Practing the Presence of God, Part 3: Practicing the Presence of Our Good God
[Our blogger for the month of October is Sarah Groen-Colyn, PhD. Sarah is the Director of Ministries of Leanne Payne’s Ministries of Pastoral Care, as well as a practicing psychologist and owner of Sanctuary Psychological Services in Edmonds, WA.]
Vital to every soul that needs healing (all of us)
is the knowledge that God is absolutely good,
and that He loves us with the kind of love
capable of radically changing us.
Payne, Healing Presence, p. 132
Thomas Traherne called God “the most Lovely Object” (Centuries of Meditations, p. 4). If we truly knew Him as such, we would easily live in continual inclination to His presence. But we don’t, not yet, not fully, and here again the word practice is a great encouragement. In this blog I will reflect on the healing and maturity of soul that is both prerequisite for and fruit of practicing the presence of His goodness.
Unbelief is the primary block to this practice, meaning that we need to know God more truly, or even to be delivered from a total failure of knowledge of the true God. In my experience, sincere followers of Christ are often shocked to realize they still possess pockets of unbelief and poisoned symbols of God’s character within their souls. In the corrupted nature of our souls under sin, the residue of trespasses, injuries, slights and frustrations in our human relationships leach into our deep-heart sense of God’s nature. Experiences and phantasies from our history form repeating dynamics in the soul. This is why there is often a profound disconnect between our conscious theology and our subjective experience of God.
Humanistic counseling (which relies on validation of one’s subjective feelings to yield personal growth), is prone to reinforce the sort of corruption I’m writing about today. It is foolish to believe that supporting a sufferer’s expression of their feelings will lead them to wholeness if the feelings themselves are corrupted and lead away from reality. Soul-damaged people in great pain are prone to charge God with evil, and such unwise and unfair charges will only make one sicker. (see Listening Prayer by Leanne Payne, p. 100-101) This damage in the soul is not healed by ventilation and validation. Agnes Sanford said it well – rather than ‘getting something off your chest’, you need to take something in (Behold Your God).
It’s by getting something into us that this corruption can be healed. “God comes down to us, enters into our closed and alienated minds and worlds, and proclaims Himself” (Healing Presence, p. 132). To receive healing in our subjective relationship with God, we must operate in Incarnational Reality: God’s healing presence descends into His people; Christ is “Savior of the deep mind and heart” (Healing Presence, p. 135). I believe Christian soul-care workers must incorporate prayer that seeks God’s own presence to correct these corruptions and impart a knowing of His goodness where it’s been distorted. I agree with Eric Johnson that this process “takes time and some thorough internal processing, grounded in redemptive faith” (Foundations of Soul Care, p. 396). Our God, the most Lovely Object, sets a beautiful, dynamic process in motion – as He gifts us with capacity to practice the presence of His goodness, more goodness comes in and we become yet more able to receive from Him.
“Those of us who minister to wounded souls realize the miracle that happens in the life of a sufferer once he or she gets a true vision of God the Father and the affirming love of the Father starts streaming toward that person. The soul of that person will then begin to see and symbolize God properly; the God of the Scriptures will become his or her full strength and stronghold” (Healing Presence, p. 135).
Johnson, E. L. (2007). Foundations for Soul Care: a Christian Psychology Proposal. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
Payne, Leanne. (1995) The Healing Presence: Curing the Soul through Union with Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.
Sanford, A. M. (1964). Behold your God. Saint Paul: Macalester Park Pub. Co..
Traherne, Thomas. (2014) Centuries of Meditation. Lexington, KY.