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Soaking In God's Love

Resting in God's presence, or "soaking," is really what the Church has known for centuries as contemplative prayer. Here are the benefits of "soaking."

Any passers-by who peeked into the speaker's lounge at the 2002 Dresden, Germany, 'Father Loves You Conference' might have thought what they saw looked a little strange. Three people were lying on their backs near the buffet table, all with arms in the air, two with tears in their eyes and one saying, "It doesn't get any better than this!"

Henri Nouwen writes, "Solitude begins with a time and place for God, and God alone."

I remember the moment well because I was one of the three people lying on the floor. After several days of intense ministry, I was standing beside John and Carol Arnott after lunch. John commented on how amazed he was over the outpouring of the Father's love in the Dresden meetings. He then spontaneously lifted his hands to thank the Father, and as he did, the presence of God overwhelmed all of us. We found ourselves laid out between the couches and the broiled chicken with no desire to get up. We stayed down while a river of the Father's liquid love washed over us in waves. We just soaked it in. When we finally rose for the next session, we entered it refreshed.

The next year John shared with me his vision for Soaking Centers. What we call "soaking" is really what the Church has known for centuries as contemplative prayer. Christians have been seeking to rest and soak in the presence of God since medieval monks sought God's presence in the quiet of a monastic existence.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, contemplation is a form of prayer in which a person seeks a direct experience of the divine, to be saturated in God's presence. Although we may not all be called to live in a monastery, we all have the same monastic hunger for living in the presence of God which has at least five important benefits. Let's explore these now.

Enjoying a relationship with God

The first benefit of contemplation, or soaking, is that we are taking time to enjoy our relationship with God. Henri Nouwen writes, "Solitude begins with a time and place for God, and God alone." The first step of soaking is to stop what we are doing for a moment and create a space for God to inhabit. Through reverent worship and prayer we make a place for Him. As He comes to us, we enter into intimacy with Him. Our focus is on just being with Him more than doing anything for Him. Jesus' model of spiritual life is a combination of being and doing where He took time to simply be with His Father in solitude amidst a busy schedule of doing His Father's will (see Mark 1:35).

It is too easy to get so busy doing things for God that we spend little time enjoying being with Him. The fast paced competitive culture we live in often crowds into our Christian lives. We can begin to define ourselves by our productivity and forget that we are the objects of God's love which is far more important than our productivity. Contemplation is a commitment to the simplicity of that loving relationship. The benefits of that intimacy with God are enormous.

Learning to receive from God

Contemplative prayer and worship focus on receiving from God. In other forms of prayer and worship, we actively focus on producing some kingdom result. In contemplative prayer, we position ourselves in a more passive place. We want to let the presence of the kingdom act upon us. Jesus modeled this place of receptivity when He allowed John to baptize Him in the Jordan River (see Mark 1:9-11). As Jesus came up out of the water, He stopped, prayed and waited to receive. The heavens opened, and He received the anointing of the Spirit's power. The Father spoke His affirming love to His only begotten Son loudly enough for everyone around to hear it. This is the prototype for every redeemed person. Jesus established the precedent that every Christian needs to take time just to receive from God. Everyone needs to create space in their lives to be empowered by the Spirit and embraced in the Father's love.

Henri Nouwen says, "The real work of prayer is to become silent and listen to that voice that says good things about me … to discover there the small intimate voice saying, 'You are my beloved child.'" Much of my past effort in prayer involved trying to receive a word from the Father directing me in His work. I now realize that the best word I can receive is one where He speaks to me about how much He loves me. It does more for me than anything else.

Entering the rest of God

Contemplation is also the way to rest in God. When John, Carol and I were lying on the floor, we were obviously physically resting from the rigors of conference ministry. What was not observable was that we were resting in an unseen river of the presence of God's power and love. In the New Testament, the word "rest" means both cessation and refreshment. We are to rest from something in order to rest in something. You could say that to rest is to stop our efforts for a moment and soak in the presence of love. Contemplative prayer is a call to this resting place.

Heidi Baker recently said that a threat to ongoing renewal was exhaustion. She added that the antidote for exhaustion was learning how to enter into a deeper rest in God's love. After visiting Toronto, Heidi learned to soak in God's presence regularly. It has become a key to fruitfulness in her life and ministry. St. Augustine agreed when he said, "Our souls are restless until they find their rest in Thee." Fr. Thomas Keating takes it a step further. "The greatest rest of all is the rest of perfect love." There we find relief, rest and renewal. I like the way Carol Arnott described it to me once. "It's like I'm resting in 'Pure Love.'"

Becoming a reflection of God

This protracted time in the presence of God makes us a greater reflection of God. The more time we spend being with Him, the more we find ourselves becoming like Him. His manifest presence supernaturally changes us into His likeness. It changes us into better people. Listen to Henri Nouwen's description of the life of St. Antony of Egypt: "St. Antony spent 20 years in isolation. When he left it, he took his solitude with him and shared it with all who came to him. Those who saw him described him as balanced, gentle and caring. He had become so radiant with God's love, that his entire being was his ministry." He had become a reflection of God.

Even when not much appears to be happening … something transpires …

Over the years of renewal, I have watched many people rise up from "carpet time" significantly changed for the better. It shouldn't surprise us that a powerful encounter with the God of love would make us into more loving people. What has been eye opening to me is that just spending time contemplatively soaking in the quiet stillness of His presence also radically changes me. Even when not much appears to be happening and I begin to think that I am just wasting my time, something transpires beyond my immediate ability to comprehend it. His presence is transforming me.

Recently, I took several days for a personal contemplative retreat at a Benedictine monastery perched high on a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I spent my time meditating on the Word, praying in silence and walking while listening to soaking worship. Upon returning I told my wife, probably with a little disappointment in my voice, that I did not experience a big visitation of God. She said to me, "But you are more peaceful now than when you left. It's nice having you around!" I guess something really good had happened. His presence had changed me and I was reflecting it.

Receiving a re-commissioning

Finally, true contemplation ends up with our receiving a re-commissioning from God. The result of soaking in His love is being sent out to give that love away. At His baptism, Jesus is not only immersed in power and love but He is commissioned into His public ministry. Something like that happens whenever we are immersed in the presence of God. This outward movement prevents us from becoming too introspective and passive in reaching out to others.

In fact, paradoxically, the more we rest in God's presence, the more we find ourselves rising up to minister in power and love.

When St. Antony emerged from solitude, he had a significant ministry of signs and wonders as multitudes flocked to him for healing, comfort and direction. Though the scale of results may differ in our lives, the dynamic is the same. Contemplative time abiding in the manifest presence of God leads us into more fruitful lives in the kingdom of God.

Several years have passed since that day John, Carol and I were lying on that floor at the Dresden conference. Since then I have experienced many more contemplative soaking moments. I agree now more than ever with John's words, "It doesn't get any better than this!"

Ed Piorek has been involved in pastoral ministry since 1972. He is the former senior pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Mission Viejo, California. Since 1989 his Father Loves You conferences have been spreading the message of the Fathers' love throughout the world.

Originally published in Spread the Fire, January 2007.




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