March 8, 2021

Perceiving the Divine

I love going out to walk in the spring. Everything smells fresh, the sun is warm on my face, the birdsong seems especially joyous, and the trees are bursting with life. There’s so much to perceive with the senses.

Today as I walked, I watched my dog taking in all the smells. This, of course, is not unusual canine behavior, and this afternoon she seemed particularly interested in some unremarkable clumps of fresh green grass. Knowing that my pooch’s sense of smell is thousands of times better than mine, I wondered what she was experiencing as she happily sniffed. Why was that grass so inviting? What would it be like to perceive so much of the world through your nose? (With apologies to all of you suffering from Covid.)

We may not enjoy a dog’s sense of smell, but our five senses are often capable of perceiving more than we imagine. When my husband and I do prayer ministry with individuals, we often ask which of their senses are most acute. If a person is particularly visual, they will often perceive God’s presence through an image. If they are more attuned to auditory stimuli, they may be more likely to sense God saying something. This perception isn’t necessarily physical, although it can be. Many people experience a physical sense of warmth in the presence of God, and some perceive much more with their physical senses; but more often than not, there is simply a spiritual awareness.

Every person perceives God in their own unique way, and it only takes practice to learn how we are spiritually wired. During prayer ministry, my husband and I often like to do what we call a spiritual activation with the person who is receiving prayer.

It goes something like this…

Think of a place where you’d like to meet with Jesus. There’s no right or wrong answer. It can be any place, real or imaginary.

Now ask Jesus where he would like to meet with you. Close your eyes. Take a few moments to sense what God wants to reveal to you. Is it different than where you imagined meeting with Jesus? It might be the same or it could be completely different. Again, there is no right or wrong.

Do you feel something? Can you see a location? What do you hear? What do you smell? Maybe your sense of taste is even engaged.

Sit in that place a while and let Jesus minister to your spirit. Where is Jesus? Does he have something to say to you? Take your time and don’t rush away. Enjoy the moment.

But you may ask: What if that’s just my imagination? I asked the same thing. But what I’ve learned is that God can use all of the faculties he has given us — including the imagination. And it’s okay to be uncertain.

I love this quote from The Silver Chair in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia:

“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a great deal more important than the real ones…”

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Many of us, even those who believe in God, go through life thinking we can’t truly know God. But this is a lie. Jesus came to reveal God the Father. (John 17:26) God’s heart is to be known by his beloved children.

Scripture is full of sensory language about human interaction with God. Psalm 34:8 has always been a favorite of mine. “Taste and See that the Lord is good! That’s an invitation to seek and discover the goodness of God.

He is always beckoning us to discover more of him. Our part of the process is to keep our hearts soft enough to receive what he has for us. A hard heart leaves us unable to perceive — essentially blind and deaf as well as impervious to his touch.

As you seek more of his presence, ask him to show you the areas where your heart has become hardened by judgment or unforgiveness — and remember there’s no condemnation. God just wants you to be free.

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Are you willing to let him open the eyes of your heart?

This is something we must consider. Sometimes it feels easier and safer to keep God at a distance. We mistakenly believe that allowing him to come close, to mingle with our senses and touch our hearts, will result in disappointment, judgment, or condemnation. But the opposite is true. Opening our hearts and allowing him to come close inevitably results in forgiveness, acceptance, comfort, and loving-kindness. Don’t we all need more of that? I know I do.

Pray with me today…

Lord, I want to know you.

Open the eyes of my heart.

Teach me to hear your voice.

Soften my heart that I may receive you.

Help me to live in your love.

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