“The Kingdom of God is Within You”

Prayer is something with which I have always struggled. I believe in God, specifically as revealed in Jesus, but for some reason, communication or connection with God is something that I just haven’t really been able to get a grip on… until recently. At least, I think so. That’s the thing about prayer and worship life, though. It involves transitions, growth, and practice. I have wandered through several different ways of praying and trying to connect with God, following the advice of spiritual authorities, books, TED Talks, and a host of other material.

If you are someone who has struggled with prayer and feeling connected to God, you’re not alone. In the midst of all that searching, I have hit some pretty “dry” times. Now, how we feel isn’t necessarily the most important factor in spirituality, nor should it be. Often people believe they are experiencing God when they are really experiencing addictive “spiritual highs” that are the result of good music, careful lighting, and other forms of emotional manipulation prevalent in the “business of church” these days.

True connection with God can be found in such settings, indeed, it can be found in a variety of ways, but that connection shouldn’t be contingent on those things. Connecting with God should leave the believer at peace, and when emotions turn against them, it should still remain as a sustaining force. Discovering this connection in a world (and institutional church) governed by “cheap spiritual thrills” is tough, and if you’re like me, you know it isn’t easy to recover authentic connection with the One.

With that said, I’ll share a bit about what has helped me, in the hopes that it might serve you.

  1. I find it very difficult to focus on connecting with something as abstract as God, that is the external, unknowable entity that is literally the source of all life in the universe. That is big, incorporeal thing to try to have a personal connection to. This is partly by design. In Exodus 3, when Moses asks what God’s name is, God answers with what is thought of to be God’s personal name, YHWH, which really means “I AM WHO I AM” or “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.” This is a statement that God’s entirety is something not to be known or grasped, for the simple reason that to try to box God is idolatry. There are no images associated with this, nor is there even a true name from which to construct a character. God is beyond definition, and that is a very hard subject from which I can draw spiritual nourishment and transformation.
  2. God is not entirely external to us. Yes, I know, I just went on and on about God’s unknowable qualities, but God is also one who reveals divinity to us. Just as God revealed that aspect of His nature to Moses in the passage above, so God has offered Himself to all of humanity in a few ways.
    • First, let’s look at the creation stories of Genesis. Yes, they are two different narratives in chapter 1 and chapter 2, but there is some beautiful commonality regarding God’s relationship with us that can prove instructive. We are told in Genesis 1, regarding humankind, “in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Switching over to chapter 2, we see “then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” What do these two passages have in common? Well, they both describe God as having left some part of Himself with us from the moment we enter existence. All of us are born with the image of God resting upon us, and His Spirit, His breath, sustaining us. This is the part of us that seeks after God, seeks unity with God. We often squelch it with our sin, which is why it has to be revived, which brings me to the next example.
      • God says in Joel 2:28-32, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.” Welp, in the Christian story, this is an occurrence that is first fulfilled in Acts 2, in which the Spirit of God falls upon the first of the Church, and they “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” which re-activated that image of God, restoring us and redeeming us. Even more, it gives us the gift of God’s presence with us always, which brings me to my third point.
  3. Sometimes, connecting with God can mean turning inward. This doesn’t mean we see ourselves as God, but instead, it means being still and focusing on the presence of God within us, rather than on the incomprehensible reality we are told lives in the sky and wants us to talk to Him. It means being silent, rather than speaking to the sky or the air around us. It means remembering the promise of God to remain with us, that we are made in God’s image, and in Christ that image is restored to our sight through a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. When we do this, we can learn to peacefully rest in that presence, and from there, our communication with God can be nourishing and transforming, as prayer is intended to be. You can call this meditation, contemplation, interior prayer, whatever you like, but remember, this is focused on the presence of God with us in the form of the Holy Spirit, not an abstract spiritual practice centering on detachment.

Earlier this week, I realized that I was spiritually frustrated with my outward prayer life. I felt no connection or nourishment, and it wasn’t sustaining me. So I got quiet. I closed my eyes put my head to the floor, and repeated in my mind and heart a repetitive prayer I learned in seminary: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me.” I did this while recognizing the Spirit of God within me, and intentionally put forth every word and thought while maintaining outward silence. Everything was intentional and from my heart, and for the first time, I felt a closeness, knowledge of the One who reveals Himself to us in Christ. It’s going to take more practice, but I am actually looking forward to it, which is new.

I hope this testimonial has been of service. If you are in need of deeper connection, but can’t seem to find it, don’t give up. Try remembering that God is not up, up, and far away from us. Sure, God is beyond our knowing in some ways, but He also reveals Himself to us and gives Himself to us through the Spirit within you and I. This is a gift that we would do well to remember and honor, and perhaps, in this world full of noise, what we need is silence, stillness, and the time to turn inward and remember who and whose we really are.

Peace be with you!

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