It shouldn’t surprise yet somehow it always does. As familiar as our trips to El Salvador should be the Lord always has something new for us to discover. This time it was a conversation with the person beside me on the airplane. I had just put the book I was reading in the magazine rack in front of me. Entitled, “When God Talks Back”, by Tanya Luhrmann, it obviously caught his attention because he took it out and started to look at it and then proceeded to ask me questions about it. Turns out that my new friend ‘s name is Jerome and he heads a mission team that also works in El Salvador. Our discussion about how we’ve seen God reveal himself over the years was quite interesting and encouraging. It really spoke into what this book addresses – discovering the reality of God’s presence within our own everyday experiences. As I reflect back over my journey of faith, it seems apparent that the most significant experiences, which have helped me to grow in my own faith, love and trust in the Lord have been those which I have experienced as part of a group or community of people.
Luhrmann says, “The community is crucial, snarky as its members can be…it takes a great deal of work for the community to teach people to develop these apparently private and personal relationships with God.” (p.279) Whether it was my youth group, or the circle of friends we had when my wife and I first were married, or our church family now, or the people I’ve connected with through our work in El Salvador or the growing number of people I’m learning with in the realm of community development or those in this Doctor of Ministry program – I am learning to love God more because of their influential role in my life. It’s personal, but it wouldn’t be possible if there wasn’t community, or communitas, as Lurhmann explains it.
A group of people united together through their shared faith in Jesus Christ, purposed toward the mission of God and learning to pray and listen for the expectation that He will show them and lead them. To some it’s an ideal, a far fetched fairy tale. For me it’s the pursuit of the promises that God makes. If His mercies are new every morning then I want learn to appreciate those mercies and in so doing recognize just how faithful is our God. “That is the invitation: to experience God as if he were real in the flesh and standing by your side, with love. The challenge is to learn how to do that.” (p.38)
So for me, what I have learned through my experiences with so many different groups is the importance of being present where I am. “The point of religious conviction is that the everyday world is not all there is to reality; to see beyond, one must change the way one pays attention.” (p.188) Practicing presence is very difficult. We realize quickly how easily distracted we can become and how cluttered our mind and lives really are. We can have working knowledge of so much and familiarity with so many people. Yet we can lack any kind of meaningful depth. More importantly the frenetic activity of our restless minds hampers our capacity to witness God at work and to hear Him call out to us. To learn to give yourself, completely, to the other, is no easy task and yet to do so allows you to communicate worth to the other person and it also allows all parties to see God at work, revealing a new evidence of his faithfulness to us.
As our flight to El Salvador continued, my new friend decided that I should talk to one his team members so they switched seats and I had the chance to share a little bit with Nancy. In the course of conversation she mentioned another team member Doug who, if I’m talking to God, could I talk to God about Doug. Doug’s adult son died tragically about a year ago and Doug has struggled since that time. A couple months ago while on Vacation he had enough and shouted to God that he didn’t want to go on like that anymore and wanted his life to count for something. That’s when God’s mercy was revealed or as Lurhmann would say, God talked back. Upon his return home, some friends connected him with Jerome and got him involved with this mission team. He has no idea why he’s here only that it seems God is leading Him. Over the next 12 days would you pray for Doug, that he would find healing in Jesus and come to a place where he enters into relationship with Him. That was my promise to this team that we would pray. My hope is that they would recognize God’s response and that they all would be strengthened by the mercies of our faithful God.
“…a person’s experience of God emerges out of the vortex not only of what they are taught intellectually about God but also of what they do practically to experience God – above all, the way they pray, and what they bring to their prayer experience as unique individuals.” (p.156)
- If you knew God wanted to show you something or tell you something today, that might be very different from what you had already planned, what changes would you make to see or hear Him?
- This week, maybe today, there will be someone God puts in your path that requires your undivided presence, in part because God wants to encourage them through your presence and in part because He has something to teach you through them. What changes will you make to be more fully present to them?