Moses used to meet God in a tent outside the camp. He went there and had conversations with God, face to face. Talking to God made him ready to spend time in God’s presence and then to bring God’s will to the people. Talking to God changed him. His faith became mature. God was able to work through him more and more, to reach the people. And that was the point of it all – it wasn’t about giving Moses an amazing experience or a sense of deep peace and happiness – it was so that Moses could bring God to the people.
You see, the people were afraid to get too close to God. They had the option, but it scared them, so they asked Moses to do the meeting-with-God bit, so that they didn’t have to.
Then when Jesus came, it was God coming to the people, face to face, meeting them where they were, inside the camp, outside the camp, wherever they happened to be. And God so longed for the people to come and speak to him, as one speaks to a friend.
So I ask you: Where do you meet God? When do you speak to God as a friend? When have you heard God speaking to you? Talk to God!
When I speak to people about prayer, a lot of people think that prayer is about intercession. They tell me: I pray for my family and friends, that is my prayer. Yes, that is prayer, but prayer is much more than that. And I do wonder if they have only prayed for their nearest and dearest or whether they have extended themselves to pray for all the troubles of our world, for all those other people who need prayer.
Yesterday, I went to the Spiritus festival of prayer and spirituality at Durham Cathedral – you will remember me telling you about it and encouraging you to go. One of the workshop leaders retold a story from Isaac of Ninevah:
A man waited a long time to see the king. He would turn up at the castle every day, and bit by bit, he saw the queue going down, and he got excited about the moment when he would be able to present his request to the king. At last, the time came. He went in to the great hall, knelt before the king, and asked for what he truly wanted: 30 bags of manure for his fields.
He asked for what would make his life on earth richer and more fulfilled – the manure to make his crops grow better.
When people pray to God, very often they are asking for the manure that will make their lives more comfortable here on earth. They could ask for so much more and God would give it gladly. God longs to pour down his blessings upon us, so that we can know his presence, so that we can truly flourish. And what do we ask him for? – Manure!
When do you talk to God about eternal life? When do you ask him for the gold of love, or the silver of joy, or the jewels of peace? Talk to God about it.
Have you ever asked God what he wants for you? Who he wants you to be or what he wants you to do? Talk to God about it.
Some people think that prayer is saying the right words and doing the right deeds. Believe me, it is much freer than that! The workshop leader yesterday reminded us of another story from the desert Fathers:
Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder monk rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not become fire?
To become like fire is to be set alight with the love of God and with the presence of God. Love God and love one another. Let God love others through you.
Moses became like fire. Later in the story, he comes down from the mountain where he has been receiving the Ten Commandments. He has been up there a long time in God’s presence. And when he returns to the people, his face is glowing. He is so full of God’s presence that he shines with it. His face is so brilliant, that the people cannot stand to look at him.
Spending time with God changes us from the inside. Talk to God. He really wants you to hang out with him. Talk to God as a friend. Tell him what’s going on in your life. He’s interested to hear about it from your point of view. Tell him of your hopes and dreams. Tell him of your troubles. Allow him in. Let him tell you of his hopes and dreams for you. Let him embrace you in your sorrows. Let him rejoice with you in the glad times. Yes, you can ask him to look after your friends and family, but don’t let that be your only conversation. Don’t just ask for the manure that makes your life on earth more comfortable. Ask him for the resources that will give you a share in eternal life. God doesn’t ration his gifts to you. Ask him for the best gifts. He is delighted to pour out his love and his goodness.
Meet God. Talk to God. Listen to God.