Whenever people from a certain background find out that I live and work among Muslims, and there is only a tiny percentage of practicing Christians in the country where I live, they always ask something like, ‘So, where does your spiritual nourishment come from? How do you get fed?’
It’s a great question. As I have been asked to reflect upon this question many times, it has brought me to the conscious awareness of some of the deep values and beliefs forming within me.
When people ask me this, they are thinking about all the things they have easy access to, all those things that nourish their soul (that I clearly don’t have access to) – good things, that some might even consider essential to a vibrant growing faith. Like a life-giving worship experience, challenging teaching, excellent kids programs, like-minded friends, in-depth Bible studies and good Christian schools.
Over the years, as I have faced probing questions about how I survive spiritually in such seemingly challenging circumstances, I have contemplated my daily existence, which I do not consider to be a spiritual wasteland at all. On the contrary, I have discovered that the great God of Creation, the One who flung the stars into space and who breathed life into mankind, that great God who is present within me, and whose image is imprinted in all of humanity, that God (the One I love and serve with all my heart) is truly present everywhere, all of the time, and He is just waiting for me (for all of us!) to acknowledge Him.
I am learning to live in His presence. I have come to see that everything good is from Him. Everything that is true is from Him. Everything that is life-giving finds its source in Him. Everything that is beautiful is in some way a reflection of His glory. Where there is joy, peace and genuinely loving friendship, there is a foretaste of the Kingdom come. Wherever there is true kindness (not the superficial stuff, but the real sort) or gentleness or patience, we are somehow touching the very fruits of the Holy Spirit. Even if its bearers may be somewhat unaware.
As Paul explained to the Philippians:
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
I am learning to not just ‘think about such things’ but to savor every last drop of them and so experience the presence of God all around me in this, statistically speaking, ‘un-churched and Godless place.’ It’s incredible how much good and how much God is present in this world!
I am learning to cultivate this daily practice. Rather than focusing my attention on the bad – the declining family values, the empty churches or the full mosques – I am looking for God’s presence everywhere because after all, this is what scripture teaches us. So every time I encounter anything that is good or true or beautiful or life-giving (creation, art, music – our world and its people are filled with amazing beauty!) I want to notice it, pay attention to it, see it, call it out, celebrate it. I am thankful because I see God’s presence there and it draws me nearer to Him and it fills me with a deep sense of joy and hopefulness.
So when anyone is kind to me, I don’t want to take it for granted. I am thankful and I receive it as a gift! When people speak truth, whomever they might be, I celebrate it, dwell on it, affirm it. When I encounter cheerfulness and joy, I appreciate it, comment on it and enjoy it. Learning to become present to these seemingly insignificant things totally changes your perspective! God is truly present, in the most unexpected places. How often are we missing it?
Similarly, when someone is rude to me (which seems to be a cultural norm where I live)rather than feel injured or react (both reactions would be appropriate – but neither are fueled by the Spirit of God) I quietly remind myself that this person was created to reflect the glorious image of God and somewhere inside them, there is beauty and good. I remind myself that it’s suffering and hardship that causes humans to be unkind and when I am tired or stressed, I can be mean too.
When I remember this truth, I find that compassion takes over and so, with a loving, warm smile, I try to genuinely engage the person. (I learned to do this from watching my husband, who truly has a gift!) Something that was un-natural has now shifted to my normal mode of operation and more times than I can tell, I have witnessed a grumpy countenance be transformed by a smile in response to a kind word, an understanding remark, or an interested question.
If we believe the God of creation fashioned this world and breathed life into all of the people upon it and that mankind is made in the image of the Trinitarian God, then whether or not the historical institution called church is present, dominant or relevant, the God of creation remains. I am convinced the key to experiencing the presence of God begins with a choice. We must choose to believe in His presence, right here, right now, and learn to seek Him there. This practice is one of the ways that my soul is nourished by the loving presence of God in my everyday existence.
Interestingly, this practice of developing different eyes with which to see the world, has also proven strategically effective in ministry! God has called all of his people (not just ‘missionaries’) to live as agents of transformation and redemption in the world today. Our very presence as followers of Christ should initiate change in our world!
But if we look at this world with eyes of fear, judgment, despair or condemnation, I believe that we will struggle to embrace it and therefore fail to meaningfully engage others or bring transformation. When we look around us with eyes of hope, compassion and love, when we call out all that is good and true and noble and right, when we celebrate all that is truly beautiful and life-giving, we make an amazing discovery along the way. This way of seeing others causes them to want to join us! As we pay attention and call out all that is good in others, they begin to see themselves differently, to think differently, and to get in touch with their Creator.
Here in our work we have found that many others, often the least likely, want to join us on this incredible journey and so we are no longer alone in our vocation to live out Jesus’ calling! Today we walk shoulder to shoulder with an army of brothers and sisters from diverse backgrounds who have joined us in becoming a community that brings Christ’s healing presence, peace and transformation one day and one person at a time.