The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.…He is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.
Acts 17:24-25, 27-29
Prayer is living with the awareness that God is near—that God is all around us and within us. Prayer is looking and listening for God’s loving, life-giving presence everywhere we go, in all circumstances. Prayer is trusting that the faintest whisper, the quietest thought or deepest longings of our heart are all known to God.
Sometimes it can feel as if God is far away. This experience of God as distant can have deep roots in our lives. We may have experienced distance and abandonment from some of the most important people in our lives and, as a result, fear a similar kind of distance and abandonment from God. We may fear that we are not good enough, that we are not measuring up in some way and that God is distant and disapproving of us. Or we may simply be emotionally or physically spent, too exhausted to sense any emotional connection with ourselves or with others, including God.
Even though all of these things which make it difficult for us to experience God’s presence, the sense of God’s distance is an illusion. God is with us. Always.
This text from the books of Acts is a portion of a speech that the Apostle Paul gave in Athens to a population that worshipped idols made of sliver and gold. Their gods were small and demanding. Paul is challenging their vision of God. He is expanding their understanding. Paul is speaking of a God who is vast in power as Creator and Sustainer of all. He speaks of “the God who made the world and everything in it, the Lord of heaven and earth”. Paul goes on to say that God is not served by human hands, but is the One who gives breath and life to all. This God, Paul tells his audience, desires that we would “reach out and find him, though he is not far from each of us.”
We do not have to worship idols carved from silver and gold to engage in idol worship. Our private fears about God diminish God. We carve idols in our imaginations, gods that are small and demanding, sometimes without even being aware of what we are doing.
Prayer calls us back to the vision of God that Paul shared with the people of Athens. The vision of God as the Creator and Sustainer of all, the One who gives us breath, longs for relationship with us and is physically and emotionally close to us.
I wrote about the perception of God’s closeness in a previous book entitled Keep Breathing. Here is one story from that book that captures my own experience of what is near and what is at a distance:
Some mornings when I am out walking I look up at the sky and it seems far away. On other days I realize that the sky kisses the earth. As I walk, I move through sky. I walk surrounded by sky. I breathe in the sky. It lives inside of me. Whether the sky seems close or far away, the truth is that it is always close. And, so with God. God is the One in whom we “live and breathe and have our being.” God is with us. Always. God’s loving presence caresses us, surrounds us, fills us. (Juanita Ryan, Keep Breathing, pg. )
Prayer is living in awareness of this truth.
Sometimes I diminish you
in my fearful imagination.
I think of you as distant
Help me to live in awareness
of who you are,
Creator, Sustainer of all,
God with us.
Allow me the prayer
of living in awareness
of your intimate presence,
your desire for relationship,
your loving closeness.
In a time of quiet ask God to give you eyes to see the Divine Presence with you, around you and within you.
Sit for a time with this awareness.
Ask God to help you to live more and more in conscious contact with your Creator..