Psalm 63:3-5 Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
God answers every one of our prayers and He’s attentive to every human being, but He often doesn’t answer our prayers the way we expect or even want Him to. This is because He looks deeper in our hearts to know the true motives for every prayer, and then meets the real need that we are crying out for. Notice how when Jesus was asked things, he often didn’t respond directly. At first glance His responses even seem dismissive but a closer look shows that he was responding to the person’s heart, responding to the motivation asking the question, to the real issue. God’s response to prayer is always to do a work in our hearts. From the heart the energy of life flows and unlimited things are possible if our hearts are aligned with Him, if we are channels not blockages for God’s power.
We remember our teenage prayers: asking God to make us better looking or to loose weight. As we grow older a more sophisticated version of the same thing is that we ask God for things related to having friends or more popularity. There is an answer to those prayers; not the “dead heaven” we think when nothing seems to have happened. The answer is a work in our hearts. Perhaps the desire for a better appearance or friendship is the cry of the false self, an unhealthy need for affirmation that needs people to satisfy. God’s answer then is to expose that fallen part of our psyche, and to meet the deeper need for His love and affirmation. His answer to the prayer is the deeper cry, not the shallow cry.
This is where the love of God comes in. An experience of divine love is transformative because it meets the deepest human needs for acceptance and affirmation in a healthy way. Augustine said, “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you” and spoke of a God-sized emptiness in every heart that only the divine Presence can fill. The response to prayer is that God gives His love, and works in our internal and external situations so that we can receive His love.
This is the goal of centering prayer: to experience God’s love and to know the love of God as a reality, in the heart not the head. Sometimes the experiences of God’s love feels tangible and strong but most often its subtle and possible not even noticed (by the mind). But either way the time in contemplative prayer is transformative. After a few months of centering prayer, you’ll see a new confidence in your life, a new security and a new peace because the love of God has filled your soul and put “substance” into those empty areas of loneliness, insecurity. and misguided passions. The “living flame of love” is ignited and is maintained with every encounter that we have with Him.
In this session we’re describing another “layer” of the sacred word which is the prayer, “I want to experience your love“. In the eight week introduction, the prayer was, “I consent to your presence and your action” and in this series on deepening meditation we’ve added, “I rest in you” and “I receive your grace”. These are all like different colors of light that blend together into white. They’re different aspects that merge into the same basic thing: that when we’re praying the sacred word we’re saying, “I want to experience everything that you are to me God in place of my own thoughts, my broken self, my harmful passions and my desires for happiness.”
The love of a God is a real substance. The mystics have described it almost like matter, like light that is both wave energy and matter. God’s love brings light and warmth, and at the same time it is food that nourishes our hearts. Psalm 63:3-5 Because your love is better than life … my soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods.
Here are nine things to know about God’s love. Reflect on these before your times of centering prayer this week so that you incorporate a desire for God’s love in the prayer expressed by your sacred word.
- God’s love cannot be known in the mind, it can only be experienced in the heart. Ephesians 3:17-19 “And I pray that you … may have power … to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” The word “know” here is gnosis, the experiential knowledge with man’s entire being. It’s the Greek word for yada in the Old Testament meaning the same thing. As we have discussed before, this was translated as contemplatio in the Latin and means to “experience in the heart” because God’s love is way beyond conceptual knowledge or the ability of the mind to grasp. More importantly, when “known” in the heart, God’s love changes us because it re-orders our inner world.
- Our level of experience God’s love determines to the degree we experience and express His Holy Spirit. Ephesians 3:19 “[I pray that you] know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” To the extent that we know His love in our hearts we filled with all of God’s power and presence.
- We will never be disappointed in seeking to know God’s love. Romans 5:5 “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us“. This mysterious verse seems to contain so much meaning. God put the knowledge of His love inside of us along with the Holy Spirit, and for that reason we cannot be disappointed in wanting to know His love – because it’s already inside of us. We just haven’t yet opened ourselves up fully to know it.
- God’s love is always fresh and new for us; it never grows old and impatient. Lamentations 3:20-23 “my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” This sad “lamenting” book of the Bible is a reflection of someone who has experienced trauma and is struggling with anxiety and depression. But in the middle, this sparkling verse jumps out: God’s love is not the same as it was for us yesterday, and He never tires of loving us. As surely as the morning brings a new day, so God’s love brings new life constantly to heal and strengthen our hearts.
- God’s love brings healing to evacuate the false self. 1 John 4:18 – “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Fear is one of several negative emotions that come from the false self which it is “shaken up”, along with anger, depression and other nasties. God’s love moves into a deeper place to loosen the grip of false desires for control, affirmation and security, and provides the true food our hearts desire. In this way, His love “evacuates” the false self and sets us free of the root cause of fear and other negative emotions.
- God’s love Is the most satisfying nourishment to the human heart. Ps 34:8 “Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed in the man who takes refuge in Him“. This “refuge” is the “secret place” of Psalm 91:1 and Matthew 6:6 which is Jesus’ teaching on prayer that serves as the foundation for Christian meditation. In this “secret place” with God, we taste and experience His love that is better than anything life can offer. Another angle on the same idea is in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” I always thought that this verse was a mild rebuke to say activities absent of love are useless, but that’s just the surface meaning. The deeper truth is that in all of our activities, including the exercise of spiritual gifts and faith, we remain empty and “gain nothing” personally, without first experiencing and knowing the love of God.
- God’s love is the indestructible force that sustains the entire the universe. 1 Corinthians 13:8,13 “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears…Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
- God’s love is what teaches us to love. 1 John 4:19 ‘We love because He first loved us’. Francis of Assisi said it like this, “Love is not loved!” meaning that God’s love is not something that first must be earned with love from us. I recently read that one of the outstanding features of the mystics is that without fail they taught that everything begins with knowing and experiencing God’s love, and this becoming a “living flame of love” within the heart that responds to God with love, and love for other people and God’s creation.
- God’s love is how we become fruitful and effective in everything we do. John 15:5,9 -“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” The way we “abide in the vine” is by staying the sweet spot of God’s love, just as Jesus stayed in the place of the Father’s love for Him.
Watch the discussion session after a group session of centering prayer.
This is the third in a series of sessions aimed at deepening the experience of centering prayer, Christian meditation or “silent waiting on God” as the Bible terms it. To learn the foundations of centering prayer, watch, listen to or read our 8 session introductory course.