Have you ever longed to be with someone? I don’t mean that lustful kind of longing or even the sexual longing of a married couple. The kind of longing I’m talking about is the longing to simply be with someone. Maybe this person makes you feel better about yourself or they know how to cheer you up. Maybe this person converses with you in such a way that all other conversations pale in comparison. Or maybe this person has a way of helping you become the person you want to become. Whatever the reason, the love of this person draws you toward them, creating a longing within you.
Have you ever felt this?
A close approximation of this feeling might be the feeling caused by the separation (distance or time) from a loved one. I know this feeling. Since serving as a Missionary Associate in Germany, I have not seen my relatives and closest friends in nearly 18 months. The longing to see them and hug them, that is the emotion I want you to imagine.
With that in mind, ask yourself this question: have I ever felt that way about God, Jesus, and/or the Holy Spirit?
A Journey Back Into Prayer
This very question changed my prayer life recently.
You see, I had grown quite comfortable and alarmingly stagnate in with my walk with God. I had followed His leading, taken a leap of faith, and found myself half way across the world from “home” without a clue as to how to do life with God on my own. My Christian mentors were now only available via email or skype with a 7 hour time difference. My passion waned and my time with God soon followed. Unfortunately, it took nearly a year for God to fully get my attention to the seriousness of my spiritual stagnation. Through the help of my godly friends and mentors, my vision of life with God was restored. With renewed intention, I decided to focus on prayer and spending time with God. But a busy life full of distractions kept me from truly entering into prayer. I wanted to experience deeper prayer, you know, prayer beyond just asking for stuff (though that is important).
That’s when I came across a simple but life changing article by Tim Challies. In it, he talked about a practice that I had somehow never considered, in which he quoted from Martin Lloyd Jones:
Always respond to every impulse to pray. I would make an absolute law of this – always obey such an impulse.
Put simply, he said to never suppress a prompting to pray. This freed me from my “prayer chair” and morning routine. I could now talk to God throughout the day, in short or long moments!
And so, praying for my family one day, I felt this longing to be with them. I wanted to be able to hug my brother. I wanted to be able to talk to my grandma. And then it hit me like a sudden gust of wind on a hot summer day: do I long for God, Jesus, and/or the Holy Spirit like that?
A Room With An Empty Chair
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I could say yes to that question. I had been communing more and more with God throughout the day for a few days at this point. It was later in the evening. My son had already gone to bed and my wife was reading in the other room. I was sitting in a nice, comfortable chair reading a book about the history of pentecostalism when I suddenly felt this desire or longing to pray and spend time with God. It wasn’t simply a prompting to pray, it was much more. In that moment, I was drawn toward God in a way that I had not experienced in years. Thankfully, I put the iPad down, closed my eyes and entered into a time of imaginative prayer with God. The moment wasn’t long and drawn out. I didn’t receive a revelatory message. But my relationship with God grew and the depth of that moment will be a highlight for years to come.
And then it happened again!
In an identical situation recently, I felt this longing. I put the book down again and chose to walk to another room. On the way I had this image of walking into a room with an empty chair. On the chair sat the object of my longing desire. In that moment, Jesus sat there and the time of prayer was refreshing.
Late, as I dwelt on the image, I could see the object changing as the longing of my heart was pulled toward other desires.
Your Empty Chair
And here is where I want to leave you: gazing upon your empty chair. What or who is sitting upon that chair?
You cannot force God into that chair and I don’t want to make this sound like you can do enough “godly” activities (i.e. Pray enough) to get Him there. For myself, and millions of Christians before me, prayer led to more prayer and a longing therefore. Yet the prayer was not built on prayer itself. It was built on the foundational vision that life with God is real and I truly can become more Christlike through the grace of God and the Holy Spirit at work in me.
Let me end with a quote:
“Prayer is the human response to the perpetual outpouring of love by which God lays siege to every soul.”
– Richard J. Foster
Also published on Medium.