Mt. Hermon on our March 2012 visit to Israel
There is a simple scriptural truth that many Protestant Evangelicals seem to have a very hard time with when it comes to practice. We don’t seem to have a hard time with it as a doctrine or belief. Here are some texts where you’ll find it:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).”
“…God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:27).”
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test (2 Co 13:5)?”
You can see it, right? 34 years ago, it was after a concert and I was told that if I wanted to become a Christian I should invite Jesus into my heart. So that’s what I prayed. What Protestant has a problem with this? None that I know of. We’re good with “Christ in me” when it comes to salvation or entering into the Christian life. But what about spiritual formation, prayer, or actually living the Christian life. Listen to this comment from Shirley Carter Hughson, an early 20th century Anglican abbot:
“It is evident, therefore, that in practising the presence of God we are to look within, not without. We are not to allow the imagination to project our attention to some external place or condition where God may exist, for however He may exist there, it is not there that we can communicate with Him, but only in our souls. This was the mistake which St. Augustine tells us he made when he was searching after God, and found Him only after having lost much precious time because he did not seek Him aright. “Too late have I loved Thee, O Beauty, so ancient and yet so new,” he cries, “too late have I loved Thee! For, behold, Thou wert within, and I without, and it was without that I did seek Thee!”‘ (Confessions, Bk. X, ch. Xxvii).” (Hughson, Shirley C. Contemplative Prayer. West Park, NY: Holy Cross Press, 1935, p. 13.)
This is the idea that some of my Protestant Evangelical friends do seem to have problems with. In 1990, I had a mentor, who was also one of the founders of The Leadership Institute, named Wayne Anderson. He wanted to suggest that the biblical idea of Christ in me was key to understanding prayer and living in communion with Him.
Some of my ministry colleagues at the time interpreted Wayne’s invitation to listen to Christ within them as somehow out-of-bounds, non-Christian, Eastern Mysticism. They could not embrace a practice that, to my way of thinking, was a rather obvious extension of our theological belief in the indwelling Christ. As I suggested, we have urged new Christians to affirm that Christ in in their hearts. But what does that mean when it comes to the practicalities of living in communion with Him?
In the quotation, Augustine grieves the time he wasted looking for God “out there somewhere” when He was nearer than his own heart. Augustine describes himself as being out there instead of God. God was “in here” all along. When we prayed to “Our Father in heaven,” we’re not talking to a distant God living somewhere above the clouds. We’re talking about God Who is at home beyond the mere here and now.
We tend to prefer the familiar over the true. That which is unfamiliar raises red flags and we assume it is in error. When it comes to spiritual practices, a common criteria by which we decide whether or not it is fitting for us is, “Have we done that before?” If we haven’t, we assume it must not be for us. It must be a “them” practice. This is how some of my conservative Evangelical friends have felt about solitude, silence and listening prayer. Since these practices weren’t part of many of our early experiences as Christians, they must not be truly Christian practices (or so the reasoning seems to go).
- What difference does it make for you that Christ is in you when it comes to practicing prayer? How does this affect your sense of Jesus with you always?
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