“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.. blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:3,8
Silent waiting on God unlocks an amazing process in our inner man. By repeatedly surrendering attachment to distracting thoughts, we are exercising the “muscle” of our will and faith to bring about the death of our false self so that Christ’s resurrection life can flow freely in once-dead areas.
The need for “dying to self” was always clear to me, but honestly I never had any idea what specifically I should do to make it happen other than something radical and personally unpleasant like say, becoming a missionary in Calcutta. Recently what I’ve realized is that its my “false self” that needs to “die” and that the “letting go” of thoughts in centering prayer meditation is one of primary way I can experience this powerful transforming process that opens me up to more of God’s Spirit. I’ve also realized that getting more of God’s Spirit is very simple and accessible to everyone. It doesn’t require more effort – “jumping higher to Heaven” – or visiting Northern California. His immeasurable Spirit is already within me – all I need to do is make more room. Increased experience of Christ’s presence does not come from the “outside-in” but from the “inside-out”, from the deep wellspring inside where God’s Spirit already dwells, out into areas of the heart that we surrender to God’s control. We have to let things go to be filled in a greater way.
In our previous session we saw how centering prayer facilitates a refining process where God reaches into the “big iceberg” of our inner world that is below the surface of our mental consciousness. In that “deep place” He transforms us into Christ’s image. We call this Divine Therapy when God refines away the “false self” in us which the Bible calls the “sinful nature” or the “old man” that is made up of thought patterns seeking happiness in unhealthy ways. Excessive need for control, unhealthy desire for affirmation and unhealthy pursuit of security are unconscious mental programs designed to cover over painful situations in our formative years, and make up the “false self system”.
When we practice meditation to “be still and know that He is God”, a powerful process begins to dislodge these dark spots in our inner world because we get a rare opportunity to be free of the control that our minds have over our lives. In the silence, our hearts are melted by God’s presence, by love and peace. The impurities of our false self “dislodge” and float to the surface of our consciousness, sometimes manifesting in emotions such as anxiety or anger, or even physical pain, tiredness and the like. When this happens, we do the same as with any thought in centering prayer and simply let it go, let it float away downstream on the river of our consciousness while we re-affirm our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within us. Sometimes an emotion or pain is so strong that we first need to “sink into it” as a way of confronting it, accepting its existence and not repressing it. For a time we allow the emotion or the pain itself to become our sacred word. Christ mysteriously and miraculously enters into the depths and heals whatever the root cause is. He enables us to let it go and be free as we consent to Him replacing it with the fullness of His Spirit.
When these dark spots are removed, we experience an increase of God’s presence because His indwelling Spirit can now access a new part of our inner world, filling us in a greater way. We experience transformation into our true self – the nature of Christ in us – and we have a new freedom from a harmful way of thinking that previously controlled us. This is pure grace in action, it’s God “removing the heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh” so that we can know Him more deeply.
The infilling of the Holy Spirit is not from “outside in” – it happens “inside out” because God is already resident deep within us in full measure. By emptying the garbage out of hidden places in our hearts, a new place is made for God. The fresh experience of His presence comes as a new awareness of His indwelling that we did not have before. God’s Spirit comes from saturation and penetration, not from external assimilation. We have to let something go to be filled in greater ways.
That’s what the beatitude means, “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” in Matthew 5:8 – the more our hearts are purified of the false self, the more we “see” God.
The first words of Jesus’ first sermon gives us a deeper insight to how this works in the spiritual life, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). To understand these legendary words better we can look at what Paul said about Christ after His life: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he emptied himself (Greek ‘kenosis’), taking the very nature of a servant…he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8
Paul here describes what being “poor in spirit” means. It doesn’t mean slouching around like a weak worm, acting piously or having false humility. It means emptying your spirit of attachments so that God can come in like a flood. It means letting go of things that suck up your passion and energy, opening the doors and window so that God’s wind can blow through. In his great classic “The Pursuit of God”, AW Tozer defined “poor in spirit” as the “blessedness of possessing nothing”. In your deepest heart, you give up attachment to all false ways of gaining happiness, so you get God instead. You possess nothing and so you get everything.
The word for “he emptied himself” is the Greek word “kenosis” and it means the opposite of the earlier word “grasped” – to cling and hold on to things. Jesus didn’t cling and hold on to anything. He was poor in spirit and to Him belonged the Kingdom of Heaven.
The same is true for us. The more we grasp and cling to things, the more we crowd out God’s presence, His peace and His love – and the less healthy we are physically, mentally, emotionally and relationally. The best example of this is grasping and clinging to injustices – that’s called unforgiveness and it is the surest way to be miserable, sick in body and spirit, and to destroy relationships. The negative impact of “grasping and clinging” applies to anything – our reputation, things we desire, our opinion, the need for control, winning an argument, our securities blankets. Thomas a Kempis wrote, “when a man desires a thing too much, he at once becomes ill at ease. A proud and avaricious man never rests, whereas he who is poor and humble of heart lives in a world of peace. True peace of heart, then, is found in resisting passions, not in satisfying them. There is no peace in the worldly man, in the man given to outward affairs, but there is peace in the fervent and spiritual man.” The Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Ch 6.
But Christ let go of everything – even the ultimate reality of who He was as God. This is the “kenosis” of Christ’s life – emptying himself and possessing nothing, being poor in spirit. But that’s not the end of the story. What happens next is resurrection – pure divine life and transformation, access to Heaven and glory!
Practically, this all comes together in silent waiting meditation when we are in an intimate and secret place with God and aware of ourselves. Things we have been “grasping and clinging” at arise as thoughts, often charged with emotion. When we repeatedly let them go and seek to return to the sacred word as a prayer for God’s presence and action, their hold on us decreases and we experience “kenosis” and the “blessedness of possessing nothing”. What follows is a “whoosh” of God’s presence entering to take the place of this garbage that is now removed from a part of our hearts, and we experience the power of resurrection, of Christ’s life and image in us.
- What is dying to self? It’s “letting go” of a part of us that we don’t want, to gain a part of God that we do want. It’s losing a part of our life to gain resurrection life from God.
- What are we dying to? To the false self that controls us via unhealthy mental programs for happiness – such as unhealthy desires for control, affirmation, security. We’re not dying to our “true self” which is Christ’s nature in us.
- How do we die to self? It doesn’t happen automatically because it’s not something you just know about, it’s something you have to do. It happens when we “let go”, stop grasping and clinging to specific things we’re holding onto. We have to intentionally exercise our will and faith to do this.
- What happens when we die? Then we experience resurrection. We experience a miracle of Christ’s divine presence and energy filling a new part of our heart. We become poor in spirit so that we get the kingdom of God. We have a more pure, refined heart, so we see more of God. There’s a whoosh of the Holy Spirit that comes into another room our inner world as the garbage is taken out.
- How is this relevant to silent waiting meditation? The power of centering prayer is that you’re doing this every time you let go of a thought, when you get out of a “boat” and return to the river of God’s presence. When you release emotionally charged thoughts, there’s a powerful transformation happening inside. Every time you release a thought, you’re exercising the “kenosis muscle” – your will, your intention and your faith to be able to let go of things and to choose God.
This is the 7th session of an eight-week introductory course to centering prayer and Christian meditation. Most sessions are recorded live from a group that meets each Saturday morning in a boardroom in Houston, Texas, with video-call participants from Africa, Europe and elsewhere in the US. Access the other introductory sessions here.