Closeness with God can be a difficult, ever changing thing. It’s never because He changes, but always because we change. Change. I hate it and love it at the same time. It’s what happens as we renew our minds and bring our lives into alignment with the reality of our new natures in Christ. We are already seated in heavenly places with Christ, but we have to learn how that looks as we live on earth and it can be a difficult, painful process. Sometimes there is great joy in the process too. Sometimes we celebrate the process with other people. Sometimes we journey alone for a time, a phenomenon I know as the desert.

I think that we go through many deserts in life—times when the landscape (circumstances, relationships, etc) are barren and ever-shifting. No matter how well you prepare for it, you will eventually run out of supplies, and you must rely on God to provide manna in the morning and quail in the evening. You must rely on God to provide water from rocks and make the bitter waters sweet. It is often a time of loneliness.

With each desert that we go through, the only thing we can do to experience it differently is to change our perspective of it. This time through, I’m realizing how much joy there is in letting go of everything. I’m releasing friendships, grades, dreams, and plans, and finding that in my human loneliness I find spiritual closeness to my God—One who is not present physically, yet Who is more real to me than any other person I’ve ever met. I find myself hungry for the manna of His presence which, oddly enough, I cannot find in the company of others. I need the desert in order to draw close to Jesus. The desert has become for me no longer something I dread. I love the wide open spaces. I love the utter dependence. I love the closeness. I know that when I have reached the end of my desert season I will be ready for whatever comes; but for now, I am resting. Jesus, I am resting. Thank You.

I'll have nothing except for Him

Openness to the sunlight as a metaphor for openness to God's glory inhabiting our dwelling place

“Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” — Psalm 91:9-10

I want to make the Lord my habitation. I hunger for it. I desire it. I want to be open to all the fullness of His presence.

“To conclude this series on prayer, I have asked fellow Jessup student Sara Lewis to share her insights on prayer and experience of God through it. Please give thought to what she has to say about the power and authority given to believers!”
— David Andrew

Walking in the Spirit

Only in the last couple of years have I experienced just a taste of what it means to sit in His presence, and every time only leaves me wanting more and wishing I had started sooner! It is never what I expect, always breaks me at my core, makes me aware of my smallness and desperate need for Him, yet always leaves me with what every soul has sought after since the beginning of time: peace and fulfillment.

That said, you’d think we’d all be tapping into this resource like free drugs, right?  (Maybe that’s a bad analogy).  I’d be ashamed to admit to the trivial, even dumb things I let get in the way of time spent in prayer.  The enemy doesn’t care what else I fill my time with, as long as the time is spent.  (If you haven’t already, please read C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. I can’t stress its eye-opening importance enough!)

Why would the enemy spend so much effort in keeping us distracted?  Spinning our wheels?  What about us spending time in the presence of God is so detrimental to his cause?

Time spent in the presence of the Almighty God cannot leave a person unchanged.  The Spirit of that God dwells within us, and the more time spent communing with it, the stronger and more dominant it becomes, and the smaller we become.  I see people walking in the power of that relationship like Heidi Baker, Kim Walker, Brooke Fraser- people who can enter a room and darkness flees, simply by the power of the Spirit dwelling in them – and I don’t know about you, but that is something that stirs a hunger in me deeper than I can describe.  It is a power so beyond ourselves that we must be empty of ourselves and filled with Him.

This doesn’t happen by osmosis!  It’s available to us, but God waits because we must ask.  It takes time and effort. Even sacrifice.  (i.e., time spent online, watching a movie, hanging with friends… instead of finding a quiet place to invite God’s presence and ask Him to speak and change our hearts).

Here. A story to sum up my heart in this:  I was in Amsterdam 2 years ago on New Years Eve on a mission trip.  (if you understand the utter insanity New Years Eve in Amsterdam involves, and you know me, that would shock you)!  It was just after midnight in Daam Square, I was bundled in 293 layers and just trying not to get vodka, urine, or vomit splashed on me, and was filtering smoke-filled air through my scarf.  Thousands of people had flown in from all over the world just to be part of that massive party, and I was smack in the middle of it with my friends.

If Europe is one of the spiritually darkest places of the world, Amsterdam is the epicenter.  It felt heavy, oppressive, and “lost”. Not something I’m used to, having been raised in church!  It was as if my spirit was resisting the oppression with everything it had, and it left me feeling sick.  After midnight, we were watching fireworks from a rooftop and I couldn’t take it anymore; I was exhausted in every possible way. A guy friend on my team said he would take me to our hostel, and a hostel employee guided us.  What followed was an experience I will never forget, and as bad as it was, I hope I never do.

The streets were so crazy that fireworks were being lit into crowds, drugs and alcohol were flowing freely, (I got several offers…which I turned down), and the street was carpeted in firework wrappers and who knows what else. Safety was a concern, so my friend offered me his arm, and I held it with a death grip as we walked on around more corners, through more alleys, among more jostling crowds that never seemed to end.  I closed my eyes because I felt a strange, overwhelming heaviness, as if I was being suffocated.  I hit me that this was an environment so absent from God that it was as if I had entered enemy territory and I was a target.

Then, as if it could get worse, we entered the most famous red light district in the world.  (Later I found out our guide got a talking to, because he wasn’t supposed to take us that way).  A totally foreign thought entered my mind: “You’re going to die.  You won’t make it out of here.”  From a physical standpoint, that thought made no logical sense. Yet I understood it perfectly, and believed it.  I felt my lungs collapsing like something was pushing on them, and I couldn’t breathe.  I looked up in desperation and only saw those dark, A-line rooftops that lean in toward the street, tall and ugly in the glowing red lights and flickering of fireworks.  I remember thinking, “God!  Where are you?! What the heck is this?”  I heard clearly, “I never left You.”  I thought back, scared and wanting to cry, “But it’s so BIG!” (The world around me and whatever was suffocating me). I’d never felt so small and easily squashed in my life, nor had I realized how big evil could be in comparison.  But the verse we all know was suddenly spoken in my mind’s ear as clearly as any spoken phrase I’ve ever heard: “Greater is He that is in You than he that is in this world.”

There are those times when people quote familiar, well-loved Scriptures to us, and that’s nice.  This wasn’t that. It was said with authority, took me by surprise, and held everything in it that I needed to understand at that time:

  1. Yes, the “thing” around me was bigger than me.  But it’s not about me.
  2. The Spirit living inside me, the Spirit I am ushering into this place simply by setting foot there, is BIGGER, and it is a threat.
  3. I must realize the authority I am walking in or I’ll be useless.  All the enemy has is fear, and if He can keep me too afraid to fight back, he will win.

It took me a couple of years to unpack everything God showed me in that experience, and realize the lasting impact it would have on my perspective of the spiritual realm and the reality of our position in it!  Imagine something simple for a second: every believer in the world walking in the divine authority given to us through Jesus.  Realizing we carry His power within us.

No fear.

Holy. Stinkin. Cow.

To say our world would not be the same is a pathetic understatement.  Seeking after the face of God through listening prayer on a practical, daily level is easier said than done- I’m realistic- but come on.  Both present and eternal rewards far outweigh anything else that could take its place!  He loves when we seek Him- the results will not disappoint!

Sara Lewis is a marvelous pianist and a woman of great depth in and love for Christ. She also shares her thoughts and experiences on Tumblr!

“In continuing this series on prayer, I wanted to focus on abiding in God’s presence. Writing on this subject, my friend Maria Viola offers her intimate, insightful perspective from her experience of God in the quite place.”
—David Andrew

The Quiet Place

We can learn to abide in God’s presence wherever we go, in any situation, in whatever we are doing. There is a starting point: being in the prayer closet. I cannot stress enough the importance of finding a hiding place, a quiet place to spend just with Jesus without any distractions. “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:6 (NASB).

I want to abide in the presence of a person I love, know, and trust. I believe we could all say the same, so what does that look like? There’s no formula, but Matthew 6:6 gives us a wonderful model. First, find a place where you can pray: I have made a prayer room underneath my dorm room bed where I have strung up lights, have a couple pillows, a blanket hanging from my bed to hide me underneath, and my journal and Bible. Second, close your door: this will be one of the best ways to eliminate distraction and put your focus on Him. Close that door so you can pray and sing out loud, you can intercede where the Spirit leads, and wait in the presence that will fill your place of prayer. The Father, who is in that secret place with you, hears your requests and sees your need. Read these lyrics to Misty Edwards song Silence:

“Silence calls like the rain to a parched land
I drink You in again.
No longer thirsting for what could never satisfy
I’m thirsty, I’m thirsty for You.

In silence, You call.
In quiet, You hide.
In secret, You wait for a lovesick bride.

Jesus, I am here.
Jesus, I am Yours, and You are mine.
Jesus, I have come to steal Your heart again.

Silence calls like the waves ever crashing on my shore.
This broken heart hears a Voice calling me
to quiet places where You hide,
waiting for a lovesick bride to come and steal Your heart
with one glance of my heart, with one glance of my heart.

All I ever wanted is You
All I ever needed is You
In silence, in quiet~
Silence comes like the rain, like the rain.”

Go to the quiet place, to that secret place so that the God who makes all things new can commune with you and impart to you knowledge, wisdom, and His wonderful presence. Never give up on the quiet place where you meet with Him because He will always be there, whether you feel Him or not, because His promises are true and if He says that He is in the secret and He sees you in the secret then this is a true statement. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13 (NASB).
If you are not sure what to pray, then start with the prayer that Jesus taught right after telling us to go to the quiet place:

“Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Matthew 6:9-13 (NASB)

This is a good place to start. I pray that each of you would lose yourselves in His wonderful presence.

With love,
Maria

I’m struggling with what to say right now. I want to feel like I did when I took this picture.

field
What does this make you feel like?

I felt free and safe. I felt hope. I felt fear. Now I just feel very tired. I’ve applied for five different jobs this week, now I’m in the process of following up. Who knows: maybe God will open doors somewhere. I’ll just keep trying, and in the meantime, I’ll keep drawing as close to Abba as I possibly can. I won’t let go until You bless me. I will fight for the kingdom of heaven on earth.

I’ve also been working on touching up some songs I’ve been recording and working on sporadically over the past two years. I don’t have a studio microphone, but I do the best I can to make my vocals sound good. I feel like the theme that is emerging from my songs is God’s presence (I’m pretty interested in that topic in case you couldn’t tell) so I’ve titled my soon-to-be album, “Break the Seal,” to signify my desire for God to stir Himself to action, to open the seals on the scroll in heaven and show His power in new and mighty ways. You can take a listen to a few of the songs I’ve finished (for now) here.

break the seal cover
My cover art.

God has seen your striving. He knows you may be tired. He knows there are things in your life that you don’t understand. Is God not good? Is God not just? No, if anything, it is we who are unfaithful to Him.

What does it look like to live constantly aware of God’s presence? God’s presence is not one of a parent constantly scrutinizing your actions, waiting to scold at the first sign of disobedience. He is not wanting you to be aware of Him so that you will obey out of fear. He knows your weaknesses. He knows that you are human. He wants you to be aware of His presence so that you may be transformed through the time you spend with Him! He wants you to be aware of His presence so that when your fallen tendencies flare up, you can surrender them over to His power and control. Everything about who you are is completely loved by Him.

Don’t forget to look for the signs of God’s love today. Here’s one for you right now:

Flowers
How can this not brighten your day? These flowers are a gift from God. 🙂