“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
Lectio Divina: Luke 19:28-44
“…because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:44 NRsV)
These tragic words fall at the end of the narrative in Luke’s Gospel describing the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Triumphal Entry, sometimes I wonder if that really is the best description of what takes place in this account, but I’ll save that thought for another time.
These are horrific words coming from the mouth of Jesus. The strange, if not ironic thing about this indictment, is that the people were recognizing something about Jesus, but they failed to recognize THE THING about Jesus. It is apparent in their accolades, greeting, and cheers, they wanted a savior, but they were not interested in a visitation from their God.
As I read this account, the tragedy here was not so much the “wrong want” as much as the big miss. I think it was natural—is natural—to wish to be freed from oppression and injustice. Desire for a leader to push back the Roman was an acceptable want. The heartbreaking reality is in the course of intently searching for a fix for their desires they missed the greatest blessing of all: God was in their midst.
The focus of their search was no longer vertical, with eyes looking to and for God, but horizontal…toward an immediate and felt relief of their most obvious aches and pains. I think, had they been looking for and attentive to God, they may have realized their deeper needs over their felt needs and had both met…instead of having neither met.
Herein lies a broader lesson for me. The people onsite for Jesus’ triumphal entry had no realization of their true identity. They thought they were the people of God; yet, on another occasion Jesus had told most of them they were deceived even calling them sons of the devil (John 8:39-47). They did not know who they were, so they did not know what they needed…consequently, they were not looking for the right remedy for their true need—
And they did not recognize the time of their visitation from God.
I wonder how many times a day this happens to me. God is omnipotent, imminent, and transcendent. His Spirit is everywhere and sustains all things—even in me and sustains me as it did those ancient Jews present on the day of Jesus’ return to Jerusalem. How often do I not recognize my own personal visitations from God? Am I present to His grace and nearness, His voice of guidance and comfort, throughout my day? Too often, I might be found looking for an immediate fix for my most present desires; I’m probably looking for the wrong need in the wrong place. The truth is that I rarely understand any of my real needs without first opening myself to God and consequently I do not recognize the time of my visitation of God.
O Gracious and Eternally Present God,
Help me to be attentive and open to You always. I know I am easily distracted and often mistake what my needs are. I know, O God, that you are my sustaining Bread of Life and Eternal Living Water. Help my heart to remain focused upon You, so I might never miss Your visitation. I need You and You alone ever present and always the center of my days. Thank You for Your mercy and thank You for Your grace. All glory and honor to You reigns eternally together, The Father, The Son, and the Blessed Holy Spirit. Amen.
O LORD, open my lips ~ and my mouth shall declare your praise. Blest be the LORD our God, ruler of the universe ~ Now and always for ever and ever.
Delight in the Lord’s teaching and study it night and day ~ Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
My heart and flesh cry out for the living God! O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.
“I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you… Sanctify yourselves. There are devoted things among you; you will be unable to stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” -Joshua 7:12-13 NRSV
I suppose there is a need for context here. The story that takes place in this account from Joshua is this; Israel had crossed over the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. God had instructed them to take over by force the towns and nations of the people who occupy the land. One of the instructions to Israel had been to keep the gold and silver for the treasury of God and to destroy (burn up) all other things.
The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction… As for you, keep away from the things devoted to destruction, so as not to covet and take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel an object for destruction, bringing trouble upon it. But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord. -Joshua 6:17-19 NRSV
Achan, one of the fighters for Israel, kept some of the booty from the battle of Jericho.
But the Israelites broke faith in regard to the devoted things: Achan son of Carmi son of Zabdi son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things; and the anger of the Lord burned against the Israelites. -Joshua 7:1 NRSV
Now, in this case, I believe the devoted things were the items that had either been set aside for destruction or set aside for the LORD’s treasury—this is how the narrative reads. There is obvious application for us even if we stop here. God had given instruction and there was willful disobedience. Achan had been deceived by the lust of his own eyes and the greed that burned within him led him to succumb to an act that sinned against God. Achan’s sin against God had repercussions that extended beyond just himself; his sin affected the lives of his household and the lives of the people of his entire nation. And there are more applications I’m sure with a literal interpretation, but there were some ideas that came to me beyond a “first look” at Achan’s sin and this is where I started to fixate a bit on the word “devotion.”
When I started doing some exploration into the root meaning and eytomology of the word devotion, I found that it was steeped in pious or religious application. Regarding the use of the word in the original language, Hebrew, (charam) is associated with many religious uses; devotion, ban, exterminate, dedication, consecration, sacred, sanctuary, and temple are just a few of the mentioned applications (click the link for more examples).
Devoted / ha·che·rem from charem / (Hebrew) Strongs 2764a ::: definition—devoted thing; devotion; ban
Early 13c., from Old French devocion ”devotion, piety,” from Latin devotionem (nominative devotio), noun of action from pp. stem of devovere ”dedicate by a vow, sacrifice oneself, promise solemnly,” from de-”down, away” (see de-) + vovere ”to vow,” from votum ”vow” (see vow).
In ancient Latin, “act of consecrating by a vow,” also “loyalty, fealty, allegiance;” in Church Latin, “devotion to God, piety.” This was the original sense in English; the etymological sense, including secular situations, returned 16c. via Italian and French.
Perhaps it is just the way my mind works or maybe it has to do with the way we have incorporated the word (devotion) into our language today, but I started to think about how easily we are distracted by our devotions… And, I’m not talking about those devotions where you sit down for a few minutes to pray or read a short passage of Bible verse. I am considering the other things in our lives that consume our energy and attention, the things and activities that steal our devotion from God. So much of our time, energy, resources, and attention is devoted to making money, purchasing objects, pursuing activities that steal us away from the real object of our devotion, God. We pay homage to Him; perhaps we offer Him a tithe (tenth) of our income (after tax of course) and we give Him a couple of hours on Sunday of our undivided attention (it is undivided isn’t it?), and occasionally we’ll participate in one of the annual community outreach thingies. This counts as devotion doesn’t it? By comparison, a car, house, or credit card payment gets far more devotion from us than does our God… in many case.
The question that I think I’ve been fixated on today is, “Where is my devotion or what is my devotion?” I think we can take a closer look at the first-person application with Achan’s sin and make a comparison that strikes a little closer to home for us. In the case of Achan, he took things that were supposed to be set aside for the use of God and perhaps extended to the community of God’s people. He thought only of his own selfish desire. By thinking only about himself, his actions isolated and excommunicated him from the community… ultimately to the point that it caused his death. Are we guilty of this? Maybe I haven’t stolen God’s gold… or have I? Am I enamored by the “purple robes” I see others wearing? What might those “robes” look like in our contemporary society? I think the application really isn’t as far removed from us as I might have originally thought. Perhaps my fixation is not such an extrapolation or reach after all. I wonder how much we might be devoted to ourselves instead of devoted to God.
When the sin of Achan affected the community, Joshua, as their leader, went before God and fell prostrate before Him. He began to cry out and plead for God’s assistance and mercy. God responded by telling him to “Stand up! Why have you fallen upon your face?” and instructed Joshua to tell the people to “Sanctify yourselves” (Joshua 7:6-12). Perhaps in the midst of our misguided devotions today we need to take a step back from the harried lives we lead and “set ourselves apart” by renewing and realigning our devotion. Sanctify yourselves and your devotion for you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. Devotion.
“I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you… Sanctify yourselves. There are devoted things among you; you will be unable to stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” -Joshua 7:12-13 NRSV
The only “devoted thing” that belongs in my life is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Any other “devoted thing” will cause Him to be with me no more. Sanctify yourself. Yeah. That’s what he said.
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.
Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1—30:20
“But if you will not obey the LORD your God…then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you… Because you did not serve the LORD your God joyfully and with gladness of heart for the abundance of everything.” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 45-47)
I proceed with my reading through the Book of Deuteronomy and find the words in chapter twenty-eight absolutely chilling. The chapter begins with God reestablishing His covenant promises with the people of Israel and declaring a blanket of blessing over their lives and livelihoods. All the people of Israel need do is enter into faithful relationship with God and follow the righteous path for living he has instructed for them. The way of blessing is fairly straight-forward, so God’s instructions continue with an explanation for what happens to the people who fail to enter into faithful relationship Him.
It is difficult to fathom the depth and breadth of the curses God announces to the Israelites, but there is something I have considered as I’ve thought about this narrative account. I wonder how much the curses were actual peals of punishment upon the disobedient as opposed to the promised, and natural, fruit of their sin and disobedience. I think the answer might be in-between, but I also lean toward these being natural (according to the rule of God’s righteousness) occurrences based on the legacy of disobedience and selfish promotion.
Several additional readings have been strongly influencing my reflections and meditations. These readings are from Oswald Chambers (The Relinquished Life), Thomas `a Kempis (The Royal Road), and various excerpted writings from Henri Nouwen. The common theme with all these writings is the desire for utmost devotion from us toward our LORD and God.
“There will always be many who love Christ’s heavenly kingdom, but few who will bear his cross. Jesus has many who desire consolation, but few who care for adversity. He finds many to share his table, but few who will join him in fasting. Many are eager to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him. Many will follow him as far as the breaking of bread, but few will remain to drink from his passion. Many are awed by his miracles, few accept the shame of his cross.” -Thomas `a Kempis
Total and complete devotion is what God desires in us. We will be the victims and bearers of our own sin, if we are unwilling to deny self and follow Christ.
Most holy God of heaven, you who paint the shining center of the sky with the brightness of fire, illumine our hearts, banish sordid things,, release the chain of guilt, and make void our crimes. O God, hear my cry! From the end of the earth I call. Let me dwell in you tent for ever. For You, O God, hear my prayer. I will always praise your Name.
+ In the name of the Father, and in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Questions for the 1st Sunday of Lent
“Steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O you righteous, and shout for joy all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:10-11)
- 21:9—purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst
- 21:18—purge the evil from your midst
- 22:21—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
- 22:22—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
- 22:24—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
Not to make the obvious trite, but it seems that God wants to make it abundantly clear that His people are intended to be holy, pure, undefiled. I think the reasons are far more reaching than for this to be for a single purpose, and that primarily for show. While the visible example of purity and holiness is likely one of the purposes, I think an extended reason for this purity is that we need it. We are easily distracted…and what distracts us often corrupts us. We are influenced by what we come in contact by and keep company with. The examples of this are many, but one quick example is the acceptance of violence and sexuality in T.V. programming. Through the course of my life, there has been a major shift in what we permit to come into our homes on the television…in fact, not only is it permitted, for very many it is acceptable and demanded. This illustrates why purity and undefilement may have been so rigorously and unwaveringly demanded by our God.
This begs the question of me; “What compromises do I continue to make in keeping myself holy and undefiled for the purposes of God and the health of our relationship?”
“The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve.” (Matt. 4:10)
Another set of questions I think are good for me to ponder as I venture through this Lenten season, I found today while reading a book, Small Surrenders by Emilie Griffith. In it she quotes a question from Brennan Manning, who asks; “How is my life unfolding in terms of my primary goal of living with God forever?”
This is a pretty big question and might be difficult to nail down in practical terms, so Emilie unpacks this question with a more specific list that helps us to address the bigger examination of our heart. She asks the following:
- What am I doing with my time?
- What am I doing with life?
- How well am I expressing the imprint of Christ upon my heart?
- How deep is my charity?
- How deep is my love?
- How well am I functioning in the Christian life?
And, the question I completed the list with that “popped” into my head as I pondered these—“Am I becoming all that God desires and has destined for me to become?”
I think I will sit with and revisit these through my Lenten journey…
Our Prayer from Charles de Foucauld
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you; I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve and with boundless confidence. For you are my Father.
Desolation and Purgation in the Wilderness
“Steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O you righteous, and shout for joy all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:10-11)
It is easy for me to think more highly of myself than I should. I need not look far to make comparisons to my former self and see that I am not the man I once was. I am leaps and bounds a better man than I was. This truth is affirmed from the lips and words of others too…I do not lie. I am a better man than I used to be. There are a couple problems with this.
Problem number one is the comparison I make is an invalid comparison; it might be an accurate comparison, but it is an invalid one. The way of the Christian journey is not one looking back at my former self, but it is a journey looking forward and following the Christ who is now my model and the image I seek to become more like. In the case of this example, I am no longer a better man. I am a man marked by humility, frail in comparison to the Christ I follow and endeavor to be made like.
The second problem with thinking more highly of myself is in the self-righteous attitude that I am a “good” Christian…or that I have attained a level of maturity. This too might be true, but at the point that I begin to think this of myself, I am in danger of being fed lies from the false self. It is comforting and satisfying to think I have arrived at a destination or reached a new plateau in my Christian journey. It can be an exhilarating and self-important to think I know more than others…maybe even to the point that I don’t have to do certain exercises or participate in certain disciplines. This is a dangerous place to be spiritually and exactly the reason an excursion exercise that takes me into the “desert” with Jesus is a good thing for me.
Reading again today from the Book of Deuteronomy revealed how resolute God was in his instruction about “purging” the evil from amongst the people of Israel. The following references seem only to scratch the surface of the point I make:
*Deut. 17:7 So you shall purge the evil from your midst…
*Deut. 17:12 So you shall purge the evil from Israel…
*Deut. 19:13 You shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel…
*Deut. 19:19 You shall purge the evil from your midst…
The same is true for me as was true for Israel; of this I am sure. God is just as resolute about “purging the evil from me” as He is/was about Israel. Where there are vestiges of the old man, the false self in me, God desires to make it known so it can be dealt with and purged from my midst. This type of purgation can take place in the solitary and desolate place—being alone with God—tuning out the noises of the world and its busy-ness. The problem we often have with this line of thinking is the point I was trying to shed light on earlier. We do not like inconvenience or sacrifice. We like comfort, warm-fuzzies, and hearing affirmation from people as well as God. The truth; however, might be more difficult for us to come to terms with. Hear the words of Kathleen Norris:
“If grace is so wonderful, why do we have such difficulty recognizing and accepting it? Maybe it’s because grace is not gentle or made-to-order. It often comes disguised as loss, or failure, or unwelcome change.”
Those words smart, probably because they are full of truth. If I accept the notion that I need purging of evil, that means I have not arrived. I might not be who I think I am. I might not be the image I have created for everyone to see. A trip into the “desert” may involve elements of change that I do not want to incorporate into my life. These are some of the means by which God pours out His grace to me; they are definitive places God has ordained to meet with me. It is needful for me and good for me to accept His invitation. My backpack is ready. Into the desert we go.
A Prayer for the 1st Sunday in Lent
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Nature of This Journey: The Land
The weeks leading up to Lent have been very formative for me and helpful in clarifying the nature of this 40-day journey. Many areas of my life have been laid open for examination and I feel some of them have been identified for further examination and tweaking. I am working, as God leads, on some of these areas even now.
Even with this knowledge and my surrendered agreement to God’s transforming work in my life, it seems there is something the Spirit of God is communicating to me beyond what is obvious. I recognize this. I am slowing down, paying closer attention to the details of my day and trying to be hypersensitive to the whispers of God as we enter this season of surrender, turning, and transformation.
A metaphor has emerged that seems to fit with and explain many of the “words” God is speaking to me through my Bible reading and through my meditations. I believe this metaphor is “the land.” I do not know the full extent of the metaphor’s application just yet, but there are several areas of my life that are quite relevant. Some of these I have identified are my health, God’s plans for my future in ministry—what it will be and where it will be, and my present relationships beginning with the Holy Trinity, extending to my wife, my children, my friends, and the community circles of which I am part that continue from there. I’m not sure how I would describe my sense of knowing this… call it intuition, discernment, or whatever, but I am convinced this latest adventure will be a time well-spent with God and I’m fairly certain He will make some things known to me that I have been wondering about for several years now. We will see what those things will be.
If you’ve followed the blog for the past week you will have noticed that talk about the “land” has been prominent. Today, from my first reading in the Psalms, I heard God speaking to me the following:
“3Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. 4Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5Commit your way to the LORD and he will act. 7Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; 9Those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.” (Psalm 37:3-5, 7, 9)
Also, while reading this psalm, I noticed that within the framework of these verses, the psalmist instructs the hearer to “Do not fret” (verses 1, 7, and 8). Between these words of encouragement about “inheriting and inhabiting the land” and partnering with God in the process, I hear God telling me not to over think or obsess during this process of discernment. My part in this collaboration with God will become evident in due time; for now, I am to remain faithful and obedient to opportunities in the moment while remaining focused on Him and attentive however and wherever He speaks. I will pay close attention to how I listen.
Confidence and resolve are good things, but as I continued my reading and meditation today, a couple of warnings became evident to me. The first came to me through my reading in the Book of Deuteronomy and it too was part of the land metaphor. God, speaking through Moses, is warning the people of Israel about the hazards of entering into the new land they were about to occupy. He tells them; “Take care or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshiping them” (Deut. 11:16). The applications of this might cover several areas, but the primary intent for me is clear: Stay focused on Jesus. Listen intently for his voice and follow closely. Distractions abound. It is easy to get tired and weakened…the easy path and shortcuts can be alluring. It is important to keep my primary relationship (with God) vibrant and healthy—this includes my mind, my spirit, my soul, and my physical strength or my health.
The second word came to me from the Apostle Paul’s letter to Titus. He writes the following:
“To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions.” (Titus 1:15-16)
I hear two applications that I should heed in this caution; the first is to me. I should be ever conscious that I am being faithful to the knowledge that God has given to me. As God reveals himself and his path to me, it is critical that I obey as quickly as I am aware. Stubbornness, distrust, disobedience, and unbelief will shipwreck my faith quicker than any attack from Satan. My actions should always align with my knowledge of God. The second thing I hear is a warning to be discerning about the people I meet and the company I keep. There is no reason to be obnoxious about this second warning, but it is very important.
Beginning the Journey
Will Willimon reminds us that the introduction to Christ begins with John the Baptist in the Gospels. John is not the Christ. John is the one who gets us ready or prepared for the Christ. How does he do this? John calls for us to recognize our sinfulness and selfish attitudes; he calls for you and me to repent, turn, change our ways—be washed (baptized, cleansed, purified)—symbolically “dying” to self and becoming raised and reborn in Christ. What is our lesson here? I believe that we are being taught that we cannot begin any Journey with Jesus without a preparation of repentance. This was the purpose of John the Baptist…who was sent by God—to prepare us for our Journey with Jesus with a baptism of repentance first.
“The soul can become entangled with bad little habits. We never completely conquer them. We become attached to certain clothes, a book, a specific food, gossip, or a desire for any number of things. Any of these little imperfections can stand in the way of spiritual progress.” John of the Cross
Repentance is turning—turning from my way and returning to the Way of God—following His ordinances and precepts. I think the act of turning toward God is a good thing, but it might be an even better thing if our turning is bit more intentional. What I mean is this; 40-days is a long time to be focused on something that I might not be sure of. It can be helpful to reflect on the choices I have made that have been responsible for pulling me or distracting from my path of devotion to God. Perhaps spending some time considering and recalling those distractions and naming them might be a helpful exercise for me. This exercise can make me aware of the “triggers” that grab my attention and steal it from holy devotion. Knowing these triggers and being mindful of them can be helpful in remaining surrendered to Jesus as we walk together for these next 40-days.
St. Benedict of Nursia instructs us through his Rule; “First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to God most earnestly to bring it to perfection.” So we pray…
Faithful God, trusting in you, we begin the forty days of conversion and penance. Give us the strength for Christian discipline, that we may renounce evil and be decisive in doing good. We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
“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.
Readings: Exodus 7:14—12:30
“…and we will not know what to use to worship the LORD until we arrive there.” (Ex. 10:26)
These words “jumped” out to me this morning during our morning reading. As I was considering them and asking the Lord why they caught my attention, I started to think there are times I get into routines (I like routine) and I believe that I know how God wants me to worship Him. Like, I’m positive that I know what will please Him each and every time, so I only “bring with me” what I know He wants.
O, presumptuous me.
I think, what I take away from these words today, is that I should bring all of me each time I come to worship the LORD. If God determines it is praise He desires from me, I will have it. If He desires my tears or my laughs, I will have them too. If He wants my adoration or my silence, those I will have brought as well. I bring everything when I bring all of me…all that I have and all that I am.
I’m sensing the point of this Word to me is this: I am all too often caught up in myself, my agendas, and my routines, such that I presume to know all that is in my heart and exactly how God wants me to worship Him with it. I hear God speaking to my spirit today that there are areas of my heart that need uncovered still. He wants those things uncovered and brought into the light as my acceptable worship. I can only presume to know what these things are and how God intends to have me use them as sacrifice and worship before Him. I will; however, know for sure when I “arrive there” with all of me in tow.
“If you want to live a devout life, you are not only required to stop sinning but also to lose your appetite for it.” -Francis de Sales
I am still working on finalizing my personal rule of life for 2013. I don’t know how long it will take me, but I do not feel the need to rush it. I will do my best to remain faithful in the areas I sense the Spirit leading me in now. At the moment, I have shifted my focus and devoting more attention on developing healthy habits—a new diet, exercise, and attention to a few other mind and body details. As a result of this new focus and initiatives, my blogging, reading, and writing habits have been lacking in regularity. I believe this is okay for now, especially while I form new habits and make adjustments to my lifestyle that will reap healthy benefits in my future, God willing and helping me.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world. A light no darkness can extinguish. In You, O LORD, I take refuge. Let me never be put to shame. In Your justice, set me free, hear me and speedily rescue me. Be a rock and a refuge for me, a mighty stronghold to save me, for You are my rock, my stronghold. For Your name’s sake, lead me and guide me that my actions might bring glory and honor to You, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who reign eternally together. Amen.