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Aug 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 18, 2019


I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
to a nation that [did not call on] my name.
I spread out my hands all the day
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices
Isaiah 65:1-2

Intro: This week, I had a blow-up with one of my grandchildren

The details aren’t important – what matters was my reaction to it
– that night, I woke up around 2:00 am and could get fall back to sleep
• my mind was rehearsing what I would say to that child two days later
◦ I would explain how hurt and disappointed and angry I felt
• and none of that would have done either one of us any good
– the realization came to me that those thoughts would keep me awake all night
• so I took a deep breath and went another direction
• I prayed, “Lord, please show me why I’m overreacting like this. What am I hanging on to from my past? Or what from my past is hanging on to me?”
◦ I don’t have an answer yet,
◦ but just asking that question resolved my tension
– I could go back to just being a grandpa
• the misbehavior had been my grandchild’s
• the overreaction had been mine

The aggravation and agitated thoughts were the old me
– my nighttime course correction was the new me
• I am changing — slowly, because repentance is a process
• we do not change in an instant
◦ it took years of experience to wire the old self into our brains
◦ it will take awhile to erase and rewrite the brain’s owner’s manual
– we’ve seen how the new self is an integrated self — a whole person
• thoughts and feelings, the body and brain work together in sync
• last week, I talked about our primary integration
◦ that is the integration of our lives into the life of God
◦ I feel we need to go over this some more before moving on

Isaiah’s message from God must have shocked his audience

God wanted Israel to find him; he was even willing to help them find him
– but no one was looking for him
• he reached out to them, but no one stretched out their hands to him
• he was that close to them, and they were oblivious to him
For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? (De. 4:7)
– “Here I am” is a familiar phrase in the Scriptures
• Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah spoke this phrase
◦ it is the normal response to a call – including when God called
◦ in our passage, this phrase is marked by two unusual features:
1. A reversal – God is not the one calling, but the one responding
2. God says it twice – the effect is to give it force (like bold font)
• God wants to be found
◦ “Here I am” – he gives away his location
◦ there’s only one reason he would not be found; if no one was looking

Our connection with God is the pivot point of our change
– we do not have to create a connection with God,
• he’s already taken care of everything
◦ it’s like a radio that has all of its components
◦ it just has to be turned on and adjusted to the right frequency
• as Christians, it’s a matter of waking up to what’s inside us

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? (1 Cor. 6:15)
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? (1 Cor. 6:19)

– how do we discover our connection with God?
Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence [panyim, his “face”] continually
(Ps. 105:4)
• it is searching for, and gazing on God’s face that we are changed
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18)

One of Israel’s patriarchs, Jacob, left home and traveled to to a distant land where he came to a well. Shepherds were there by the well with their flocks, but they were not watering them. A large stone covered the mouth of the well. Because it was midday and they had plenty of time to return their flocks to pasture, Jacob asked why they were not giving them water and taking them back out. But they told them, it was a local custom to wait for all the flocks to arrive before removing the stone from the well.
Jacob took initiative and removed the stone himself, then watered the flock that belonged to his uncle (Gen. 29:1-10).

We do not have to pray God will give us living water
– he already has, and the living water is in us (see Jn. 4:10-14 & 7:37-39)
• we need to dispense with the old custom, remove the stone,
• and drop a bucket into the well of our souls
– we need to discover, not create, our connection with God

We know how to search for our lost keys

But how do we seek God? We are told:
“Go to the Bible” – this is helpful
– the Bible tells us about the God we are seeking
– but the book points to a person (Jn. 5:39)
“Meditate on the Scriptures”
– there are certainly times of meditation when our hearts are warmed and God seems near
– but most of the time we are only reflecting on words and ideas
• and we have not found God himself
“Pray” – yes, prayer is interaction with God
– so we learn how to pray – formal, written and spontaneous prayers
• but one day we realize we’ve prayed, but not to God
◦ that we had no sense of his presence
◦ that we were looking for things, for answers, but not his face
• even if we are answered with miraculous signs and wonders,
◦ our hearts want more, need more
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water
(Ps. 63:1)
“Go to church” —
In the Old Testament, people frequently went to the temple to seek God
– but the whole temple system became corrupt (more than once)
• eventually it totally fell apart
– God’s true people discovered that everywhere they went
• God was there

You see, we run into problems if:
– we look for God as an object in the world
• or we’re seeking a sign, a vision, an angel
– we postpone seeking God for any reason
• like until we learn more, make more progress or improvements
God is always right here, in this present moment
– his name is “I am” — and he is — he is everywhere, all the time
. . . whoever would draw near to God must believe that he is and that he rewards those who seek him (He. 11:6)
• seeking God is focusing our attention on him
• and doing it in there here and now of this present moment

This brings us to the practice of contemplative prayer
(you will find an example in the simplified outline at the end of these notes)

The biggest challenge we’ll have with contemplative prayer is distraction
– and the greatest distractions always come from our own brains
• we can’t be upset about this, it’s what the brain does

St. Augustine, “God is saying, ‘Be still and see that I am God” (Ps 46). But you refuse to be still. You are like the Egyptians tormented by gnats. These tiniest of flies, always restless, flying about aimlessly, swarm at your eyes, giving no rest. They are back as soon as you drive them off.”
Abbot John Chapman acknowledged that “for beginners, the great difficulty is with distractions.” He says distractions “have to be kept quiet, but they cannot be stopped. So that it is, on the one hand, useful to have certain words to repeat, which keep the imagination occupied (it is like throwing a bone to a dog, to keep him quiet while he gnaws it) and on the other hand, to be in a place that is quieting, [sacred], and restful.”

– in recent years, the use of a prayer word has been taught as “Centering Prayer”
• but it goes back many centuries
• in the fifth century, John Cassian interviewed desert monks
◦ a companion of his asked Fr. Isaac,
“[Tell us how we] may ever keep the idea of God in the mind, so that by always keeping it before our eyes, when we find that we have dropped away from Him we may at once be able to recover ourselves and return thither and may succeed in laying hold of it again without any delay from wandering around the subject and searching for it.”
Fr. Isaac recommended, “O God make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.”
• some suggest a single sacred word
◦ and to say it only when we need to return our attention to God
• others suggest that a word or phrase be repeated with each breath
– the point is that we resist being roped into our distracting thoughts and feelings
• that we have a way to effectively turn our focus away from them
• and resume our awareness of God’s presence

There is a benefit that comes from distractions

They provide us with a training exercise
– having a tool to deal with them, we are able to keep returning to God
For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength”
(Is. 30:15)
• the more we repeat the practice, the more it becomes a habit
• eventually we our return is natural and hardly affects the moment
– distractions also helps us discover our triggers
• then, once we discover how those triggers were formed,
◦ they become conscious memories and lose their power
• there also comes a time when God’s presence is more interesting than the distractions

Conclusion: There are beneficial side-effects of contemplative prayer

Emotional regulation–no longer being out of control
Resilience (our ability to bounce back from an upset quickly)
Lowered blood pressure — and a host of other physiological benefits
– but these are only side-effects
– our primary concern in contemplative prayer is our experience of

The nearness of God,
the loving encouragement of Jesus
and the energizing breath of the Spirit


The following is a simple guide to the practice of contemplative prayer. There are many variations, and I would urge you to find what works best for you. For some people, it can make a huge difference if they find a quiet place in nature, near (or on) the ocean, or in a garden, somewhere they can easily get to every day. What matters is not that you follow a specific form or take specific steps, but that you make however you spend this time you devote to God your own.

Find a quiet place
Sit in a comfortable position
Closing your eyes will help cut down distractions
– if you have to keep them open, hold your gaze on one thing
Begin with by drawing in a deep breath
– pause, and then relax the tension in your body as you exhale
– focus on the air entering and exiting your body
– progressively slow your breathing, still taking full breaths
When your mind wanders, gently return to your breath
– do this gently and without judgment or even thinking about it
Beginning at the top of your head, relax every muscle in your body
– feel that you’re making room in your body for God’s Spirit
– surrender to God’s peace
– relax your forehead, your eyebrows and eyes
– relax your mouth, lips and tongue
– relax your jaw and ears
– keep moving down to the tips of your fingers and toes
Be aware of what you are doing, as if observing yourself
– watch each breath come and go
– notice each muscle releasing its tightness
– notice your awareness
As you exhale, say, “God”
– or you can say, “Jesus,” or “Spirit,” or choose any word of your own
– after a few moments, try saying, “You”–directly to God
– allow yourself to sense his presence
– know God is right here, around you, breathing into you
When you’re finished stand up slowly
– calmly, gently move into your next activity
– continue to hold your awareness on God for as long as possible
– know he is with you–always

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