Sunday, 22 September 2013

Three Ways to Have More of Christ's Presence

It's a standard Christian doctrine that Christ is present with the believer through the Holy Spirit. You might experience this emotionally or intellectually, but if there's one thing that's certain, as a believer you probably want more. Let's look at a few.

Remember and accept that your flesh is redeemed
This might seem odd at first so bear with me. We know that Jesus is the word made flesh (John 1:14). This word "flesh" is the same as the word "flesh" in Galatians 5:19, in which Paul warns his readers that the way of the flesh is full of sin.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Jesus was born into this flesh, struggled with that flesh, was crucified in that flesh, and then resurrected in a new kind of flesh. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we see that flesh has been redeemed and transformed. The flesh that is prone to all kinds of wrong is the same flesh that Christ has redeemed. To recognise that Jesus lived in the flesh and redeemed the flesh is to recognise that Jesus has redeemed our flesh by his transforming power. When we accept that, we accept Christ into our flesh and experience his presence through that redemption.

Rejoice and suffer with your fellow believers
In one of Paul's letter to the Corinthian church he writes,
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Cor 12:26-27
To be a believer in Jesus Christ is to be a fellow believer along with others. You aren't alone in your belief, you are part of the body of Christ here and now. Paul writes that as part of the body, we will consequently rejoice and suffer with other believers.

He's not saying that we should manufacture rejoicing and suffering, but that when we are close with others and united in the spirit with others, then we will empathise and sympathise with them. When they rejoice, we will rejoice with them because we are in close relationship with them. When they suffer, we suffer with them because of our close relationship with them. This is evidence of the body of Christ manifest in the Church. It's evidence of the presence of the risen Christ with us. When we allow God to unite us as the body of Christ, we get closer to others in the Church and are open to experiencing their lives, with all the joys and sorrows that come with them. God is present in that relationship and in that unity. In other words: get to know the people in the pew next to you and love them.

Serve the needy
In the famous passage about the sheep and the goats, Jesus tells his audience how he will judge the world when he returns.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” - Matt 25:34-40
In setting this standard for behaviour, Jesus more than identifies with the needy, he says that he shares the experiences of the needy. Jesus is present in their suffering and is the co-recipient of any kindness or neglect that we show. Think about that for a moment: Jesus is present in the needy. Jesus is in the malnourished child, in the enslaved prostitute, in the wrongfully imprisoned, in the oppressed, in the poor, in the marginalised. When we encounter people with these needs, we encounter Jesus. When we are in their presence, we are in Jesus' presence.

This one has an extra opportunity for us as well. When we serve the needy in meeting their needs, we have the opportunity to act on behalf of Christ. In a way, we act in the place of Christ as the embodiment of Christ. We become the hands and feet of Christ, the flesh of Christ, for the needy. In that moment we are one with Christ as the one who meets their needs. In that moment of service, Christ is present in us as well as in the needy. When we serve the need we have a double experience.

So if you want more of Christ's presence in your life:
1. Remember and accept that your flesh is redeemed;
2. Rejoice and suffer with your fellow believers; and
3. Serve the needy.

The experience of the presence of Christ during a church meeting can be powerful, and quite motivating for many Christians. The good news is that we don't leave it behind when we walk out of the service; it's out there waiting for us.
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