Letters to Brian: Encountering God More Deeply in Your Life

Dear Brian,

I am edified by your desire for God’s will in your life.  Regardless of what you may feel, the desire for God’s will is an infallible sign of grace working in your life.  Hence, there is reason to rejoice and be encouraged!  The reason for this is simple: no matter how clever, smart, or even holy we may think we are; we are always merely responding to God’s initiative.  In the spiritual life, there are no original ideas!

You have asked me for some practical ways that can enable you to both hear and discover God’s presence more deeply in your life.  What various holy men and women have discovered throughout history are not infallible means to make this occur, but rather a few tools that can help one become more receptive to God’s presence and action in their life.  Here, I would like to simply mention two.

The first tool to help you encounter God more deeply in your life is praying with Scripture.  If you are able, it would be ideal to spend 15-30 minutes a few days a week praying with the Gospels.  Notice I said praying with the Gospels and not studying them!  What does this mean?  Practically it means selecting a relatively short passage from the Gospels (usually no more than 10-15 verses), reading it slowly, pondering the words or action that is occurring, and allowing yourself to enter into its content.  As you read the passage, what strikes you as interesting, odd, or even attractive?  How does Jesus seem to you in the passage: loving and compassionate or maybe even angry or distant?  Perhaps, if your imagination allows you to, you can place yourself in the scene that you are pondering.  What are you like before Jesus?  What is he like before you?

Whether it is pondering the words of Jesus or imagining yourself in the Gospel scene, the most important thing is that you begin to discuss with Him whatever it is your experience of the passage might be.  The whole purpose of praying with the Scriptures is not merely to have nice thoughts or beautiful meditations, but to engage in a dialogue with the One who is the very meaning of the Scriptures, the Lord Jesus Himself!  In this heart-to-heart dialogue, you will learn more about God, yourself, and His will for you than any book or class could ever teach you.

The Word of God operates on various levels.  There is a theological, historical, and even philosophical dimension to it that is both necessary and important.  Another aspect of the Word of God, just as important as the others mentioned, is what I like to call its “living reality.”  In other words, when we read and pray with the Scriptures we are not merely reading about history or theology, but we are encountering a Reality that is both alive and fresh.  Regardless of how old certain events may be that we are pondering, they are for the believer, always an opportunity to encounter the Lord anew.  As the Letter to the Hebrews affirms, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

This simple practice of praying with the Gospels has had an enormous effect on my own life.  When I was in college and trying to discern God’s will for my own life, it was this simple practice of praying with the Gospels that not only strengthened me in the faith but also brought about an enormous amount of insight and clarity concerning my own vocation.  I can honestly say that during those solitary times of prayer with God’s word, I encountered the Living God and it was from that encounter that I discovered the path he was leading me on.  May it be so with you as well!

The second tool to help you encounter God more deeply in your life is what I like to call, examining your life.  Unfortunately, many people believe that God is separate from one’s own life and that the details and circumstances of life are somehow an obstacle to God.  The truth is,  if you really want to find God, the only place you have to look at is your life!  Unfortunately, this usually only occurs in retrospect.  Hence the need to occasionally take a step back and examine your life.

Perhaps once a week or monthly it might be helpful to ask yourself a few questions?  What is it in your life right now that brings you genuine joy and peace?  What in your life seems to cause you anxiety or fear?  What is it that I sense the Lord is saying to me in prayer?  Has there been an event, a time of prayer, a person, etc. that revealed God’s presence to me in a way that I wasn’t expecting or planning?  If so, what do I believe the Lord was trying to say to me in that situation?  In short, where do I sense the Lord’s presence in my life in the past few weeks and where do I not sense his presence?  The whole point of this little exercise is twofold.  First, to discover the Lord’s presence in our life and then orient our life, as best we can, to where God’s presence appears to be for us.

You mentioned to me a few weeks ago that every time you volunteer at the soup kitchen you experience a deep peace and joy welling up from within you.  I was immediately struck by your words because this peace and joy do not appear to have a natural explanation.  First, you often arrive at the soup kitchen after a long day of teaching, and most likely, what you really want to do is seek out some rest and relaxation, something which the soup kitchen does not provide.  Second, some people might say this peace and joy that you experience comes from simply doing a good deed.  However, your life is filled with good deeds.  You spend all day teaching and often stay at school after hours to tutor those students who you perceive are struggling without any charge.  Finally, volunteering at the soup kitchen provides absolutely no earthly incentive.  You are not being paid at the soup kitchen, volunteering there offers you no career advancement opportunities, and most of the time much of your work is often unnoticed and unappreciated by both the poor who you serve and those whom you minister with.

It seems to me, then, that an important question arises.  Where does the peace and joy that you experience at the soup kitchen come from?  Is it the Lord that you are meeting there and who is perhaps drawing you into a deeper relationship with both him and the poor through this volunteering opportunity?  Is he inviting you into a ministry with the poor, a religious vocation, or is the whole experience with the poor meant to serve as a catalyst for your own deeper conversion?

The fact is that neither I nor anybody else can tell you exactly what God is saying or doing in your life.  My point in asking you these questions is merely meant to spark reflection on your part.  In my own humble opinion, it appears that your experience at the soup kitchen is worth paying attention to, and at the very least, bringing it before the Lord in prayer.  If there is something of the Lord more deeply at work in this, a prayerful openness to his movement here will only bring about a greater clarity and discernment in due time concerning the true nature of your experience.

In the meantime, be assured of my prayers for you Brian.  Discernment is often a long process, not because God doesn’t want to help us, but because we are usually so slow in perceiving and responding to God’s work!  When I have discovered God’s will in various areas of my own life and acted on them, I often sensed the Lord saying to me with a smile, “Welcome, I have been waiting for you here!”    I pray that these simple tools of praying with Scripture and examining your life can aid you in discovering more deeply where God is already waiting for you!

Sincerely in Christ,

Fr. Jeremiah

This post was first published on From the Friars and is reprinted here with permission.

Photo courtesy of the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and @martin.jernberg.

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