I love reading about mystics who had incredible ecstatic experiences. (A mystic is simply someone who experiences God.) I get excited hearing about the walking preaching dead, people floating, and other bizarre miracles. At different times in my life I have chased after such experiences, and forgotten to value friendship with God. Rolland Baker helpfully reminds us that,
“Jesus must be our greatest pleasure, not the one who gives us our greatest pleasures.”
When we forget that prayer is about relationship with God it can turn into a gossip session, a wish list, or even a bitching session.
Mystics understand that God is a person and therefore communication with God goes two ways. Prayer is more than repeating a list of demands that we would like Him to fulfill in the next few days. Prayer is a two way conversation between us and God. In prayer we become aware of God in us and us in God. In prayer we praise and worship, we talk and ask, we give and forgive, we confess our sin and fear, we look and hear, we laugh and we cry, we receive and rejoice,and I could go on and on.
I have borrowed some thoughts from a Teresa of Avila, a Mystic we can learn from, and modified them a little to talk about 4 Stages of Prayer. These are not methods, rather places we can get to, and sometimes get stuck in regards to prayer. I hope you find them useful in moving you further and further into the experience of union with Christ!
Stage 1 – Searching
The first stage of prayer is when we are very aware of everything going on around us. We struggle to concentrate, and are concerned with the things in our lives. We are easily distracted and have to work hard to fix our eyes on Jesus. In this stage, we often ask God for things but don’t necessarily experience God answering our pleas. In essence we are searching for something of God to hang on to.
Stage 2 – Meeting
In the second stage our mind begins to quiet down. We begin to focus on God and are more settled. As we begin to sense God, Holy Spirit begins to bring things to mind and prayer becomes a little easier. We begin to find God. In this stage we pray and begin to experience His peace and response.
Stage 3 – Enjoying
This third stage is about enjoying God. No longer bogged down by the things of Earth we are free to talk to God. In this stage we experience the presence of God. Love, joy and peace flow freely. One or more of our senses are engaged. Prayer is now a conversation. We begin to dance with God. Although engaged with God we are still aware of our surroundings.
Stage 4 – Mystical Union
Mystical Union literally means an encounter whereby we experience our union with Christ. We are no longer aware of our surroundings and are caught up into the love and presence of God. We are made aware of our union with God. This ecstatic experience lasts for a time but is generally not lived in. It often looks like visions, raptures, and trances, with bizarre miracles common place. In this stage we are lost in the love and presence of God.
In what stage do you spend your time in prayer? Do you struggle to focus and just reel off requests? Do you move into that place where prayer begins to feel a little better but still lacks conversation? Do you experience God in your prayer time or does He feel distant? Do you regularly enjoy the presence of God? When was the last time you had an ecstatic experience where you were unaware of your surroundings and completely aware of your union with Christ?
Many believers have settled in to stages of prayer that lack experience with God. However, Jesus clearly stated that eternal life is to know God. We can know God today. Why not spend a few minutes now dialing down and becoming aware that God is here.