It was Karl Rahner who once said that “the Christian of the future will be a mystic, or he will not exist at all.” Christian mysticism involves “a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence”. This understanding of mysticism is thoroughly biblical and is an ancient tradition flowing down through the centuries from Christ and the Apostles, through church history and available to each one of us today. A “genuine experience of God” can come in a whole range of different ways and we can open up towards this through a variety of Christian spiritual formation practices such as prayer, meditation, contemplation, study, solitude, silence, etc. More than ever we need a genuine experience of God which nourishes our souls in the very depths of our being. We need to feast on Jesus the bread of life and drink deep of His life-
If you delve more deeply into the state of many of our churches what I think you will find is an underlying discontent and disappointment which relates to disconnection. Disconnection of what is modelled, taught and practiced on the outside compared with what is experienced on the inside. And if this sense of disconnection is not addressed then the danger for many churches is that many people will turn away from a faith that they perceive has failed them. Why should we continue to practice a form of Christian faith that does not bring a sense of connection with God and the resulting inner transformation? Why should we continue to pretend that we are always victorious, triumphant overcomers when our daily experience of life tells us something very different? Many churches are in a critical state and even on life support and simply do not see it or recognise it. It is not sustainable to continue with plans and programmes that fail to address this fundamental disconnection of outer life from inner life. If there continues to be a failure to help Christians connect what we say we believe to the realities of our inner world, then many will give up and turn away from God. It’s that serious. Those who excitedly come in through the front door are walking out the back door because they have not experienced what it means to be rooted and established in God.
Saying the right things, confessing the right beliefs, singing the right songs, praying the right prayers, reading enough Scripture. These in themselves will not be enough to save the church from the stressful, frantic, exhausting pace of life and change in our postmodern and post-
Here are the words of Jesus in the context of the passage on the wise and foolish builder –
22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
It wasn’t what they did that was the problem. It was the fact that Jesus didn’t know them. And this is the crux of the matter. We say we know Jesus and have a relationship with him. Do we? Tell me what your relationship with Jesus looks like. Describe it to me. What do you speak about? How has he shared his heart with you? How have you known him and how does he know you? I don’t ask these questions to condemn anybody. But rather to focus our minds on what really matters. Are we truly building our spiritual house on the rock? Because storms are coming and they will inevitably reveal where our foundations are. The outward shell will not save us if the house is built on sand. It’s more important than ever that we tend to the garden of our souls. The word sown in the good soil bears fruit. The word sown on the path, the rocky places and among the thorns faces challenges that steal, choke, limit and destroy fruitfulness. All of these challenges relate to the state of our hearts and our inner lives.
The preacher cannot tend to the state of your heart but he/she can point you towards tools and spiritual practices that will help. You must take up the tools for yourself and use the means of grace available to you to engage in the ongoing work of connecting with God. Whatever stage you are at in the process, whether you feel far from God or sense his presence near, be encouraged that God is kind, patient and merciful. He is waiting for you to come to him just as you are with the reality of your life. Through faith and trust in him seek to engage with his truth, word and promises. Engage with him heart to heart. The heart of God is overflowing with divine love towards you personally. Tend the soil of your own soul. Receive the word and soak in God’s Presence. Abide in his love and let his love abide in you so that you can draw on the life of the one true Vine who is Jesus Christ. The promise of Jesus is that if you do this then you will bear much fruit that will last.
The Christian Contemplation Online Course includes teaching and a whole variety of different guided meditations to help you reconnect with God at a deeper level. See here for more details.
Richard H H Johnston
Director, Christian Mindfulness, Christian Contemplation and Christian CBT
© Richard H H Johnston