“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is to your advantage that I go away… But if I go, I will send him [Holy Spirit] to you.” Jesus (John 16:7, 32-33)
I don’t like writing about the Dark Night. First of all, I feel very uncomfortable equating my experiences with those who have experienced a true absence of God’s presence and extended season of desolation, especially when it is accompanied by persecution, oppression, and other tragic or “dark” encounters during the course of their Christian journey. I often feel like a novice as I read the journals and memoirs of those great saints who have traveled the road of faith before me. I do not feel qualified to talk at length about some of my experiences and when I do, I feel as though they sometimes seem trivial and fall short of a reputable example for the subject that I might be speaking about.
On the other hand, I process my thoughts better when I write and talk about them. It puts me in a vulnerable spot, but I suppose that is the risk and trade-off for trying to figure out my spiritual journey. The end result is that I might not know what I’m talking about at all, but I’m willing to take the chance for the hopeful promise that I might make a step or two forward in my understanding of who God is, who I am, and who we are together. Sometimes the risk is in proportion to the reward, so I write…and I talk…and I think, out loud.
The past few years I have met seasons of loneliness, times when God felt distant, feelings of being misunderstood, times of discontent, days of melancholy, stretches of spiritual grief, attitudes of apathy, and bouts with depression. There are probably a few other “attitudes” I have encountered, but these are some I have most commonly identified. These times are always troublesome for me. I think it goes without saying that one reason would be the overall discomfort they bring. Another reason is the doubt that invariably comes as part of the package. I do not like to feel bad…ever, and I certainly do not like feeling bad within the context of my own spirituality. Moreover, I have an especially strong distaste for these things when they are accompanied with self-doubt.
What goes on during these seasons of the soul? What is it that makes us feel so lonely and lost? Why is it, try as we might, that we cannot seem to go back to a “healthier” time in our walk with Jesus? I do not think I can speak definitively to all these questions, at least in a way that is sufficient to answer the questions for every person who may ask them, but I feel confident in sharing my own experiences and some of what I’ve learned through the process.
Studying and learning from the great spiritual masters has benefited me greatly; in particular to this writing, the journals from St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila have been most helpful. Also, there have been several contemporary sources that have helped my understanding as well: Dr. Gerald May, Dr. Bruce Demarest, Dr. David Benner, and a few others. So, what is it that I have learned or perhaps better asked, what is that I am learning?
God loves me. I love God. These are two guiding principles for my existence. These principles are challenged by issues in remediation. God wants my love to be perfected and is active in leading me in the ways of perfection. I am damaged goods on the path of restoration. While there are a number of issues that challenge me in my Christian journey, there are a few that manifest themselves as “root” causes for most of those challenges. I believe I could narrow them down to pride, independence, and idolatry.
Pride is a serious challenge. I believe the fact that on any particular day I can wake up and feel as though it has been conquered serves me as evidence that it has not… been conquered at all. Pride is a most subversive agent; it often hides in plain sight. It was pride that served as the seed of humankind’s fall; its root runs deep and its fruit is plenty.
Independence is another great challenge. Not only are we hampered by pride in overcoming independence, but we also face the challenge of the great American culture that teaches individualism and independence as virtues for which everyone is to aspire. Independence is antithetical to the very nature of our communing Triune God who is a community Himself. It was God, who when creating humanity, said that it was not good for man to be alone.
Idolatry might be the greatest challenge of them all. I recall a quote by John Calvin, who said; “The human heart is a factory of idols…Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” I am unsure if idolatry gives birth to pride and independence or if it is the other way around. These issues are so closely interrelated it is difficult to determine where the beginning point is.
How do these character challenges affect the “Dark Night” or a sense of God’s absence? What do they have to do with God’s apparent silence?
I believe the Bible teaches us that God desires each of his children (me and you and every other created soul) to be wholly complete, as He first imagined us. This, I believe, is part of the order in God’s plan of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. Therefore, God has enacted a means of being reconciled to Him through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, but that redemptive act is just the threshold—a wonderful and mysterious threshold, but a starting point nonetheless.
As we journey with God on the way of restoration and wholeness, being transformed in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, we encounter the challenges and their myriad manifestations I mentioned earlier. I could write and talk at length about so many of these challenges, but I would like to address the connection of “Dark Night” and absence/silence of God with wholeness and restoration.
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
I don’t like the idea that I am an idol factory or idolater. However, if I am honest and objective, I am an idol maker…and will likely be until Christ’s return or my life ends on this side of eternity. Perhaps a bit of clarification is in order. While God allows us to know Him, our knowledge is imperfect, although as we seek God with pure hearts in spirit and in truth, He reveals more and more of himself to us. Still, this revelation and knowledge is imperfect and incomplete. This imperfect and incomplete knowledge of God introduces a problem to us; many of us are not satisfied with incomplete pictures/images. The remedy for this problem of incomplete image is to complete it and I believe this is what many people try to do…complete the image of incomplete knowledge. This is a form of idolatry.
No matter how pure my intent and no matter how mature my spirituality is, I form an image of God in my mind and heart based on what I know of Him. I do not necessarily believe this is blatantly wicked, nor do I believe that in itself is separating from God, but it can and does create strain on our relationship with Him which has potential to lead us away from Him.
How it Works…
As I avail myself to God’s Self revealing through His Word, prayer, interacting with other believers, indwelling guidance from Holy Spirit, and many other means of revelation, I am able to form an understanding of who God is…I form an image of God. Now, some of this image may be true, but being incomplete, the best I can do is to create a “wire-frame” image of God. There are elements missing, dots remain unconnected. I have two choices at this juncture; I can continue my journey with a limited and incomplete God based upon my partial image of Him or I can complete the construction of my wire-frame with my own embellishments. Both of these options are not always done intentionally, but the process of completion often takes place nonetheless even despite our best efforts to prevent it. The end result is a god of our making whom we will often project on to others through teaching, witness, or other lifestyle actions.
God’s best is for us to know Him in Spirit and in Truth. The evidence of Scripture and the reality of the Incarnation teach us that God wants human beings to know Him. I think it stands to reason that God desires our knowledge should be true and not manufactured by us, so as we journey with Him along the way of restoration, He leads us into places of wilderness, Gethsemane gardens, and hills of Golgotha. Each of these places are defining moments for us and can be places of barrenness, loneliness, anxiety, doubt, fear, the sense of God’s absence, and places of extreme silence. It is in these places where the student is tested… the Potter beats, moulds, and shapes… the Metal smith fires, forges, hammers, and sharpens… It is in this place where false images are erased and idols are crushed.
It is important to know this defining place is not a place of punishment, but a process of refinement. It is my experience too that it is not a “one and done” visit. It seems with each visit and increasing awareness of God’s character, there is an eventual follow-up encounter for pride smashing and idol crushing. I think the process will continue until… I also believe this is a natural spiritual order.
What has been my greatest understanding as I’ve encountered these seasons of absence and breaking? Probably among the most important things I’ve come to realize is that God loves me so much that He will not leave me with a false image of Himself as long as my heart is pursuing Him. True knowledge of God is conditional; we have to be pursuing Him with humble heart and pure intent. Otherwise, even what we think we know of Him will be taken away and will lead us to our own destruction (Luke 8:18 NLT).
“God who is everywhere never leaves us…Yet he may be more present to us when he is absent than when he is present.” -Thomas Merton
I am also learning that God never, ever, truly departs or is absent from us—what leaves or betrays us is not God, but our [false] images, concepts, and sensations of God. It is here in God’s “silence” or “absence” where He can usually be found speaking His loudest. Here is the time where it behooves us to exercise our best listening skills, here in the quiet of God. In the times where we feel that God is absent, it is the time and place where we often find even greater intimacy with Him. Do not despair in the moments of desolation and loneliness…for it is here that God’s presence is even more manifest.
Jesus cried out with a loud voice: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
In the ancient Palestinian wilderness, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Golgotha’s Hill—God spoke with non-words and was present in His absence. As paradoxical as it may seem, I believe there are times when God is even more present in His absence than He is present in His presence.
God is specially present in the hearts of his people by his Holy Spirit. Indeed the hearts of holy men are truly his temples. In type and foreshadow, they are heaven itself. For God reigns in the hearts of his servants. There is his kingdom.” -Jeremy Taylor
Unharden my heart, O Lord
I’m doing a lot of reading these days, even more than my normal heavy appetite. The net result of this is that I have a lot of influences and swirling thoughts. If my writing or thought processes seem disjointed, it might be because they are. Nonetheless, they are good and challenging thoughts—I am motivated and I am inspired.
“Solitude is one way we can imitate Jesus…” Emilie Griffith
As I consider this season of Lent and venturing into the “desert” to be alone with Jesus, there are a number of themes and postures that I intend to assume. One is an attitude of humility and another is repentance; both of these postures are necessary to keep my heart surrendered to the transformation of Christ in me. I’ve written several times in the past week or so about living noisy and distracted lives. This is the thorn in almost every American side. Our daily lives are often too busy with work and sleep getting most of our attention. How often do we make the space to get alone with God-Jesus? How long do we spend with him? Most importantly, what is Jesus telling or teaching me?
Everywhere is the evidence and handiwork of our God. Am I paying homage and tribute to the glory of God in my day? Is my professed relationship manifest in my daily travels?
“The cross is not the horrible end of a pious, happy life, but stands rather at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ… Those who are not prepared to take up the cross, those who are not prepared to give their life to suffering and rejection by others, lose community with Christ, and are not disciples. Discipleship is commitment to the suffering Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Discipleship and the Cross from Meditations on the Cross.
Bless YAHWEH, my soul. Never forget all his acts of kindness. He does not treat us as our sins deserve, nor repay us as befits our offenses. AS the height of heaven above earth, so strong is his faithful love for those fear him. As the distance of east from west, so for from us does he put our faults. As tenderly as a father treats his children, so YAHWEH treats those who fear him.
O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.
O God, help me to never be that man. Help me to cling always to your holy garments. May my love for you always be pure and righteously motivated.
“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed His glory; and his disciples believed him.” (John 2:11)
“For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5)
Chewing on some serious bread here: “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5). I realize the metaphor extends to the primacy of the community, the universal church and all who are called into that great assembly, although I cannot help but consider how this plays out in my personal commitment to the Bridegroom (Christ Jesus) and as a part of “the Bride” (Church) myself. How consecrated (solemn dedication) am I? What does my dedication look like in my daily life? I think about how I look with love, appreciation, adoration, and delight over my wife, Laurie, and think about how God looks over His Bride, the Church… and me. Yes. Praise Him. Amen.
Prayer for the 2nd Sunday following the Feast of Epipany
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your word and sacraments,, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reign one God, now and for ever. Amen
Miscellaneous Thoughts from 20JAN2013
I sat in on Bob G’s class today in church and still cannot get the ideas of holiness, sanctification, spiritual formation, and any other euphemism that describes what it means to become Christ-like out of my head… I just keep on thinking about this and take a moment to put down some of my ideas here.
Jesus, as the living personification of God (John 14:7-9), is our model for what it means to “imitate God” (Ephesians 5:1-2) and “Be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:13-16). The Bible teaches us that our attitude or minds should be like Christ; “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5-7).
- Begin with an attitude of complete humility
- Maintain a mindset of openness
- Choose your will to be completely surrendered
- Determine that you will be unconditionally obedient
I believe that Scripture teaches us the Christian journey will not begin in earnest without this process (listed above) and attitude of mind/heart being implemented first (see John 12:24-26, Luke 14:25-28, Mark 9:35). In my opinion, the most distinctive “outworking” of this selfless and surrendered humility is found in the apostle’s definition of love (1 Corinthians 13).
13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails.
More to come.
A Week (weak) of Reflections & Examinations—Jeff’s Journal
I’ve been reviewing and reflecting on the writings in my journal from the past several days. As we approach this season of Advent, the season of expectant waiting, I notice in my writing the tension of a long period of waiting already. I am not sure if the analogy is an appropriate or “right” one, but it goes something like this. Many of my spiritual days over the past few years have been spent as if I draw in a deep breath, hold it until almost blacking out and then exhale with loud, “wooshing” sigh—feeling tired and almost spent—then deeply drawing in another big breath to hold…starting this exhausting process all over again. I think this sounds something worse than it actually is, but there is a certain “yes” and “not quite” that I experience on the way of my Christian journey that is difficult to explain. I “see and hear” these deep inhales and exhales in my writings…I’ll let them speak for me.
(17NOV12) To whom shall I go, O Lord? You alone have the words of life, and I have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God. Praise be to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory. Sometimes though, I admit, I get tired…I get tired of praying, I get tired of waiting, I get tired of looking. But I will keep on praying, watching, looking, and waiting because as Peter said to you, “I have nowhere else to go.” Even as you are God in flesh, Jesus, You know all the sufferings and loneliness that a man will face. You were driven into the desert wilderness, You were rejected by your people as well as your closest friends…and you were also given over to the cross to become an innocent—murdered for the sins of humanity—even my sins.
You are God… Teach me to count my days that I might gain a wise heart. Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love, so I might rejoice and be glad all my days. (Ps. 90:2, 12, 14)
(18NOV12) “This is but the beginning of birth pangs.” -Jesus (Mark13:8)
(20NOV12) As I sit here, the beating of my heart, the ebb and flow of my breathing the movements of my mind are all signs of God’s ongoing creation in me. I pause for a moment, and become aware of this presence of God within me and respond with these thoughts… I am the reflection of Your image, O God, as broken and fragile as I am, it is amazing that I still bear the image of the great God who created me. I ask for Your help and Your forgiveness for the many ways I “miss the mark” of Your image and thereby sin against You and Your image. I pray, O Lord, for more of Your presence and more of Your Spirit in my life—a reminder that You are always near—forever with and within me, faithful to complete the good work You have started in me. I pray that I might see all You have planned and foreordained for the people who follow You and proclaim You as their God. Amen.
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD, is my strength. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
(21NOV12) In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I will ask God’s help, to be free from my own preoccupations and pretensions; I will ask to be open to God in this time of prayer, to come to love and serve Him more. Help me, O Lord, to be ever more conscious of Your presence. Teach me to recognize Your presence in others. Fill my heart with gratitude for the times Your love has been shown to me through the actions and words of others and help me to be aware of the times it is You who works through me. I believe and trust in God the Father Almighty; I believe and trust in Jesus Christ His Son. I believe and trust in the Holy Spirit. I believe and trust in the Three in One.
I will study the way that is blameless. When shall I attain it? (Psalm 101:2)
And this is part of my heart’s cry… I think it is what drives me to the place of mourning my own “unworthiness” of poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3-4). I read the remaining words of the psalmist from Psalm 101 and he asks; “When will I attain the way of blamelessness?” Here follows his list of “ways to walk.” (1) with integrity of heart (2) no evil or wicked thing before his eyes (3) avoid the works of those who are not on-the-way (4) steer clear of perversity and evil (5) no slanderous talk (6) refrain from haughty and arrogant attitudes (7) no quarter given to any lies or deceit (8) seek to eradicate evil and evil doers. I like to tell myself that I am onboard with this list, but every time I take inventory and do a sweep of my heart, I find another pile of this junk. Ugh! Is there no end??? I will study the way that is blameless. When will I attain it?
My eyes fail from watching for your salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes… My eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not kept. (Especially with me) Psalm 119:123-124, 136
From James (James 3:13-18) come additional words that can be helpful for cleaning crud from my heart. James says; “Show your good life with works done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts do not be boastful and false to the truth… Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” I pray, O God, You to help me act on these areas you bring notice of in me. Help me to yield and be open to all the areas that need refining within me. Do Your work and help me to partner with You in the ways that are blameless and in some way… through the suffering You endured, attain the righteousness You impute to me. I pray Your help. Amen.
(23NOV12) “Hear my prayer, O LORD: let my cry come to You. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call. I do not sleep; I am like a lonely bird on the housetop. (Psalm 102:1-2, 7).
Pray always—and do not lose heart—will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out to Him day and night? …When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? (Luke 18:1-8)
James (James 5:7-8) continues his wise counsel to me; “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord, The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” I’m learning patience, with fits and starts, stumbles, crumbles, and some successes…I’m learning to wait. Perhaps the tension will always be with me; I don’t know how it will all work out, but I do know that in the tension and with the wait God is near and within me. It is with this knowledge and affirmation of His word that I will persevere. Where else can I go?
Sharing a couple pages from my journal after reading the selections from the Daily Office Year Two (Book of Common Prayer). I started the book of the Prophet Joel and continue reading from the Gospel of Luke. My reflections follow:
“Cleansing the Temple”
A terrible thing has happened… the people of God have failed to live in right relationship with him. We know this because Joel calls the people to repentance; “Turn back to God…” (see Joel 2:12-14). What I read that is most tragic to me is the curse and devastation is so massive and far-reaching that it completely prevents the people from worshiping God in the way they have previously known and the way worship has been prescribed for centuries. There was a certain protocol for worship; there were certain sacrificial offerings for the remittance of sin requiring grain, oil, wine, and specific animals. Because of the devastation that had befallen the people, this form of worship and sin offering was not an option.
8 Weep like a bride dressed in black, mourning the death of her husband. 9 For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of the LORD… 10 The fields are ruined, the land is stripped bare. The grain is destroyed, the grapes have shriveled, and the olive oil is gone. 13 …For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God. (Joel 1:8-10, 13)
I am familiar with the Book of Joel, so I know the people are called to repent and turn back to God…and the LORD makes provision to do this despite the people’s inability to follow Temple protocol. The heart-breaking observation here is the realization of how disorienting and disheartening this loss of identity…this stripping away of self must be to the Hebrew people. Not only are their lives disrupted to the point of famine and ruin, but the thing they “know” to do (go to the Temple and offer sacrifices in a show of repentance), they cannot do.
I wonder if this is an example of and call to “die to self?” Is this God helping his people to strip away and remove a false identity? I think it is possible.
The people of God had relied upon their Temple worship as a means of supporting their relationship with God for generations. It seems the relationship that came with sharing the Dwelling Place of God had been taken for granted and was being used as a means to an end. When the people were backed into a corner or they felt “God was angry,” the thing to do was find a priest, offer sacrifices, appease the “angry god,” and move on. It is true that God had been the originator of the rules for Temple worship, but it was the people who had subverted what God had intended for good. In the process of subversion, the people had lost the thing that set them apart from the surrounding nations; they had lost their relationship with God.
I wonder if this might be a foreshadowing of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple.
…For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Exclaims a man who is listening to the teaching of Jesus (Luke 14:15).
Jesus taught his disciples to pray; “Lord give us this day our daily bread…” It seems to me, that one of God’s greatest delights is the communion of fellowship. The unity and fellowship of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is (I think) the greatest example of this perfect unity and communion, but God also reveals His passion for relationship and desire for communion with humanity in number of ways. The Bible teaches us about the joy God derives from walking with man as His friend (think Enoch, Abraham, and Moses as a few examples). We are taught about God “dwelling” in the tents of men (Moses and the Tabernacle in the wilderness). God enjoying sharing meals (with Abraham, providing manna for the Israelites for 40 years, Jesus’ delight in sharing food and wine…). Clearly, ours is a God of relationship, One who enjoys creating memories, traditions, a living history and shared heritage—feasts, festivals, dancing and singing with His cherished Creation. There really seems nothing that gives God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit greater joy than to “hang out” with His children… and it seems He also likes to provide “fresh bread” for the most of these gatherings.
“Give us this day our daily bread, we pray”
In the reading of Luke 14:15-24, I see a tragic parallel to our contemporary world. I hear a man exclaim how great it is to “eat and fellowship with God.” This doesn’t seem too far removed from conversations and the words of Christians in our world today. We might find ourselves in a Christian gathering or a church potluck and proclaim how wonderful it is to be in the presence of God, eating and sharing our blessings together, but Jesus offers a raw look into what is all-too-often our real world.
Jesus tells the people at his table about a man (God) who has prepared an elaborate banquet—a great feast—for which he has sent out many invitations. When the time draws near for the date of the banquet, many RSVPs are returned with excuses and reasons for people unable to attend; “They all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’” (Luke 14:18-20).
This parable is some two-thousand years old, but it seems that not much has changed. When I have the opportunity to spend devoted time with God, how often have sent him my RSVP with words like, “I’d love to go to church or read my Bible, but I have to work; I have chores at home; it’s my only day off; I have family obligations…”?
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
God has provided us with a banquet of fellowship fit for a king and unrivaled by anything imagined in the history of humankind. We have unparalleled access to God through the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit and His written Word to us. How can we justify not taking the time or making the time to fellowship with the Creator of All Things?
I think an even greater tragedy is how easy it becomes for us to take for granted this access to God and the “daily bread” He has prepared for us. As the people in the time of Joel took for granted their access to, and relationship with, God, He took that access away from them.
“…For there is no grain or wine to worship in the Temple of God.” Joel 1:13
In Jesus’ parable, so it happens also. If we fail to enter his fellowship… our fellowship, our access to the banquet and Bread of God may result with us being denied entry.
“For none of these I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.” Luke 14:24
May we never take for granted the gift of daily bread from our Heavenly Father. Blessed are those who eat bread in the Kingdom of God. Amen.
One thing I have asked the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.
Lord, just as I once presented the members of my body as slaves to impurity and ever increasing lawlessness, so I now present my members as slaves of righteousness, leading to holiness.
He brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me, because he delighted in me. (Ps. 18:19)
O Lord, I am willing to receive what you give; to lack what you withhold; to relinquish what you take; to suffer what you inflict; to be what you require.
He delivered me, because he delighted in me.
May the Father of heaven have care of my soul, His loving arm about my body, through each sleep and slumber of my life. Our help is in the Name of the Lord; the maker of heaven and earth.
It is You who light my lamp; the LORD, my God, lights up my darkness. This God—His way is perfect; the promise of the LORD proves true; He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him. (Ps. 18:28, 30)
Calm me, O Lord, as you stilled the storm. Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm. Let all the tumult in me cease. Enfold me, Lord, in your peace. Father bless the servant that I am and the servant that I will be.
He delivered me, because he delighted in me.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever.
Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be—world without end. Amen.
He delivered me, because he delighted in me.
All praise to the Most High God, my King, my Savior, my Lord, Jesus the Christ. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
The Daily Office—Ponder Points & Prayers
Exposure or Contact or Touching
I consider the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:43) and I think she must have set out with premeditated intent to “get close” and to “touch” Jesus. I note that in reading the account that many people may have made contact with Jesus, but these “pressers” and “bumpers” didn’t “touch” him in a meaningful way such that power was released into their lives. It is so sad that this phenomenon is still active today—many people are exposed to Jesus, encountering him through bumping and pressing into him—still not being intentional and deliberate enough to touch him and have his power released into their lives. What’s the point in that? I’m so thankful that Jesus drew me close enough to Himself that I was able to reach out and touch him with intention… He stopped the hemorrhaging of my life from slipping away to nothingness and filled me with the gift of Himself. Yes, power went out from Him and came into me! Praise God for the indwelling Spirit of the Living God, the Resurrected King, Jesus!
Reading the opening lines from the Book of Jonah:
The LORD gave this message to Jonah; “Get up and go…” But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the LORD. -Jonah 1:1-4
I say to myself with my head in my hands; “O God, how often have I been Jonah…?”
Lord Jesus, take my mind and think through me, take my hands and bless through me, take my mouth and speak through me, above all, Lord Jesus, take my spirit and pray in me; so that it is you who move and have your being in me. (Book of the Hours) O LORD, hear me as I pray; pay attention to my groaning. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God for I pray to no one but you. Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly. LORD, make your way plain for me to follow. (Psalm 5:1-3, 8) I will look to the LORD, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7) Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
First, I believe the Kingdom of God is ultimately an eschatological occurrence, meaning that its fulfillment will occur at the end of time when there comes a “new Heaven and a new Earth” (Rev. 21:1-10). However, Jesus taught his disciples that the Kingdom of God was not something that you “wait for” or “go looking for…”
One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, ”The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 17:20-21 NLT)
The question that begs asking in my mind then is this; “Can you see or measure the Kingdom of God?” Personally, I think we can. I don’t think I am contradicting Jesus in my assertion. What I refer to as a “seeing” is primarily a tangible evidence measured through “spiritual sight” assisted by and through the Holy Spirit. I realize that may sound convoluted and overly qualified, but I can draw on the teaching of John Wesley to help clarify and support my thinking.
Tangible: (1) Capable of being perceived especially by the sense of touch. (2) Capable of being precisely identified or realized by the mind. (3) Capable of being appraised at an actual or approximate value.
John Wesley is quoted as saying; “God’s kingdom does not come with such outward pomp as draws the observation of everyone.” Yet we can see evidence of God’s reign, Wesley taught. One of his favorite verses was Rom. 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”Real Christians exhibit righteousness and justice, peace, and joy—true kingdom signs.
Luke 17:21 can mean the kingdom of God is within or among you. Wesley combined the two—the kingdom is within you as part of Christian experience through the Holy Spirit, and also among you (plural), especially in authentic Christian community. So God’s reign is visible. With time the kingdom will be increasingly visible as God’s grace works through Christians’ lives. God’s Spirit enables Christians to see what others don’t. We see things not through worldly eyes but through faith and in hope of the coming kingdom.
Further bolstering my position, it was Jesus who said to “Seek first the Kingdom of God…” (Matt. 6:33). So, I ask; “If I am instructed to seek the kingdom of God, shouldn’t I be able to identify what it is that I’m seeking? Shouldn’t the object of my search be something I can recognize?” Of course, these are logic-based questions and may not be relevant as they pertain to the ways and means of God, but I think they are legitimate and worthy considerations nonetheless. My reasoning follows:
- The Apostle Paul defines the kingdom of God with specific words as recalled by John Wesley in Romans 14:17 (“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, ..) Here the kingdom is identified as righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus states the “knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you…”(Luke 8:10) which infers that the kingdom is something that can be known and understood to those who choose to follow him.
- The recounting of Jesus’ announcement of the good news about the kingdom of God is found in the Gospel of Mark chapter one with Jesus saying; “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” “Come, follow me…” (Mark 1:15, 17). Jesus proclaims the “kingdom is near…” and then follows the declaration with “come, follow me…” Is it possible that Jesus identifies the kingdom with himself and by following him, those who follow will be taken to or shown the kingdom? I think so.
While there are numerous other references to the “kingdom of God” which might be helpful in this study, I think the information in the aforementioned list is sufficient to help define what and where the kingdom of God is. So, in summary, we have evidence the kingdom of God is something that is tangible: (1) Capable of being perceived especially by the sense of touch. (2) Capable of being precisely identified or realized by the mind. (3) Capable of being appraised at an actual or approximate value.
The question remains whether we are able to drill down more specifically, to how the kingdom of God can be identified and with what words it might be described. I believe that it is possible to include more specificity in our description.
Remembering our list, we are told to associate the kingdom of God with righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit. Also, Jesus teaches and describes the kingdom of God in a series of parables in Luke 8:4-18 equating the kingdom of God with “bearing much fruit” and “being brought into the light.”
I don’t think it a stretch to equate the fruit that Jesus speaks of as the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of his followers. Therefore, I believe it might be safe to say one description of the kingdom of God can be found in the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25).
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25 NIV)
I see an interesting parallel with this fruit of the Spirit explanation from Paul and the exhortation of Peter in his second letter imploring his readers to seek Christian virtues as a means of entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-11)
Additionally, the assumption of all the numbered points in our list imply the person(s) following Jesus are walking in wholly surrendered obedience to his will and way as he is Lord and King of the kingdom of God.
“Follow me” infers the follower is imitating the one he follows and Jesus invites us to follow him. It seems fitting then, the actions and attributes of Jesus (God) are our model and Scripture supports this (Ephesians 5:1, 1 John 2:6), Likewise, the Apostle Paul in his Fruit of the Spirit discourse exhorts his listeners to “keep in step with the Spirit.” Much more can be said about these distinctions and directions concerning the kingdom of God, but I believe we have a working model with which we can answer our questions (1) What does the kingdom of God mean? and (2) How is the kingdom of God defined?
Let us be clear that we understand the kingdom of God is ultimately an eschatological (end times) event, but Jesus also defined the kingdom of God as something that is present among us and within us even now. What then does the kingdom of God mean? I believe Jesus and Scripture teaches us the kingdom of God means walking in surrendered obedience to the will and way of God (Phil. 2:5-11, John 5:16-30, Luke 22:42). How the kingdom is defined is found in the attributes and character of Jesus (follow me), Christian virtue (1 Peter 1:3-11), and the fruit of the Holy Spirit becoming manifest in the lives of obedient, surrendered, following disciples (Galatians 5:22-25). The consummate example and fulfillment of the kingdom of God coming in our present midst is evidenced in the practice of believers who love the Lord and God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love their neighbor as themselves (Mark 12:28-31). And, what is love? Love is the seed and the fruit of all that is the kingdom of God…and this love, agape love, is measurable and definable too.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Understanding that we can know, “see,” and measure the kingdom of God in our present reality, an even more pertinent question arises before us… “Do I see the kingdom of God and measure its fullness in my life?” And we pray, Lord, let your kingdom come, your will be done on earth—and in my life—as it is in heaven. Amen.
Pondering at Pecos:
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the place of “darkness” and “un-knowing” that, I think, is a place that God leads us into… especially during those seasons where we experience intense grief, pain, suffering, and other inexplicable life events.
It seems the habit of humanity is to try and find reason and understanding during these life occurrences that will help us to reconcile the horrors of pain (whatever that may be) and suffering (of any kind) with what we believe is a “good and loving” God. It is in the equation of this reckoning I believe we find some semblance or possibility of an answer, but let me qualify my response before I begin.
These things I am speaking are far above my ability to comprehend and I know all the details are still shrouded in the mystery and shadows of God’s movements, but I have been overcome with a divine peace as some of these ideas have clarified in my thoughts and reflections. I share my opinion here with humble hope that it may be helpful for others.
No matter how much we know or think we know about God, he is still beyond our ability to fully grasp or understand. Recalling instruction from the Old Testament Scriptures, it was God who commanded that man should make no graven image of him… and, while we may not hammer out sheets of bronze and gold sculptures of him, we do no less when we construct mental images, personifications, and other attributes of our own persuasion that detail who or what we believe God is or should be. Yes, it is true that God attributes certain personifications to himself as he reveals his nature to mankind, but I do not think that our personifications are limited to those shared from God about himself in the Scriptures. We have a shared tendency of adding attributes to his nature that make God into someone or something that is more easily understood and likable. While this may not be “idolatry” in the classical sense, it is very much idolatry in the spiritual sense. We’ve simply exchanged the “graven image” with our personal objectification—we’ve created a god of our own making.
Let me be clear, I do not believe this idol-making is from a sinister heart. I think we are sincere with our desire to seek deeper understanding and knowledge of God—and I believe this is the very reason God invites us deeper, to embark upon a journey into shadows, mystery, and uncertainty.
God alone knows the purity of our heart and he wants to purge us of every wrong and/or impure thought we have of him; Scripture teaches this is true. Therefore, it can, and often may be, during times of extreme grief, pain, and suffering that God drives us into the wilderness of our own soul, so we may be stripped of our false notions of him and find our true identity and absolute reliance upon him. We can remember from Scripture that it was God who drove the young Hebrew nation into the wilderness and it was also God, the Holy Spirit, who drove Jesus into the wilderness following his baptism. Both of these examples served a similar purpose, both were identity defining seasons, both were instances teaching the true nature of God, and both provided opportunity to `practice communion and reliance upon God.
Our wilderness experiences can be terrifying for us and they can also be our undoing. These journeys into the unknown and grievously painful places are the nexus where all that we know about God is tested and pushed to its limit. We enter into our “wilderness” with feet firmly planted on the solid foundation of all we know of Jesus, and we have our wilderness “survival gear” with us too… our Bible compass, canteen of holy water, and theology walking sticks firmly gripped in both hands—confident that we are prepared to battle any devils that would distract and disturb our knowledge of God.
Then, it happens.
(The following is a fictitious and allegorical scenario) The blue skies of our wilderness begin to cloud over when a prayer is not answered in agreement with what we had asked or the prayer was answered, but the outcome is not at all what we expected. Our wilderness trail becomes less smooth and what was flat terrain begins to incline, but we press on. The ground is still firm beneath us we still have all our supplies and theological walking sticks firmly in hand.
Pushing further into our wilderness slightly discouraged, but stoic in our faith nonetheless, we are met with another stunning blow when we witness tragedy strike close to home—perhaps a gruesomely ravenous terminal illness strikes the child of a close friend or we get news that a drunk driver has taken the life our pastor’s pregnant wife—and we wonder where, O where, is God in this moment. How could something so horrific have been allowed by God?
Dizzied and shaken, the skies of our journey grow darker and the direction we travel seems less sure as we begin to question our “compass,” but…the ground is still firm beneath our feet, we still have our supplies, and our theological walking sticks are still firmly in hand.
We are weak now, perhaps feeling as though we cannot take another blow. We tell ourselves that God “will never put anything on us that we cannot take,” and we press on thanking God for protection and somehow glorifying himself through all this suffering.
Then, it happens.
We experience a “Job-like”(Job from the Old Testament Book) atomic bomb getting dropped on our world. All is lost… word comes to us that a canyon fire destroys our home; all material possessions lost. We get word our wayward daughter who has runaway is found OD’d on heroin. An investigation into the drunk driving accident that had taken our pastor’s pregnant wife reveals it was our son who was that driver! If all this unbelievable pain is not enough, tests for our spouse’s migraines reveal inoperable and terminal brain cancer.
Our dark night wilderness is now pitch black, the earth that was once firm beneath our feet is no more, our compass and holy water are gone when they became too burdensome to carry due to the incline and difficulty of our trail. Now, in the black with no firm footing beneath us, we feel our hands being ripped from the firm grip we had on our theological walking sticks! We float in uncertainty, screaming and flailing trying to find an anchor, searching for light, begging at the top of our lungs for answers to all this madness. Terrified in the dark and the quiet, I no longer know what I believe about this god I had thought I knew.
It is here, in this moment, where we have been stripped of our false notions about God, that we are given choice. We can choose to turn and run from this great un-knowing dark or we can stay; we can stop flailing and trust the dark un-knowing. It is here, in this uncertainty where what we don’t know of God is made sure to us. The dark is God…the un-knowing is God. It is in this place where we are surrounded by God, embraced by God, and we know complete loving union with God…if we relax, and if we will trust, and if we will believe that He is good and wants our good. He desires for us to know him in the full…no false notions, no impure additives, and no contrived personal ideas and definitions of good. He desires for us to know him alone…and to love him alone, not our ideas of him.
I don’t think this is the normal path for every spiritual journey. I’ve obviously exaggerated the allegory to stress a point, but I’ve known people in my life who have experienced some of what I’ve shared and I’ve even experienced some measure of these illustrations in my own life. It is our nature to want to make logical sense of things we experience, but that may not be possible in our spiritual journeys. God transcends our logic and is beyond our ability to fully comprehend on this side of eternity. The Bible teaches that God made us for the express reason to share communion with himself, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Restoring our fallen nature to the place of eternal union and communion with him can be a complicated and sometimes painfully difficult process, but God will not be deterred in his efforts to bring us to the place of our destiny…no matter the cost. He loves us and wants us to know him, more than we could ever imagine.
Sometimes I go through times of reading Scripture and it seems difficult to see a “big picture” perspective of what God may be speaking to me through it. My Scripture reading habits can be rather eclectic (prayer books, devotional books, theological non-fiction books, and more), although I have used the Lectionary (Book of Common Prayer) as my primary guide. I mention this because there are times when several seemingly unrelated texts come together and form a divine thought that may not have occurred to me had it not been for the collective voice of several “unrelated” Scripture passages. It is for this reason that I like to write down the text references in my journal along with the thought that came to my mind while I was reading. At times, I will go back to my journal, read a couple weeks worth of these entries, and begin to see a “story” emerging that I did not notice while the story was being written in real time. Here follow some of these “quick hits” from God’s Word—shaping me—writing new stories on my heart with each foray into Scripture:
As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God… (Ps. 42)
I wonder sometimes about how much I “long” for God. I think I long for him with all my heart, but I wonder…when I read about the deer, longing for streams of water, I wonder if my longing is on the same scale. I mean, it seems that an animal is driven by instinct and longs for water only when they really need it. Therefore, at the stage of “longing for streams of water,” the deer must really be in need or so it seems to me. I ask myself; am I truly, desperately in need of God? I believe I am. I think back over the past several years and can say with confidence that my thoughts are consumed with thoughts of God and how I need him, how I want to know more of him, how I want to be in closer relationship, and how I want for nothing more than to worship him in every aspect of my life. I do thirst. I thirst for God, the living God. Each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.
…But I will call upon God, and the LORD will deliver me. In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice. Cast your burden upon the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous stumble. (Ps. 55: 17-18, 24)
I will complain and lament… I am struck with this thought; it is okay to voice my complaints and laments before God. I know this, but I need reminded often. I often have the idea that I should be this super mature and stoic Christian. I’m knowledgeable and seasoned…experienced in my walk with God, so I shouldn’t feel the necessity to complain or lament. Hogwash. When I think that way I know it is spiritual pride getting the creep on me. While I live on this side of eternity, I will be assaulted with seasons of discouragement and disappointment and I should not be ashamed of them. I should bring them to the LORD, where they will be heard. He tells us to cast our burden upon him and he will sustain and renew… Almighty and everlasting God, at evening and at morning and noonday, I humbly beseech you that you would drive from my heart the darkness of sin and make me to come to the true Light, which is Christ; through the same Jesus Christ your Son.
…So be very careful to follow everything Moses wrote in the Book of Instruction. Do not deviate from it, turning either to the right or to the left. Cling tightly to the LORD your God! Be very careful to love the LORD your God… (Joshua 23:1-16)
I know these words from Joshua are intended differently, but a thought occurred to me regarding the phrase “turning either to the right or to the left.” I suppose it is human nature, but most of my life’s experience has been that people, where the Bible is concerned, seem to lean either to the “left” or to the “right.” I wonder what it is about our nature that draws us to either side of God’s instructions. Perhaps it is the idea we have that the Bible is open to interpretation… and maybe it is to some degree. If that is so, how do we interpret? I think there are hermeneutical tools we can use to assist us in our interpretations, but at the end of the day we still have those whose tastes navigate them to the “left” or to the “right.” I wonder what would happen if we took a more centrist approach, following tradition, being careful to follow what has been written in the Book… not deviating from it, turning either to the right or the left. I wonder…
I also wonder about the reasons Joshua felt it necessary to be so emphatic about reminding his people to “Cling tightly to the LORD your God… Be very careful to love the LORD your God.” Having additional revelation and history of God’s people in Scripture for insight, we can see how quickly distractions to the “left or right” pull us from the presence of God. No sooner are we removed from the presence (clinging tightly) of God, does our love for him begin to grow cool, cold, gray, and dark. This thought brings fear to my soul. I have been witness of this very thing happening in my own life. I never want to go back there… I will cling tightly to the LORD my God and be very careful to follow the words written in the Book of Instruction. I think the historical interpretations handed down from the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before me is a helpful guide to knowing what this Book of Instruction says to me. I do not have to reinterpret in lieu of contemporary beliefs and dictates from an individualistic postmodern culture. God’s word still speaks relative and timely wisdom and provides me with trustworthy guidance regardless of the day and age I read it or the cultural influences that surround it.
The LORD looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. (Ps. 14:2)
O Lord, please find me faithful; draw me to yourself by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, …David stayed behind in Jerusalem. …David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” (2 Samuel 11:1-16)
I’ve read this story and heard it preached at least a hundred times. As I reflect upon it yet again, I realize the parallels in my own life. I think how slippery the slope that leads to our undoing. David stayed home from work. Seems innocuous enough, but it set forth a chain of events that led to adultery, deceit, cover up, and murder. He just stayed home from work. Yeah. A slippery slope. Been there. Done that.
David was supposed to be out with his fighting men and chose, for whatever reason, to remain home. He allowed his eyes to be tempted by the beauty of another man’s wife and did not turn his gaze from her. He acted upon the temptation and slept with another man’s wife committing adultery and when he found out his tryst resulted in a pregnancy, he plotted a cover up, but committed a murder instead. All this because David decided to stay home when he should have gone to work. I know this slippery slope all too well. I should resolve to always take the high road…not deviating to the right or to the left…avoiding at all costs the slippery slope and clinging tightly to the LORD my God.
The LORD helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads. The eyes of all look to you in hope; you give them their food as they need it. When you open your hand, you satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing. The LORD is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. (Ps. 145:14-16, 18 NLT)
O LORD, I pray that you would open your hand to me. I long to have my hunger and thirst truly satisfied. I pray that you would destroy the strongholds of my imagination, that every false notion I have of you would be crushed; I desire that you would find me faithful… that you would draw close to me according to your Word as I call upon you in the spirit of truth.
I’m not positive if there is a concrete theme in all these passages, but I do see clear instruction. I know my heart is hungry for God and I know it takes discipline to keep that hunger pure and that hunger satisfied. At the end of the day, there is only One thing that my heart is truly hungry for (the LORD my God) and there is only One thing that satisfies that hunger (the LORD my God). I’m grateful that God speaks to me. I’m grateful that it is often, and every day. I look forward to when my eyes can look upon Him fully in truth and in all His splendor. Praise Him. Amen.