12.19.22 Beyond Belief
Belief in God is an important first step in dedicating our lives to loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. But, it is not the end-all-and-be-all of the Christian life, just the first step. Believing in God and all that He promises us depends on the depth of our faith and our ability to follow Jesus Christ as His disciples were asked to do. To follow means to be present to Him and all that He wishes for us. It means to gradually give up our attachment to our ego and the American culture and all that the world has to offer. And it means to be ever growing in our faith and our ability to be present to God and to others and to all that He asks of us.
Our primary loyalty becomes focused on God Himself in all His manifestations—Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Our primary loyalty is no longer to the church but to God Himself. We still belong to the church and are part of the community there, but we are dedicated to God in all that we do, first and foremost.
This dedication takes us on a journey that is directed by God, that is moving us towards the purpose that He created us for. It takes a lot of listening for how and when God is speaking to us. I’ve found that there are two practices that foster this listening. First, Centering Prayer helps still the mind and provides the silence in which God can be known. Second, keeping a gratitude journal helps us see what God is doing in our daily lives. I’ll detail both practices below. Once we have some experience of God’s presence in our lives, then it is easier and easier to find the motivation for these practices. Once we’ve heard Him speak directly to us in our minds, it is much easier to listen for and to recognize His voice within us.
At first, when we hear what He asks of us, we might say, “Oh, no! I can’t do that!” because we have never thought of ourselves in that way before. Or it might be such a relief that we are keen to try it. You can be assured, however, that He created you just to do this very thing, and that He will help you accomplish the task, whatever it is. Remember that Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” And that Psalm 23:1 says, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” as well as, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (v.6).” As we do what God asks of us, the blessings will follow! And the challenges!
Centering Prayer: This is a form of meditation. So, we sit quietly and use a word or short phrase (mine is “Oh, Lord”) every time our mind wanders off and tries to grab our attention. It is best to start with, say, five or ten minutes for a while until we get used to sitting quietly. After practicing the shorter times while using that word or phrase, practice for a longer and longer time each week until you can sit comfortably for 20 minutes or half an hour. Then, extend the number of days you practice Centering Prayer to 6 or 7 days a week. If you have trouble keeping your attention on the stillness or the Presence of God within, what I find helpful is to count to four or five on each inhale, and do the same with each exhale. You will see how this practice spills over into the rest of your life, bringing peace into your life, far less worry, and a sense of the presence of God in and with you.
Gratitude Journal: At the end of each day or the following morning, list all the times you experienced God’s presence or help during the preceding day. It will take a while to really begin to see these examples of His presence, but once you do, and record your gratitude for all of the times you experienced them, you will see more and more every day. And your journal will grow and grow. So, each instance that you feel grateful for reinforces your love for God and all that He does in your live. Soon, as this practice really begins to enhance your life and love for God, you will begin to see His presence in the blessings accorded to you and also in the challenges. We grow so much more from the challenges, because they call us to give up the parts of ourselves that come between us and God. And with each one that we turn over to God, we are becoming freer and freer of the hold that the world has on us. And that is such a blessing!