Read an Excerpt
40 Ways in 40 Days to Experience the Heart of Jesus
By Keri Wyatt Kent
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
AN ONLY CHILD
"Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age." (Jesus, in Matthew 28:20)
Patti and Bruce, feeling a tug from Jesus, welcomed a four-year-old foster child into their home. Originally the child welfare organization told them Jonathan would be staying with them and their four other children for about a month. Five months later, after a couple of attempts to place him back with his mother, he's still living with Patti and Bruce. The process has been messy and complicated. This little boy is sweet, charming, and winsome at times, but angry and confused at other times. So sometimes he cuddles and hugs, but other times he acts out: yelling, scratching, hitting, and even biting.
My friends have loved this child, even as he tries their patience, even as they sometimes despair over the difficulties his birth family faces: poverty, illness, and so on. When they tuck him in at night, they ask him, "Jonathan, when God looks at you, what does he say?" And they have taught him to answer, "He says, 'I sure do love that little boy!'"
When Jonathan first came to them, he did not know the answer to the question. In fact, in his little four-year-old heart, perhaps Jonathan's circumstance caused him to assume that if God even looked at him at all, God would have said, "There's a bad boy, so bad his mommy had to send him away." But that is not true. And so Patti and Bruce have taught Jonathan to replace the lies with truth. And the truth is, God sure does love that little boy.
The truth is, God sure does love you. When he looks at you, his first thought is love. The question for many of us is, does God even look at us? Could he pick our face out of the crowd? Or does he just love us out of obligation because he loves all people? Does he love us generally, along with all the other people in the world, or does he love us specifically, intimately?
Augustine asserted, "God loves each of us like an only child." You may not believe that. Or perhaps you do believe it on an intellectual or theological level, but you don't feel it. You have never, or perhaps only rarely, experienced that deep love. But what if he was right?
We sometimes have trouble feeling God's love. But there are practices we can engage in that will help us experience his loving presence. There are things we can do, ways we can train our hearts, so that we can truly know his love personally and profoundly.
Dallas Willard writes that human beings are meant to live in ongoing conversation with God. It is possible to live with an awareness of his presence throughout our day. In the 1600s, a monk known only as Brother Lawrence wrote a series of letters and journal entries that became the book The Practice of the Presence of God. Even as he did chores in the monastery like peeling potatoes or scrubbing the floor, Brother Lawrence would turn his thoughts toward God. Thinking about God, speaking to him about everything, caused him to feel God's presence with him throughout his day. Jesus' love was a palpable reality in his daily life.
He wrote: "I still believe that all spiritual life consists of practicing God's presence, and that anyone who practices correctly will soon attain spiritual fulfillment.... There is no sweeter manner of living in the world than continuous communion with God."
I agree completely, but I don't live in a monastery. I'm a wife, a friend, and a working mom of two teenagers. I volunteer at my church, attend my kids' games, hang out with my neighbors, and work a lot. I run the house and my own business from that house. My days are full, containing everything from grocery shopping to writing magazine articles. I've been known to have a client meeting via phone while driving a carpool. Is it possible for me to experience God's presence throughout my day? To know, and be able to declare, that he sure does love me?
It is not only possible to live this way; it is the way we were meant to live. Jesus didn't just come to save humankind; he came because he wanted to have a relationship with you. Because he is God, he is able to miraculously connect with each of us simultaneously in a deep, intimate way. If we cannot feel that presence, if God seems distant, the problem does not lie with God.
But the very good, amazing news is that God deeply desires to connect with you, to be a constant, comforting presence in your life. You simply have to train yourself to be aware of his presence. That is what you are invited to do over the next forty days as you read this book.
The Bible teaches that God is omnipresent—he is everywhere. We are often unaware of that presence, but simple practices of faith will help increase our awareness of God and help us experience his love in a tangible, real way. This book will guide you in those practices.
Today, take some time to sit quietly. Invite Jesus to be with you as you let your mind and heart settle down. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths just to slow your body down. When you feel as though you are ready, ask yourself the question my friends asked their foster child: what does God say when he looks at you?
Be as honest as you can. Your gut reaction may be that God says, "Who's that?" or "Oh, her again. What does she want now?" or even "How did you mess up now?" Sit with whatever comes to mind. Where did your ideas about what God says about you come from? What lies or misconceptions cloud your perception of God's love for you? Write down your gut reaction in your journal or the space below.
Can you replace any negative thoughts with the truth? God loves you and delights in you. You are his beloved child, wholly and deeply loved. Say to yourself, When God thinks about me, he thinks, "I sure do love that (your name)." Write this new thought, even if you don't fully believe it yet, in your journal. If you wrote something negative as your first response, cross it out.
As you go through your day, think of God looking at you with love and delight. Think of him saying, "I sure do love (your name)!" Thank him for loving you and ask for his help in feeling that love.
 Check here when you have completed today's Presence Practice.CHAPTER 2
WALKING WITH JESUS
Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:13-14 NIV)
I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! (Psalm 139:7 NLT)
Love consists, so often, in simply showing up. To be present with someone communicates far more than words. In a friend's moment of grief or need, our presence is a far greater gift than anything we might bring or do, or even say.
The Incarnation is the ultimate example of "showing up." But even now, two millennia later, if we pay attention, we will notice when Jesus shows up. He makes good on his promise to abide with us. His constant "being with" can be a source of comfort and joy. His inescapable presence consoles but also convicts. Our response varies by day, or even by moment.
Jesus is fully present with us, no matter where we go. The question is, do we acknowledge that presence? And do we, for lack of a better term, take advantage of it? Do we fully exploit and enjoy the fact that Jesus himself is nearby, looking at us with love? How would we live if we fully embraced this incredible truth at all times?
How do we gain that awareness? We can look to the example of disciples before us, beginning with the first-century laborers who dropped their nets and took off after this blue-collar rabbi they called Yeshua.
Jesus made it fairly simple, at least to start. He said, "Follow me."
The word follow, diluted by our culture, begs for a biblical definition. In English, you can follow the directions (or not); you can follow a sports team (by simply reading the paper or watching TV); you can "follow your bliss" (though that might not get you beyond yourself); you can follow someone on Twitter (even if you don't actually know them).
When Jesus invited a group of first-century Jewish fishermen and political Zealots to follow him, he didn't mean "Let's just keep in touch." He literally meant, "Come with me, right now. Live as I live. Learn a way of life and faith from me by watching." And some people did, but others did not. It was hardly surprising that young men working in their father's fishing business walked away from that. The most highly revered career in that time was to be a rabbi. To "give up" a blue-collar job to become the follower of a rabbi (and therefore go into training as a potential future rabbi) was a no-brainer.
A rabbi's followers, known as his talmidim in Hebrew, went everywhere with him, not just to hang on his every word and learn theology from him. They followed him everywhere so that they could mimic what he did. They didn't just want to know what he knew; they wanted to do what he did, live as he lived.
Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg note:
To follow a rabbi ... involved a literal kind of following, in which disciples often traveled with, lived with and imitated their rabbis, learning not only from what they said but from what they did—from their reactions to everyday life as well as from the manner in which they lived.... This approach to teaching is much more like a traditional apprenticeship than a modern classroom.
Jesus still says to us today, "Follow me." He never told us to gain a lot of knowledge about him, but rather, to be with him, to remain in him (see John 15), and then, to live as he would in our place—to do what he did.
We are separated from Jesus' earthly life by two thousand years, and even larger gaps culturally and religiously. And yet, we can walk through our days with Jesus by our side, trying to live as he lived, gaining strength, comfort, wisdom, and power from his presence.
Today, as you go through your day, imagine that Jesus is with you—a strong, loving presence. All day, whether you are doing housework or caring for children, trading stocks or stocking shelves, driving a forklift or running a company, imagine him alongside you, guiding you.
When you awaken, lie in bed for just a minute. Say "Good morning, Jesus." Think about what challenges the day will bring. Ask him to help you face those with courage and wisdom. Ask him to make his presence known to you throughout your day.
As you eat breakfast, thank him for his provision. As you drive, do so as if Jesus were sitting in the passenger seat. (Do you drive differently than usual as a result? Perhaps you'll want to ponder that.) Instead of listening to the radio, simply talk to him.
As you complete the day's tasks, ask him to help you. When something goes well, thank him. When you face challenges, ask for his help.
It's quite likely that you will forget about Jesus when your day gets busy. If so, give yourself copious amounts of grace. Just gently redirect your thoughts back toward him.
At the end of your day, thank Jesus for his presence with you through your day. Ask him for rest, for the ability to trust. As you fall asleep, ask that he would be your first thought in the morning.
 Check here when you have completed today's Presence Practice.CHAPTER 3
But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:40-42 NIV)
In his book The Life You've Always Wanted, John Ortberg tells of a conversation with a spiritual mentor, in which he sought advice. After listening to John describe his job, lifestyle, current stresses, and so on, his mentor paused for a long while, then told him, "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life."
John somewhat impatiently asked him what else was necessary—that sounded good, he thought, but certainly there were other things he should be doing. After another long pause, his mentor replied, "There is nothing else."
What would it look like to "ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life"? Because that is the most important issue of the spiritual life. All of the spiritual practices in this book won't help if your pace of life is unhealthy. This book will encourage you to slow down, to listen, to be mindful—which simply means to pay attention, to notice. As you go through this book, you'll be asked to consider: Where have you seen God? What are you grateful for? What mistakes do you need to confess? The goal of each chapter is to help you experience the deep love of Jesus. Unfortunately, you cannot experience that love in a hurry.
Ortberg observes, "Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day." So many of us want to grow spiritually, want to experience the love of Jesus. So we add spiritual disciplines to an already crammed life and can't figure out why all we experience is exhaustion. Doing "lots" of disciplines will be counterproductive, making our lives more hectic and therefore less connected to Jesus.
You are embarking on a forty-day journey. Please—don't hurry through it. In fact, today is a good day to assess the current level of hurry in your life.
This book will provide you practical instruction on how to practice a number of spiritual disciplines that believers have used for years to grow closer to God, to experience Jesus' loving presence. But you must ruthlessly eliminate hurry first. You will have to seriously consider: What other things might I have to prune from my schedule in order to have time to engage in these life-giving disciplines? What busywork is keeping me "worried and distracted" and preventing me from sitting at Jesus' feet to just listen?
Slowing does several things. It allows us to pay attention. When you're driving in unfamiliar territory, trying to read street signs or recognize landmarks, you'll find that driving faster doesn't help. Finding your way often requires taking your time.
Hurried people are fueled by obligation—I have to go here; I have to do this. Moving more slowly allows you to get in touch with what your soul longs for—things you actually want. If you take your time, you will be better able to discern which of those desires are God-given and might even reflect his desire for your life. When we slow down, we reframe those obligations into opportunities because we can see God in them. We change our "have tos" to "get tos."
Thomas Kelly wrote: "How, then, shall we lay hold of that Life and Power, and live the life of prayer without ceasing? By quiet, persistent practice in turning all of our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender, toward him who calls in the deeps of our souls."
If we are sprinting through life, cell phone in one hand, cappuccino in the other, we cannot "lay hold of that Life and power" that comes when we know we are deeply loved. We cannot experience the healing power of Jesus in our lives. Hurry injures us.
Because of our culture and its obsession with speed and multitasking, it may seem that slowing down, living mindfully, and connecting with Jesus might be almost impossible. That's because in our own power it is impossible. But with God, all things are possible. He's placed a longing for himself in our hearts—we must decide to slow down and notice, to pay attention to and follow that longing.
We're often so used to our crazed pace that we are blind to hurry's injurious effects on our souls. In their curriculum An Ordinary Day with Jesus, John Ortberg and Ruth Haley Barton offer an inventory to assess the level of hurry in your life. In it, they ask participants to honestly assess how accurately statements like these describe their life:
"You notice underlying tension in close relationships."
"You have a preoccupation with escaping."
"You often feel frustrated because you are not getting things done."
"You have lost a sense of gratitude and wonder about life."
"You sometimes have a gnawing feeling that there has to be more to life than this."
Do phrases like this describe your life most of the time? These are indicators of a hurried life. Perhaps you are trying to do too much.
This may not seem like a spiritual question, but who does the laundry, cooking, shopping, and cleaning at your home? What if those tasks were shared by all who live in your household? Making my children do their own laundry dramatically improved my spiritual life because it slowed the pace of my life. What small changes could you make to slow down the pace of your life?
One way to begin to answer that question: write out your monthly schedule on a one-page calendar. What have you said yes to on a weekly, monthly, or daily basis? Begin to pray about which things you ought to prune from your life.
 Check here when you have completed today's Presence Practice.
Excerpted from Deeply Loved by Keri Wyatt Kent. Copyright © 2012 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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