Practicing the Presence of Jesus
Although professional golfer Wally Armstrong had pursued a relationship with Jesus for over 35 years, he always sensed that there was something missing. As Armstrong puts it, there's a big difference between believing something is true and experiencing something as real.
Q: Growing up, you struggled with being “good enough” for your own father. How did that translate over to your spiritual relationship with Jesus and the feeling of not being able to measure up?
Growing up as a child of an alcoholic you become a human “doing” rather than a human “being.” You find all of your significance in your performance and attempts to please your father, and to be recognized by him as being okay. There was so much energy spent on meeting his expectations. You're just looking for that nod of acknowledgment that you’re special or have done well, but when it never comes, the energy builds up and it gets transferred to other ways of gaining that affirmation such as winning golf tournaments, writing books, speaking to hundreds of people, and doing golf clinics. Over the years, I have found many ways of gaining that affirmation. So your greatest strengths become your greatest weaknesses. Unfortunately, I found my significance and got my affirmation from the praise of other people.
This same quest for affirmation was transferred over to my relationship with God the Father and Jesus. After accepting Christ I read about a father who really loved me and my energy was transferred into that new relationship. I was driven in a new direction, but I was on the treadmill of performance again, but this time it was spiritual in nature. I still felt like I fell way short of God's expectations, and even though reading the words of Jesus in the Scriptures gave me great comfort, subconsciously I was still restless and working so hard to be okay, to get to the next level where I knew I had to be. I was trying to be a disciple on the highest level, but I was getting there on my own effort and understanding, based upon what I had read about in other books. No one really shared with me that Jesus was really alive, and beside me and in me, every moment of every day—whether I was doing well or doing bad, whether I was honoring him or dishonoring him.
I read the truth of Scripture telling me about how much God loved me and how special I was to him but this didn't deeply impact my heart until I encountered Jesus as real and began to practice his presence. I began to hear the voice of my Savior and friend affirming me of his love for me, not based on me doing anything but being his friend. That's the big difference between changing and transformation. Change requires effort and trying and earning to be okay, but the transformation requires letting God love you for who you are and receiving that affirmation without trying to change to earn that love.
Q: What is the chair experiment?
The chair experiment came about when I read the book I mentioned earlier, and the author’s own personal experiment of desiring “the friend’s” comforting presence and envisioning him in his office. The writer told the story of a man that a pastor once visited. The old Scotsman was ill and had a chair beside his bed. He made the Savior real by imagining him sitting in the chair and talking to him eye to eye as though he were his friend. When I read that from his old book, I decided to jump right in and visualize Jesus in my room and to imagine him as real.
Once that connection was made, and I saw that I could receive his gift of friendship as if he were a loving friend, I turned my desk chair to face me in my reading chair and began to imagine Jesus sitting across from me. I visualized what he would look like and how he would speak to me. This became a habit, and I could not get enough of this relationship every morning. I would get up and imagine him in the chair and mentally speak to him. Then, I would listen and imagine how He would be sitting and how he would be talking. The friendship was developed and nurtured day after day. To me it's finding space, a place for him not only in the morning for our special times together, but throughout the day whether it be imagining him in the car sitting next to me, on the golf course walking down the fairway together, or playing with my grandchildren. My desire is for him to be involved in my daily life and to acknowledge his presence in the good and the bad, knowing that everything is okay because he is there and as much alive today as he was with Peter and the disciples when they were on the beach cooking fish.