Spiritual Practices —1— “The Dashboard Lights”
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” —Proverbs 4:23—
I wrote yesterday that I would begin a short series to share some of my practices that help me to stay “attuned” to the “frequency” of God through my day. Today is the first installment of that series which I’m kicking off with “The Dashboard Lights.” I’ll share more about the Dashboard Lights in a moment, but in order to understand the dashboard we need to provide a bit of background context.
The first step to knowing God is the denial of self. I have learned through my own experience that a person can come into God’s Presence and be introduced to His Person and Power without denying self, but if that relationship is going to grow and mature into knowing God and becoming intimate and deep…denial of self is a must. This is not restricted to my experience; this is what the Bible teaches.
What does it mean to deny self?
From the opening chapters of Genesis and through the New Testament Scriptures we see evidence of two selves in every man. We see it first when Adam and Eve decided to reinvent themselves (Genesis 3:1-13). The story of man’s reinventing himself continues throughout history from that point forward even through today. Man reinvents himself into an image he finds more pleasing (Adam presented himself behind a fig leaf) and historically that image usually includes garments of power, wealth, stature, possessions, beauty, and the like. These man-made reinventions of self are contrary to the “self” God created each of us to be. This is the essence of Jesus’ teaching in the following words:
Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:38-39)
We lose the life we create and we find the life God has created for us. Jesus said; “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). I believe this is the essence of what Jesus teaches. Evidence of this dual nature is also found in the teaching of Paul to the Romans (Romans 7:15-8:39). The nature of the self-created man who is steeped in his sin cannot coexist with the God-created man born of the Spirit. You will succumb to and serve one nature over the other, you cannot serve both. As illustrated and expounded upon by Paul, the promise of Jesus is the Holy Spirit… given to those who are believers and who are willing to put to death their self-created nature. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter, Guide, and Helper who dwells within the believer-disciple and assists him in continual “putting to death” of the man-created-self. Much more can be discussed and taught about this, but we need to press on. If you have comments or questions, please leave them here in the comments section or feel free to email me personally using the contact link in the blog.
We can now speak a little bit about what I call “the dashboard lights.”
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
When God sends His Spirit to us, one of the first things that takes place is a NEW HEART. What this means is that God restores His God-created heart in us (Ezekiel 36:26). No longer are we driven by our self-created nature, but we now are given the Christ-in-us nature to follow (2 Corinthians 5:17). But Listen… you determine how you will respond to, develop, and mature in fullness with this new nature. You still have the freedom to reject, disobey, and grieve God’s Holy Spirit within you (Ephesians 4:30). It is our responsibility to acknowledge and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit whose work it is to guide, teach, and mold us into the fully mature image of Christ in us (Ephesians 4:13).
Now, about those lights… Think about when you are driving down the road in your car. There are a number of “safety feature reminders” that help us to manage our vehicles without breakdown or catastrophic incident. Some of these features are visual, some audible, and some both. Take for instance turn signals; when you turn on one of your turn indicators, you see the light flashing in your console and hear the “ticking” sound of the blinker letting you know it is on. My car will tell me the signal has been left on too long if I forget to turn it off; it will make a horrendously loud and startling beeping noise that jolts me into action to turn it off. If I forget to change my oil on time, a light will burn brightly in my dashboard console until I reset it by changing my oil. Likewise, for a whole list of potentially hazardous issues with my car, there are all kinds of assorted dashboard lights and bells that “grab my attention” alerting me to something that needs “fixed.” It should be noted that if I do not heed these warnings, I do so at my own risk… the car could become damaged, there is potential for mechanical failure, and personal injury could occur not only to me, but others could be injured as well.
The spiritual self, the self created by God, is at risk too. Yes, the Scriptures teach us that “nothing can pluck us from His hand” (John 10:28; Romans 8:38-39), but this assumes we are being obedient to God’s leading and the “dashboard lights” He provides us with through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in us. The Spirit of God brings us peace and joy. When our attitude, our spiritual attitude, becomes off center we need to examine and pay attention to this “off-centeredness” the same as our automobile dashboard lights… Thomas Keating provides insight with these words:
It is a watchfulness that notices when we lose our sense of peace. We lose peace whenever one of the emotional programs for happiness is frustrated. Then grief, anger, aversion, discouragement, and other afflictive emotions go off. Once afflictive emotions go off, the imagination provides prerecorded tapes that arise of themselves and reinforce the intensity of the emotion. The two are like the wheels of an old clock with interlocking teeth. If one wheel turns, the other has to turn. Accordingly, if you experience a strong emotion, in a second or two you will find yourself with a commentary that is appropriate to it…Commentaries…increase the intensity of the original emotion…If we learn to let go of afflictive emotions as promptly as they arise we will enjoy a more durable peace of mind.
What does that mean? Pay attention to the spiritual dashboard lights. If I feel myself getting anxious or worried, I should not engage in the scenarios of things that can go wrong, but instead trust God who is in control of all things… God who has plans for my life… God who leads me in the ways that will transform me fully into the image he created for me. When I begin to feel angry about a situation or with someone, I should realize my anger is most often a sign of my old self wanting attention. I might remind myself that God has already affirmed me through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the list continues; our course of action should be one that refuses to ignore the warnings God’s Spirit in us provides. This is true, but it is also true that we do not treat the warnings with wrong attention. As Thomas Keating reminds us, we have the option to feed the strong emotions and succumb to the old self nature. Proper attention to the warnings helps maintain peace, joy, and an attitude that remains openly responsive to what God wills for us in every moment. And, that is always our goal.
So, when the dashboard lights of your soul begin to shine and the warning chimes start ringing in your ear, pull over…time out and remember these words of Paul:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
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