By Swedenborg Project | April 8, 2007
How do we get to know Jesus, and make Him a real presence in our lives? How exactly can we get to know someone as a person we can relate to without ever having met Him? I’ve found the following thoughts helpful.
The first step, obviously, is to read that long letter, His Word, that He has sent to all of us, in which He explains many things about Himself that help us get to know Him. Then we begin becoming “acquainted with Him …by faith. You can even start off with an innocent game of make-believe. You pretend the Lord is with you and chat with Him and pass the time of day, just as you might with a neighbor down the street. Children have lively conversations with perfectly imaginary people whom they believe to be really present. Swedenborg’s parents declared that little Emanuel used to converse with angels when a child; but there was nothing remarkable about that – all children do! It is only when you grow up and become “sensible” that you lose the faculty of conversing with someone you cannot actually see. You can recover it with practice, becoming again like a little child. Get over your shyness! Don’t be embarrassed by bringing God reverently into conversation, especially with your family. This is a big step for many, but one well worth taking.
“So your regeneration commences. You start altering the pattern of your life because of what Jesus might think. You find yourself becoming committed to Him, because of the imaginary contacts you had with Him. Then a wonderful thing happens. The relationship ceases to be imaginary and becomes real! From being only a casual acquaintance, Jesus becomes a friend. “You are my friend,” He says, “if you do whatsoever I command you.” Once you have reached this stage, you will begin to become consciously aware of His presence: you will see Him with your inner eye. He will always be by your side. You will discuss your deepest concerns with Him, and He will answer by a sort of pressure in your thoughts, even speaking to you first sometimes and waiting for you to answer. Naturally your own ego will be dominant at the beginning; but as you test out His advice and find it good, and begin to enjoy new depths in life which you had never experienced before, the relationship becomes reversed. The “still small voice” grows into the controlling power of your life.
“What a friend we have in Jesus! A divine and wonderful friend! There are many hymns celebrating this new and beautiful relationship. Swedenborg himself used to sing, in Swedish, “Jesus is my best of friends” – it is said to have been his favorite hymn. The spiritual degree of the mind is now open.”
- from Brian Kingslake, Practicing the Presence of God, in For Heaven’s Sake!, Chapter 13
One aid that I’ve found useful in working toward this feeling of love of Jesus is to look over the shoulder of people who have already have it, and try to bring myself into a similar state of feeling and awareness. Some of these “shoulders” belong to personal acquaintances. Others are available to everyone, such as:
1. “Touched by an Angel.” (Reruns are shown on satellite and cable channels and several years’ worth have been released on DVD.) This TV series “touched” many people, to the extent of it becoming one of the most popular religious shows in television history (including a rating in the Nielsen top 10). In the words of its producer, it was “a testament to the love and power of God.”
And, indeed, in every episode, and set against the backdrop of the wide array of ethical questions that the show’s stories cover, it delivers the message, simply and powerfully, that God loves you. The word “angel” comes from the Greek “angelos, for “messenger,” and the angels in these stories are very effective messengers from God, not just to the people they address but to the viewer as well. Their messages are much more than just an explanation; they are in fact an experience, an atmosphere that seems, to me, an introduction to what the full experience of loving Jesus must be like.
2. Joel Osteen has the largest congregation of any minister in the US (30,000 people), is seen or heard by millions more on television, podcast or the web each week, and is the author of best-sellers. Like “Touched by an Angel,” his message is simple but powerful, focused on inspiring people to believe that, following Jesus, they can triumph over all the bad things in their lives, to become, in Joel’s oft-repeated phrase, “victors, not victims.”
“Osteen’s upbeat style is deliberate and authentic. ‘Make church relevant,’ he says. ‘Give them something to be able to take away. I find today people are not looking for theology. There’s a place for it, [but] in your everyday life you need to know how to live.” (Charisma, June 2004, pp. 44-45)
“I think for years there’s been a lot of hellfire and damnation. You go to church to figure out what you’re doing wrong and you leave feeling bad like you’re not going to make it,” Osteen said. “We believe in focusing on the goodness of God.” (Joel Osteen, “Larry King live,” Aired June 20, 2005)
Of interest is the fact that, although his website lists traditional Christian concepts of the Trinity as a statement of belief, almost everything Joel actually talks about in his addresses is compatible with the truths of the Second Coming. In the present context, however, what seems to me most pertinent in Joel’s approach is, here again, its atmosphere. He communicates a strong experience, a strong feeling, of Jesus being immediately and practically present in your life.
“Jesus of Nazareth” (1977) - This film, originally made as a TV mini-series, has achieved almost legendary status among serious Biblical films (as opposed to Hollywoodized epics). The figure of Jesus is magnificently portrayed with the wisdom, gentleness and strength you would expect, but also with an almost magnetic aura of love. Definitely an image that can help developing your feelings of Him as a person, real and caring. However, just as it is useful to read from several translations of the Word in order to get a fuller feeling of what the underlying text actually says, so it is useful to compare “Jesus of Nazareth” with a similar more recent film,
“The Gospel of John. (2003) - This film too is evocative and beautifully done, and noted for going to some length to be as historically accurate as possible. It is presented in two versions, one three hours long and the other an edited-down two hours. Here again, the figure of Jesus is vividly portrayed and provides food for reflection for those seeking to make Him real in their lives.
“Chariots of Fire” (1981) – A key theme of this famous film about two runners in the 1924 Olympics is the struggles of one of them, Eric Lidell, to live the religion he devoutly believes in in the midst of the temptations of fame and with his “God-given” talent. Of particular note in the present context is the extent to which Eric feels God as an immediate presence in his life.
“Stars in My Crown” (1945) – This film, its title taken from a wonderful old hymn, is about a preacher coming back to a small mid-Western town after the Civil War, and confronting the town’s problems and joys. His first introduction to his congregation is, I think it safe to say, unique in the annals of Christendom! But, more to the point, the quiet strength of his belief and what he is able to accomplish as a result, provide a vivid shoulder to look over for anyone wrestling with trying to make Jesus a strong and meaningful presence in their lives. And he gives one of the most powerful, if unorthodox, sermons I’ve ever heard - but not in church.
These, then, are some thoughts ad practices I’ve found helpful in trying to come to know and love the Man who is the most important Person in all our lives.