Cultivating The Interior Life – An Exhortation To love
“Behold the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)
Do you want to know true peace in your life? – A peace that is not dependant upon the circumstances around you? Do you wish to experience true joy? Do you long to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to feel His presence within you? Do you want to know the Father’s love and taste the Kingdom of God here on earth? Then you need to develop the interior life and meet with God within the temple of your own heart.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit
dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
Our God is not a distant God locked away in the heavens, but a loving Father who’s Spirit has come down to dwell within the hearts of those who love Him. You do not need to reach out to God to touch Him and embrace His Spirit – you need to reach within – within your own heart. God is waiting for you in the stillness of your heart, there He speaks to you, loves you, guides you, and transforms your nature into the likeness of His own – into the likeness of Christ!
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.” (Galatians 5: 22 & 23)
It is not difficult to find God within the soul, but we do need to look for Him with love, humility, faith, and patience. We need to have time alone and a place of solitude. We need to still the mind, putting away every anxiety. Then we shall meet with God, and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we shall become one with our Father in Heaven. We must then cultivate the interior life until our love grows to such an extent that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. Only then will we be able to be the “light of the world” and share our joy with those around us. Our joy will be such that others will be able to see it within us, and the peace that we have will place those around us at ease and cause
them to wonder how we possess such wonderful qualities.
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25).
God is willing to come to us regardless of our past life. Jesus came to save sinners! We don’t need to be saints to look for God and have a personal relationship with Him, but we do need to repent and change our lives. To have a close relationship with the Father we must confess our guilt and work towards a new life of virtue. Note that I said, “work towards” a new life, this is because we cannot become holy overnight, we cannot always undo all our old ways immediately, and God makes allowances for this. In fact, God will reveal our faults to us over a period of time, for if He were to reveal them to us all at once, for some of us, it would be too much to bear. So God allows us to see our true nature a little at a time. The important thing then is our good intent.
We shall still make mistakes now and again, but God will always forgive us if we repent and stride forward into the new life that He is granting us. We must never let regrets or our faults cause us to sorrow, this will only slow down our progress in the spiritual life – repent and trust in God’s mercy and move on! We must however, at the same time, empty our hearts of all that is opposed to God’s grace once we come to recognise the sin. As we grow in the Spirit of Christ our thoughts and desires will change, the Holy Spirit will give us discernment and our lives will become more well-ordered and at peace. Our thoughts will become less earthly and more heavenly; they will become less impulsive and more reflective. We shall have greater wisdom to make the right choices in our lives as our conscience speaks out more clearly.
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship
the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him.” (John 4:23)
We need to open our hearts to the movement of the Holy Spirit; we need to learn to listen for the small still voice. Then we must invest all our emotions into our prayers. To do this we need to care passionately about what we are praying for. If we are praying for the church, we need to pray with the feelings that are appropriate to this cause. We need to reveal our love to God, and pour out the emotions that we feel for the members of His church. If we are praying for missionaries, we need to let God know how much we desire with all our hearts the success of these missionaries. If we are praying for sinners, let us reveal to God our love for them and beg Him for conversions, letting Him know how much we care for our brothers and sisters. When we pray The Lord’s Prayer, do we pray a cold repetition without feelings or do we invest our emotions and pray with a heart full of love that, God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven? If we find ourselves praying for these intentions through a sense of duty and not because we feel passionately about these things, then what does this say to God about our love?
Whoever drinks the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall
give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)
The most meaningful conversations with God come from the heart and not the brain, they are spoken within the soul rather than upon the lips. St Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself will intercede for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). It is no wonder that the contemplatives say that at times they do not need words to pray and to love the Lord, but they just bathe in those Living Waters, and unite their hearts with God in the silence of a love so deep, so pure, that too many words would only get in the way. Let us pray each day that the Holy Spirit will grant us this gift, that we might unite our hearts to the heart of God and live in His presence every moment of our lives. The Spirit will teach us to pray, He will teach us to find God in our daily lives, He will teach us to love God in and through all things.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3)
If we wish to be pleasing to the Lord we must remain humble at all times knowing that it is God who will add value to all our prayers, intercessions and works of mercy. It is the Holy Spirit who encourages us in these things, and it is God’s grace that perfects these things within us and brings from them the fruits that we offer to our Lord for the good of our souls and that of our neighbours. In prayer we should always have the humility of a creature before His Lord and Master, but also the confidence of a beloved child before his loving Father. We should try to have humility of spirit, contrition of heart and confidence in prayer whenever we come before the Lord.
“Thou dost keep in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee,
because he trusts in Thee” (Isaiah 26:3)
Never fear that you are not worthy to seek God’s love, for none are. But Jesus said that it is the Fathers “good pleasure” to give us the kingdom of heaven. We should try our best to have faith at all times and under all circumstances if we wish to love God well. The more a soul puts his trust in the Lord, the more that soul will be rewarded by that trust. It is impossible for God to fail us; He will never abandon us as long as we keep looking to Him for guidance. We may have times of great trial and what seems like unanswered prayer, but God is always with us. We can be confident under all circumstances when we hand every situation over to God and say, “Your will be done”.
“My food is to do the will of My Father.” (John 4:34)
We need to take these words of Jesus and make them our own. We should all be trying to live our lives like this – that our food is to do the will of God. Prayer and the interior life do not end in the silence of our rooms, but we can take them with us, out into the world. The love within our hearts will accompany us everywhere, into every situation of our lives, and prayer will follow. We can make a prayer of all that we do. If we go to work we can offer this work to the Lord for His glory. Even the smallest of tasks can be united to God in prayer; this is how the contemplatives live each day continually in the presence of God. If we are doing a small, boring, or mindless task such as washing the dishes, we can offer this small task to God with love: “Father, I do this small task with love for You.
I do this task not only to keep my kitchen and home clean and healthy for my family, but also to offer this work to You with love, for Your glory, just as Your Son, Jesus, spent the first thirty years of His life on earth doing such manual tasks.” Whilst you work you can pray: each time you do the dishes say The Lord’s Prayer five times to honour each of the five wounds of Jesus, and for the intention of the conversion of souls. In this way even the small and mundane tasks become a powerful act for the conversion of souls and brings glory to God. If the task you are doing requires too much concentration for prayer, then give glory to God with a little hymn. You can praise God like this and put the spirit of joy within your heart at the same time. Make a prayer of everything; we must love to pray and pray to love!
“You are not your own, you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
All that we are and all that we possess we owe to God. We must thank God daily for our creation, for His love and mercy, for His forgiveness, and for the graces that He bestows upon us. We were bought at a terrible price – the blood and sufferings of Jesus Christ. Do we not owe God more than one hour on a Sunday morning? Our Father desires that we have a close and loving relationship with Him. But what kind of relationship do a father and child have if they live in the same house but only speak to each other once a week? Would their love not grow cold? To keep our relationship with God alive, we need to communicate with Him many times each day, we need to tell Him how much we love Him. We need to communicate not only our sorrows and needs, but also our joys and desires. Prayer is the telegraph poles that hold up the lines of communication between ourselves and God, if we place these poles too far apart, then when the storms come the lines will be blown down and fall to the ground and we shall feel as though we are alone. Place the poles close together throughout the day and our lines of communication will remain open and strong and the storms of this life will not destroy them.
For God alone my soul waits in silence, from Him comes my salvation. (Psalm 62:1)
Meditation is a very important part of the interior life, it is perhaps as important as prayer. In prayer we seek God, in meditation we find Him! If prayer is food for the soul, then meditation is water. The soul cannot live without prayer, but without meditation it cannot thrive! In meditating upon the life of Jesus, we come to know Him more intimately, and to love Him more dearly. In studying Jesus words and His actions, we come to recognise His great love for us. ” O God, Thou art my God, I seek Thee, my soul thirsts for Thee; my flesh faints for Thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is.” (Psalm 63:1) Could David possibly have felt such a thirst for His God if he had not meditated upon his love for God? How else could David have acquired such a longing for God? It is not possible to love someone with such intensity if one rarely thinks of that person.
David must have spent hours thinking about God, and this is all that meditation is, we simply turn our thoughts to God. There are many types of meditation but the one that is most common is simply to read a small passage of God’s word and then meditate upon it, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. Meditating on Christ’s Passion is also a good exercise for calling to mind the great depth of Christ’s mercy. The Saints gained all their strength from meditating on the Lord’s Passion. One exercise that is very moving is to read Isaiah chapter 53 and between each verse repeat the prayer, “I adore You O Christ and I praise You, because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world. Amen.” This is a very moving and powerful meditation that will swell the heart with love for Jesus. Music can also be a meditation, what better way to meditate than to sing a love song to Jesus, a hymn of worship, a song of praise and adoration.
“Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand
against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11)
People spend lots of time and money on their earthly homes and there are numerous programs on the TV about people doing “Make over’s” on their properties. Many take pride in their earthly homes, but few give thought to their Heavenly home or preparing themselves for their eternal habitation. How much money people spend on clothing their bodies with the latest fashions. You will see program after program on fashion and design, but people think nothing of clothing their souls so that they look presentable before God. We place clothing on our bodies to hide our shame; we have done ever since Adam hid from the Lord behind the bushes, but what about clothing our souls so that on that great and terrible day when we stand before God, we do not find that we stand naked and ashamed?
Each day we must place upon ourselves the armour of God. We must gird our loins with truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, shoe our feet with the Gospel of peace and put on the helmet of Salvation. We need also to take up the shield of faith and the sword of love. St Paul tells us that, “We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual host of wickedness in the Heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Make a set of clothing for your souls, hide your vulnerability from satan and your shame from the Lord, place upon yourselves the armour of God each day and live in peace.
“So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has
cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:33)
If we wish to grow in love for God then we need to detach ourselves from too great a love of the things of this world; we cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24) Jesus asks that we not only believe in Him, but that we also follow Him. Jesus taught us that the proof of love is to suffer for the one we love. Love demands sacrifice, it asks that we renounce self and place others needs ahead of our own. In the Christian life we need to love God first, above all others, and above all things. If we put God in first place, everything else will fall into place also. “But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) If we love our material wealth too much, we will find that we will be compromised by this and not true to the Lord and the spirit of love with which He wishes us to live by. Our possessions can also be a hindrance and a distraction to the interior life, as the interior life depends upon time and solitude.
It seems the more possessions we have the less time we find for God. Imagine coming home from work one evening and not putting on a T.V, radio, computer or games-station, would not our house be made quieter and would we not find more time to be alone with God? The contemplatives also found that the more simple their diet, the more spiritual their lives. We don’t need to eat chocolate, biscuits and fancy treats on a regular basis; these things just make us feel too comfortable and sluggish. Jesus began His ministry with a long fast and He would often fast when praying. The church still requires an hour’s fast before we receive Holy Communion and gluttony is still one of the seven deadly sins! On one occasion when the disciples of Jesus could not cast out a demon, they came to Jesus to ask why. He told them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29 KJV) If the flesh is at war with the spirit, (Galatians 5:16&17) then governing our desires through fasting and controlling its passions must allow the spirit to grow in grace and power.
We must not however, make ourselves ill through fasting, Jesus would not wish this; it is simply a case of putting our daily food in the correct place in our lives. A recommended fast by many ministers today is to take just bread and water in the day until your evening meal. Also it is recommended that fasting be kept for special days of prayer, you cannot go off to work and fast all day!
“If anyone would come after Me, let Him deny himself and take up his cross
daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)
What does it mean to take up your cross daily? Well, it will mean something different to everyone, dependant upon his or her circumstances. To the Christian in prison for His faith (Christians are still being persecuted in 42 countries around the world today) the answer is obvious. To someone who suffers poor health, it will mean to bear patiently the illness and to offer it up to God with love for His intentions. To take up our cross daily means to accept all our daily burdens, whatever they may be and offer them up in a spirit of love and reparation. Perhaps you dislike your boss at work, or maybe your relationship with a partner or parent is difficult. Perhaps it is accepting some kind of injustice or humiliation that, were you not a follower of Christ, you would not stand for.
Whatever burdens us each day, this is our cross, how patiently and lovingly we endure our cross reveals to God the depth of our love, for Him and for our neighbour. If you drag your cross behind you with resentment in your heart, then it will be very heavy for you to bear. If on the other hand you carry your cross with love, then you will be able to lift it high with the saints and say, “I rejoice in my sufferings!” If we do not love to the point of self-sacrifice then our love is not Christ-like. The nature of Christ is to be selfless, but our nature is to be selfish.
Through God’s grace and a determined will, we can change this, and the more we pray and become filled with the Holy Spirit, the more selfless our nature will become. We must try to do all things out of love expecting no reward. We must learn to give all things, endure all things, and forgive all things, for the love of Jesus, and for no other reward than knowing that we are fulfilling His will.
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us:” (Matthew 6:12)
There can be no interior life without a forgiving heart. It has been said that the most important word in The Lord’s Prayer, is the word “as.” “Forgive us our trespasses, AS we forgive…” God’s grace cannot take entire possession of a heart that is lacking in forgiveness towards others. Jesus placed great importance on this when He quoted Hosea to the Pharisees: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:7)
“First of all, then I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions,
and thanksgivings be made for all men.” (1 Timothy 2:1)
Intercession for others is a part of the interior life that can bear much fruit. As members of Christ’s Mystical Body we cannot live for ourselves alone but must live for everyone. The Bible tells us: “If one member suffers, all suffer together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26) And also: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) And finally, “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbour.” (1 Corintians 10:24). Our world has a greater need than ever for souls who will dedicate themselves to prayer and intercession.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:18&19)
We are Christ’s Mystical Body, therefore, we must be the face of God upon this earth, His arms that embrace, His guiding hand, His loving smile, we must let everyone see the love of God through our actions and the way we live our lives. It is our duty to “make disciples of all nations.” Not everyone will be called by God to save souls by becoming a minister of the church. Not everyone will be lead to become a Religious in a Convent or Monastery, but we are all called to give glory to God and help save souls through prayer! It is our daily duty to pray that God’s name be “Hallowed”, that His “kingdom come” and that “His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Also that mankind may not be “lead into temptation”, but that God, “delivered us from all evil”. This is the duty of all God’s disciples.
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples,
if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
The only true and lasting gift that you can give to someone is your love, and the only true and lasting gift that you can receive from someone is their love. Love does not last for a lifetime – it lasts for an eternity! Love is the only thing you can take with you from this world into the next. It is the Spirit of God, and the more you love others and allow others to love you, the more God’s Spirit will live within you and be a part of you, until you find that it is no longer you who live but God who lives and reigns in you. Love is a gift that cannot be lost and is never given in vain – your Father sees all! It is a gift that brings joy and renewal.
It cost nothing but ‘self’ and cannot be bought at any price. Open your heart and receive God’s love! Pray without ceasing that God will grant you a greater love, that His Spirit will possess you entirely. Become selfless; give your love and your time to all who ask of you. Love God in the simple ways, pray with a heart full of love, trust in God’s mercy, praise Him daily, love all people, forgive all things, give unselfishly and do not judge anyone. You will find that the more you give, the greater will become your joy in giving, until you live as Jesus lived – to be the servant of all!
True joy comes from being filled with the grace of God and God loves to pour out this grace on all who will become His children, children of love. Love is the only thing that can change our world, and it is given in abundance to all those who wish to receive it from God – who is the origin and source of all love. God is love, and love is God! You were created to love and be loved, and only in this can you find life’s purpose, and your joy and consolation. God loves you more than you will ever know, more than your heart can comprehend. Jesus carried His cross to Calvary…dying to give you His love!
“To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit,
is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6)
To summarise then, cultivating the Interior life has two important aims: One, to seek a perfect union with the God of love. Two, to become holy. To seek a perfect union with God we need to become one with Him, until our will, and the will of God, are one and the same. To become holy we need to overcome ourselves and master our passions, having contempt for ourselves, and the things of this world. Holiness means having faith, living humbly, being prudent, just, patient, kind, meek, chaste and diligent, carrying out our duties for no other reason than pleasing God. Jesus told us: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Cultivate the interior life then, for the kingdom of God is within you!
Has God spoken to you yet? Give Him time… Give Him YOUR time!