The Mystery of Indwelling

blog christ communion contemplative prayer Oct 06, 2021

There is a simple scriptural truth that many Christians seem to struggle with when it comes to actual practice. We don’t seem to have a hard time with it as an idea or a statement of faith. Here are some texts where you’ll find it:


“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)


“God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)


“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)


I’m sure you can see what I’m pointing to. More than forty years ago, when I (Alan) was a high school student at a Christian concert, I was told that if I wanted to become a Christian, I should invite Jesus into my heart. So that’s what I prayed. What Christian would have a hard time with this idea? Likely none. Many are fine with “Christ in me” when it comes to entering into the Christian life.


But what about actually living the Christian life? Listen to this comment from Shirley Carter Hughson, an early twentieth-century Anglican abbot:


“It is evident, therefore, that in practicing the presence of God we are to look within, not without. We are not to allow the imagination to project our attention to some external place or condition where God may exist, for however He may exist there, it is not there that we can communicate with Him, but only in our souls. This was the mistake which St. Augustine tells us he made when he was searching after God, and found Him only after having lost much precious time because he did not seek Him aright. ‘Too late have I loved You, O Beauty, so ancient and yet so new,’ he cries, ‘too late have I loved You! For, behold, You were within, and I without, and it was without that I sought You!’ (Confessions, Bk. X, ch. xxvii).”**


It is the idea of the indwelling Christ that some Christian friends have struggled with. In 1990, a mentor of mine, Wayne Anderson, suggested that the biblical idea of “Christ in me” is key to understanding prayer and living in communion with God.


Some of my ministry colleagues at the time interpreted Wayne’s invitation to listen to Christ within them as out-of-bounds, non-Christian, New Age, even Eastern mysticism. They could not embrace a practice that, to my way of thinking, was a rather obvious extension of our theological belief in the indwelling Christ. We urge new Christians to recognize the reality of Christ at home in their hearts. But what does that mean when it comes to the practicalities of living in communion with Christ?


In his Confessions, Augustine grieves the time he wasted looking for God “out there somewhere” when God actually was nearer than his own heart. Augustine then describes himself as being “out there,” while all along God was “in here.” When we pray “Our Father in heaven,” we’re not talking to a distant God living somewhere above the clouds. We’re talking to the God who is at home in an eternal reality that is closer to us than the air we breathe.


We tend to prefer the familiar over the true. That which is unfamiliar raises red flags, and we assume it is error. When it comes to spiritual practices, a common method we use to decide whether something is fitting for us is to ask, “Have we done that before?” If the answer is no, we assume it must not be for us. It must be a “them” practice. This is how some Christians feel about solitude, silence, and listening prayer.


I’m so glad that today many are discovering the gift that such practices are and how rooted in kingdom reality they are.


Reflection Questions

When it comes to your experience of prayer, what difference does it make for you that Christ is in you? How does this affect your sense of Jesus with you always?


**Shirley C. Hughson, Contemplative Prayer (West Park, NY: Holy Cross Press, 1935), p. 13.


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