In the last section we discussed dealing with the outward senses. Here was our conclusion: If at any time you find your desires stirred up, those senses can best be deadened by a gentle retreat inward to a present God. Any other way of opposing your restless senses will merely stimulate them further.
As you come into this deeper level of knowing the Lord, you will eventually come to discover a principle I will call the law of central tendency.
What do I mean by the law of central tendency? As you continue holding your soul deep in your inward parts, you will discover that God has a magnetic attracting quality! Your God is like a magnet! The Lord naturally draws you more and more toward Himself.
The next thing you notice is this: As you move toward the center, the Lord also purifies you of all the things that are not of Him.
This is illustrated in nature. Observe the ocean. The water in the ocean begins to evaporate. Then the vapor begins moving toward the sun. As the vapor leaves the earth, it is full of impurities; however, as it ascends, it becomes more refined and more purified.
What did the vapor do?
The vapor did nothing. It simply remained passive. The purifying took place as the vapor was drawn up into the heavens!
There is one difference between your soul and those vapors. Although the vapor can only be passive, you have the privilege of cooperating voluntarily with the Lord as He draws you inwardly toward Himself.
When your soul is once turned toward God - the God who dwells within your spirit - you will find it easy to keep turning within. The longer you continue to turn within, the closer you will come to God and the more firmly you will cling to Him.
Of course, the closer you are drawn to God, the farther you are removed from the activities of your natural man. The natural man, to be sure, is very opposed to your inward drawing toward God. Nonetheless, there will come a point when you will finally be established in having turned within. From that point on, it will be natural for you to live before the Lord! In the past it was natural for you to live on the surface of your being; now it will be your habit to live in the center of your being where your Lord dwells.
May I remind you that you are like the vapors ascending to the heavens; you must not think that you can bring all this about by exerting your efforts. The only think you can do - actually the only thing you should attempt to do - is to keep withdrawing yourself from external objects. Keep turning from external objects and keep turning within to your spirit. There is very little you should ever do, but that one thing you can do! Yes, you are capable of that much cooperation with divine grace.
Beyond that, though, you have nothing more to do but to continue firmly holding on to your Lord.
At the outset of this venture, all this may seem somewhat difficult to you; but be assured that this kind of inward turning becomes very easy. You will advance spiritually very naturally and effortlessly.
Again, this is because God has a magnetic attraction. He is within you, always drawing you to Himself.
You can see this principle in the natural elements. The center of anything always exerts a very powerful drawing force. That fact is even more true in the spiritual realm. On the one hand, there is a drawing force in the center of your being; it is powerful and irresistible. And on the other hand, there is also a very strong tendency in every man to be reunited to his center. The center is not only drawing the object away from the surface, but the object itself tends toward its center!
As you become more perfected in Christ, this tendency to be drawn within to the Lord becomes stronger and more active.
What might slow down the process of this central tendency?
Only some obstacle which stands between the outer object (you) and the inward magnet (Christ). As soon as anything turns toward its center, it will rush there very rapidly unless it is hindered.
Take, for instance, a stone. When you drop a stone from your hand, what does it do? It immediately falls to the earth from whence it once came. The stone returns to its original source. The same is true of fire and water. They always seek to return to their centers.
Your soul, once it begins to turn inward, is brought under this same law of central tendency. It too gradually falls toward its proper center, which is God. The soul needs no other force to draw it than the weight of love.
The more passive and peaceful you remain, the more quickly you will advance toward God. The freer you are from exerting your own effort, the more quickly you will move toward your Lord.
Why is this? Because there is a divine energy drawing you. When this divine energy is completely unhindered, He has complete liberty to draw you just as He pleases.
Jesus Christ is the great magnet of your soul, but of your soul only. He will not draw the impurities and mixtures that are mingled with it. Any such impurities prevent His full power of attraction.
If there were no mixture in your soul, the soul would instantly rush toward the all-powerful, irresistible God within to be lost in Him. But if you are loaded down with many material possessions - or anything else - this attraction is greatly hindered. Many Christians seize some part of this world or some part of the self with so tight a grip that they spend their whole lives making only a snail's progress toward their Center.
Thank God, sometimes your Lord, out of His boundless love, strikes the burden violently from your hand. It is then that you realize just how very much you had been hindered and held back. Dear Christian, only allow everything to drop. How? Simply withdraw your hands from self; withdraw your hands from every other person and all things. Of course, that is something of a sacrifice. It can even be called a crucifixion. But you will be amazed to find that there is only a very short space between your sacrifice and your resurrection!
Is it proper for the soul to become so completely passive?
Some seem to feel that, according to what I have said, the soul is required to become dead - dead like some lifeless object - before God has His will in it. Actually, the very opposite is true.
The main element of the soul is the will, and the soul must will to become neutral and passive, waiting entirely upon God. Can you not see that this condition of utter passivity, this state of doing nothing and waiting upon God, is actually the highest activity of the will? Listen to your soul as it says, "I am willing with all the power of my being that the desire of God be accomplished within me. I am willing to be here, ceasing from all my activity and all of my power, so that God might have His desire of fully possessing me."
When the soul has done this, it has actually exerted the highest possible action of the will. The soul has taken the action of total surrender to another will, the Divine Will!
Therefore, dear reader, give all your attention to learning how to turn within and dwell in your spirit. Do not be discouraged by any difficulties you may have encountered this far. Before long, God will give you abundant grace, and all this will be easy.
I would add only one admonition. You must remain faithful in humbly withdrawing your heart from outward distractions and occupations. Form the habit of continually returning to God, who is your center, with a peaceful, tender love.
If you remain faithful in the things touched on up until now, you will be astonished to feel the Lord gradually taking possession of your whole being. I would like to remind you that this book was not written for your enjoyment. Neither is it presenting just some method of prayer. The purpose of this book is to offer a way in which the Lord Jesus can take full possession of you.
As the Lord gradually begins to do this, to take full possession of you, it is true that you will begin to enjoy a sense of His presence. You will find that this sense of the Lord's presence will become very natural to you. Both the prayer with which you first began and a sense of His presence which comes with that prayer, will eventually become a normal part of your daily experience.
An unusual serenity and peacefulness will gradually spread over your soul. Your whole prayer, your whole experience, will begin to enter upon a new level.
What is this new level? It is prayer. Prayer that consists of silence. And while in this silence, God pours into you a deep, inward love. This experience of love is one that will fill and permeate your whole being. There is no way to describe this experience, this encounter. I would only say that this love which the Lord pours into your depths is the beginning of an indescribable blessedness.
I wish it were possible in this little book to tell you some of the levels of endless experiences you can have with the Lord, experiences that come out of this encounter with God. But I must remember that this little book is written for beginners. Therefore, I trust on some future day I will be able to relate these deeper experiences to you.
There is one thing I will say, however. When you come to the Lord, gradually learn to have a quiet mind before Him. One of the most important things you can do is cease from any self-effort. In this way, God Himself can act all alone. It was the Psalmist speaking for the Lord who said, "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)
This verse gives you an insight into your own mind. Your self nature becomes so pleasantly attached to its own efforts that it simply cannot believe that anything is going on within your spirit. Unless the mind is able to feel and understand, it refuses to believe the spirit is having experience.
The reason you are sometimes unable to feel God's working within you is that the work is fully within the realm of the spirit, and not in the mind. Sometimes God's workings in you are quite rapid, and yet the mind is not even aware that you are making progress. The workings of God in you, always increasing more and more, are absorbing the workings of your self.
Let me illustrate this.
During the night the stars shine very brightly, but as the sun begins to come up, the stars gradually vanish. Actually the stars are still there; they have not stopped shining; but the sun is so much brighter that you cannot see them. The same is true in spiritual matters. There is a strong and universal light which absorbs all the smaller lights of your soul. The smaller lights of your soul grow fainter and eventually disappear under the powerful light of your Spirit. Self activity is no longer able to be distinguished or noticed.
Self-effort becomes swallowed up in the working of God.
Sometimes the question is raised, "Is not this prayer experience one of inactivity?" The question would not even be asked if it were preceded by experience. If you will make some effort to obtain this experience of prayer, this deeper experience with Jesus Christ, you will be full of light and understanding concerning the state of your soul. No, the soul is not inactive - at least not because of barrenness or lack - but has become still because of great abundance.
The Christian who has laid hold of this encounter will understand this and will recognize that this silence is rich, full, and alive! This silence is coming forth from a storehouse of plenty!
You see, there are two kinds of people who keep silent. The first is one who has nothing to say, and the other is one who has too much to say. In the case of this deeper encounter with the Lord, the latter is true. Silence is produced from excess, not from lack. To die of thirst is one thing; to be drowned is quite another. Yet water causes both. In one, it is a lack of water, and in the other, too much water causes death.
This experience with Christ has its beginning in a simple way to pray. Gradually, though, it goes on from there. The experience deepens until the fullness of grace completely stills the activity of the self. Therefore, you see why it is of the greatest importance that you remain as quieted as possible.
May I illustrate this again? When a baby is born, it draws milk from its mother's breast by moving its lips. However, once the milk begins to flow, the child simply swallows without any further effort. If the baby continued any effort, it would hurt itself, spill the milk, and have to quit nursing.
This must be your attitude in prayer. You must act this same way, especially in the beginning. Draw ever so gently. But as the Lord flows out of your spirit into your soul, cease all activity.
How do you begin? By moving your lips, by stirring up the affections of your love for the Lord. As soon as the milk of divine love is flowing freely, be still - do nothing. Rather, very simply and sweetly, take in that grace and love. When this grace, this sense of the Lord's love, ceases to flow, it is time once again to stir up your affections. How? Just as the infant does by moving its lips.
All this time remain very quiet. If you bring yourself to the Lord in some other way, you will not make the best use of this grace. You see, the sense of the Lord's presence has been given to you, by the Lord, to allure you into a restful experiecne of love. It goes without saying that His presence has not been given to you to stir up an activity of the self.
Let us return to the illustration of the nursing baby.
Let us say the baby has drunk gently of the milk and has done so completely without effort. Now what happens? You would have to admit that all of us find it hard to believe that we could receive nourishment in such a passive way, as a baby receives his. And yet, look at the baby; the more peacefully it nurses, the better it thrives. So I will ask the question again: What becomes of the little baby after it has nursed?
It falls asleep on its mother's breast.
It is the same way with your soul. When the Christian has become calm and peaceful in prayer, he frequently sinks into a sort of mystical sleep; or to put it another way, the powers of his soul are completely at rest.
It is here, at this point, that you begin to be introduced to yet a deeper level of experience.
The Christian now begins to touch on an experience of complete rest before the Lord.
The mind is at rest; the soul is at rest; the whole being has come to a gentle, quiet and peaceful calm before the Lord. Nothing disturbs it. At first you will experience this only occasionally, but eventually your soul will come to experience this state of rest frequently.
Be sure of this: Your soul will be led into this experience without effort, without trouble, and without skill. And all you need to do is to continue with the Lord each day, waiting for Him to deepen your experience with Him.
Let us look closer at what has just been said.
The interior life, that is, the inward life of the spirit, is not a place that is taken by storm or violence. That inward kingdom, that realm within you, is a place of peace. It can only be gained by love.
If you will simply pursue the path I have pointed out until now, you will be led to this quiet place of rest.
And beyond this rest lies yet another experience - that of continual prayer.
When we speak of continual prayer, we are speaking of a prayer that originates from within. It originates there and works out, filling and permeating your whole being. Nor is this a difficult matter. Actually, God demands nothing extraordinary. On the contrary, He is very pleased by a simple, childlike conduct.
I would even put it this way: The highest spiritual attainments are really the ones that are the most easily reached. The things that are most important are the things that are the least difficult!
Again, this can also be illustrated in nature.
Let us say that you wish to reach the sea. How will you get there? You need to do nothing except this: embark upon a river. Eventually you will be carried to the sea without any trouble, without any self-effort.
Now would you like to go into God? Then return to the early thoughts that we presented at the beginning of this little book. Follow this sweet and simple path. Continue on it, and eventually you will arrive at your desired object. You will arrive at God and with a speed never imagined.
Then what is lacking? Nothing! You need only to make the trial effort.
If you will make that initial effort, you will find that what I have said is really far too little to express the discovery that lies ahead. Your own experience with Jesus Christ will carry you infinitely beyond even this level.
What is there for you to fear? Dear child of God, why do you not instantly cast yourself into the arms of Love?
The only reason He extended those arms on the cross was so He might embrace you. Tell me, what possible risk do you take in depending solely upon God? What risk do you run by abandoning yourself completely to Him? The Lord will not deceive you (that is, unless it is to bestow on you more abundance than you every imagined).
However, those who expect all of these things from the Lord by self-effort will hear the Lord's rebuke: "You have wearied yourselves in the multiplicity of your ways, and have not said, Let us rest in peace." (Isaiah 57:10)
In the last section we spoke of entering into a deeper level of experience with Jesus Christ.
At the very outset of this journey, you found that the only preparation you needed was a quiet waiting before God. The same is true in this new level of experience. This is no longer a rare experience, nor an occasional experience; gradually it becomes your daily experience. The presence of God begins to be poured forth within you. Eventually it will become yours almost without intermission.
In the beginning, you were led into His presence by prayer; but now, as prayer continues, the prayer actually becomes His presence. In fact, we can no longer say that it is prayer that continues. It is actually His presence that continues with you. This is beyond prayer. Now a heavenly blessedness is yours. You begin to discover that God is more intimately present to you than you are to yourself, and a great awareness of the Lord begins to come to you.
I have said previously about each one of these experiences with the Lord, that the only way to find Him is by turning within. It is there, and there alone, you can find Him. Now you will discover that as soon as you close your eyes, you are enveloped in prayer. You will be amazed that He has blessed you so much.
It is at this point, therefore, that it is proper to introduce to you yet another experience; one that takes place deep within you.
There is born within you an internal conversation with God.
This conversation is highly enjoyable, and the most amazing thing about it is that no outward circumstances can interrupt it.
Now you see just how far that simple prayer you began with can lead you! The same thing can be said of the "prayer of simplicity" that was said of wisdom: "All good things come together in her."
And the same can be said of this deeper experience with the Lord. Godliness flows so sweetly and so easily from within the believer who has advanced this far that it even seems to be his very nature that pours itself out with such sweetness and ease. The spring of living water within the spirit breaks forth abundantly, producing every kind of goodness.
And what of sin? Sin seems so far removed from the believer at this point that he is hardly even aware of it.
When you have entered into this deeper realm of experience with Jesus Christ, what should be your response to circumstance, to outward events? Simply remain faithful in this state. Rest quietly before the Lord. Let this simple, quiet rest in Him always be your preparation for everything. You must keep this in mind: Your only purpose is to be filled to overflowing with the divine presence of Jesus Christ and, deep within you, to be prepared to receive from Him anything that He chooses to bestow upon you.
Next week: Silence
A New Look at Confession of Sin