusion and embrace the truth cannot.

Greg mentions one of the side benefits of learning to become aware of God’s

Andromeda Galaxy

presence 24/7. Agreeing with Laubach he says:

I feel much more “at home” in my skin—and in the universe—than I used to.

Chapter 3 – Chasing the Sun

Boyd opens this chapter quoting from what is, in his opinion, one of the greatest rock songs ever written. You are going to have to buy the book if you want to know what it is. But the song addresses the human condition that we all face: death. And the fear that grows out of that. He says:

The fear is not just that we’re going to die. The fear is that we’ll never really live.

Boyd makes the claim that learning how to practice the presence of God will free us from fear and dread. Both fear and dread cause us to live in either the past or the future. But we were meant to live in the present.

If you are truly present, [fear and dread] cannot help but disappear—just as it cannot help but reappear if you once again begin to cling to idols and get pulled out of the present moment. For as we’ve seen, our fear and dread are directly associated with our pursuit of idols and, therefore, being pulled out of the present into the past or future. To relinquish the idols and remain in the present, surrender to God’s ever-present love. In this way the practice of the presence of God completely frees us from the fear of death.

The bottom line is that we were meant to live life as a celebration of a fullness of Life we get from God rather than as a desperate attempt to get fullness of Life on our own.

At the end of this chapter, Gregory addresses the question: “Won’t focusing our full attention on God every minute of the day, lead us to inactivity.”

Pointing especially to Laubach (the non-monk in the trifecta of authors) as one who accomplished an immense amount of work all the while practicing the presence of God every moment, Boyd emphatically says: NO!

Chapter 4 Single-Mindedness

Greg now addresses one of the reasons nobody practices the presence of God 24/7:

We’ve been conditioned to have a “flesh-mind-set” that habitually pushes God out of our awareness moment-by-moment.

He then encourages us:

Whatever else is going on—whether we’re taking a shower, engaging in a discussion, watching television, or reading a book—we must try to remain consciously anchored in the present.

He defines what it means to be single-minded:

We are single-minded not because every thought is about Christ but because every thought is taken captive to Christ.

Chapter 5 Living in Love

He begins this chapter by addressing our hunger for information. We have bowed to the idol: “knowledge is power”

This is one of the reasons why many contemporary Western Christians place so much stress on hearing sermons, engaging in Bible studies, reading books, and attending seminars and conferences. We believe that acquiring information is the key to helping us grow spiritually and solving our personal and social problems.… Think about it. Western Christians today are massively more informed than Christians at any time in the past. Yet no one would dare to claim that we’re generally more spiritually mature than Christians in the past.

Why do so many Christians today spend more time listening to sermons or reading books than they do feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, welcoming outcasts, visiting prisoners, or engaging in other activities Jesus said should characterize Kingdom people? I suspect it’s at least partly because many believe they’re already living in the Kingdom by virtue of the fact that they’re learning about the Kingdom. The truth is that there is no necessary connection between these two things.

Boyd goes on to say that none of the three authors put much store in books transforming lives!  Okay – I know – he is writing a book hoping to transform. Not that they didn’t see the worth of books, they just saw their limitations.

It’s just that all the information in the world is worthless if it distracts from the simplest thing in the world, which is practicing the presence of God in the present moment.

He then gets to the main point of this chapter: To live in love is to practice the presence of God. He looks at the challenge to love as Jesus loves us. But he says:

The challenge, then, is not first and foremost to love like Christ. The challenge is to live in Christ’s love, for only then can we love as Christ loved.

Chapter 6 Being Present

Greg opens this chapter with a quote from the play Our Town. In it, a woman, Emily, comes back from the dead as a spirit and sees what is really going on and exclaims: “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”

This beautifully expresses the goal of practicing the presence of God. It’s to “realize life while [we] live it…every, every minute,” and it includes looking hard at things and really seeing others.

This reminds me of a great quote by Anne Morrow Lindbergh:

Hurry is an unpleasant thing in itself, but also very unpleasant for whoever is around it. Some people came into my room and rushed in and rushed out and even when they were there they were not there – they were in the moment ahead or the moment behind. Some people who came in just for a moment were all there, completely in that moment.

Live from day to day, just from day to day. If you do so, you worry less and live more richly. If you let yourself be absorbed completely, if you surrender completely to the moments as they pass, you live more richly those moments.

Boyd wants us to understand that the incarnation isn’t just something that happened a long time ago and now has accomplished its purpose:

… the earliest Christians understood that the incarnation wasn’t just about what God did once upon a time in Jesus. Because Jesus reveals who God really is, the incarnation tells us something about what God is always doing.

He then says that to live “incarnationally” means to practice the presence of God 24/7. We are to always embody Jesus wherever we go.

This captures the heart of Chapter 6.

Chapter 7 – The Father is Always Working

Boyd opens with a warning:

If we’re not careful, our own religion can blind us to the ever-present God.

And then an encouragement:

The Father is always working, and if we are looking for it and willing to participate, some amazing things can happen.

Quotes from the Three Mentors (Laubach, Lawrence and de Caussade)

Frank Laubach

Can I bring the Lord back into my mind-flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind? I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.

Some people have compared [remaining aware of God’s presence] to getting out of a dark prison and beginning to live. We still see the same world, yet it is not the same, for it has a new, glorious color and a far deeper meaning.

Can we have that contact with God all the time? All the time awake, fall asleep in His arms, and awaken in His presence? Can we attain that? Can we do His will all the time? Can we think His thoughts all the time?

If you should forget Him for minutes or even days, do not groan or repent, but begin anew with a smile. Every minute can be a fresh beginning.

This practicing the presence of Christ takes all our time, yet does not take from our work. It takes Christ into our enterprises and makes them more successful.

One may never get to the point where they continually are in God’s presence. You may not win all your minutes to Christ, or even half, but you do win a richer life. There are no losers excepting those who quit.

This concentration upon God is so strenuous, but everything else has ceased to be so. I think more clearly, I forget less frequently. Things which I did with a strain before, I now do easily and with no effort whatever. I worry about nothing, and lose no sleep.

Students can keep Christ in mind even when taking an exam by saying things like, “Father, keep my mind clear… How shall we answer this next questions?” He will not tell you what you have never studied, but He does sharpen your memory and take away your stage fright when you ask Him.

You do not need to forget other things nor stop your work, but invite Him to share everything you do or say or think…

My part is to live this hour in continuous inner conversation with God and in perfect responsiveness to his will, to make this hour gloriously rich. This seems to be all I need think about.

One can pour something divine into every situation.

[Practicing the presence of God] is the secret of the great saints of all ages. “Pray without ceasing,” said Paul, “in everything make your wants known unto God. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.”

If you should forget Him for minutes or even days, do not groan or repent, but begin anew with a smile. Every minute can be a fresh beginning.

Jean-Pierre de Caussade

The present moment is all that matters.

Each moment is a revelation of God.

I will devote myself exclusively to the duty of the present moment to love you, to fulfill my obligations and to let your will be done.

The practice [of God’s presence] is so simple, so easy and so accessible that it need only be wished for it to be had.

God is only asking for your hearts. If you truly seek this treasure, this kingdom where God alone reigns, you will find it. Your heart, if it is totally surrendered to God, is itself that treasure, that very kingdom you long for and are seeking.

All that matters is…to belong totally to God, to please him, making our sole happiness to look on the present moment as though nothing else in the world mattered.

What is the secret of how to find this treasure [of God’s presence] – this minute grain of mustard seed? There is none. It is available to us always, everywhere.

I wish to make all see that everyone can aspire…to the same love, the same surrender, the same God and his work, and thereby effortlessly achieve the most perfect saintliness.

Brother Lawrence

It is not pleasure we seek. Let this exercise [of practicing God’s presence] be done from one motive alone: because we love him.

My set times for prayer are exactly like the rest of the day to me. They are but a continuation of the same exercise of being in God’s presence.

I kept my mind in His holy presence. I recalled His presence as often as I found my mind wandering from Him. I found this to be a very difficult exercise! Yet I continued despite the difficulties I encountered. I did not allow myself to become upset when my mind wandered.

If a Christian is to truly practice the presence of his Lord…then the heart of that Christian must be empty of all else. All Why? Because God wills…to be the only possessor of that heart.

I am in a calm so great that I fear nothing. What could I fear? I am with Him.

While I am with Him I fear nothing.

If your mind sometimes wanders or withdraws from the Lord, do not be upset or disquieted. Trouble and disquiet serve more to distract the mind further from God than to recollect it. The will must bring the mind back in tranquility.

So begin… make that resolution. Now!…Be daring. None of us have a long time to live… what years we have, let us live them with God.

Oswald Chambers (not from this book but related)

The characteristic of a disciple is not that he does good things, but that he is good in his motives, having been made good by the supernatural grace of God. The only thing that exceeds right-doing is right-being…. Jesus is saying, “If you are My disciple, you must be right not only in your actions, but also in your motives, your aspirations, and in the deep recesses of the thoughts of your mind.”

When you are insulted, you must not only not resent it, but you must make it an opportunity to exhibit the Son of God in your life. … A personal insult becomes an opportunity for a saint to reveal the incredible sweetness of the Lord Jesus.

if we are His disciples, we will always do these things [turn the other cheek]. We will not say, “Oh well, I just can’t do any more, and I’ve been so misrepresented and misunderstood.”

Every time I insist on having my own rights, I hurt the Son of God, while in fact I can prevent Jesus from being hurt if I will take the blow myself. That is the real meaning of filling “up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ…” (Colossians 1:24). A disciple realizes that it is his Lord’s honor that is at stake in his life, not his own honor.

the essence of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is— Never look for justice, but never cease to give it.

The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else. “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord”;…  The Highest Good—The Pilgrim’s Song Book

We are apt to think that everything that happens to us is to be turned into useful teaching; it is to be turned into something better than teaching, viz. into character. We shall find that the spheres God brings us into are not meant to teach us something but to make us something. The Love of God—The Ministry of the Unnoticed,

If I will take an honest look at myself, becoming fully aware of my so-called innocence and putting it to the test, I am very likely to have a rude awakening that what Jesus Christ said is true [Matthew 15:18-20], and I will be appalled at the possibilities of the evil and the wrong within me. But as long as I remain under the false security of my own “innocence,” I am living in a fool’s paradise.

Purity is something far too deep for me to arrive at naturally.

Until we can come face to face with the deepest, darkest fact of life without damaging our view of God’s character, we do not yet know Him.

Every God-given vision will become real if we will only have patience. Just think of the enormous amount of free time God has! He is never in a hurry. Yet we are always in such a frantic hurry.

Prayer is not only asking, but is an attitude of the mind which produces the atmosphere in which asking is perfectly natural.

Have you been propping up that foolish soul of yours with the idea that your circumstances are too much for God to handle? Set all your opinions and speculations aside and “abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). Deliberately tell God that you will not fret about whatever concerns you. All our fretting and worrying is caused by planning without God.

We are in danger of being stern where God is tender, and of being tender where God is stern.  The Love of God—The Message of Invincible Consolation,

Look at God’s incredible waste of His saints, according to the world’s judgment. God seems to plant His saints in the most useless places. And then we say, “God intends for me to be here because I am so useful to Him.” Yet Jesus never measured His life by how or where He was of the greatest use. God places His saints where they will bring the most glory to Him, and we are totally incapable of judging where that may be.

is not true to say that God wants to teach us something in our trials. Through every cloud He brings our way, He wants us to unlearn something.

Exercises

Game with Minutes

Boyd describes this Frank Laubach exercise as follows:

This game challenges us to bring Christ to mind at least one second of each and every minute within a designated hour. He called it a “game” both because he wanted it to be “lighthearted” and because he found it to be “a delightful experience and an exhilarating spiritual exercise.”

The how to was a little lacking in Frank’s booklet and Boyd doesn’t  help a whole lot:

Laubach recommends that we begin by designating a particular “uncomplicated hour” to “see how many minutes of the hour you can remember…Christ at least once each minute.” The basic idea is that we need to become accustomed to remembering Christ when our mind has little to do before we can learn how to remember Christ with any consistency in situations that require more attention.

To begin this “game,” think about the times when you tend to be most bored. Designate one or more of these periods as a time in which you’re going to challenge yourself to remember Christ at least once every minute.

This game remains elusive to me.

Waking Up to God

Here Boyd encourages us to spend 10 minutes just after you wake up in God’s presence. Invite Him to keep you aware as you get going in your day. I have tried this and forget most of the time – but overall, I like it.

Inviting Fellow Travelers

Simply, bring others along. Anyone care to join me on this journey? So far I have invited my wife and two directees.

Strategically Placed Reminders

This was the most helpful of all the exercises to me. You can read about it in the “Points of Presence” blog.  Here we place reminders in strategic places to be awake to God’s presence.

Being at Home in your skin

This exercise does not seem to be related to the title of Chapter 2, but I have found it useful for brief moments. I have not integrated this into my Points of Presence. Basically, the idea is that the world supports us through gravity. And the exercise is to become aware of all of the points where our body is sensing the tug of gravity. When we are laying down, it is the length of our body. When sitting, it is our seat and feet. The idea is that God has made this place as home and you can actually experience his holding you through the law of gravity. Feel it. Experience it. I am doing it right now sitting in this chair on my deck. Unusually (actually never in my 70 years), a nuthatch landed on my bare foot as I was doing it. He pecked away and didn’t find anything worth eating, and flew away. But for that moment, the pressure of his little feet were felt.

Boyd says this about this discipline:

Engaging in this discipline, I have found that I feel much more at home in the world because my continual contact with the world has become a sacrament communicating to me I’m always at home in God’s loving presence.

Experiencing God’s Fullness of Life

Greg offers two exercises to help us experience more of God’s fullness of life:

    1. Become mindful of God’s care for me by whispering truths such as ““I could not possibly be more loved than I am this moment.”
    2. I set aside regular times when I darken a room, play some nice background music, and imaginatively see, hear, and sense Jesus pouring his perfect love on me. As vividly as possible, I see, hear, and sense Jesus expressing to me all the things Scripture says about me, but now these truths are intimate, personal, and, therefore, much more impacting. This is called “cataphatic [or imaginative] prayer” in the church tradition and multitudes have found it to be a powerful way of experiencing and being transformed by the fullness of Life that come from Christ alone.

Letting Go

All three authors tell us that to experience God moment by moment – to live constantly in His presence, we need to let go:

“All things hinge upon your hearty renunciation of everything which you are aware does not lead to God,” Brother Lawrence

“The reason I didn’t have it [a sense of God’s ‘hereness’] before was because I failed to let go,” Frank Laubach

Boyd recommends using the old “palms up and palms down” exercise to help us let go.

Whenever you find you’ve begun to focus on things that are taking you away from an awareness of God’s presence in the present moment or are feeling weighed down by the concerns of life, you can simply put your palms down and let it go. Whenever you find you’ve begun to resist God’s movement in your life or are trying to acquire some element of your worth, significance, or security by idolatrous means, you can simply hold your palms up so that your body is in agreement with your intention to receive God’s Life.

I have revised this slightly and reversed the order in what I call the catch and release discipline. You can read more about this in the “Catch and Release” blog here.

Standing in the Middle of Infinity

[Knowing that there is an almost infinite universe above us with distances that stagger the imagination, and a universe below us with particles so small they could travel through light years of steel without colliding with anything] we can think of ourselves as situated in the middle of a virtual infinity extending beneath us into incomprehensible smallness and above us into incomprehensible vastness. To remain aware of the awesomeness of the God whose presence engulfs me, I find it helpful to sometimes remember this fact as I experience events around me. I encourage you to try this exercise. Sit in a comfortable public place and simply observe events around you. As you do so, try to remain aware of the virtual infinity extending above and beneath you and everything you observe. Let your awareness of being situated in the middle, between the infinitely large and infinitely small, form the background against which you observe everything.

As you engage in the discipline of situating yourself in the middle of infinity, therefore, be sure to remain aware that you are surrounded every nanosecond by the infinite intensity of God’s burning, perfect, Calvary-like love.

I am reminded of the phrases from the Canticle of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick

Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
overshadow me.
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.

Observing Your Mind and Heart

Boyd tells us that an important skill in practicing the presence of God is to gain the ability to observe your own experience.

Most people go through life so completely identified with their thoughts, feelings, and urges that they are essentially slaves to them. We don’t make the distinction between “this particular thought” and “me,” so we just ride the waves of whatever happens to be affecting us in the moment. We think we are what we think and feel, moment-by-moment.

Try a little experiment to see if you can experience what I’m talking about. Recall a harsh or judgmental thought that you’ve had recently. It might be something like “I’m so stupid” or “That person is such a jerk.” Remember how it felt or how you responded when you were having that thought.

Now imagine that instead of just thinking that thought, you observed yourself thinking that thought. It might even be helpful to say something to yourself like, “I notice the thought that I’m stupid.” And now, as you observe yourself thinking the thought that you’re stupid, become aware that you’re immersed in God’s ever-present love. Notice what changes as you observe yourself thinking “I am stupid” while engulfed by God’s perfect love. You’ll find the power of the indicting thought dissipates, for you’re now experiencing the truth that you are more than your thought. The real “you” is the “you” that is defined by God’s love, not the indicting thought.

Another thing he encourages us to do, in addition to turning our self-talk into God-talk, is:

I encourage you to cultivate the habit of stepping outside your thought life to simply observe what is there—without judging it—while remaining mindful of God’s loving presence.

Do Everything for the Lord

Lawrence, de Caussade, and Laubach each stress the importance of transforming everything we do as an act of service and worship to God. This is one of the surest ways to stay awake to God’s presence.

Thinking in Terms of “We”

I have taught this as: Turn all of your self-talk into God-talk.

Laubach says that the single most important thing that helped him become habitually aware of God’s presence was when he learned to transform his thinking into a conversation with Christ. “All thought employs silent words and is really conversation with your inner self,” he observes. “Instead of talking to yourself,” he recommends we “form the habit of talking to Christ… Make all thought a conversation with the Lord.”

Cultivating the habit of thinking as a conversation with God rather than merely talking to ourselves is thus challenging, to say the least. Ask God to help you think of creative reminders.

The Space Between Us

This exercise could be summarized as:

Find a way to represent God’s redemptive love filling the interpersonal space between you and others.

In other words, any time you are with another person, try to see God’s love for that person filling the space between you and the other person.

The Primary Goal of Every Social Activity

Boyd describes this exercise as follows:

Whatever other goals you may have as you engage in any social activity—attending church, a party, a sports event, and so on—consciously choose to make your primary goal to love every person you encounter or think about as profoundly as possible. Challenge yourself to remain awake to the truth that each person you encounter has unsurpassable worth, not because of anything worthwhile you happen to see in them, but because their Creator thought them worth dying for.

Silencing the Accuser

Whenever you find yourself judging another, thank yourself for reminding you that you need to live in love.

Volunteering for the Worst Sinner Award

…, when you catch yourself looking down on another person, I encourage you to remind yourself that whatever sin or imperfection you think you see in another person, it is a mere speck of dust compared to the tree trunk of sin and imperfection in your own life.

Seeing through Jesus’ “Unattractive Disguises”

Drawing on the great prayer that Mother Theresa prayed every day:

Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and, whilst nursing them, minister unto you. Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say: “Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.”

Boyd encourages us to look for Jesus every day / every minute in the unattractive.

Imagine the Child

In this exercise, we are to look at every person (especially those we have problems with) as a little child. What did they experience? How were You working in them as a child, Jesus?

Imagine the Prequel

Recognizing that there is a story behind the present state of everyone we meet and that it might be hard for us to see them as a child, Greg encourages us, in the moment, to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what went before this behavior

[i] For further reading, check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Two Trees

God created man in His image to become like himself, capable of having fellowship with Him. In the garden of Eden two ways were set before man for attaining to this likeness to God. These were typified by the two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God’s way was the former: Through life would come the knowledge and likeness of God; in abiding in God’s will and partaking of God’s life, man would be perfected. In recommending the other, Satan assured man that knowledge was the one thing to be desired to make us like God.[1]

 

I am a knowledge junky. I am one who hungers and thirsts for knowledge. And I like it that way. There is certainly no room for boredom. Whether the knowledge is about cosmology or theology or theories of consciousness – there is no end to obtaining knowledge. But with Andrew Murray’s introduction to his chapter on “The Spirit of Truth” in his book, The Indwelling Spirit, I saw something for the first time. In the Garden, God set before man two paths – one was the path of life and the other the path of knowledge. “Through life would come … knowledge” Murray says. Not “Through knowledge would come life.”

So what does that mean for a knowledge junky? Do I miss “life lessons” because I am absorbed in “book lessons?” Do I retreat from the messiness of life to the safeness of knowledge acquisition? I think that tendency is real. Today, may I not be afraid to enter into the messiness of life. Today, may I choose to learn through walking with God in the life all around me. May I choose to treasure every person whose path I cross.

[1] Murray, Andrew. The Indwelling Spirit (pp. 79-80). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Points of Presence

A number of years ago I read the classic from Brother Lawrence The Practice of the Presence of God. I found the concept winsome and alluring but did not see how I could adopt his practices into my life. He was a monk who spent time peeling potatoes and, well, being a monk. My life was filled with work, ministry and family that were all highly cognitive and highly relational. I tried many things to develop the habit of practicing the presence of God but failed miserably.

Then about 10 years ago I came across Frank Laubach’s Game with Minutes. Here was a man who led a worldwide organization that taught millions of people to read. Clearly Frank was not living the lifestyle of a monk. Yet he claimed that through the habit of the Game with Minutes, he was able to connect with God / to be aware of His presence 24/7. He journals about the difficulty at first but that he finally achieved a breakthrough where for the rest of his life he was able to connect with God every minute of every hour of every day. Again, the Game with Minutes was a failure for me. I was never even close to acknowledging God every minute of every day.

Recently I was preaching on the 24/7 presence of the Holy Spirit and developed a simple spiritual discipline that I call Points of Presence. The book, Present Perfect was the vehicle that God used to teach me this simple discipline. For the first time, I began seeing progress in learning to practice the presence of God. I have used this to provide points of intersection with God’s Spirit throughout the day.

 

In Jesus Calling, Sarah Young records the following words that she believes she received from Jesus:

The best defense [against anxious thoughts] is continual communication with Me, richly seasoned with thanksgiving. Awareness of My Presence fills your mind with Light and Peace, leaving no room for fear.

Dallas Willard, in his book The Great Omission says the following:

The first and most basic thing we can and must do is to keep God before our minds. David knew this secret and wrote, “I keep the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure” (Psalm 16:8-9).

This is the fundamental secret of caring for our souls. Our part in this practicing the presence of God is to direct and redirect our minds constantly to Him. In the early time of our practicing, we may well be challenged by our burdensome habits of dwelling on things less than God. But these are habits—not the law of gravity—and can be broken. A new, grace-filled habit will replace the former ones as we take intentional steps toward keeping God before us. Soon our minds will return to God as the needle of a compass constantly returns to the north, no matter how the compass is moved. If God is the great longing of our souls, He will become the polestar of our inward beings.

I offer this discipline to help you be in continual communication with God with the prayer that you would learn to walk with the Spirit / to keep in step with the Spirit throughout your busy and cluttered life.
Points of Presence
A Simple Spiritual Discipline
Objective:To learn to acknowledge God in everything you do and everywhere you are. Another way to describe this is to be awake to or aware of God’s presence 24/7.
Steps:
Pick a Trinitarian name to acknowledge throughout the day as a breath prayer
  • Jesus
  • Father
  • Spirit
  • Lord
  • Abba
Pick just one thing that you do many times every day to use the breath prayer throughout the day. Here are some that I use:
  • Send / receive email
  • Send / receive text
  • Make / receive a phone call
  • Drive past a speed limit sign
  • Move from room to room
  • Pick up your phone
  • Turn a page in a book
  • Take a bite to eat or take a drink.
  • Start a new phase of a project
Example:
I drive a lot, send a lot of emails and pick up my phone a lot throughout the day. The idea was to take these things I do many times every day and build a habit of acknowledging God when I do them. It was very important for me to do this one habit at a time. I started with driving. Every time I pass a speed limit sign, I take a deep breath and exhale: “Jesus” or “Father” or “Thank You.”  After I ingrained this point of presence into the fabric of my life I added another point of presence. And so on. Now, every time I pick up my phone or send an email I take a deep breath and then exhale: “Lord” or “Abba.” In another month or two I will add yet another point of presence.
I strongly encourage you to build these up one at a time.  Don’t add another until you have the one you are working on built in as a habit (for me about a month).  Then add another.  And so on. Keep going until, “In everything you do and everywhere you go” you acknowledge God (See Proverbs 3:5-6). 
As this process of “acknowledging” has grown, I have begun to deepen the breath prayers from one-way monologues into times of listening or intercession. For example: “”Bless Jon as he receives this email.” OR “Speak Lord.” As you expand your points of contact with the presence of God throughout the day, you can begin to listen for His voice during these points of presence.
Yesterday, the text for the sermon was Psalm 100. I was reminded that these points of presence are times of entering into His presence. And the Psalmist’s injunction is instructive: Come into His presence with singing; Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise! As you make contact with the triune God during these points of presence, make it a moment of praise and thanksgiving.
Here are some other books that have helped me along this path:

Present Perfect by Greg Boyd – This was a wonderfully helpful book. Greg wrote it even though he hasn’t perfected the discipline. And that helps. He provides several ways to practice the presence of God at the end of each chapter. Don’t miss them.
Life in the Presence of God by Ken Boa – this book has over 100 every day ways to connect to God. This might help you more than it helped me. I need things that repeat day in and day out so that I can cultivate the habit. 
The Attentive Life by Leighton Ford – This book takes a little different turn – and although it didn’t move me down the field in terms of cultivating a 24/7 habit, it presses the same point with different helps along the way.
May the Lord use this simple discipline in your life to deepen your relationship with Him.