This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Present in God’s presence


May 11 is Pentecost Sunday. This will be a good day to reflect again on how God’s Spirit can be visited upon each of us. Given the many anxieties in the church and in the world, it will also be a time to ask what it means to be present in God’s presence when we are distracted by our fears and anxieties.

Before his crucifixion and death, Jesus promised his followers that God’s Spirit would come upon them to give them encouragement and comfort. The second chapter in Acts describes the day this happened.

“From heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. … All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability,” says parts of Acts 2:2,4.

I have never spoken in “other languages” given me by the Spirit. When I was younger, I thought this meant I was inferior in my spiritual life. However, on several rare occasions I’ve been in worship services and heard people speaking in tongues. Each time I felt a rare warmth and somehow knew implicitly—but couldn’t put into words—the praise and adoration carried by those strange words.

I have experienced God’s Spirit filling me on some wonderful occasions. When it happens, I wonder why I can’t let myself yield to this Presence more often. That’s what I’ll think about on Pentecost Sunday this year: how to let myself be present in God’s presence.

One of the questions my spiritual companion asks me every two or three weeks focuses on this practice. The question: How have you experienced God’s grace since we last talked?
Unfortunately, I usually have to confess the same answer over the last 12 years: I did not get out of the way often enough to let God’s Spirit fully shape and infuse my life. Consequently, I was not as able to receive and experience God’s grace as much as I wish.

The irony is that on those rare occasions that I can yield myself to God’s Spirit, the experiences are powerful and sometimes stunning. Blessed things happen; others notice it. Best of all, I have no need to take credit for it.

But there are so many distractions and diversions that push us to stay in control. It is difficult to relax into the comfort and encouragement provided by God’s Spirit when we are anxious and tense about many things. Here are just a few worries about which I am distracted—and, consequently, do not yield to God’s presence:

  • I worry about the U.S economy and whether the current recession will be short or long.
  • I worry about our young adult children and whether the choices and patterns they establish will bring them closer to God and the church.
  • I worry about the rancor and vitriol surrounding U.S. election politics—and the way those poisons creep into and defile congregational life.
  • I worry about the angst among many people who work within the agencies of Mennonite Church USA—including our staff—who were stunned by the March 19 proposal to reorganize.
  • I worry about my congregation that is in a transition process to find a new lead pastor.

Many of these worries may be similar to yours. So what can we do this Pentecost season, which starts on May 11?

None of these worries—and many others not listed or imagined—are too big for God. After Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection, God knew we would need to be comforted. God knew we would need an element of God’s own being to sustain us.

At Pentecost, God sent this Spirit to be present with us and provide courage, joy and shalom. It is a spiritual discipline to attend to these visits. But it requires an acquiescent spirit on our parts to receive such a presence and to let God’s essence emanate through us.

On May 11, the beginning of the Pentecost season, we can all yield ourselves again to this great gift waiting for us whenever we accept it.—ejt

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