About a week ago, I started working my way through the first in the Renovare Spiritual Formation Guides, called “Connecting With God.” The first section began with these quotes from Frank Laubach’s Letters of a Modern Mystic:
This morning I started out fresh, by finding a rich experience of God in the sunrise. Then I tried to let Him control my hands while I was shaving and dressing and eating breakfast. Now I am trying to let God control my hands as I pound the typewriter keys… There is nothing that we can do excepting to throw ourselves open to God. There is, there must be, so much more in Him than He can give us… It ought to be tremendously helpful to be able to acquire the habit of reaching out strongly after God’s thoughts, and to ask, “God, what have you to put into my mind now if only I can be large enough?” That waiting, eager attitude ought to give God the chance he needs.
Then, about a month later, he writes:
Oh, this thing of keeping in constant touch with God, of making him the object of my thought and the companion of my conversations, is the most amazing thing I ever ran across. It is working. I cannot do it even half a day – not yet, but I believe I shall be doing it some day for the entire day. It is a matter of acquiring a new habit of thought. Now I like God’s presence so much that when for a half hour or so he slips out of mind – as he does many times a day – I feel as though I had deserted him, and as though I had lost something very precious in my life.
The thought of this practice inspired me. I wanted this life of living in constant touch with God. I wanted to be constantly aware of God’s presence, to yield constantly to God’s will. I went to bed asking God to remind me first thing in the morning that He was present with me. He did.
For the first time in months, I awoke the next morning before my alarm went off. Usually, I wake up to my alarm, and often times so groggy that it takes me a second to remember where I am. Not on this morning, though. God did as I had asked, and I was reminded immediately of God’s presence with me. Wanting (or at least thinking I wanted) to surrender to His will, I asked/prayed, “God what should I do?”
I ‘heard’ a voice respond, “Get up and pray.”
I politely asked for a new assignment, perhaps going back to sleep. But the voice was persistent, “Get up and pray.”
Finally, I got up and looked at my cell phone. It was still turned off; it’s set to turn off automatically at midnight and turn back on at 6am. I didn’t know what time it was, but I knew it was before 6. “Why would God want me to be up so early?” I asked myself.
Almost immediately I heard the voice again, “I want you to pray.”
The call to pray was so vivid that I fully expected to come out of my bedroom, turn the corner into my living room and see Jesus sitting on the love-seat… and this thought terrified me. Fully awake and out of bed, I still actually hesitated to leave my bedroom for fear of what Who might be out there. I finally mustered the courage to go into my living room, and was both relieved and disappointed to find that there wasn’t a first century Jew waiting for me. (At least not that I could see.)
I went on with my prayer time, which was better than usual, though frankly not as profound as what I was anticipating. I remember little of the Scripture I read that morning or the prayers that I prayed. What I do remember is the fear. I had a profound sense of God being presence, and I was seized more with fear than anything else. Why? This bothered me for much of the rest of the week.
I continued the week trying to practice this consciousness of and submissiveness to God’s presence and will. Thursday night finally brought resolution to my sense of fear. I had just returned from the Upper Room’s Bible study and sat down in my living room for some personal devotion and close-of-day prayer. I began with the evening psalm appointed for the day by the lectionary I follow. It was the second half of Psalm 18 (the first half was appointed for that morning). As I was praying this Psalm, I slipped out of awareness of God’s presence and was simply reading the words of the Psalm rather unconsciously, to the point of having no comprehension of what I was actually reading. I caught myself towards the end, and entered back into an awareness of God’s presence. I heard the same voice I heard at the beginning of the week. Only this time, the voice said, “Read it again.”
I responded, “But God, I’m tired.”
Again, the voice said, “Read it again. And this time start at verse 1.”
Somewhat begrudgingly, I turned to Psalm 18:1 and read, “I love you, O Lord, my strength.”
I was floored. The words, “I love you.” convicted me in a way that they never had before. I knew immediately that I hadn’t prayed them with any sincerity, that behind my declaration of love to God was no sense of heartfelt devotion. I immediately asked God to teach me how to declare my love to him with sincerity. The voice responded, “Keep reading.”
I read on in Psalm 18, and after each verse I added the “chorus” of “I love you.” I began to read of God’s saving work done for the psalmist, knowing that he did them also for me. My “I love you”s became more heartfelt with each verse. I then began to notice not only the things God’s done for me, but also the attributes of God mentioned in the psalm. I remember reading the beginning of verse 8: “Smoke rose from his nostrils,” and I immediately responded, “You breath fire?!?!?! I LOVE YOU!” My chorus of “I love you” then moved from thanksgiving for what God had done for me to words of adoration to someone I deeply admire.
And then it got better. God had something else to tell me. I finished the Psalm and went on to the final Scripture reading in that days lectionary. I saw the reading listed in my calendar: “John 3:16-21.” I immediately knew what God wanted to say to me. As I read the familiar words, “Go so loved the world…” I felt in my heart God speaking back to me “I love you,” with the same passion and devotion as I had offered to God by the end of my reading Psalm 18.
And then finally, I turned to the Prayer at Close of Day Liturgy, which included these words from 1 John: “There is no fear in love…” My experience of walking with and submitting to God had gone full circle. I was immediately reminded of my early-morning experience at the beginning of the week. I had wondered and sought an explanation as to why I was so afraid that morning. God offered no answer to that question. He simply told me that fear is not the proper attitude to take in walking with God. Reverence, yes. But not fear. Walking with God and submitting to God is to be a practice and experience of love. Perfect love that casts out fear.