It is important to note that Jesus’ school of discipleship has not been canceled. It hasn’t even gone online. In-person classes are always in session. The one who said to his disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” (Matt 28:20) was not joking around. In John’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that he and his Father will reside in his followers by the ever-present Holy Spirit. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home [our abode] with him” (Jhn 14:23). Jesus is alive and well, and he is still accepting students in his school of discipleship. He himself will train you in the ways and means of life in his Father’s kingdom by the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt 23:8–10; 1 Jhn 2:27–28).
But the real, personal presence of Jesus can often come off as kind of cute or a bit too precious. Christians have this invisible buddy, their co-pilot, who they talk to throughout the day and they might even leave him an empty chair at the dinner table. Talk of practicing the presence of God, a conversational relationship with God, the real presence of Christ and walking in the Spirit can begin to sound like this imaginary game Christians are asked to play with some having far more impressive results than others. Perhaps we are rightly suspicious of the Christian who is always and easily hearing from the Lord especially when the Lord often says exactly what the person wants to hear. Or the person who feels God’s love all the time and is quick to remind others that that is so. Or the Christian who neglects fellowship with others because they would rather spend time with Jesus. These displays of an interactive relationship with God can sound too easy, too subjective, and perhaps too good to be true. Instead, give me a Christian life I can sink my teeth into: the Bible, the church, Christian community, service, evangelism, worship songs, liturgy, communion, etc. These are more tangible, physical activities that I know how to manipulate and control. I know when to show up, what to do, and how things are going to work. But, the invisible presence of God? Perhaps that is just for the touchy-feely persons, the mystics, the charismatics. Perhaps.
Currently, Christians around the globe are in a time when much has been stripped away from their lives: sports, the gym, live events, church activities, dinners out, social gatherings, ministry involvement, school, work and so on. Tragically, many have lost and more will lose employment, their health or the health of those close to them. A lot of the tangibles of the Christian life are not available right now; at least not in the manner that is typical. Our lives have been stripped down, laid bare. While these losses need to be honestly addressed and grieved, this stripping away has cleared the decks, so to speak. We are not as busy. We are not as distracted. Life is not as noisy and filled to the brim. There is more space to notice, more room to pay attention. What will we do in the midst of this newfound, and perhaps terrifying, stillness?
Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection reminds us of this in “Spiritual Maxims.”
“The holiest and most necessary practice in the spiritual life is that of the presence of God. It consists in taking delight in and becoming accustomed to His divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with Him all the time, at every moment, without rule or measure; especially in times of temptation, suffering, aridity, weariness, even infidelity and sin. We must continually apply ourselves so that all our actions, without exception, become a kind of brief conversation with God, not in a contrived manner but coming from the purity and simplicity of our hearts.…Nothing can comfort us more in life’s trials and sufferings than this intimate conversation with God….We do not always have to be in church to be with God. We can make of our hearts an oratory where we can withdraw from time to time to converse with him there. Everyone is capable of these familiar conversations with God. A brief lifting up of the heart is enough, a brief remembrance of God, an act of inner adoration, even though on the run.”
Yes, even on the run. Maybe even more so when we have stopped running. As we wonder what to do in this newfound space, this unasked for clearing of the decks, perhaps there is an invitation. Perhaps the “hound of heaven” is hunkered down in the corner of the room. In the midst of the loss, in the void of the day, and in the shock and numbness of less distracted time and space, might we briefly lift up our eyes to the competent gaze of Jesus, a brief remembrance of God with us, an act of inner adoration or outward lament? For He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5/Deut 31:6).