I have found great blessings while writing my Ways to Grow in God series. The concept was originally prepared in Kenya as a talk on Christian Maturity for a SOMA mission. A year later, the Holy Spirit led me to expand this talk into a whole series. This was further honed in Pakistan and taught as a Lenten series at St Paul’s Kanata. We had five to six people at the time, and ended with ‘soaking prayer.’ Since I’m an Alpha coach, I’ve watched Nicky Gumbel’s Alpha videos many times. During the Holy Spirit weekend, Nicky talks about our being hard crusty sponges until the Holy Spirit fills us with His living water. This inspired me to take a sponge with me to teach about soaking prayer when I’m on mission trips. When I did this in Pakistan, word of this act spread and gave me opportunities to talk about soaking prayer as a way to cultivate the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The sponge is used as a symbol of how much we need to be hydrated with both physical water and spiritual, living water. If a sponge is dry and ‘crusty,’ it can’t be used and can even damage countertops if you attempt to use it for cleaning. But after a sponge is softened by water, it becomes useful. We are like that sponge.
If we allow ourselves to soak in the presence of God, He fills us with life, peace and His deep love. There is nothing quite like the sense of God’s presence. When we are in His presence, we begin to reflect His glory and we are slowly ‘transformed’ into His likeness (2 Cor. 3:18).
This practice involves laying aside your concerns of the moment by writing them down, then praying with someone else. Then turn on some soft worship music; Ruth Fazal works for me. You sit quietly and let the music wash over you as you focus on Jesus. You may even sense a little picture in your mind, remember a special scripture or generally sense the peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7).
However, sometimes there can be ‘speed-bumps’ in allowing the grace of God to work through you. Barriers that slow God’s work include striving to do the will and work of God in your own power. Just as when you first came to faith in Jesus Christ by grace, coming to maturity is by God’s grace! We have to allow it to change us. We are God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10). He is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:12), and He makes us holy as He is holy (Lev. 19:2), but we have to be actively willing and not get in the way. We have to trust God and allow Him to change us.
Restlessness is a speed-bump on the road to receiving God’s grace. I couldn’t quiet myself to ‘be still and know that He is God’ (Ps 46:10). I was frenetic inside and out. Finally, a seminary professor advised me to turn the radio off rather than playing lively worship music in the car. This way I could hear the voice of the Holy Spirit within the silence. Sometimes we crowd out worries by filling all our time with endless activity. Often we’d even fill our devotional time with lively praise music to drown out the concerns that are hidden in our hearts. Praise music is excellent for other times. However, sometimes silence is needed and the music is a distraction.
Silence became rest for the heart and it was good to help me ponder, drive, and listen. It was in the silence that I learned the meaning of “In repentance and rest is your salvation, and in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15) So the “super-striver” in me began to let go.
A speed bump that can even stop spiritual growth is un-forgiveness and bitterness. The Apostle Paul warns us not to develop a root of bitterness in our hearts. This defiles us – and those who are around us. (Heb. 12:15). If you are deeply hurt by a past sin against you, forgiveness is essential, because it helps you let go of the pain and give it to Him. We must forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us. Until that time, hearts are frozen. When you are able to forgive, it means that God has given you the strength to overcome your daily challenges. It also means that you can leave God to deal with the offender in His time and way.
Forgiveness is often a process, but as my priest Father John Bridges often tells our congregation, our faith is a journey. You are not alone on this journey, for the Lord has promised never to abandon you.
Laurie-Ann Copple is a media person who is based in Ottawa. She attends St Paul’s Anglican Church in Kanata, Ontario.