Finding Rest in God’s Presence: insights on prayer from O. Hallesby

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I came across these striking words from Ole Hallesby in his classic work Prayer, published in 1931, about resting in God’s presence in prayer, even without words. I found them helpful for me as we continue to walk through this very challenging time and may need to encounter true peace and rest in God.

Prayer is really an attitude of our hearts toward God. As such it finds expression, at times in words and at times without words, precisely as when two people love each other. As conscious personalities we must and should give expression to our attitude and words one to another. It is this faculty which lifts the fellowship of human beings to such a high plane and makes it so rich.

But at the same time let us remind ourselves that life, in the last analysis, is inexpressible. There is something in our lives, also in our fellowships, which can never be formulated in words, but which can be the common experience, nevertheless, of two who share with each other everything that can be expressed in words.

In the souls fellowship with God in prayer, too, there are things which can and should be formulated in words. We have spoken of that in the preceding. But there are also things for which we can find no words. Likely it is this to which the apostle makes reference when he speaks in Romans 8:26 of “the groanings which cannot be uttered.”

My little boy came in one day and stuck his little head into the doorway of my study. Now he knew that he was not supposed to disturb me during working hoursMy little boy came in one day and stuck his little head into the. And his conscience troubled him a little on account of this. But he looked at me nevertheless with his kind, round baby eyes and said, “Papa, dear, I will sit still all the time if you will only let me be here with you!”

That he received permission when he approached my father-heart in that way, every father knows.

That little experience gave me a great deal to think about.

 it’s not that just the way we often feel with regard to our heavenly father? We do so love to be with him, just to be in his presence! Moreover, we never disturb him, no matter when we come in or how often we come!

We pray to God. We speak to him about everything we have on our minds both concerning others and ourselves. There come times, not so seldom with me at least, when I have nothing more to tell God. If I were to continue to pray in words, I would have to repeat what I have already said. At such times it is wonderful to say to God, “May I be in thy presence, Lord? I have nothing more to say to thee, but I do love to be in thy presence.”

We can spend time in silence together with people whom we know real well. That we cannot do with others. We must converse with them, entertain them either with interesting or profound things as the case may be. But with our own dear ones we can speak freely about common and insignificant things. In their presence, too, we can be silent. Similarly, it is not necessary to maintain a conversation when we are in the presence of God. We can come into his presence and rest our weary souls in quiet contemplation of him. Our groanings, which cannot be uttered, rise to him and tell him better than words how dependent we are on him.We can spend time in silence together withWe can spend time in silence together with people who we know

As evening drew nigh, and our little fellow had played until he was tired, I noticed that he drew closer and closer to his mother. At last he found the place where he was longing for, mother’s lap. He did not have a great deal to say either. He simply lay there, and let his mother caress him to sleep.

We, too, become tired, deadly tired, of ourselves, of others, of the world, of life, of everything! Then it is blessed to know of a place where we can lay our tired head and heart, our heavenly Father’s arms, and say to him, “I can do no more. And I have nothing to tell you. May I lie here a while and rest? Everything will soon be well again if I can only rest in your arms a while.”

What Does It Mean to Abide in Christ?: two essentials for bearing fruit

vine and branches

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener….Remain in me as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4)

The theme of this passage is God’s people bearing fruit as living “branches” within Jesus the “vine” as tended by the “gardener,” who is Father God.  At various places in the Hebrew Bible, Israel is referred to as a vine: a vine transplanted from Egypt (Psalm 80:8), God’s vineyard intended to develop a harvest of justice and righteousness (Isaiah 5:1-7), and a once living vine now shriveled in exile (Ezekiel 19:10-14). Here in John 15, amidst the upper room discourse, Jesus describes the new community formed around Him as branches sustained by a vine, which is still called to bear fruit.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing….This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8)

Again the theme returns: a calling upon God’s people to bear much fruit for the Father’s glory. The key to such fruit-bearing is remaining, or abiding, in the vine, who is Jesus. There can be no fruit-bearing apart from Jesus. To not remain in Him is equivalent to becoming lifeless, and this lifelessness leads to a fiery end. Remaining in Jesus is the key to fruit-bearing, as well as to having effective prayer-communication with God. The question, of course, is what does it mean to remain or abide or continue in Jesus? the first clue comes in verse 7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you.” To remain i Jesus is linked to His words remaining—or abiding or continuing—in us. There is a parallel here: remaining in Jesus means letting His words remain in us. Perhaps it is easier to understand this if we use the word “continue.” If we want to continue in Jesus, we will need for His words to continue in us; not just informationally but transformationally in our lives. This parallel between remaining in Jesus and His words remaining in us is followed by another parallel in the next verse: bearing much fruit is linked with showing ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command….This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:9-17)

In verse 9, the metaphor switches from gardening to relationships. Along with that the concept of “remaining” switches contexts from branches remaining in a vine to friends remaining in the love of the ultimate friend. Jesus is the ultimate friend because He loves to the ultimate extent: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:13). Jesus does this because He keeps the Father’s commands and remains in the Father’s love (15:10). The connection between remaining through keeping commands and remaining in love is tied so tightly that it is difficult to see how one could exist without the other. Like the individual strands of a braided rope, it is hard to know whether to call it “rope” if they are not all there braided together as one.

So, Jesus says, if we want to remain in Him and bear fruit to the Father’s glory, it will involve obedience to His commands/word while also abiding in His love. His command ultimately is “Love each other as I have loved you” (15:12, 17). While there is certainly a sort of experiential mysticism of remaining in Christ’s love here, it is vacuous of true remaining if it does not simultaneously translate into remaining in Jesus’ commands through practical obedience. Or, as the Apostle James wrote, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).

Teach me, Lord, to truly remain in You,
like a branch in the vine that bears fruit,
like a friend sustained in love to a Friend
through overflowing love.

The Beloved and Doomsayers

brennanWhile having a conversation today with a colleague, he shared these marvelous words from Brennan Manning with me. In the midst of our current angst-ridden ethos, I found Manning’s words particularly poignant.

Certainly this is not the only answer to how we address the apparent chaos of these days and times, but it is still a vitally important response that keeps us abiding in Christ and centered on God’s reign.

As we listen to the heartbeat of the Rabbi, we will hear words of reassurance: “I’ve told you all this beforehand. Shh! Be still. I am here. All is well.” In place of end-time agitation and thoughts of doom, Jesus tells us to be alert and watchful. We are to avoid the doomsayer and the talk-show crank when they conduct their solemn televised meeting in the green room of the apocalypse. We are to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with our God. We are to claim our belovedness each day and live as servants in the awareness of present risenness. We pay no heed to the quacks and self-proclaimed seers who manipulate the loyalty of others for their self-serving purposes.

[Excerpt from Abba’s Child in the collection Dear Abba: Morning and Evening Prayer.]

Abide (discussion questions)

Chosen Words Series Gfx_4x3 TitleHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Abide,” on John 15:1-17 from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This continues the series, “Chosen Words,” where we will journey through John 13-17 over the next number of weeks.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Spring is almost here! What plants do you most look forward to seeing as Spring returns? Why?
  2. This week we continue our series, “Chosen Words,” by looking at Jesus’ words about abiding or remaining in God from John 15:1-17. Before you read this passage of Scripture aloud, take a moment to ask God to speak to you as you read His word.
  3. Jesus picks up the extended agricultural metaphor of the vine and branches bearing fruit in this passage. This image is used throughout Scripture, often to describe the people of God, as seen in Psalm 80:8-19 and Isaiah 5:1-5. Jesus takes the image a slightly different direction here. What does he say the vine, branches, and gardener represent?
  4. One clear theme of this passage is the concept of bearing fruit. Take a moment to notice how often the word ‘fruit’ appears in this passage. What do you think Jesus mean by ‘bearing fruit’ in this passage?
  5. Would you describe yourself as someone who bears fruit for God? Why or why not?
  6. In verse 4, Jesus says: “neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” If bearing fruit is directly tied to ‘remaining’ – or ‘abiding’ or ‘staying put’ – in Jesus, what does Jesus specifically mean by remaining in Him from this passage?
  7. Jesus emphasizes love when He says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (vs 9). What do you think this means? What sort of love is Jesus talking about?
  8. How have you cultivated the life of remaining or abiding in Christ? Are there specific spiritual practices that help you with this?
  9. Jesus offers some very specific requests near the end of this passage: ‘love each other as I have loved you’ (vs 12), ‘you are my friends if you do what I command’ (vs 13), ‘so that you might go and bear fruit’ (v 16). How do you think this call to action connects with the call to remain in love?
  10. What is one specific thing that God is speaking to you through this study? How will that shape your life in the coming week? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray for one another. If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone.

[Next week we continue our series, “Chosen Words,” by exploring Jesus’ words about overcoming difficulty in John 15:18-25 and 16:16-33. Read that portion of Scripture ahead of time.]

Abide

Chosen Words Series Gfx_Thumb

This weekend at Eastbrook Church, I continued our series,”Chosen Words,” by looking at Jesus’ teaching on the spiritual life through the metaphor of the vine and the branches from John 15:1-17. After exploring the idea of Jesus as the ‘true’ vine, I spent time outlining four aspects of the life of abiding in Jesus.

You can view a video of the message and the accompanying outline below. You can listen to the message via our audio podcast here. You can join in with the “Chosen Words” devotional online.

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