The Perfection of Fellowship with God

Dr. Brian Allison

I was surfing the Internet on my computer, and I came across a rather interesting essay, presented as a Public Domain file, which was written by the deeply spiritual German writer and mystic, Jacob Boehme (1575-1624). The title of the essay is: "The Supersensual Life." It deals with the possibility of experiencing spiritual life which transcends our present bodily-physical existence. It deals with the perfection of fellowship with God. This essay is perhaps one of the most spiritual works that I have ever read. Boehme's writings have had a powerful impact on such men as William Law and Isaac Newton.

This particular essay assumes the form of a dialogue between a religious master and a searching disciple. It begins with a question posed by the disciple to his religious master: "Sir, how may I come to the Supra-bodily/earthly life, so that I may see God and hear God speak?" In response, the master says, "Blessed are you, therefore if you can stand still from [i.e., apart from] Self-thinking and Self-willing, and can stop the Wheel of your Imagination and Senses because in this way you may arrive at length to see the great Salvation of God being made capable of all Manner of Divine Sensations and Heavenly Communications. Since it is nothing indeed, but your own Hearing and Willing, that does hinder you, so that you do not see and hear God." The master instructs the disciple how he may enter into that Supra-bodily/earthly life – "The first is, You must resign up your will to God; and must sink yourself down to the Dust in His mercy. The second is, You must hate your own Will and forbear from doing that to which your own will does drive you. The third is, You must bow your soul under the Cross, heartily submitting yourself to it, that you may be able to bear the Temptations of Nature and Creation."

The perfection of fellowship with God is the calling, and should be the goal, of every Christian. Such an experience was true of the Lord Jesus Christ who is not only our Saviour and Lord, but also our model; and it is to Him that we now turn in order to understand the nature of this perfection of fellowship with God.

Total dependence on God's leading

In John 5:30, Jesus says, "I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me." This verse is perhaps the key text, along with John 5:19f., which discloses the intimate and perfect fellowship which Christ has with God the Father. Three fundamental aspects indicate or characterize this perfection of fellowship with God; first, total dependence on God's leading or direction – "I can do nothing on My own initiative." What an incredible statement uttered by the Son of God! Though He is the Word of God – very God of very God – He uttered this astounding statement that He was totally reliant on God for all that He did. This fact is almost inconceivable.

My children, having entered adolescence, are partially dependent on my wife and me for survival. They have a measure of independence and can do many things on their own: make a snack, wash themselves, etc. But they still cannot survive on their own – someone has to buy their food, buy their clothes, provide shelter, etc. Now, in their first few months of life, they were totally dependent. They could not belch on their own; they could not turn in their crib on their own; they could not walk anywhere on their own; they could do nothing self-consciously purposeful on their own. They were absolutely dependent on us for survival. Jesus Christ said that He was absolutely dependent on God for the leading and direction in His life.

Do you see what the implication of this truth is? The implication is that Jesus knew the deepest, most ineffable fellowship with God. He was totally 'in tune' with God, totally 'in step' with God. Exquisite union existed between God and Him. Jesus decided and judged only what He first heard from God. He says, "As I hear, I judge." Not only was His thinking and speaking wholly dependent upon God, but further, His actions and His behaviour were wholly dependent upon God; He only did what He saw His Father doing. Thus, we read, "Jesus therefore answered and was saying to them, 'Truly, truly, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing'" (Jn. 5:19a). Incredible! God's life, in an unrestricted and an unhindered way, flowed through Christ. The life of God the Father and the life of God the Son were in perfect harmony and synchronism – the perfection of fellowship with God.

Again, the perfection of fellowship with God is the calling, and should be the goal, of the Christian. That experiential unity of life with God should be the destination toward which we should be journeying. Accordingly, we should be striving to secure a life that is dependent upon God, totally reliant on His leading and His direction. Do you see what that will mean? It will mean, first of all, that you will not seek to establish your own personal agenda; you will not endeavour to make your own personal plans; you will not strive to execute your own personal decisions; hoping somewhere along the line that God will give His confirmation or stamp of approval to those decisions, plans, and agenda. Rather, you will seek to know and establish God's will; you will seek to know and bring about His plans; you will strive to execute His purposes, clearly demonstrating that you are wholly dependent on Him. You will not be proudly self-confident, thinking that you can manage well your own life without any 'outside interference.' You will be prepared to look to God for His leading, not trusting in yourself.

Last year, a young man graduated from the seminary in which I teach. He came to seminary with his family, which included a teenage son. Some 15 years earlier, he had received the call of God to train for the ministry. But God had disclosed to him that it was not the time to receive such training; that he would have to wait. He waited patiently for 15 years until God finally led him, making the direction clear, to receive training for the ministry.

What is involved in being totally dependent upon God? How is it even possible for us to reach this kind of dependency? Simply, you will reach this kind of dependency on God by cultivating an inner communion with God through developing a deep and rich life of prayer. Prayer is the spiritual posture of dependency on God. For example, when Jesus was about to choose His disciples, when He was about to make that important decision that would have far-reaching historical consequences, He first entered into prayer. He prayed in order that He might hear from God and thus know the Father's leading. We read, "And it was at this time that [Jesus] went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him; and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles" (Lu. 6:12). This particular decision was too important to discount the necessity of prayer and God's direction. Humanly speaking, there was no reliance on people skills, or past experience, or natural ingenuity. Not for this! Jesus needed to know God's mind; He needed to know God's direction; therefore He prayed – not for five minutes, but all night! So, if you are going to know this life of total dependency on God, where God figures in at every point and every turn of your life, you will have to cultivate that inner communion with Him through developing a deep and rich life of prayer.

Total responsiveness to God's Word

The second aspect which indicates or characterizes perfection of fellowship with God is total responsiveness to God's communication or light – "As I hear [spiritually], I judge." That inwardly heard message – that light or illumination received in the Spirit – Jesus faithfully conveyed and communicated. He personally and fully accepted God's revelation. He mirrored and echoed the heart of God. Jesus was simply a conduit of the voice and truth of God.

My secretary types up manuscripts for me; and she saves those manuscripts on the hard disc drive of her computer. When I want to edit a manuscript, she simply inserts a diskette into a computer drive and copies from her hard drive, and then gives me the diskette. I insert it into one of my computer drives, and the document that she has typed up and stored on her hard drive appears on my monitor exactly the way she typed it. That is what we see in the life of Jesus. He faithfully conveyed and communicated exactly what He heard. The speaking of God informed and filled His mind, and He rehearsed the same. The words of God were imaged in His mind, and He spoke them. Thus, we read, for instance, Jesus says, "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down of My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father" (Jn. 10:17f.). What Jesus spoke was an accurate reflection of what He heard – total responsiveness to God's revelation or light.

Again, Jesus not only perfectly related what He heard, but He also perfectly reflected what He saw – "Whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner" (Jn. 5:19b). Accordingly, if you are to know the life of perfection of fellowship with God, you too will have to be responsive to God's inner communication or light. You will need to embrace the truth of God, as spoken by the Spirit, which is based on the Word of God; and you will need to faithfully convey and communicate it. That will mean, therefore, that you will not trust in your own wisdom; you will not give priority to your own words; you will not rest on your own philosophy, or trumpet your own opinions. Further, when God speaks and the light comes – when He communicates His truth – you will not judge that truth and light according to your personal standards. You will not question it according to your own preference. You will not resist it because of your own pride. You will simply receive and relate it.

When I went to seminary, I had not planned to enter the ministry. I went there simply to increase my knowledge base, because I thought that it would help me in my Christian walk. I planned to attend seminary for only a year. Well, at the end of my first year, Dr. Al Martin was the graduation speaker. Before he arose to speak, he appeared to be a little nervous and unsure of himself. I did not have high expectations. Yet, when he opened his mouth to speak, I was confronted with the power of God. He spoke as one anointed by the Spirit, emboldened through the grace of Christ; and he addressed my heart and conscience. In his speaking, I heard the speaking of God. Through that preaching, God called me into the ministry. Dr. Martin's message was: 'The Marks of a Faithful Minister.' Two of his main points were: 1) A faithful minister will not endeavour to be an eloquent orator; 2) nor will he endeavour to be a clever philosopher; but rather, he will endeavour to be a faithful witness, declaring and making known what God has been pleased to reveal to him. What a preacher 'hears' and 'sees,' he is to faithfully and accurately convey and communicate. Preachers, as well as all Christians, are to be conduits of the truth of God.

God continues to speak to us in the depth of our souls; the light comes, but so often, because of the busyness of our schedules and the distractions of life, that Voice is only faintly heard. However, Jesus encouragingly says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (Jn. 10:27). When God sends the light, follow the light. That particular light, and its fruit, may not be there tomorrow. God gives His light at His appointed time.

What is involved in becoming totally responsive to God's revelation and light? How is it possible to do this? Simply, you need to cultivate a deep and rich life of meditation and contemplation. It is in the exposure to God's Word that you attune your heart to hear Him spiritually. It is in the exposure to His Word that you are shaped by the Spirit's light and truth. Accordingly, in the consistent exposure to God's Word, a spiritual discernment will arise in your mind, and you will perceive and understand more clearly the leading of God. Jesus says, "Abide in Me, and I in you...If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you" (Jn. 15:4a,7). Meditation on God's Word and contemplation on heavenly things are the path for entrance into God's heart, where you will both hear Him and see Him.

Total submission to God's will

The third aspect which indicates or characterizes the perfection of fellowship with God is total submission to God's will. This aspect may be the crux of the whole matter concerning the perfection of fellowship with God. No doubt, you have previously heard the need for submission to God, but this point cannot be overstated; it is a key, not only for entering more deeply into the life of God, but for addressing all of our emotional, spiritual and psychological ills. Do not let the simplicity of this point prevent you from appreciating the profundity of its truth. Jesus says, "And My judgement is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me." Though Jesus is the fullness of deity in all its brilliance and glory, though He has all power, all authority, and all rule, He humbled Himself. He submitted Himself to God's authority. He did not seek to do His personal will, but the will of Him who commissioned Him.

God's will was the controlling, driving force in Jesus' life. That will was not a burden, but rather was Christ's chief delight and desire. He was absolutely consumed by it. The primary concern of the Lord Jesus was simply that of obedience; that was His overriding life issue. He abandoned His own will; and He surrendered His life completely to the rule of God. Christ's will did not simply take a secondary place, His personal will did not even have a place. It, in effect, became inconsequential and obsolete, for His will was subsumed by the Father's will. There was only one will – God's. The all-consuming issue for Jesus was: What does God want? what does He demand? what does He command? For instance, after Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well, "the disciples were requesting Him, saying, 'Rabbi eat.' But He said to them, 'I have food to eat that you do not know about.' The disciples therefore were saying to one another, 'No one brought Him anything to eat, did He?' Jesus said to them, 'My food, [that which sustains my life] is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work'" (Jn. 4:31-34). Doing the will of God is the meaning and purpose of life; and there really is no other meaning or purpose beyond carrying out that will.

Accordingly, if you are to know the perfection of fellowship with God, you too will have to enter into this total submission to God's will. His will must be the dominant, pervasive, and all-controlling factor in your life. Your personal will must be subsumed by His will, so that there is only His will. The comprehensive issue in your life must be: What does God want? what does He demand? what does He command? Practically speaking, that means that you will not make demands according to your own wants; you will not pontificate your own expectations; you will not exert your own authority, trying to prove that you are the boss. But rather, it will mean that you will be a servant and walk in humility; you will daily die to yourself and deny your own personal interests, ambitions, and desires. Simply put, you will show love to God through your obedience.

What is involved in submitting to God's will? How is it even possible to do this? You will have to cultivate a life of self-surrender to God. You must self-consciously give yourself to God, and that may take a determined conscious effort until you actually secure it. Accordingly, you will have to cultivate self-denial – saying "no" to your own personal ambitions. You will have to deliberately refuse to follow your own will and even say to yourself that only God's will should be followed. Gamaliel, the Jewish Rabbi, said, "Do His will as if it were your will, that He may do your will as if it were His will...Annul your will before His will that He may annul the will of others before your will."

Further, you will have to regularly examine yourself, confessing your sin and repenting. This should be a daily undertaking. Further, you will have to assume rule over, and slay, the passions and lusts that war against your soul. From my experience and my reading, the battle against, and yielding to, our passions and lusts is perhaps the biggest stumbling block that prevents one from entering into the perfection of fellowship with God. The more you yield to your passions and lusts, the farther away from God you get. The more you give in to the desires and passions of the flesh, the tighter you close the door on intimacy with God.

Moreover, in order to be totally submissive to God's will, you need to accept His providence; whatever that providence may consist of. If you are submitting to the will of God, it will not matter to you what situations He is pleased to bring into your life. You must realize that He has ordered them, and that you simply must accept them, and respond to them by blessing His name. Even if God is pleased to bring suffering into your life, you need to accept it. You do not have to be happy with it, but you must accept it – that is submitting to God's will. At the end of the day, and throughout the day, you need to say, "Lord, Your will be done." When you can say that from the depth of your heart, and truly mean it, you will begin to know the depth of the perfection of fellowship with God. You will be spiritually beyond this world. You will be living on a higher plain.

Are you tired of mediocre Christianity? Are you tired of going through the same routine? Are you tired of not having victory in Christ? I want to say to you, and encourage you, that it is possible for things to be different. I want to invite you to live on a higher plain and to walk where Jesus walked so you can fellowship with Him and the Father. In the essay to which I earlier referred, the religious master wisely instructs the disciple:

There [is] where the Soul has slain its own Will, and wills no more anything as from itself, but only as God wills, and as His Spirit moves upon the Soul, shall this appear: Where the Love of Self is banished, there dwells the Love of God. For so much of the Soul's own Will as is dead unto itself, even so much room has the Will of God, which is His Love, taken up in that Soul. The Reason of which is this: Where its own Will did before sit, there is now nothing; and where nothing is, there it is that the Love of God works alone...It is brighter than the Sun; it is sweeter than anything that is called sweet; it is stronger than all Strength; it is more nutritious than Food; more cheering to the Heart than Wine, and more pleasant than all the Joy and Pleasantness of this World. Whosoever obtains it, is richer than any Monarch on Earth and he who gets it, is nobler than any Emperor can be, and more potent and absolute than all Power and Authority.

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Preparing to Entering In

When we talk about the perfection of fellowship with God, a typical response and concern is that this experience is too high an attainment; that the securing of this blessed state is beyond personal reach and grasp; that such a possibility is for the spiritual elite – those who seem to exist on a different plain. The claim is that such an experience is not for the average Christian. Well, this is not true. All believers, without exception, are called to a deeper, more intimate relationship and fellowship with the Lord Jesus. Jesus says to every believer, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me" (Rev. 3:20).

Now, one reason that some believers may struggle and become frustrated with this kind of teaching is because they expect immediate or instantaneous results; they want the fuller experience without delay or effort. But such an experience and blessed state does not come immediately or instantaneously. It takes time. You need to be patient. The Lord chooses the time when He will break into your spirit and lavish you with His grace so that you might see His glory. In the meantime, you must persevere in seeking Him. Wait for, and hope in, God's revelation which He will make known to you at the appointed time.

Fellowship with God requires a prepared heart

Before God will reveal Himself in new and more wonderful ways, He looks for a prepared heart. When He sees that your heart is ready, God will spiritually visit you. The period of waiting for His spiritual coming is the period of preparation for that coming – this is a principle of the kingdom. So, Isaiah 40:3-5 reads, "A voice is calling, 'Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.'"

Now, our approach to this text will not be a strictly exegetical one, that is, interpreting the text within its context. For our present purposes, we will simply extract and apply the principle from the text, supplying supportive texts for individual points. The principle of this text is: Before the Lord will spiritually come to you, and have intimate fellowship with you, there must be a period of personal preparation – "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God...then the glory of the LORD will be revealed..." Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), a Spanish Christian mystic, wrote a rather helpful and inspirational book called, The Interior Castle. In the book, she outlines the spiritual path which leads to the sublime union with God. She likens the soul to a castle in which there are many mansions. Accordingly, one must pass through the different mansions (or spiritual stages) while he or she progressively moves toward the central one in which God Himself resides. One mansion leads to, and prepares for, the next one (e.g. the first mansion is humility, followed by practicing prayer, meditation, etc.).

A prepared heart is pure and consecrated

Preparation, in respect to the perfection of fellowship with God, is a moral-spiritual one. As we consider Luke 3, in which this particular Isaiah passage finds its fulfilment, we discover that indeed this preparation is of this nature. Now, moral-spiritual preparation consists basically of purification and consecration. There are various examples in the Scripture that indicate that this time of moral-spiritual preparation is indeed characterized by purification and consecration. For instance, we read of Moses speaking to the Lord on Mount Sinai:

So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord had commanded him. And all the people answered together and said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do!" And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD. And the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I shall come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you, and also believe in you forever." Then Moses told the words of the people to the LORD. The LORD also said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai, in the sight of all the people" (Ex. 19:7-11).

Again, concerning the building of the first temple in Jerusalem, we read, "And when the priests came forth from the holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves without regard to divisions)...and when they praised the LORD saying, 'He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,' then the house, the house of the LORD was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God" (2 Chron. 5:11,13,14).

Now, of course, these events which are recorded in Exodus 19 and 2 Chronicles 5 are a historical fulfilment of this particular truth of moral-spiritual preparation – the purification and consecration of the soul – but this truth has a personal, experiential fulfilment as well. For example, St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), a Spanish Christian mystic, wrote The Dark Night of the Soul in which he indicates that this time of preparation is characterized by spiritual dryness, depression, and seeming abandonment by God; through which one experiences deep spiritual, and even emotional, agony; an experience which should give birth to a desire for, and wholehearted dependency and seeking after, God. For St. John of the Cross, this period of spiritual darkness is also a period of purification and consecration. Purification and consecration invite illumination, and illumination opens the way for union with God.

You may be longing to know more and more of fellowship with God, but do you have a clean heart? Do you have holy and godly behaviour? You may have the best intention; you may even have a sincere heart; but such things mean absolutely nothing when it comes to knowing the spiritual visitation of God. God is looking for a clean heart and holy behaviour, not an unclean heart and worldly behaviour. A holy life is the dwelling place of God; a righteous life is His sweet abode. His "eyes are too pure to approve evil, and [He can] not look on wickedness with favour" (Hb. 1:13a). God cannot dwell in that which is unclean because He is a holy God, and therefore He calls us to be holy. Be diligent in preparing your heart for the spiritual visitation of the holy Guest.

A prepared heart involves separation

More particularly, what is involved in this matter of purification and consecration, which is preparatory for the Lord's spiritual visitation? Purification and consecration have three basic requirements, which are separation – a refusal to do certain things; repentance – an actual turning away from doing certain things; and dedication – a commitment to do certain things.

First, then, a prepared heart involves separation – there needs to be an abandonment of, and a withdrawal from, all that is not morally or spiritually wholesome. The Lord has made that patently clear to my own heart. The other night I was sitting down to watch T.V. in order to relax. I looked in the T.V. guide and one movie seemed interesting. I turned to the channel, and I read a cautionary preamble to the movie: "Warning: Nudity, sexuality, and coarse language. Viewer discretion advised." Well, that was the duration of my viewing, and I quickly turned the channel. Do you quickly turn the T.V. channel when such warnings are given?

Now, to be sure, living in a hedonistic and materialistic society presents the challenge to remain unaffected by such influences. We are constantly bombarded with the crude, with the sensual, and with the evil; and as a result, whether you believe it or not, there is a numbing effect that takes place. Our moral sensibilities become numbed, and thus we open ourselves up to watch and to do that which we ought not to. In a very real sense, we can be products of our age; and we must diligently fight against that. A little while ago, a Christian brother recommended a film for my wife and I to watch; and we did. There was a considerable amount of profanity in it. If we had known that, we would not have gone to see it. Later, my wife talked to this Christian brother, and queried, "I thought you said that this was a good movie?" He said, "It is." But she retorted, "There is a considerable amount of profanity in it." He replied, "Oh, is there?" Again, living in our society, there is a numbing of our moral sensibilities and we begin to accept that which we would not have accepted earlier; and we justify ourselves in saying that it is a matter of Christian liberty, or that our spiritual maturity, in some way, immunizes us from such corrupting influences. Nonsense! Do not lie to yourself. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Ga. 6:7,8).

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to separate yourself from all that is unclean and worldly – to immediately refuse to do certain things. You thereby can prevent a possible cancer. Once an enticement gets a hold of you and it grows – and it really does grow and consume you – you will wake up in your shame and guilt, and you will sit down in utter confusion. Now, separation will require personal resolve and sacrifice, but the result will be perfection of fellowship with God. So, we read:

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord. "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to Me," says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).

A prepared heart involves repentance

Second, this work of purification and consecration involves repentance – we need to turn away from, and disown, all known sinful practices and conduct, and all known unholy behaviour. There must be a conscious decision to do what is right. Now, this matter of repentance entails a number of things. First, repentance entails self-examination – you need to take a long, hard look at yourself; you need to take stock of yourself and determine where you stand before God. Some of us are afraid and reluctant to look at ourselves because we may not like what we see. Many Christians are content to live in a state of spiritual denial. But we need to examine ourselves; and we need to examine ourselves in the light of God's Word, rather than according to society's standards or the standards of our peers. Second, repentance entails grieving over your sin, having been convicted by it. Now, it may be that your conscience is not as sensitive as it should be, simply because (as I mentioned earlier) you are experiencing the fallout of being a product of this age; your moral sensibilities have become numbed; and, if so, what then?

Incredibly, there are Christian husbands, for example, who are not disturbed – who do not think it is a problem, who do not think it is sin – in physically abusing their wives. There are some Christians, for example, who believe that homosexual relationships are acceptable. Sad to say, the moral sensibilities of some Christians have become not only numbed, but also perverted. We need to be very conscious of that, and do something about it. We need to learn to resensitize our consciences and to keep them tender. You will not achieve this unless you regularly meditate on God's Word (particularly the New Testament) and be confronted with, and informed by, the Christian ethic. You must meditate on that Word humbly and meekly, refusing to be conformed to the ways and standards of this world. Your goal should simply be to know God's will.

Third, repentance entails confession. We all have some wrongdoing, failure, or sin to confess in our lives. Daniel Webster (1782-1852) said, "There is no refuge from confession but suicide; and suicide is confession." Recently, a film called 'Seven' was playing in the theatre. The title is a reference to the seven deadly sins. These sins are not a new idea; they have been a part of the Church's teaching since the Middle Ages. Do you know what the seven deadly sins are? First, pride. Maybe that is what you need to confess – pride of appearance, pride of status, pride of prestige. Second, anger. Are you angry with your colleague, with your wife, with your friends? Do you get upset when they do not meet your expectations? Maybe you need to confess anger. Third, lechery (i.e., sexual lust). Are you lusting after some man or woman? Maybe you need to confess lechery. Fourth, envy. Do you covet your neighbour's car, or home, or family or lifestyle? Maybe you need to confess envy. Fifth, gluttony. You would be surprised at how many Christians suffer from this sin of 'stuffing their faces.' Maybe you need to confess gluttony. Sixth, avarice (i.e., greed, especially for money). Do you have an inappropriate desire for money? Maybe you need to confess avarice. Seventh, sloth (i.e., laziness). Were you unduly idle this past week? Maybe you need to confess sloth.

Fourth, repentance entails a determination to turn away from your sin, and to turn toward God in new obedience. Now, often we know what is the right thing to do. Many of us desire to do the right thing. This may not be where the problem lies. The problem often lies in determining to do the right thing. It is your choice. Do not say, "The devil made me do it." The devil did not make you do it! He may have encouraged you; he may have tempted you, but you did it because you chose to do it; and you will stop doing it when you choose to stop doing it. In terms of Biblical psychology, the will is king, not the emotions. You choose to sin or you choose not to sin. All things being equal, there is no excuse. Is there something that you need to repent of? Maybe you have the sin of irritability; maybe the sin of criticalness; maybe the sin of laziness; maybe the sin of lying? We all need to repent of something; repentance ought to be a consistent, regular exercise. When we truly repent, God is pleased to spiritually visit us. "And [if] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14).

A prepared heart involves dedication

Third, the work of purification and consecration involves dedication. Again, we need to choose to be committed to do what is right. Not only must we 'put off' sin and evil, but we must self-consciously 'put on' righteousness and holiness Many people are content in simply not being bad, but the Scriptures go further than that. Do not simply be content in not being bad, but be concerned about actually being good. We read, "Therefore laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH, EACH ONE of you...Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labour, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that you may have something to share with him who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification..." (Eph. 4:25ff.).

So, we are to 'put off' and 'put on.' But further, we need to self-consciously subdue and refuse to give in to fleshly passions. Many people do not know how to handle, manage, and abstain from their passions and lusts which 'war against their soul.' How you handle your passions and lusts will determine whether the battle is won or lost. When that movie comes on the T.V., in a moment of time a passion may arise – possibly weak initially – and if you do not kill it immediately, it will grow and eventually blind you to the truth. It will blind you to what is right, and you will become self-deceived. It will create a different state of mind, one that is dishonouring to God. That is why you need to kill it immediately at its first risings, or it will kill you. Be spiritually watchful. Along with being spiritually watchful, you must pray for grace in order to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

Preconditions of a prepared heart

What are the preconditions in this matter of purification and consecration, which are the precursors of perfection of fellowship with God? First, there must be a deep concern for your spiritual condition and moral state. Do you have a deep concern for your spiritual condition and moral state? If you do not, you have not even begun to move in the direction of perfection of fellowship with God. This deep concern indicates that the stirrings of the Holy Spirit are within. With this concern, you will feel guilty and ashamed of your selfish actions and self-willed behaviour. You will feel uncomfortable with your worldly lifestyle. You will say, "Something is not right. I do not think God is really pleased with me." That is a precondition for moving toward this matter of purification and consecration.

Second, there must be a recognition that God is holy and righteous, and that He requires holiness and righteousness. This understanding reveals a godly fear, which produces much spiritual fruit; and if there is not this recognition that God is holy and righteous – if there is not this godly fear – then you have not even begun to move in the direction of perfection of fellowship with God. Again, this disposition is the result of the Spirit's stirrings in the heart as God is preparing your heart for His spiritual visitation.

Third, there must be a genuine desire to be more holy and righteous like God, as well as a genuine desire to be one with God. If you do not have these desires, you have not even begun to move in the direction of perfection of fellowship with God. Again, these desires are the stirrings of the Spirit because God is preparing your heart to receive His spiritual visitation.

So, do you have a deep concern for your spiritual condition? Do you desire to be more holy and righteous as God is, and thus desire to be one with God? Thirdly, do you recognize that God requires holiness and righteousness from you; is there godly fear in your heart? Are you prepared for His visitation? Are you becoming prepared for His visitation? Are there things that need to be dealt with in your life? Are you serious about change? Do you even care about entering in to the perfection of fellowship with God? Again, Jesus says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he or she with Me" (Rev. 3:20).

~ 3 ~

Prayer

After my wife finished reading one of my sermons concerning the perfection of fellowship with God, I asked her if she had any questions. She responded, "Just one; how do you get there?" That is the primary question. How is it possible to experience that deep communion with God, that higher plane of spiritual existence, that fullness of Christ's presence? There are three building blocks or, if you like, a threefold foundation block: first, the need of prayer; second, the need of meditation and contemplation; and third, the need of obedience – the demonstration of love. In this chapter, we shall concentrate on the first need – prayer.

Prayer is the path that we must travel if we are going to spiritually arrive at hearing and seeing God. D. M. M'Intyre (1859-1938), the colleague and successor of Andrew A. Bonar (1810-1892) at Finnieston Church, Glasgow, wrote a little book entitled, The Hidden Life of Prayer. The book begins with a brief biographical sketch and tribute to D. M. M'Intyre by Francis Davidson. Davidson writes, "Pre-eminently David Martin M'Intyre was a man of prayer. He lived in the presence of God. It is a major mistake, however, to imagine that he was 'so heavenly as to be no earthly good.' He was a practical mystic. Like Moses, he descended the mount of communion with God, his face shining, and in the divine power became a great leader of multitudes." Perhaps M'Intyre was influenced by his predecessor Bonar, of whom it is said, "[he] was a man of deep and fervent prayer which became a fixed habit of his life. Much prayer seemed to make his other arduous duties lighter and easier. Jesus Christ was a very real Person to him" (Elgin S. Moyer). These statements highlight the centrality of prayer in securing intimate fellowship with God. Because Bonar and M'Intyre were men of prayer, they knew the personal presence and fellowship of God.

Persistence in prayer

A little phrase in Ephesians 6:18 is very helpful in capturing the essential aspect of the kind of prayer required in order to spiritually arrive at hearing and seeing God – "pray at all times." Now, most Christians would readily admit that they should pray. Most Christians would admit that prayer is basic to Christian life and experience. Most Christians would admit that prayer helps one to grow spiritually and to mature. They realize the need for prayer; they realize the importance of prayer; and yet, for all that knowledge, I ask the searching question: How many actually pray? Do you pray? How much do you pray? If you are to enter that higher life in Christ, if you are to be completely surrendered to Him and express that submission of heart, if you are to experience that perfection of fellowship with God, then you must not simply engage in prayer, but rather you must engage in persistent prayer. John Fletcher (1729-1785), a Methodist preacher and theologian, always greeted a particular friend with these words, "Do I meet your praying?" What would be your response to such a salutation?

Many Christians pray; few Christians pray at all times. Many Christians offer a few words to God periodically; few Christians pray continually. The Scripture repeatedly exhorts us to pray always – Romans 12:12, "devoted to prayer;" Colossians 4:2, "devote yourself to prayer;" 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "pray without ceasing." Unless you persistently pray, you will not 'enter in,' or 'break through,' to where intimacy with God is found. Admittedly, this kind of praying is demanding. Not many are prepared for this kind of spiritual labour. Many view it as being too costly; for they must give up their comfort and convenience. E. M. Bounds (1835-1913), a Methodist minister and writer who perhaps was the foremost researcher in the life of prayer, emphasized, "Prayer is not a little habit pinned on to us while we were tied to our mother's apron strings; neither is it a little decent quarter of a minute's grace said over an hour's dinner, but it is a most serious work of our most serious years. Spiritual work is taxing work, and men [and women] are loath to do it. Praying, true praying costs an outlay of serious attention and of time, which flesh and blood do not relish."

Jesus Christ: the model of persistent prayer

Jesus is our practical model. Again, He is not only our Saviour and Lord, but He is our pattern for godly devotion. Jesus experienced a deep, intimate fellowship with God, not simply because He is the Son of God and His very divine nature naturally and necessarily is united with that of God's; but because He was a man of prayer. Jesus, being human, was subject to the same spiritual and religious laws as are all human beings. He had to pray, He had to seek the Father, He had to worship God, because such is required of all of God's creatures. Thus, we read of our Lord, "And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there" (Mk. 1:35); again, "And immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the multitude away. And after bidding them farewell, He departed to the mountain to pray" (Mk. 6:45, 46); again, "But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and great multitudes were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray" (Lk. 5:15,16); and again, "And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God" (Lk 6:12). Jesus did not simply have a prayer life, He had a life of prayer. He persisted in prayer, and so must we.

Persistent prayer takes work

No doubt, you have heard the cliché, "No pain, no gain." That is no more true than in this area of prayer. But, having entered into this perfection of fellowship with God, through 'labouring' prayer, you will then realize (having put in the time and effort) that it was a minor sacrifice, in comparison with the infinite spiritual gain. Now, the problem that many people have in this matter of prayer is that they want results immediately. They are impatient. They want to simply pray for a few days, and then (even magically) enter into the fullness of intimacy with God. For example, they may show determination and enthusiasm, for instance, through listening to a sermon and thus say, "I am ready for prayer. Starting tomorrow, I am going to devote myself to an hour of prayer daily." The first day may be easy; but the next day typically may become more difficult. The third day may be even more challenging; and if there are no results by the four day, mostly likely they will be back where they were initially. People want results immediately. They do not want to wait. But prayer is not an easy road, nor a fast lane. It is hard spiritual work; it requires time and effort. As one cannot pick up a musical instrument and play instantly, without practice and commitment, so one cannot acquire facility and comfortableness in prayer without a similar practice and commitment.

What persistent prayer means

The original language underlying this phrase in Ephesians 6:18 is somewhat interesting. The term 'pray' in the original Greek is not a verb, but a participle (i.e., a verbal adjective) and the import of the language is this: prayer should be viewed not only as an act but as an activity, a habit, or a practice. The language suggests the state or the process of prayer. The language suggests the idea of an ongoing or continuous undertaking, and so the better translation is this: "praying at all times." Such a combination of terms thus sounds almost redundant, but such a construction was most likely for the sake of emphasis

The activity of prayer should be undertaken during all seasons, throughout the whole day – morning, afternoon, and night (and not simply before meals or at bedtime). This exhortation means that we are to be engaged in this activity of prayer on happy occasions, as well as on sad occasions – when that unexpected cheque comes, as well as when that bad report arrives. We are to be praying on special days, as well as on regular days. We are to be praying when we are feeling spiritually dry, as well as when we are feeling spiritually alive. Prayer should be the spiritual air which our souls continually breathe. Christians should live and function in the context and atmosphere of prayer. Stonewall Jackson (1824-1863), the American Confederate general and professor of the military tactics at the Virginia military institute, wrote, "I have so fixed the habit of prayer in my mind that I never raise a glass of water to my lips without asking God's blessing, never seal a letter without putting a word of prayer under the seal, never take a letter from the post without a brief sending of my thoughts heavenward, never change my classes in the lecture room without a minute's petition for the cadets who go out and for those come in." Jackson prayed at all times.

To pray at all times does not mean that we should always be on our knees, though such a consistent practice should be an essential part of persistent prayer. Indeed, specific set times of prayer are necessary. For instance, Robert Murray M'Cheyne (1813-1843), one of most pious of the Church of Scotland ministers, wrote in his journal, "I ought to spend the best hours in communion with God. It is my noblest and most fruitful employment, and it is not to be thrust into a corner. The morning hours, from six to eight, are the most uninterrupted and should be thus employed. After tea is my best hour, and that should be solemnly dedicated to God. I ought not to give up the good habit of prayer before going to bed; but guard must be kept against sleep. When I awake in the night, I ought to rise and pray. A little time after breakfast may be given to intercession." Like Murray M'Cheyne, we ought to have daily intense devotions where we shut out the world and close in with God. We need these regulated, concentrated times of prayer because, by nature, we are lazy, undisciplined, and neglectful. It is good to impose external standards upon ourselves so that we may do what God calls us to do.

But, again, praying at all times does not mean always being on our knees, and thus neglecting our daily responsibilities and commitments. What we are dealing with is the way we should carry out our responsibilities and commitments. Prayer should not simply be a doing, but also a being. We should always be in an attitude of prayer while we are engaged in the various activities of our life, whether it be typing, answering the telephone, stacking boxes, or conferring with customers. While we are engaged in attending to our various duties, we should be in continual communion with God, asking for His leading and guidance, seeking to know His will only. We should cultivate immediate and spontaneous prayer-thinking. We should be always turning to God, either mentally or verbally. We truly can pray at all times and in all places – in the office, in the car, or in the basement. We can be in constant dialogue, a constant conversation, with God.

James Oliver Buswell, the well-known American preacher, in his book entitled, Problems in the Prayer Life, writes, "This conversation with God, need not always be in words, but it should never be broken off. It ought to be essentially continuous in its nature. The continuous nature of prayer may well be illustrated by the conversation of intimate friends. Words are not constantly exchanged, but fellowship is not interrupted. We must not only have regular and frequent times for prayer, but, whenever there is a break in the occupation of our minds, we ought to revert to the conscious communion with God just as involuntarily as we would continue in conversation with a friend near at hand."

Such praying is possible. I am not trying to lay upon your shoulders a burden too heavy for you to bear. The real problem may be that you are not even prepared to bear any kind of burden. But "[Jesus'] yoke is easy and His burden is light" (Mt. 11:30). The problem is not with Christ's burden; the problem may be with your heart. You may say that you want more of God, but do you want more of God bad enough, or on your terms? Maybe you do not want to make the investment of time and energy; and as a result you will not receive the 'spiritual returns.' Archbishop Robert Leighton (1611-1684), a Scottish theologian and preacher, spent so much time alone with God that he seemed to be in a perpetual meditation. One of his biographers wrote the following concerning him, "Prayer and praise were his business and his pleasure."

The obstacle to a life of persistent prayer

Andrew Murray (1828-1917), the Dutch Reformed South African minister, was of the persuasion that at the very heart of prayerlessness is unbelief. I think he may be right. The story is told of a Scottish minister who prayed one morning for rain that day because of the drought. When he left to go to the church in the afternoon, his daughter handed him an umbrella. He looked confused as he peered out the window at the blazing sunshine. The daughter asked, "Dad, did you not pray for rain today? Do you not expect God to send it?" He sheepishly took the umbrella, affirming indeed that he did. That umbrella provided welcomed shelter for him from a drenching downpour later that day. Belief, expectant faith, is the impetus of prayer. Often we do not pray because we really do not believe that God is able or ready to answer us or to reveal Himself to us. The Scripture says, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hb. 11:6).

The account of John Foster (1770-1843), a Baptist minister and theologian, underscores the regret that some of us have felt, and will yet feel, in neglecting prayer. On his death bed, Foster, who was noted for his piety and deep devotion to God, confessed, "'Pray without ceasing' has been the sentence repeating itself in my silent thoughts, and I am sure that it will be, it must be, my practice until the last conscious hour of my life. O why was it not my practice throughout that long, indolent, inanimate half century past! I often think mournfully of the difference it would have made in me. Now there remains so little time for a mere genuine, effective spiritual life." Do you regret your lack of persistent prayer? Will you lie on your deathbed in shame and remorse, considering the wasted years, the time you did not give to God, and how things could have been radically different if you had given yourself to God in prayer?

Requirements for a life of persistent prayer

So, 'praying at all times' entails a way of thinking. We should live in an attitude of prayer. It is possible, if we have, at least, two things. First, there needs to be a desire for a life of prayer. You need to really want it. Unless you have a desire for it, you may lack the motivation to strive for it. Some Christians are content simply to be good and moral people; they desire nothing more. How badly do you want this life of prayer, and hence a deep, intimate fellowship with God? When you begin to see the beauty of Jesus Christ and gaze upon His loveliness, then you will want it. You may complain that you do not have the desire, though you would like such a desire. One problem may be that you have not clearly recognized Christ. You may know about Him, but you have not gazed upon Him; because when you spiritually gaze upon Him, you will desire Him; and you will recognize that He is the altogether lovely One. His beauty will draw you, and then you will hunger and thirst after Him.

Second, there needs to be discipline to attain such a life of prayer. This kind of life – persistent prayer, which leads to intimate fellowship with God – is possible if you are determined to pursue it. You must not allow anything to deter you. At this point, you cannot be governed by your feelings; you must be governed by truth. You must act on the basis of what you know to be right, regardless of how you feel.

I am a teacher. Part of my duties is to mark the exams of my students. I dislike marking exams. For me, it is the bane of teaching, but I do it out of a sense of duty; and thus I discipline myself to do it. I try to cultivate the right attitude because I want to be objective and fair in my marking. With respect to the activity itself, I do not like it, but I discipline myself to do it, regardless of how I feel. So it is with prayer. Stop giving into your feelings and allowing them to rule so that if you do not like or want it, you do not do it. You must act because it is right, and because it is what God calls you to do. Realize that you yourself make the decision; you must choose for yourself. And having 'entered in,' you will realize that such a price was little payment for the vast treasure of tasting and drinking deeply from the Fountain of life.

The life of persistent prayer is the prerequisite for, and part of the very substance of, deep, intimate fellowship with God. Brother Lawrence is well-known for his depth of spirituality. He writes, "There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. Those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it." The perfection of fellowship with God is nothing less than total self-surrender to God, the heart of which is prayer. David Eastman in his book, No Easy Road, which is a book of inspirational thoughts on prayer, reminds us that Brother Lawrence knew what it was to surrender to God. He writes, "No one has learned better the value of such surrender than the monk Brother Lawrence. A simple book on Lawrence's life has effected millions. The book The Practice of the Presence of God contains a friend's analysis of Lawrence: "His prayer was nothing but a sense of the presence of God, his soul being at that time insensible to everything but Divine love; and that when the appointed times of prayer were past, he found no difference, because he still continued with God, praising and blessing Him with all his might, so that he passed his life in continual joy. This is a silent surrendering to God."

Seeking a life of persistent prayer

Again, a life of persistent prayer is possible, if you have the desire and the discipline. How badly do you want it? Are you willing to pay the price? You may be sitting there saying, "Well, I am in a rut. I hear what you are saying, but how do I even get started?" Here is the answer – just start! E. M. Bounds in his book, The Weapon of Prayer, says, "Thus we see that the remedy for non-praying is praying. The cure for little praying is more praying." There is nothing magical about securing this kind of life. Do not sit there waiting for God to 'zap' you. God can do that, but it is unlikely that He will. There is no secret formula; only a simple response. If you have a problem with praying, just start praying. Just do it!

Begin by asking God to give you the Spirit of prayer and supplication. We cannot do it on our own; God has to do it, but there is a place for human responsibility. If you are lacking drive, the sense of commitment, the desire for more, begin by asking God for the Spirit of prayer and supplication. Let your need lead you. You may be surprised by what God will do. God looks at the heart and its intents; and He knows the depth of your struggles and sincerity. Have you asked God for the Spirit of prayer and supplication? Many of us do not feel like rising early in the morning, but we do it because we must. Similarly, you may not feel like praying, but just do it; and with discipline, there will soon be delight. Once you 'enter in,' you will say that it was worth it all. It will be worth it all when we see Jesus, not simply at His return, but when He is pleased to break into our normal experience and make Himself known in a new way.

~ 4 ~

Meditation and Contemplation

Did you read your Bible this past week? Now you may think that this is a strange question to ask a Christian, but according to recent statistics, weekly personal Bible reading is not practiced by the majority of Christians. Now, if you are one of the Christians who regularly does read his or her Bible, do you meditate on the Scriptures? Do you contemplate Jesus Christ? Richard Baxter (1615-1691), an English Puritan preacher, writes, in his book The Saint's Everlasting Rest:

This duty of meditation, or the considering and contemplating of spiritual things, is confessed to be a duty by all, but practically denied by most. Many who are conscientious about other duties easily neglect this one. They are troubled if they omit a sermon, a fast, or a prayer, in public or private; yet they are never troubled that they have omitted meditation, perhaps all their lifetime to this very day. They fail to realize that it is a duty by which all other duties are improved, and by which the soul digests truths for its nourishment and comfort (p. 103).

At least in Baxter's day, there was the recognition that meditation was a duty. Many Christians today, are not even clear on what meditation and contemplation mean and involve, let alone practice it.

Biblical meditation and contemplation are required in order to experience the perfection of fellowship with God. Meditation and contemplation, prayer, and obedience or the demonstration of love comprise the threefold foundation block for entering into this perfection of fellowship with God. In this chapter, we will consider this matter of meditation and contemplation. A helpful text in this regard is Colossians 3:1,2: "If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on the earth."

Persistent meditation and contemplation

Meditation and contemplation should be a way of life – "Set your mind on things above." The original Greek is better translated, "Continue to set your mind on things above." What is implied is that this 'setting of the mind' – a riveting or fixing of the attention – on things above ought to be a habit. We ought to persist in this practice. To be sure, this matter of meditation and contemplation (like prayer) requires set and regular times. For example, Isaac, the husband of Rebekah, went out into the field at evening in order to meditate (Gn. 24:63). But, in addition to set and regular times, Christians should be meditating and contemplating continually. We are to cultivate a meditative and contemplative mindset which we evidence throughout the day. We ought to think within this certain mindset, regardless of the activity in which we are engaged or the responsibility which we must perform. Our meditation and contemplation should be done 'day and night' (cf. Josh. 1:8).

Understanding meditation and contemplation

What is Biblical meditation? What is Biblical contemplation? Though a close relationship exists between these two activities, there is a subtle distinction between them. Biblical meditation is the act or activity of pondering – of mentally chewing over – the revealed will and ways of God/Christ. It is the sustained reflection on disclosed truth. Thus, we read, "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you will have success" (Josh. 1:8).

Whereas, Biblical contemplation is the act or activity of focusing on – of being mentally absorbed or preoccupied with – the revealed person of God/Christ. It is inwardly beholding or gazing upon God. Isaiah 6, though assuming the form of a vision, presents and captures the essence of Biblical contemplation. We read:

In the year of King Uzziah's death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, HOLY is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory." And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (vss. 1-6).

Isaiah experienced a contemplative vision of the Lord.

Meditation is more an intellectual and reflective mental activity, whereas contemplation is more an emotional and aesthetic one. For instance, Psalm 1 would be an example of meditation – "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD. And in His law he meditates day and night" (vss. 1,2). The emphasis of meditation is often (not always) on words, on language, on the propositional. On the other hand, Psalm 8 would be an example of contemplation. The emphasis is often on the apparition, on the pictorial, on the visual. So, we read, "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth, who has displayed Thy splendour above the heavens!... When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou has ordained; what is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?" (vss. 1,3,4).

Peter Toon, in his book The Art of Meditating on Scripture, writes:

If we turn to the older English dictionaries, we find that in ordinary usage meditation and contemplation have had little difference in meaning. Both point to the activity of the mind as it considers, reflects upon, and muses over some fact or object. Where there is a difference, "contemplation" is used in more of that situation where the mind is still and fixed upon an object to behold it, whereas "meditation" is used as more of the activity of the mind looking at something from various angles or perspectives. Thus we could say that the verbs "to see" and "to behold" belong more naturally to contemplation while the verbs "to consider" and "to reflect upon" belong more naturally to meditation" (p. 78).

Contemplation presupposes meditation, and is derived and dependent upon it. Meditation leads to contemplation, and sustains it. As one meditates upon the truth of God and the intellect is stimulated and the affections are inflamed, meditation may then give way to contemplation. Affective meditation is, in effect, contemplation. With searching reflection, resulting in the heart being emotively inflamed, contemplation is the fruit. Contemplation may be viewed as the higher form of thinking. Again, Toon writes, "Meditation, as part of mental prayer, is the first step toward the deeper, personal knowledge of God that is contemplation" (p. 78). And so, he concludes, "After careful thought and much discussion, I have adopted the distinction suggested above between meditation as the prayerful considering of and reflecting upon God's truth, and contemplation as the gazing upon, beholding, experiencing, and seeing by faith God through Jesus Christ" (p. 79).

Admittedly, meditation and contemplation require discipline. They do not come easily; they demand hard work; you need to be resolved. Such cannot be achieved by praying for 5 minutes daily or by thinking on a verse for 2 minutes daily. So, with respect to meditation, you should, for instance, consider a verse, or a point in a sermon, or a line from a devotional reading, and mentally ruminate over it, taking it with you throughout the day; constantly dwelling on it and endeavouring to make it a part of you and allowing your affections to be aroused. Further, with respect to contemplation, you should, for instance, consider some characteristic or attribute of God/Christ (e.g. His love or His grace) and become mentally preoccupied with it. Again, you are to let it fill your mind throughout the day. You may trace that particular divine attribute, whether it be love or grace, throughout the different periods of your life, seeing how God has moved and has worked, and thus hopefully marvel at what He has done.

If you are not meditating and contemplating, you will not enter into that perfection of fellowship with God; you will not know that higher plane of existence in the Spirit. Did you meditate this past week? Have you chewed over, ruminated in your mind, the law of God and the word of Christ? Did you contemplate this past week? Did meditation bring you to a higher level of thinking so that in Spirit you beheld Him; you gazed upon Him; and thus you were taken up with His beauty? Meditation and contemplation need to be a way of life.

Meditating on and contemplating heavenly things

We have already touched on this point, but let me clearly state it. Meditation and contemplation should focus on heavenly things – "Set your mind on the things above, not on things that are on the earth." The direction of our mind is to be upward. The sphere in which we are to think is to be that of the spiritual world in which we are heavenly citizens. Simply put, we are to be heavenly-minded. As Scripture teaches, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things" (Php. 4:8).

Now, the Scripture describes such a direction of mind in different ways. So, for instance, after Peter confessed at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus revealed that He Himself was to suffer and die. Peter then rebuked the Lord for this remark. To which our Lord responded, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests [lit. the things of God], but man's" (Mt. 16:23). Again, we read in Romans 8:5, "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." Thus, to set your mind on the 'things above' means that you dwell on that which glorifies God; that which is in keeping with His will, ways, and purposes; that which concerns His nature and character; as opposed to that which pertains to this fallen, sinful world and the life of self (i.e., the 'things below'). The 'things above,' for example, are the virtues of holiness and righteousness, the glory of Christ's death and resurrection, the leading of the Spirit, etc. The 'things below,' for example, are such things as the quest for power, the greed for money, the pleasure of illicit sex, etc. Are you setting your mind on heavenly things, or are you setting them on earthly things?

Meditation and contemplation centre on Christ

Now, Biblical meditation and contemplation should particularly centre on Jesus Christ – "If then you have been raised up with Christ [i.e., since it is a fact that you have be regenerated by His Spirit through union with Jesus Christ, since it is a fact that you have a new nature, that you have been born again], keep seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God." Not only are you to desire the heavenly things which relate to and centre on Christ, but you are to dwell on the same.

Focusing on Jesus Christ is the key concerning Biblical meditation and contemplation, with respect to entering into the perfection of fellowship with God. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the father of Western mysticism, writes:

I confess, then, to speak foolishly, that the Word has visited me – indeed, very often. But, though He has frequently come into my soul, I have never at any time been aware of the moment of His coming. I have felt His present, I remember He has been with me, I have sometimes even had a premonition of His coming, but never have I felt His coming or His departure...You will ask then how, since His track is thus traceless, I could know that He is present? Because He is living and full of energy, and as soon as He has entered me, has quickened my sleeping soul, and aroused, softened and goaded my heart, which was torpid and hard as a stone...In the reformation and renewal of the spirit of my mind, that is my inward man, I have seen something of the loveliness of His Beauty, and meditating on these things have been filled with wonder at the multitude of His greatness (Cant., 74, condensed).

Bernard of Clairvaux 'saw' Christ who filled all his vision. Again, this is the heart and power of Christian meditation, and particularly Christian contemplation.

Meditation on the Word of Christ and contemplation on the person of Christ leads to the experience of the vision of Christ, which is the vision of God. To see Christ spiritually is to see God spiritually. Jesus affirmed, "If you had known Me, you would have known my Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him...Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works" (Jn. 14:7,9,10). Now, Jesus meant this in a literal sense (having spiritual overtones), but the language also has spiritual import and significance – through meditation on the acts and words of Christ and through contemplation on the person of Christ, we can see His beauty and desire Him; and so come to love Him; and thus we see, desire, and come to love God Himself. Again, Richard Baxter writes:

If you complain of your deadness and dullness – that you cannot love Christ, nor rejoice in His love; that you do not have life in prayer, nor in any other duty – and yet neglect this quickening employment [of meditation and contemplation], then you are the cause of your own complaints...Fetch one coal daily from this altar and see if your offering will not burn. Light your lamp at this flame and feed it daily with oil from there, and see if it will not shine gloriously. Keep close to this reviving fire and see if your affections will not be warm. In your lack of love to God, lift up your eye of faith to heaven, behold His beauty, contemplate His excellencies, and see whether His amiableness and perfect goodness will not ravish your heart.

Can you appreciate what Baxter is saying? As you focus on Christ and He fills your vision, the emotions and desires of our heart will flow with greater alacrity; and your heart will be thus drawn out to Him, and you subsequently will be 'taken up' with Him. Love will then freely flow and gush forth toward Him.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me" (Jn. 14:6). This statement is true not only in reference to salvation, but also in reference to divine communion. No one comes to the Father, enters into to sweet fellowship with God, but through Christ. To really know and experience Christ is to know and experience the depth of intimacy with God. In seeing Christ in His beauty, you will love Him – you will have no choice but to love Him – and in turn, He will love you. God also will love you (cf. Jn. 14:21, 23), and that is the perfection of fellowship with God.

Thus Apostle Paul states, "More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of [experientially] knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may [experientially] gain Christ" (Php. 3:8). That is it! When you see, and experientially know, Him, you will realize that He is the only thing that ultimately matters. Everything else will pale into insignificance. He alone will be all that you want; He alone will become your chief desire. When you really see Him, your heart will belong to Him; and you will realize more deeply that He is yours and you are His.

~5~

Loving Christ

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) wrote an inspiring tract called 'On Loving God.' In Chapter 1 of this tract, he states:

You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love...We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable...And first, of His title to our love. Could any title be greater than this, that He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer but Himself? Hence, if one seeks for God's claim upon our love here is the chiefest: because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Bernard of Clairvaux herein implies the essential means for enjoying the perfection of fellowship with God, namely, loving God.

As mentioned, there is a threefold foundation block for perfection of fellowship with God, that is, for spiritually hearing and seeing God; for knowing that deep, intimate fellowship with the Lord. The first aspect of this threefold foundation block is prayer; we are to be persistently praying. Prayer is the practice of the presence of God. The second aspect of this threefold foundation block is meditation and contemplation; we need to meditate on God's Word and contemplate God's Person so that our hearts and minds may be transformed, with a view of assuming His holy image. The third aspect of this threefold foundation block is obedience – the demonstration of love, which is our present topic of concern.

Perhaps the key verses which teach both the actual meaning of, as well as the direct means of, spiritually 'entering in' and truly fellowshiping with the thrice holy God is John 14:21,23, "Jesus said, 'He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him...If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him.'" Now, with respect to the perfection of fellowship with God, these verses are simply teaching that to truly love Christ is to truly enter into fellowship with God. To be sure, prayer and meditation/contemplation are required in order to enter into this fellowship with God because they are the basic and necessary means for knowing God and Jesus Christ; and thus they are the basic and necessary means for learning and growing in love for them. Thus, we attend to prayer and meditation/contemplation because through these exercises, we come to know God and Jesus Christ personally and experientially; and thereby we come to love them. However, the act of truly loving God and Jesus Christ is the direct means of actually entering into that fellowship. In other words, prayer and meditation/contemplation make mystical fellowship possible; they promote this fellowship. But actually loving Christ and God make this fellowship real; it sustains this fellowship. Augustine (354-430), in his Confessions, writes:

Who will enable me to find rest in you [God]? Who will grant me that you come to my heart and intoxicate it, so that I forget my evils and embrace my one and only good, yourself? What are you to me? Have mercy so that I may find words. What am I to you that you command me to love you, and that, if I fail to love you, you are angry with me and threaten me with vast miseries? If I do not love you, is that but a little misery? What a wretch I am! In Your mercies, Lord God, tell me what you are to me. Say to my soul, "I am your salvation" (Ps. 34:3).

Can you appreciate Augustine's love and devotion to his God? Loving God and Jesus Christ is the spiritual gateway into the depth of the heart and presence of God, where the fires of holy passion never subside. Let us consider three questions which arise from these key verses in John's Gospel as we think about this particular aspect of love.

What does it mean to love Christ?

To love Christ is to obey Him – "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me...If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word." In personally embracing and possessing the teachings of Christ, and subsequently carrying out those teachings, we reveal our love for Him. Obedience is the proof – the test – of love for Him. Now, someone may reply that surely love for Christ means to feel strong devotion to Him; to feel some warm affection for Him; surely love is what you feel, rather than what you do. Now, admittedly, there is some truth in these remarks. If we really love someone, then we will feel accompanying affections; the emotions will arise in our hearts. Indeed, love involves the whole person. It touches our desires, our thinking, our willing, and our feeling. But in these key verses before us, love is not presented as absolutely synonymous with obedience; but rather, obedience is the evidence or demonstration of love. Love entails more than mere obedience, but if we truly love Christ, obedience to Him will, at least, be evident.

True love manifests itself through, and results in, a certain kind of behaviour, a doing. I know a couple who, at last report, were filing for a divorce. The downward spiral of the relationship began when the wife was having her second child. Apparently, the husband was too busy and preoccupied with other matters to provide the needed comfort and support to his wife. When the day of delivery came, the husband was not there. Apparently, other matters were more important than being with the mother of his new child. As a result, this woman became quite bitter; a bitterness that never quite disappeared, but became a undercurrent to subsequent interactions. She never forgot the absence of her husband and the lack of his support. So, true love must be demonstrated. It is measured in what you do, more than in what you say.

Love may be essentially defined in terms of a gift. It is a gracious giving for the good of another. It is a self-donation for the benefit of another. For example, I think of a mother who traveled to another city in which her daughter and son-in-law live in order to give help and support to the family while the daughter was having her second child. Love involves the giving of your time, your energy, and your resources. Again, love is necessarily measured in terms of action, rather than in terms of emotions. We read, for instance, "But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth" (1 Jn. 3:17,18). Thus, the ground for love is in the human will, rather than in the human emotions. Now, the emotions, the feelings, can activate and motivate the will, and accompany the expression of the will, but unless the will is exercised, there can be no love; for love is essentially a giving.

Now, here is the critical point in this matter of loving Christ. The Lord requires obedience (as opposed to reading per se, or singing per se, or penance per se) – which is the proof of love – because obedience is not simply an exercise of our wills, but is the actual giving of our wills. When we give our wills, we give ourselves to the Lord, and He expects nothing less than that. Francois Fenelon (1651-1715), in his Spiritual Letters to Women, "On Conformity to the Will of God," writes:

We have nothing to call our own except our will – nothing else is ours. Sickness takes away health and life; riches melt away; mental powers depend on a man's bodily strength. The one only thing really ours is our will, and consequently it is of this that God is jealous, for He gave it, not that we should use it as our own, but that we should restore it to Him, wholly and undividedly. Whoever holds back any particle of reluctance or desire as his right defrauds his Maker, to Whom all is due.

Christ requires obedience from His people because He does not simply want our gifts, He wants us. Perfect love for Christ is expressed or revealed by complete conformity to His will, whereby we totally give Him our will. Do you love Christ? Are you obeying His teachings? Are you following His will? Again, Jesus does not simply want your gifts, or your talents, or your skills. He does not need them. He does not need anything that you have to offer. He wants your heart. He wants you; He wants all of you; and He wants all of you now. You are to give yourself as a 'living sacrifice' to Him (cf. Rm. 12:1). Everyday, in Spirit, you should come before Him in the temple of your heart, and ascend the altar of God, and present yourself as a consecrated offering. Nothing less will do. It is your spiritual service to do this because He purchased you; your spirits and bodies belong to Him; and each day you should present them to Him afresh. Do you love Christ?

So, to love Christ is to give Him our will in obeying His teachings; and in giving our will to Him, we will realize indeed that His commandments are not grievous (cf. 1 Jn. 5:3). When we begin to feel the power and warmth of love in the depth of our being, when our hearts experience the fires of holy divine passion, His commandments then will not be grievous. His commandments will then be the joy of our hearts. But when we do not love Him, His commandments are grievous; we obey Him out of mere and, often, slavish duty. We obey Him out of guilt; and thus obedience becomes a burden. Have the Lord's commandments been a burden to you? In loving God and Christ, you will delight in, and meditate on, the law of the Lord and the Word of Christ day and night; and do them. Do you love Christ?

Having believed in Christ, His commandments are summarized in three little statements: Love God, love your neighbour, love one another (i.e., fellow believers). The story is told of the apostle John who, in reaching the twilight of his life, continued to preach the same simple message, "Little children, love one another." One day, a disciple asked him, "Why do you keep preaching the same message over and over again?" To which the apostle responded, "Love is all there is; when you have done that, you have done everything; for God is love." When you have loved with the love of God, loving Him alone, and loving others only for His sake, there is no higher attainment in the spiritual life. You and God are then perfectly one in Spirit.

What is the result of loving Christ?

Jesus invites us, and commands us, to love Him, and the result of our loving Him is that He and the Father will love us in return – "and he who loves Me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him." This response of divine love is not so much a conditional love (though there may be a conditional element implied), as it is a reciprocating love. The absence or presence of our love does not determine and control the absence or presence of God's love. It is not that our love, in some way, forces or guarantees the very fact and expression of His love. God's love is foundational, and has the priority. It is unconditional. God loves first, and only because He has first loved us, can we love Him in return. So, we read, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins...We love, because He first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:10,19). As believers, this is our confidence and joy.

In responding to God's love (which has the priority and initiates the loving process), God, in turn, will respond to our love with greater love. His love is not only initiatory, but is also responsive and reciprocal. It is like the husband who is gardening, labouring away by pulling up the weeds, planting, and pruning; and the wife offers her assistance in order ease the load. The wife gives her energies to help her husband. Later on, the closets need to be cleaned out and the wife is busy at this task, and the husband remembers her previous act of love and is moved to respond in like fashion, and to help her. Later on in the day, he is cleaning out the basement, and she remembers his act of love and is moved to respond in like fashion, and so the process continues. Giving invites giving.

Now, I personally find this truth incredible and incomprehensible, that is, the growing, dynamic love of God. God's heart – though this is hard to fathom – is expansive! He first loves us; and as we respond to His love, He comes and reveals more love to us. There are degrees of love in the heart of God. For instance, He loves His elect more deeply than He loves the world. Jesus showed more love to John and allowed him to rest in His bosom, which he did not do with the other disciples. Is it not an astounding thought that God, who is love, may be pleased to love you more and more, as you respond to His love? Does that move you? Does that humble you? Does that disarm your spirit? Are you overwhelmed that it is possible for you to experience more and more of the love of God; that His heart is expansive? I cannot even begin to describe the wonder and glory of this truth. It is joy unspeakable and full of glory that the God of the universe is pleased to love His people in increasing and expansive ways; we who are so undeserving, mere wretches of the earth; we who are but dust; this God is pleased to lavish His love upon us simply for the sake of Jesus. And that is the glory of the Gospel! Do you want to know a fuller expression of God's love? Then love Him; love Him with a holy passion; love Him deeply; love Him with 'all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind.' Love Him for Himself alone, and He will love you; and will prepare you for more of His love.

What is the fruit of loving Christ?

The fruit of loving Christ is the deep intimacy of communion with Him – the perfection of fellowship – "and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him...My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make Our abode with him." First, in loving Christ, Christ will make Himself more real to us. It is self-evident that we are looking at a spiritual manifestation here. Now, remember that this blessing is for believers, those who have already entered into a relationship with Him; those who already personally know Him; those who already know the indwelling of the Spirit. Jesus, in effect, says, "I will come in that same Spirit; I will encounter your spirit, and I will reveal My beauty and glory to you, in response to your love." This is what it means to go deeper into the heart of God, and become lost therein, in which you will never want to be found. Jesus promises here an experiential encounter – the blessed believer will spiritually see (and hear) Christ. The blessed believer with spiritually gaze upon, and marvel at, the wonder of the revelation of Christ in the depths of his or her soul; wonders indescribable and full of glory. A depth of intimacy of union with Christ will be enjoyed, which only those who experience it can truly understand. The believer's faith will be taken to a new level; and that faith will become transformed into love itself; and he or she will behold God. Through that faith, he or she will enter the light, and in that light, discover both Light and Life.

Second, in loving Christ, the blessed believer will be graced with the special presence of God. The Father and the Son will 'set up house' with him or her. Jesus here promises higher levels of life with Himself. The Charismatic movement advocates the possibility of the Second blessing – that blessing that comes after conversion; that blessing where one enters more fully into the life of God, more fully into the freedom and joy of God, in which there is a sense of power and victory. Yet, there is more for the believer than that! Why limit it? We should not be content with just a second blessing (though I would not understand this in the same way as Charismatics), but we should seek a third blessing, and a fourth blessing, and a fifth blessing, etc. We can go deeper and deeper into the heart of God. As we love Him, He will love us in return; and we should love Him in response; and so He will further love us, etc. Do not stop at the second blessing. There is no terminal point in the heart of God. What an amazing thought! For all eternity, we will be growing in the love of God, discovering more and more of who He is, feeling more and more of His affection, and knowing more of His power. "Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, [nor has it entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9).

Those who love Christ, by showing obedience to Him, eat the hidden manna with Him and know the secret of His covenant. J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) writes:

Here follows another encouragement to the man [or woman] who strives to keep Christ's commandments. Christ will specially love that [person], and will give him [or her] special manifestations of His grace and favour, invisibly and spiritually. [That person] will feel and know his [or her] own heart comforts and joys, that wicked [people] and inconsistent professors know nothing of...It is one of those things which can only be known by experience, and is only known by holy and consistent Christians. We should carefully observe here, that Christ does more for the comfort of some of His people than He does for others. Those who follow Christ most closely and obediently will always follow Him most comfortably and feel most of His inward presence.

Do you notice that Jesus does not say that He would come and be 'in' us, because He is already there; but that He would come and be 'with' us. The King of the Universe will come and grace those who love Him with His ineffable company; and those who experience it, will know its glory, though they may not be able to express it. Those who are fortunate enough to enter into this experience will understand what Enoch and Noah enjoyed – these ones who 'walked with God.'

This past week, I reread Brother Lawrence's book, The Practice of the Presence of God. He was a man who discovered what it is to truly know God's presence – that union of human will with the divine will – and the reality of that burning, consuming love within. When you truly know His presence, you will know His love. In truly knowing His presence, and surrendering your will to His will, not only will you love God for what He does for you; not only will you love God for who He is; but you will love all people for His sake alone because all you will experience is the love of Him, He who is love; and that is what Christ calls us to. Do you love Christ?