I would like to address you as though you were a beginner in Christ, one seeking to know Him. In so doing, let me suggest two ways for you to come to the Lord. I will call the first way "praying the Scripture;" the second way I will call "beholding the Lord" or "waiting in His presence."
"Praying the Scripture" is a unique way of dealing with the Scripture; it involves both reading and prayer.
Here is how you should begin.
Turn to the Scripture; choose some passage that is simple and fairly practical. Next, come to the Lord. Come quietly and humbly. There, before Him, read a small portion of the passage of Scripture you have opened to.
Be careful as you read. Take in fully, gently and carefully what you are reading. Taste it and digest it as you read.
In the past it may have been your habit, while reading, to move very quickly from one verse of Scripture to another until you had read the whole passage. Perhaps you were seeking to find the main point of the passage.
But in coming to the Lord by means of "praying the Scripture," you do not read quickly; you read very slowly. You do not move from one passage to another, not until you have sensed the very heart of what you have read.
You may then want to take that portion of Scripture that has touched you and turn it into prayer.
After you have sensed something of the passage and after you know that the essence of that portion has been extracted and all the deeper sense of it is gone, then, very slowly, gently, and in a calm manner begin to read the next portion of the passage. You will be surprised to find that when your time with the Lord has ended, you will have read very little, probably no more than half a page.
"Praying the Scripture" is not judged by how much you read but by the way in which you read.
If you read quickly, it will benefit you little. You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower. Instead, in this new way of reading with prayer, you must become as the bee who penetrates into the depths of the flower. You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar.
Of course, there is a kind of reading the Scripture for scholarship and for study - but not here. That studious kind of reading will not help you when it comes to matters that are divine! To receive any deep, inward profit from the Scripture, you must read as I have described. Plunge into the very depths of the words you read until revelation, like a sweet aroma, breaks out upon you.
I am quite sure that if you will follow this course, little by little you will come to experience a very rich prayer that flows from your inward being.
Let us move now to the second kind of prayer, which I mentioned earlier.
The second kind of prayer, which I described as "beholding the Lord" or "waiting on the Lord," also makes use of the Scripture but it is not actually a time of reading.
Remember, I am addressing you as if you were a new convert. Here is your second way to encounter Christ. And this second way to Christ, although you will be using the Scripture, has a purpose altogether different from "praying the Scripture." For that reason you should set aside a separate time when you can come just to wait upon Him.
In "praying the Scripture" you are seeking to find the Lord in what you are reading, in the very words themselves. In this path, therefore, the content of the Scripture is the focal point of your attention. Your purpose is to take everything from the passage that unveils the Lord to you.
What of this second path?
In "beholding the Lord," you come to the Lord in a totally different way. Perhaps at this point I need to share with you the greatest difficulty you will have in waiting upon the Lord. It has to do with your mind. The mind has a very strong tendency to stray away from the Lord. Therefore, as you come before your Lord to sit in His presence, beholding Him, make use of the Scripture to quiet your mind.
The way to do this is really quite simple.
First, read a passage of Scripture. Once you sense the Lord's presence, the content of what you have read is no longer important. The Scripture has served its purpose; it has quieted your mind; it has brought you to Him.
So that you can see this more clearly, let me describe the way in which you come to the Lord by the simple act of beholding Him and waiting upon Him.
You begin by setting aside a time to be with the Lord. When you do come to Him, come quietly. Turn your heart to the presence of God. How is this done? This, too, is quite simple. You turn to Him by faith. By faith you believe you have come into the presence of God.
Next, while you are before the Lord, begin to read some portion of Scripture.
As you read, pause.
The pause should be quite gentle. You have paused so that you may set your mind on the Spirit. You have set your mind inwardly - on Christ.
(You should always remember that you are not doing this to gain some understanding of what you have read; rather, you are reading in order to turn your mind from outward things to the deep parts of your being. You are not there to learn or to read, but you are there to experience the presence of your Lord!)
While you are before the Lord, hold your heart in His presence. How? This you also do by faith. Yes, by faith you can hold your heart in the Lord's presence. Now, waiting before Him, turn all your attention toward your spirit. Do not allow your mind to wander. If your mind begins to wander, just turn your attention back again to the inward parts of your being.
You will be free from wandering - free from any outward distractions - and you will be brought near to God.
(The Lord is found only within your spirit, in the recesses of your being, in the Holy of Holies; this is where He dwells. The Lord once promised to come and make His home within you. (John 14:23) He promised to there meet those who worship Him and who do His will. The Lord will meet you in your spirit. It was St. Augustine who once said that he had lost much time in the beginning of his Christian experience by trying to find the Lord outwardly rather than by turning inwardly.)
Once your heart has been turned inwardly to the Lord, you will have an impression of His presence. You will be able to notice His presence more acutely because your outer senses have now become very calm and quiet. Your attention is no longer on outward things or on the surface thoughts of your mind; instead, sweetly and silently, your mind becomes occupied with what you have read and by the touch of His presence.
Oh, it is not that you will think about what you have read, but you will feed upon what you have read. Out of a love for the Lord you exert your will to hold your mind quiet before Him.
When you have come to this state, you must allow your mind to rest.
How shall I describe what to do next?
In this very peaceful state, swallow what you have tasted. At first this may seem difficult, but perhaps I can show you just how simple it is. Have you not, at times, enjoyed the flavor of a very tasty food? But unless you were willing to swallow the food, you received no nourishment. It is the same with your soul. In this quiet, peaceful, and simple state, simply take in what is there as nourishment.
What about distractions?
Let us say your mind begins to wander. Once you have been deeply touched by the Lord's Spirit and are distracted, be diligent to bring your wandering mind back to the Lord. This is the easiest way in the world to overcome external distractions.
When your mind has wandered, don't try to deal with it by changing what you are thinking. You see, if you pay attention to what you are thinking, you will only irritate your mind and stir it up more. Instead, withdraw from your mind! Keep turning within to the Lord's presence. By doing this you will win the war with your wandering mind and yet never directly engage in the battle!
Before we close this chapter, I would like to bring up one or two more points.
Let us talk about divine revelation. In the past, your reading habit may have been to wander from one subject to another. But the best way to understand the mysteries that are hidden in the revelation of God and to enjoy them fully is to let them be imprinted deeply in your heart. How? You may do this by dwelling on that revelation just as long as it gives you a sense of the Lord. Do not be quick to go from one thought to another. Stay with what the Lord has revealed to you; stay there just as long as a sense of the Lord is also there.
As you begin this new venture you will, of course, discover that it is difficult to bring your mind under control. Why is this? Because through many years of habit your mind has acquired the ability to wander all over the world, just as it pleases; so what I speak of here is something that is to serve as a discipline to your mind.
Be assured that as your soul becomes more accustomed to withdrawing to inward things, this process will become much easier.
There are two reasons that you will find it easier each time to bring your mind under subjection to the Lord. One is that the mind, after much practice, will form a new habit of turning deep within. The second is that you have a gracious Lord!
The Lord's chief desire is to reveal Himself to you and, in order for Him to do that, He gives you abundant grace. The Lord gives you the experience of enjoying His presence. He touches you, and His touch is so delightful that, more than ever, you are drawn inwardly to Him.
THE DEPTHS - EVEN FOR THE UNLEARNED
I would like to address this chapter to those of you who may not be able to read. (If you can read, don't skip this chapter because you will still be greatly helped! Please remember that until the last century a great majority of the world's population could not read. Jeanne Guyon has addressed herself to them. If this book is being read to one who cannot read, it will prove most helpful.) Because you cannot read, you may feel that you are in a weaker state than most Christians. You may feel you are unqualified to know the depths of your Lord. But in fact, you are really blessed. The blessing in not being able to read is that prayer may become your reading! Do you not know that the greatest book is Jesus Christ Himself? He is a Book who has been written on within and without. He will teach you all things. Read Him!
The first thing you must learn, dear friend, is that "the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21)
Never look for the kingdom anywhere but there, within. Once you have realized that the kingdom of God is within you and can be found there, just come to the Lord.
As you come, come with a deep sense of love; come to Him very gently; come to Him with a deep sense of worship. As you come to Him, humbly acknowledge that He is everything. Confess to Him that you are nothing.
Close your eyes to everything around you; begin to open the inward eyes of your soul, turning those eyes to your spirit. In a word, give your full attention to the deep inward parts of your being.
You need only believe that God dwells in you. This belief, and this belief alone, will bring you into His holy presence. Do not allow your mind to wander about but hold it in submission as much as possible.
Once you are in the Lord's presence, be still and quiet before Him.
And now, there in His presence, simply begin to repeat the Lord's Prayer. Begin with the word, "Father." As you do, let the full meaning of that word deeply touch your heart. Believe that the God who lives inside you is indeed so willing to be your Father. Pour out your heart to Him as a little child pours out his heart to his father. Never doubt your Lord's deep love for you. Never doubt His desire to hear you. Call on His name and remain before Him silently for a little while. Remain there, waiting to have His heart made known to you.
As you come to Him, come as a weak child, one who is all soiled and badly bruised - a child that has been hurt from falling again and again. Come to the Lord as one who has no strength of his own; come to Him as one who has no power to cleanse himself. Humbly lay your pitiful condition before your Father's gaze.
While you wait there before Him, occasionally utter a word of love to Him and a word of grief over your sin. Then simply wait for a while. After waiting, you will sense when it is time to go on; when that moment comes, simply continue on in the Lord's Prayer.
As you speak the words, "Thy Kingdom come," call upon your Lord, the King of Glory, to reign in you.
Give yourself up to God. Give yourself to God so that He may do in your heart what you have so long been a failure in trying to do.
Acknowledge before Him His right to rule over you.
At some point in this encounter with your Lord, you will feel deep within your spirit that it is time to simply remain silent before Him. When you have such a sense, do not move on to the next word - not as long as this sense continues with you. You see, it is the Lord Himself who is holding you to silence. When that sense of waiting before Him has passed, go on again to the next words of the Lord's Prayer.
"Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
Praying these words, humble yourself before the Lord, earnestly asking Him to accomplish His whole will in you and through you. Surrender your heart into His hands. Surrender your freedom into His hands. Yield to your Lord His right to do with you as He pleases.
Do you know what God's will is?
His will is that His children love Him. Therefore, when you pray, "Lord, Your will be done," you are actually asking the Lord to allow you to love Him. So begin to love Him! And as you do, beseech Him to give you His love.
All that I have just described to you will take place very sweetly, and it will take place very peacefully, throughout the entire prayer.
Let us look now at another possibility.
There may come an occasion while you are with the Lord that you will wish to lay aside the Lord's Prayer. Perhaps you will wish to come to Him as your shepherd.
Come to Him, then, as a sheep who is looking to his shepherd for his real food. As you come to Him, utter something like this: "Oh, loving Shepherd, You feed Your flock with Yourself, and You are really my daily bread."
It is proper for you to bring all your needs to your Lord. But whatever you do, do it believing one thing; that is, that God is found within you.
I realize that you might be one of those who has a set pattern, or ritual, to your prayers. You should not burden yourself with the rituals you have learned. There is no need for using repetition or memorized prayers. Instead, simply repeat the Lord's Prayer as I have here described. It will produce abundant fruit in your life.
Dear child of God, all your concepts of what God is like really amount to nothing. Do no try to imagine what God is like. Instead, simply believe in His presence. Never try to imagine what God will do. There is no way God will ever fit into your concepts. What then shall you do? Seek to behold Jesus Christ by looking to Him in your inmost being, in your spirit.
Let us close this chapter by looking at a third way in which you may begin a deeper encounter with your Lord.
You may come to the Lord by looking to Him as your Physician. Bring to Him all your sicknesses so that He can heal them. But as you come to Him, do not come with anxiety or restlessness. And as you come, pause from time to time. This period of waiting silently before the Lord will gradually increase! Furthermore, your own efforts at praying will grow less and less. Eventually there will come for you that moment when He will gain complete control, when you will continually yield to God's working within you.
As you can see, what has begun as something very simple will grow! It will grow to become a very real and vital relationship between you and the living God.
When the presence of the Lord really becomes your experience, you will actually discover that you have gradually begun to love this silence and peaceful rest which come with His presence.
There is a wonderful enjoyment of His presence.
This wonderful enjoyment of His presence will now help introduce you to yet another level of prayer!
We will go on to this second level of prayer in the next chapter. It is a depth of prayer that can be experienced by all believers, the simple as well as the scholarly.
THE SECOND LEVEL
You now have some acquaintance with praying the Scripture and beholding the Lord or waiting in His presence. Let us assume that you have practiced these two ways of coming to the Lord. Let us say that you have passed through the awkward stage of this and have come into real experience.
Now let us move on to consider a deeper level of experience with the Lord; that is, a deeper level of prayer. Some have described this second level as an experience of "faith and stillness." Others have referred to it as the "prayer of simplicity." I prefer the latter name.
Let us say you have grown accustomed to praying the Scripture and to waiting quietly in the sense of the Lords's presence, that these have made themselves part of your life. If this is so, you have found that it is now much easier to come to the Lord and to know His presence. But I would like to remind you once more that what was written previously was written to those who are just beginning to know Christ.
When you first began, it was very difficult for you to recall your wandering mind. It was difficult to continually turn inward to your spirit. Little by little, these matters have become much more natural and simple. And now prayer has come to be easy, sweet, and natural - as well as very delightful. You gradually recognize that prayer is the true way, the real way, of finding God. And once you have found Him, you proclaim joyfully, "His name is an ointment poured forth." (Song of Solomon 1:3)
You might think that I would now encourage you to continue on in this very successful path. Instead, I am going to encourage you to change your course just a little. In so doing, once more you are going to come to a point that might have some discouragement in it. Starting out on a new path to explore the Lord always means encountering some difficulties at the outset! Therefore, I would encourage you to have a believing heart from this point on. You must not be discouraged. There will be a little difficulty along the way as you seek to go into a deeper relationship with the Lord.
Now with these words behind us, let us look at this new level of prayer.
First of all, come into the Lord's presence by faith. As you are there before Him, keep turning inward to your spirit until your mind is collected and you are perfectly still before Him. Now, when all your attention is finally turned within and your mind is set on the Lord, simply remain quiet before Him for a little while.
Perhaps you will begin to enjoy a sense of the Lord's presence. If that is the case, do not try to think of anything. Do not try to say anything. Do not try to do anything! As long as the sense of the Lord's presence continues, just remain there. Remain before Him exactly as you are.
The awareness of His presence will eventually begin to decrease. When this happens, utter some words of love to the Lord or simply call on His name. Do this quietly and gently with a believing heart. In so doing, you will once again be brought back to the sweetness of His presence! You will discover that you once more return to that sweet place of utter enjoyment that you have just experienced! Once the sweetness of His presence has returned to its fullest, again be still before Him.
You should not seek to move as long as He is near.
What is the point? The point is this: There is a fire within you and it ebbs and grows. That fire, when it ebbs, must be gently fanned, but only gently. Just as soon as that fire begins to burn, again cease all your efforts. Otherwise, you might put out the flame.
This, then, is the second level of prayer - a second level in experiencing Jesus Christ.
When you have come to the end of this time, always remain there before the Lord, quietly, for a little while. Also, It is very important that all of your prayers be done with a believing heart. Praying with a believing heart is more important than anything else that has to do with prayer!
Before we finish this chapter, I would like to talk with you just a moment about the motive of your heart in your seeking the Lord.
After all, why do you come to the Lord? Do you come to Him for the sweetness? Do you come to Him because it is enjoyable to be in the Lord's presence? Let me recommend a higher way.
As you come to the Lord to pray, bring a full heart of pure love, a love that is not seeking anything for itself. Bring a heart that is seeking nothing from the Lord, but desires only to please Him and to do His will.
Let me illustrate. Consider the servant. The servant takes good care of his master; but if he does it only to receive some reward, he is not worthy of any consideration whatsoever. So, dear Christian, as you come to your Lord to pray, do not come for spiritual enjoyment. Do not even come to experience your Lord.
Then what? Come just to please Him.
Once you are there, if He chooses to pour out some great blessing, receive it. But if, instead, your mind wanders, receive that. Or if you have a difficult time in prayer, receive that. Joyfully accept whatever He desires to give. Believe that whatever happens is what He wants to give you!
Let me repeat that, for it is very important! It is especially important to you for any future growth in experiencing Christ. Believe by faith that whatever happens is His desire for you at that time.
When you have come to the Lord this way, you will find that your spirit is at peace no matter what your condition. When you have learned to come to the Lord with this attitude, you will not be upset if the Lord withdraws Himself from you. The times of spiritual dryness will be the same to you as the times of spiritual abundance. You will treat them both the same. Why? Because you will have learned to love God just because you love Him, not because of His gifts, not even for His precious presence.
Next week: Periods Of Dryness - Abandonment - Abandonment and Suffering