For the last few years I’ve been learning how to practice the Presence of Jesus and also I’ve been teaching others this wonderful way to pray and live. In my small groups we do Immanuel Prayer at each meeting, asking Jesus to show us where He is in the room and asking Him what He wants us to know. As I have been learning and leading others to experience Jesus’ presence, one of my desires is that I, and others, will learn that turning to Him in this way can become a lifestyle—every day, all day, not just at our quiet time. I want it ingrained in my heart to turn to Him all the time, especially when I’m upset, and ask Him, “Show me where are You are right now” and/or “What do You want me to know about this situation?” Sensing and “seeing” Him in the room or car with me changes everything!
We can “sense and see” Jesus in various ways. It might be with words as an inner voice within our hearts, a knowing within our spirits, a shift in understanding, or a picture in our mind. We might have a feeling in our body or sense a memory. The important thing is to trust that we are hearing/sensing Him if what we hear is consistent with His character and the Scriptures. And practice makes it easier.
I’ve noticed that some have a hard time sensing Jesus’ presence and so this week as I’ve been thinking about the Immanuel Lifestyle and reading a fresh book on listening prayer, some thoughts began percolating in my mind. There can be various hindrances to listening prayer, but for now I just want to look at a couple of them. It seems that our current Christian culture has been affected by past philosophers and their teachings that emphasize that we are to relate to God through our intellect (Descartes) or that we can’t find Him at all because there really was no incarnation (Kant). We may not know that we are affected by these beliefs and that confusion abounds from them, thus hindering our ability to practice God’s presence. Since I’m not a philosopher, I won’t try to analyze these beliefs, but after we look at another hindrance, I will simply speak to what might be a better way to approach a true relationship with the incarnate, risen, now-living-in-us Immanuel.
The other hindrance to experiencing Immanuel’s presence at which I want to look lies on the opposite extreme of Descartes’ teaching that we can only know God through our reason or intellect—the pitfall of worshiping an experience rather than God Himself. Many of us find ourselves on one extreme or the other: I have no experience of sensing that Immanuel is really here with me—I live only by faith with hardly any feelings. Or—I have lots of experiences full of emotion and unusual phenomena but my eyes are so focused on my experiences that when the emotions are gone or temporarily absent, I’m lost and believing I‘m alone. With either focus—reason or emotions—we fail to experience His presence.
So where is the balance, the middle ground, the path to experiencing Immanuel? Intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures plays a part and emotional results of touching the Invisible play a part, but neither of these can take the place of Jesus Himself. Not even serving Him can take His place. He lives in us, with us, around us, as us. He has given us the means to hear and see Him with our hearts. Either we haven’t learned or we have forgotten how to hear and see Him. Maybe we don’t believe it’s possible. Maybe we settle for less because something is blocking our way to experiencing His presence. Maybe we are stuck in old beliefs that it is “strange or wrong” to think we see and hear Him with our hearts. Like any other valuable lesson, experiencing Immanuel takes practice and that spark of faith that believes we can learn it. We can believe we are perceiving Him and hearing Him when what we see and hear fits who He is. And we might be surprised to see how playful He can be.
I challenge you to turn to Jesus, to pray with the intent to listen instead of talking the whole time. Ask Jesus to show you where He is in the room right now. Ask Him, “What do you want me to know right now?” And after several times that you have “seen and heard Him” with your heart, dare to tell Him that if there is any dark place in your life, (bad memory) that it’s OK for Him to bring His light there and heal your wound by showing you where He was when that happened. Practice turning to Him all the time. He is always there, always loving, always wanting your best, always kind; always strong enough to handle whatever comes your way. Look at Him, see Him, sense that He is with you no matter what.