Skip to content
Aug 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 2, 2015 – Matthew 16:13-20

Contemplative Prayer, Part Five
The Soul’s Mirror

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”Matthew 16:13-20

Intro: This is the fifth week in our study of Contemplative Prayer

Today we are going to venture into one of its personal difficulties

You have placed our iniquities before You,
Our secret in the light of Your presence. (Ps. 90:8)

Some remarkable things happen in this story of Jesus and his disciples
– we notice the unfamiliar Aramaic expression Bar-Jona–most likely Jesus’ actual words
• that Matthew did not translate this into Greek draws more attention to it
◦ Jesus referred to Peter as “son of Jona” — it was an insight into his identity
• previously, Jesus referred to himself as the “Son of Man”
◦ an insight into his identity (his solidarity with humankind); he was that, but more
◦ that Peter saw the more is evident when he identifies Jesus as “the Son of living God”
– Jesus congratulated Simon for the insight that had not come through “flesh and blood”
• that is, Peter could have learned or made this discovery by any natural means
◦ it is not the sort of knowledge that enters us through our intellect (cf. 1 Cor. 2:6-8)
◦ a person receives it in his or her soul through an encounter with the truth

Jesus went on to tell Peter, “I also say to you” – why “also”? I see two possibilities:

  1. “I’ve told you, you’re blessed, I also say to you . . .”
  2. or, “You’ve correctly identified who I am, I also will tell you who you are”

– in effect, Jesus was saying, “As I am Son of Man, yet more, so you are the son of Jona, yet more”
• this step up required a new identifier, so Simon son of Jona becomes “Peter the Rock”
• Jesus has revealed to Peter his true self – the “new creature” he is in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17)
◦ Peter’s challenge is not to act like a rock, but to become this person
◦ his destiny requires him to slough off the old self and become his true self
• and this is where Peter immediately screwed up

Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

◦ the old self thinks like everyone else, but the new, true self is God-minded

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. (Ro. 8:5-6)

◦ Peter lapsed into his old flesh and blood way of thinking–the way he had been taught to think

Jesus then set out clearly how this transition works

For whoever wishes to save his life [soul] will lose it; but whoever loses his life [soul] for My sake will find it.” (Mt. 16:25)

– the “soul” we lose is our old self that was defined by the world
• the soul we find is our true self, defined by God
• now here is what I want to point out:
it was in his discovering of who Jesus is, Peter discovered himself
– it is God’s will that our encounter with him in prayer also leads to self-discovery
• many–including myself–have found in contemplative prayer, God sometimes turns us inward
◦ he takes us with him into his examination of our inner life
◦ we are not who we thought we were or pretended to be – we are more

I recently enjoyed re-reading C. S. Lewis’ essay, “The Trouble with ‘X’ . . .”

‘X’ stands in place of someone we know
(if you like, you can fill in the name of a person who fits the description)

Lewis observes that most of us have difficulty with some particular person
– this person at home, one the job, in the neighborhood, etc., makes life harder than it needs to be
• a friend advises us to confront the person and talk it out, but we think, “You don’t know ‘X’”
• ‘X’ would blow up, turn the issue around, or apologize and promise to change
◦ but regardless, ‘X’ would still be ‘X’ — the same as always

Lewis, “When you have seen this you have, for the first time, had a glimpse of what it must be like for God. For, of course, this is (in one way) just what God Himself is up against. . . .  You may say it is very different for God because He could if He pleased, alter people’s characters and we can’t. But this difference doesn’t go quite as deep as we may at first think. God has made it a rule for Himself that he won’t alter people’s character by force.”

– in two respects, Lewis says, God’s view is different from ours:

“He sees (like you) how all the people in your home or your job are in various degrees awkward or difficult; but when He looks into that home or factory or office He sees one more person of the same kind–the one you never do see. I mean, of course, yourself. That is the next step in wisdom–to realize that you also are just that sort of person.
“. . . the second difference is this, He loves the people in spite of their faults. He goes on loving. He does not let go.”

More than once, I’ve heard a dialogue that went like this:

Person: “Do you think I’m crazy?”
Jim: “No, you’re not crazy.”
Person: “How do you know?”
Jim: “Because you asked. Crazy people don’t ask.”

– as Lewis suggests, we may be most blind to our own worst problems
• it’s easier to see and admit our minor weaknesses, flaws and sins
◦ and there are painful, shameful and traumatic memories too
• these do not go away simply because we avoid them — they go underground
◦ they still affect our perspective, personality, decisions and actions
– without being aware of the influence of those buried things, we just react

Anthony de Mello, “Avoid looking at yourself and you successfully avoid reality.”

In contemplative prayer, stuff comes up

God will at times give us opportunity to observe our inner life

For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind
And declares to man what are His thoughts,
He who makes dawn into darkness
And treads on the high places of the earth,
The LORD God of hosts is His name.
(Amos 4:13)

There is in scripture a typical human response to an immediate encounter with God
– that is, a sudden, desperate consciousness of their sin–e.g., Isaiah (Is. 6:5), Peter (Lk. 5:8)

Gerald May observed, “At any given moment, we all have a number of worries, fears, guilt feelings, bad memories, and things we are procrastinating about that we are simply putting out of our minds. The difficulty with space, especially interior spaciousness of soul, is that it allows such repressed and suppressed annoyances back into awareness. When I pause for a moment and let my mind settle down, what comes in? The things I have put off, the worries I have been avoiding, the bad feelings I have stifled.”

– however, in contemplative prayer we learn to welcome these intrusions
• in fact, like the psalmist we pray, “Search me, O God” (Ps. 139:23-24)
• the spiritual progress I make depends on seeing myself for who I am
◦ like the tax-collector who prayed, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Lk. 18:13-14)
◦ or like disciples around table at the last supper, “Surely not I, Lord?” (Mt. 26:22)

Is there a safe way to be open to the painful and negative stuff within us?

In The Mindful Brain, Daniel Siegel describes our approach and withdrawal strategies
– this has to do with memories, thoughts, feelings, experiences and so on
• if we perceive a positive reward, we move toward the memory, thought, etc.–approach
• if we perceive pain, discomfort, or suffering, we move away–withdrawal
– Siegel explains how the practice of mindful meditation integrates the brain’s hemispheres
• thereby connecting irrational negative images with our rational ability to see through illusions
◦ we can “approach” or observe traumatic memories and feelings from a safe place
• contemplative prayer deepens awareness of what it means that “God is our refuge . . .” (Ps. 46:1)

Think of looking at our worst inner fears like this:
– in the middle of night, a father is awakened by the cries of his frightened child
• he goes to his daughter’s room to find out why she is crying
◦ she tells him that she woke up and thought she heard someone in her closet
• so the dad soothes his daughter, turns on light and eventually opens the closet door
◦ rather than hide under her blankets, the child is willing to look inside her closet
◦ having her father there, with the lights on, she is ready to have her illusions dispelled

When, in contemplative prayer, God has us look in the closet of our hearts

Settle into prayer – slowing our breath can have an immediate calming effect
Listen – to whatever comes up; there’ll be lots of chatter we will want to ignore
– but the word that comes from God is the one sound worth hearing
Allow yourself to be humbled – this is good for us
– but if humiliation arises, observe it in God’s presence – that is not his work or his goal
If something negative arises:
(1.) locate it in your body — where do you feel it? where has your body stored it?
(2.) label it – labeling a thought, feeling or memory connects our feeling with rational knowing
Hold and “be with” the negative thought, feeling or memory in God’s presence
– allowing him to bathe it in his grace
Say the name of Jesus – “Jesus” is not merely a word but a person
– saying his name invites him into our corner
– notice what he does with what you think or feel, whether he heals, redeems, or uses it
Trust – let yourself be forgiven, loved and cared for

Conc: Growing up, we had to learn to control our emotions

Everything we felt as children was high drama!
– the task of growing up spiritually is not controlling our emotions but transforming them
– we are changed when God illuminates and heals our hidden wounds
• we go from the inner experience of God to serving him in the world
• Isaiah’s experience (vision) serves as a good example of how this works for us (Isa. 6:1-8)

  • At first, upon seeing God, he thought he was done for: “Woe is me,” he cried
    his dark secret was forced to the surface
  • Then he received a touch that took away his guilt and forgave his sin
    he was healed from his dark secret and its effects
  • Next, God had a mission and asked, “Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?”
  • Isaiah was now able to respond, “Here am I. Send me!”

That is the contemplative process in prayer
– may God walk us through it, heal us and send us into his work

Leave a comment