July 7, 2019
Rev. George Furniss
Finding Yourself in a New World
Luke 17:20-21; Matthew 13: 42-45; Genesis 1:26-27; Romans 12:2
As Christians, we hear a lot about going to heaven when we die. How about experiencing heaven in our present existence? Heaven on earth? This is a much less emphasized theme of Christian tradition.
That I am speaking to you today in this way represents heaven on earth for me. For many years I was a stutterer. I was a college professor and later a pastor with a speech stuttering problem. I am eternally grateful to my students, my parishioners, and the hospital patients who believed I had something to say despite my lack of fluency. Eighteen years ago I experienced an almost total healing of my stuttering. There is a neurological explanation of my rare healing but also a spiritual one. My late wife Ruth had just died, and I believe she helped orchestrate my healing from her heavenly place. Many had prayed for me, including Agnes Sanford, author of books on healing prayer. Their prayers and mine were answered. I can speak with joy and not dread, heaven on earth.
Jesus emphasized that we can experience heaven on earth if we only learn to look for it. The kingdom is within you, right now! Change your thinking! Joy and blessing are within your immediate reach. He constantly challenged conventional wisdom. Take his two parables that you heard. Financial advisors will warn, Diversify your investments. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! Yet the farmer sold everything he had to buy the field with the buried treasure. The merchant put all his eggs in one basket to buy the pearl of great price. Experiencing the kingdom of heaven is worth selling everything!
Jesus’ message reverses a central idea of Jewish conventional wisdom, the belief that God’s kingdom would come as a cataclysmic event in the future when God would overturn the world powers and make tiny, powerless Israel ruler of the world. What was Jesus’ astonishing new vision? The kingdom of God is a present reality. It is already here! The Pharisees just couldn’t see it. Don’t look for the kingdom in future events. The kingdom is within you. The gospel of Thomas recounts Jesus’ saying: “What you are looking for is already here. You simply have not recognized it.” As Paul explained in his letter to the Romans, you need transformed minds in order to see the present reality of God’s kingdom. In short, we have heaven on earth now if we learn to see it.
How do we learn this spiritual art? My story starts when my scoutmaster invited me and the other scouts in our God and Country group to his home to hear Dr. Glenn Clark, a retired college English professor, noted athletic coach, and author of books on prayer. Like other teenage boys, I aspired to be a good athlete. 72-year-old Glenn Clark told us that we needed to become “athletes of the Spirit.” Like becoming a successful athlete, we needed to work hard, learning to see the present reality of God’s kingdom on earth. This was a matter of viewpoint. He urged us to learn to look at situations from God’s perspective, not a human perspective.
I don’t remember everything that Dr. Clark told us that day, but hearing him caused this teenage boy to want to read every book that he had written on the spiritual life! His focus was how Jesus turned worldly situations into parables. Jesus looked through ordinary human experiences to see a deeper divine reality. For example, the synagogue leader’s daughter was dead. Oriented to God’s reality, Jesus announced, She is not dead but sleeping. She came to life. And voila, Jesus did a miracle.
I want to emphasize today the importance of our learning to see our existence from God’s point of view. This is a key to what I call praying with power. How does God see our human situations and challenges? Does God focus on our imperfections? No! The Father sees us with the mantle of the Son wrapped around us. We are new beings in his eyes. As Genesis 1 proclaims, we are made in the image of God. If God is perfect, we are, in reality, perfect in God’s eyes.
We have the wonderful gift of imagination. Effective prayer makes full use of our imagination. We visualize the situation from God’s viewpoint, not our human viewpoint. We visualize the ill person well, whole, creative, and in the words of Acts “walking and leaping and praising God.” Some could think that we are just deluding ourselves. “Ha, you’re just engaging in fantasy saying that Mary with her diagnosis of stage 1 breast cancer is healthy and perfect!” Not so! By visualizing God’s perfection in Mary, we create a spiritual atmosphere of healing. Suppose we are confronting people in conflict. We visualize them reconciled, at peace, forgiving and loving each other. One author calls this “soaking prayer.” It’s like putting someone in a warm bath to absorb all the relaxation and power of this healthy environment. I have participated in and witnessed effective prayer. Most often, I have experienced prayers fulfilled when a prayer group of people trained in effective prayer, who are united and of one mind, engage in focused prayer.
In addition to visualizing renewal, effective prayer requires love. We respond to God’s love with our love. God’s love is unconditional, and our prayers are strongest when our love is unconditional also. I know this sounds idealistic, yet the more love that goes into our prayers, the more abundant the results.
To do this kind of praying, we need to stretch our minds to encompass the whole being of God. We need to do regular mental gymnastics, in other words become “athletes of the Spirit,” to embrace how big God is: God’s love, God’s peace, God’s light, God’s power, God’s joy. I have put some copies of a seven-day devotional cycle in the back for you to pick up and to use in stretching your spiritual muscles for doing effective prayer.
In short, as we make a habit of loving those we pray for and visualizing God’s perfection in each situation, our own subconscious mind is transformed. My mentor, Dr. Clark, made the bold assertion that by practicing the presence of God in this way fifteen minutes a day for two months, we would find ourselves living in a new world. We can be very much in the world but not of it. We can increasingly experience heaven on earth. We can be part of bringing about what we pray: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.