You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. (Augustine of Hippo, quoted from his Confessions, circa 397 A.D.)
Sixteen weeks ago I began this series with the quote, above, from St. Augustine. As I wrote back then, a restless heart is one that is still trying to be in control; it is not surrendered fully to Jesus Christ. The effort to control the situations, events and even the people in our life will never result in restfulness. So, no matter how hard we try to make the restlessness go away, perhaps by working harder or longer, or by thinking through a problem just one more time, we still won’t find the peace for which we long. What is missing is the surrender of our will to Jesus, along with whatever project or problem we are trying to address or solve.
However, it may seem counter-intuitive to surrender the very thing for which we think we are responsible, such as our work, family or ministry. But trying to control something is not the same as being responsible. We are responsible when we lay everything before our Lord and allow him to equip and direct us, according to his purposes, not ours. This is the only way to find rest, as Jesus teaches us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) A heart yoked to Jesus is one that is responsible, yet at rest.
Over the weeks I’ve written about the need to surrender our will, our virtues, our loved ones and our financial resources, but as I bring this series to a close, it is important to point out that even our thoughts, whether inane, profound or practical, should be yoked to Jesus. Since our relationship with Jesus is of such an intimate and intricate nature (John 14:23; Galatians 2:20) we should withhold nothing from him, inviting him to inhabit our mind in such a way that he is privy to everything that runs through it.
Most of us, however, are accustomed to being alone in our thoughts. But Jesus is not seeking only occasional fellowship with us; he desires to abide continuously with us. He longs to be included in all that we do and think about, to be our constant companion in thought, word and deed. This kind of intimate companionship characterizes the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity and it is what Jesus desires to have with us.
Christians down through the ages have referred to this level of communion with Jesus as “practicing the presence of Christ.” A simple way to begin practicing his presence is to offer him praise and thanksgiving often throughout the day. This activity promotes an ongoing conversation with Jesus, where we begin to see the world through his eyes and talk to him about our widening perspective. I take this a step further by imagining, from time to time, that Jesus is lovingly holding my hand, as I go about my day, especially when I’m facing a challenging situation.
Another way to practice the presence of Christ is to do what Frank Laubach, a missionary to the Philippine Islands in the early part of the 20th century, did. He first resolved to think intentionally about God every fifteen minutes, asking the questions, “What do You desire said? What do You desire done this minute?” Next, he experimented with trying to sense God directing each movement, thought, task, and effort he undertook. His desire was to “respond to God as a violin responds to the bow of the master.” In time, he reached a point where he was able to “live in…continuous inner conversation with God and in perfect responsiveness to his will.”
John Baillie, a Scottish theologian who died in 1960, also desired to practice the presence of Christ. He prayed each day: “O You who alone know what lies before me this day, grant that in every hour of it I may stay close to You…Suggest, direct, control every movement of my mind; for my Lord Christ’s sake.” Brother Lawrence, a lay member of an order of French monks sought to live every moment in God’s presence. No matter what he was doing throughout the day, whether washing the dishes or sweeping the monastery floors, he lived thinking of God as beside him as he did it.
Everyone who has written about learning how to abide with Jesus by practicing his presence states that it is important to begin unambitiously, setting aside brief intervals of time throughout the day and increasing them slowly. The danger we want to avoid is in exerting our will to bring about a desired result. Therefore, we must first surrender to Jesus our intention to be continually cognizant of his presence, so that he takes charge of bringing to fruition this most intimate kind of fellowship.
As we begin to lose more and more control we will come to find that there is nothing sweeter in life than spending each and every day abiding with Jesus.
Next week: What some famous Christians have had to say about losing control.
Beginning May 3: Weekly installments from my book: Bringing Home the Faith: a Pastor writes to her teen-age son about Christian belief.
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