In the past week, I’ve had three different conversations with friends trying to explain what it’s like to have an intimate relationship with Jesus. No matter how hard I try to explain it though, it ends up being about as effective as trying to describe a color to someone who has never seen it.
You talk to Jesus and He talks back? Even about stuff like relationships, feelings, and everyday decisions? Riiiiight…
The reality is, until you experience this type of relationship with Jesus for yourself, it makes no sense. In fact, it sounds downright crazy. I get that.
Sometimes I wonder if I really am crazy. Am I just talking to voices in my head? But then I see the undeniable impact of how this type of relationship with Jesus has changed my life and realize that even if I am crazy, I’m never going to stop talking to Jesus in this way.
Conversational prayer with Jesus has become the only thing that keeps me going when life gets hard. Knowing that my Savior loves me so much that He actually desires to sit down and talk to me has freed me from the need to pursue that type of acceptance from others. It has freed me from worry and anxiety, because I know that Jesus is listening to whatever is troubling me. Ultimately, it’s a constant reminder that I am deeply loved (and even liked) by my Creator.
But for many believers, they never experience this type of prayer relationship with Jesus. Why is that?
I don’t claim to know the answer to that question, but I do know Jesus wants to talk with you.
While reading Brennan Manning’s book, Abba’s Child, this week, I was convicted that trying to describe prayer (or giving out books on prayer) wasn’t the best approach in these conversations. Perhaps the better approach would be to remind my friends how much Jesus loves them and encourage them to seek to know Him personally rather than simple know stuff about Him. And the way you get to know Jesus personally is the same way you get to know anyone personally: You sit down and talk to Him.
Manning shares a story that illustrates this beautifully:
Once I related the story of an old man dying of cancer. The old man’s daughter had asked the local priest to come and pray with her father. When the priest arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The priest assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. “I guess you were expecting me,” he said.
“No, who are you?”
“I’m the new associate at your parish,” the priest replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”
“Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?”
Puzzled, the priest shut the door.
“I’ve never told anyone this, not even to my daughter,” said the man, “but all my life I have never known how to pray. At the Sunday Mass I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head. Finally I said to him one day in sheer frustration, ‘I get nothing out of your homilies on prayer.’
“‘Here,’ says my pastor reaching into the bottom drawer of his desk. ‘Read this book by Hans Urs von Balthasar. He’s a Swiss theologian. It’s the best book on contemplative prayer in the twentieth century.’
“Well, Father,” says the man, “I took the book home and tried to read it. But in the first three pages I had to look up twelve words in the dictionary. I gave the book back to my pastor, thanked him, and under my breath whispered ‘for nothing.’”
“I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” he continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because He promised, ‘I’ll be with you all days.’ Then just speak to Him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’
“So, Padre, I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.”
The priest was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him, anointed him with oil, and returned to the rectory.
Two nights later the daughter called to tell the priest that her daddy had died that afternoon.
“Did he seem to die in peace?” he asked.
“Yes, when I left the house around two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found Him dead. But there was something strange, Father. In fact beyond strange, kinda weird. Apparently just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside his bed.”
Friends, Jesus wants to talk with you. There is no fancy formula or required level of knowledge. All you need to do is sit down and talk to Him.
I would encourage you to set a chair in front of you and practice talking with Jesus today. Yes, it may seem weird at first. But once you experience the crazy amount of love Jesus has for you, it will change everything.
This practice of conversational prayer has changed my life, but then again, what do I know?
I’m just a crazy guy who has conversations with an empty chair…
Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.
Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life.