Monday, July 30, 2007
For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear and do it?' But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it... I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil... therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live...
'Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.'
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
In the shadow of thy wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. O my enemies, do not exult over me; I have fallen, but shall rise again; though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is my light. Although the fig-tree does not burgeon, the vines bear no fruit, the olive crop fails, the orchards yield no food, the fold is bereft of its flock and there are no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord and rejoice in the God of my deliverance I have forgotten what happiness is...
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.
For we should like you to realise... that the things we had to undergo in Asia were more of a burden than we could carry, so that we despaired of coming through alive... we were carrying our own death warrant with us, and it has taught us not to rely on ourselves but only on God, who raises the dead to life. So we do not lose heart.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come.
(Deuteronomy 30: 11-15, 19, RSV; Joshua 1: 9, RSV; Psalm 42: 11, RSV; Psalm 57: 1, RSV; Micah 7: 8, NEB; Habakkuk 3: 17-18, NEB; Lamentations 3: 17, 21-23, RSV: 2 Corinthians 1: 8-9, JB; 2 Corinthians 4: 16, RSV; 2 Corinthians 5: 17, RSV)
The image of the valley evokes different pictures. It may be a beautiful place, full of tranquillity and fruitfulness, a haven of safety and satisfaction. But it may at times be a dark and difficult area where a sense of vulnerability and exposure fill us with fear and terrible insecurity. It is gloomy and dangerous and we are conscious of being enclosed by the hills with no way out. Escape seems impossible and we are unable to conceive of any worthwhile future. No far horizons beckon us to new and exciting possibilities. The long wide view so easily seen from the summit of the mountains is painfully absent here. Everywhere we are surrounded by the barrier of impenetrable hills and there is no apparent way of moving beyond them. Hope fails, courage melts, dreams topple and we are reduced to an enervating and sorrowful existence with the spectre of self-pity constantly dogging our disheartened steps.
We cannot live on this planet without sometimes finding ourselves in such a valley. Perhaps we blunder there by our own foolishness and the bitter remorse of this does nothing to alleviate our despair at finding ourselves in such a situation. More often, we are plunged into the valley by circumstances which hurtle in upon us -- unexpected, unwanted, unasked. Without consultation with us, we are thrown from the higher ground of the mountains, over the precipice and into the deep valley below with a frightening rapidity for which we are unprepared. Failure, illness, betrayal, bereavement and a host of other related calamities can pitch us without warning into the dark valley experience.
What we do when we find ourselves so unwillingly there is of tremendous importance. It is usual to feel overwhelmed with fear, despair, exhaustion and sometimes deep bitterness and anger. Such emotions are characteristic of the valley. All hope seems gone. The laughter and happiness of other places flees. We want most of all to curl up and sleep in a small safe hole where we can avoid the overwhelming weariness and pain of the place. But such luxuries are seldom permitted and we find ourselves plodding along day after weary day wondering when it will all end.
In utter defiance of the terrifying misery and hopelessness of the valley, God speaks. What he says is in such blatant contradiction of the circumstances that it leaves the listener stunned: ' My presence is sufficient to sustain the most feeble traveller on the arduous valley trek. There are no dead ends. There is definitely a way out into the more invigorating and beautiful heights of the mountains and you will find yourself further along the range than you were previously. More than this, there is even a rare beauty to be found in the valley, a different, but wonderful music, and where you have felt so isolated and alone there are many travelling companions to share the journey and enrich you.'
Whilst the valley experience may underline the fact that our control over our own destiny is more limited than we had thought, and our freedom to choose more hedged about by restrictions than we had believed, it is nevertheless true that we retain the freedom to choose our basic mind-set. To believe or not to believe, to choose life or to choose death, to open our minds to the transforming power of the Christ who promises to bring resurrection, or to remain buried in our disaster -- these things we may decide. Not that choosing life is easy or painless -- it, alas, involves the agony of a death also. A very real and very hard death. But it issues in a birth into new life and full of promise and unimagined possibilities. 'Behold, I have set before you Life and death... Choose life.'
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from us but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude to any given set of circumstances, to choose one's way.
Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
What if I cannot recognise the given as blessing? What if it is not sunshine that pours down on us, but hailstones like hammer-blows? What if it is acid rain? Here again, the gift within the gift is opportunity. I have the opportunity, for example, to do something about that acid rain, face the facts, inform myself about the causes, go to their roots, alert others, band together with them for self-help, for protest. By taking each opportunity as it is offered, 1 show myself grateful... Why not drop the complications we put in our own way? What brings fulfilment is gratefulness, the simple response of our heart to this given life in all its fullness.
David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer
We require a perspective that reaches beyond the particularity of events and encompasses our life as a whole. Since all the events that we experience are part of the moving process of our life, they reflect something of our past and they also carry the possibilities of our future. Those events that we perceive as adversities may be experienced as painful, and we may wish that they had been avoided; but they may also be the vehicles by which an expanded awareness of the meaning of our life is being opened up to us.
The choice we have before us... is whether we shall react directly to the event itself, or whether we shall place it in the context of the movement of our rife and let it speak to us. In general it is more usual for setbacks or other painful occurrences to serve as the events that have a message for us.
Ira Progoff, At a Journal Workshop
In every life there are a few special moments that count for more than all the rest because they meant the taking of a stand, a self-commitment, a decisive choice... The turning points in life are generally few in number. They are always an encounter... before which the subject cannot remain neutral. One has to take sides, commit oneself.
Paul Tournier, The Seasons of Life
. . .There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye?... I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that the blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning; meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one's life with meaning.
Chaim Potok, The Chosen
If we do not believe, the waves engulf us, the winds blow, nourishment fails, sickness lays us low or kills us, the divine power is impotent or remote. If, on the other hand, we believe, the waters are welcoming and sweet, the bread is multiplied, our eyes are open, the dead rise again, the power of God is as it were drawn from him by force and spreads throughout all nature.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
In any lifetime... there are innumerable little deaths -always painful and frightening (that can't be avoided): the break-up of a love affair; the loss of a childish faith; seeing one's child leave home for the first time; moving house; the loss of a job; retirement. Cling to what you have at that moment, and you're lost. Unclench your hands and let it slip away, and you are ready to receive the unimagined new life. If we learn that habit from all the small occasions for dying which may come to us, then when the last letting-go is called for, it will be familiar and confident. Our formation of that habit will be immeasurably strengthened as we keep our eyes on the truth about God and life revealed in Jesus, whose attitude was: 'I lay down my life to receive it again. No-one has robbed me of it. I am laying it down of my own free will. I have the inner authority to lay it down and to receive it back again. This charge I received from my Father' (John 10: 17-18).
So the choice for every human being is between death or death -- the death of a letting go that hurts like hell but leads to resurrection, or the death of slow extinction as all the energies are spent on getting and keeping instead of living and giving.
John V. Taylor, A Matter of Life and Death
If there are any among us who are at their wit's end, they ought to try for once to put aside all their grievances and perhaps even all their petitions and simply praise God... Nothing so changes us -- precisely in the darkest moments of life -- as the praise of God. We can praise human persons only when we have seen what they accomplish. But we must praise God in order to see what he accomplishes. And therefore we should praise him at the very moments in life when there seems to be no way out- Then we shall learn to see the way out for our own lives, simply because God is there at the end of every way and every blind alley.
Helmut Thielicke, The Prayer that Spans the World
Father, when the way is hard and I am overwhelmed and shattered by my situation, help me to choose life. By the mysterious working of your Spirit in my mind, rekindle in me the courage I need. Strengthen my feeble resolve to allow you to perform your healing work deep within me. Help me to co-operate with you in the mending of my brokenness and increase my faith that you will keep your word and out of this death experience you will bring new and vital life.
By your help and grace I choose not to remain in bitterness and despair, but to allow you to lead me beyond it. I choose not to indulge in self-pity, but to cultivate the spirit of gratitude for all the good things which have come to me. I choose to follow your leading along the valley in the hope that you will bring me safely through it and up into the clear air of the mountains where you will give me views I have not yet glimpsed. For your mercy and compassion, I thank you. For your faithfulness which is new every morning, I praise you.
For your life which overcomes all deaths and swallows them up in abundant life, I worship you.
Rise up with Christ into a new day, a new life; because for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation. The old has gone and the new is here. Therefore, go forth in joy. Amen.
From High Mountains Deep Valleys, ed. Rowland Croucher, Albatross/Lion, chapter 25.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him. I will get up now and go about the city, through its streets and squares; I will search for the one my heart loves. So I looked for him but did not find him.
Alexander the coppersmith did me a great deal of harm... At the first hearing of my case no-one came into court to support me: they all left me in the lurch ... But the Lord stood by me and lent me strength... And the Lord did rescue me from every attempt to do me harm, and keep me safe until his heavenly reign begins. Glory to him, for ever and ever! Amen.
(Luke 5: 16, NIV; Psalm 25: 16, NIV; Song of Songs 3: 1-2, NIV; 2 Timothy 4: 14, 16-18, NEB)
Loneliness is a normal experience for most of us. It invades our lives in a variety of forms. In grief, as well as separation from loved ones, we encounter emotional loneliness. In frictions at work, at church, with family and with peers we find we are temporarily socially alone. Through such despair comes spiritual desolation as pain and shock replaces the presence of God.
The loneliness that produces a lasting hurt is not usually that which flows as a natural consequence of our age of mobility, nor is it the desertedness that surfaces because of the spirits of independence and competitiveness that surround us. It is the aloneness that results from human frailty as people, through their words and actions or lack of them, wound themselves and each other.
Loneliness can produce aggression, hatred or low selfesteem. However, it need not be altogether negative; it may be an opportunity to assess our lives and to address the origin of our anguish. It is also a time to draw close to Jesus; to rediscover him as a friend, not just in programmed religious activity, but in everyday life; to take him into the mundane, the workplace, sport, the car, chores and our inactivity.
In loneliness we are reminded that Jesus is Immanuel, God-with-us. It can have a touch of the sacred.
Yes, a good life, alone but not lonely. Not with Christ near. And sometimes the sacred seems all around me.
Sheldon Vanauken, Under the Mercy
The priest looked at her sharply. 'You can offer idleness to God,' he said. 'Unemployment, idleness, whatever. To do nothing in someone's presence is a greater compliment than being busy and preoccupied.'
Gail Morgan, Promise of Rain
If I had my life to live over, I would start barefooted earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would play more. I would ride on more merry-go-rounds. I'd pick more daisies.
He lays no great burden upon us -- a little remembrance of him from time to time, a .little adoration; sometimes to pray for his grace, sometimes to offer him your sorrows, sometimes to return him thanks for the benefits he has bestowed upon you and is still bestowing in the midst of your troubles. He asks you to console yourself with him the oftenest you can. Lift up your heart to him even at your meals, or when you are in company -- the least little remembrance will always be acceptable to him. You need not cry very loud: he is nearer to us than we think. To be with God, there is no need to be continually in church.
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
Fellowship with Christ is a table only for two -- set in the wilderness. Inwardness is not a gaudy party, but the meeting of lovers in the lonely desert of the human heart. There, where all life and fellowship can hold no more than two, we sit together and he speaks as much as we, and even when both of us say nothing there is our welded oneness. And suddenly we see we cannot be complete until his perfect presence joins with ours.
Calvin Miller, The Table of Inwardness
When Jesus is present, all is well, and nothing seems difficult; but when Jesus is absent, everything is hard.
Thomas Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
Consider this question: In view of God's infinite power and wisdom and beauty, what would his love to a human being involve? Or to put it another way: What could God give us to enjoy that would prove him most loving? There is only one possible answer: himself! If he withholds him self from our contemplation and companionship, no matter what else he gives us, he is not loving.
John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist
But of course the only perfect answer to the problem (loneliness) is a spiritual one, and consists in the presence of God himself, known and enjoyed by faith. There was an ancient Latin motto which said, 'Solvitus ambulando' ('It is solved by walking'). The Christian would acid two words, 'Cum Deo' ('with God').
John Eddisdon, The Troubled Mind
To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. This requires not only courage but also a strong faith. As hard as it is to believe that the dry desolate desert can yield endless varieties of flowers, it is equally hard to imagine that our loneliness is hiding unknown beauty. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless sense to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.
Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with some difficulty I thank you for my experiences of loneliness. Lord, in them I learn so much about myself, others and your eternal friendship. Help me in such times to forgive those, including myself, who may have caused my sense of aloneness. Allow me in these moments to knew you in the basic areas of my life. May your peace touch all who are alone today and may I have a ministry to them through prayer, presence and deed.
I don't need to climb another mountain
Set my sail across the seven seas
The paradise that I was always looking for
Was found when you loved me.
And now my greatest joy is loving you
The hope that I lost was found and made anew
Now my lonely days are fin'ly through
I have found my life in loving you.
Scott Wesley Brown in the song, My Treasure
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Psalm 25: 1-2a, NIV
Rowland Croucher ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys, Albatross/Lion, chapter 20
Saturday, July 28, 2007
In the small hours Jesus went out to them, walking on the water of the lake. When the disciples caught sight of him walking on the water they were terrified. 'It's a ghost!' they said, and screamed with fear. But at once Jesus spoke to them. 'It's all right! It's myself, don't be afraid!' 'Lord, if it's really you,' said Peter, 'tell me to come to you on the water.' 'Come on, then,' replied Jesus. Peter stepped down from the boat and did walk on the water, making for Jesus. But when he saw the fury of the wind he panicked and began to sink, calling out, 'Lord save me!' At once Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying, 'You little-faith! What made you lose your nerve like that?'
'If you can do anything, please take pity on us and help us.' 'If you can do anything!' retorted Jesus. 'Everything is possible to the one who believes.' 'I do believe,' the boy's father burst out. 'Help me to believe more!'
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered, 'Your Majesty, we will not try to defend ourselves. If the God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power, then he will. But even if he doesn't, Your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up.'
(Matthew 14: 25-31, Phillips; Mark 9: 23-24, Phillips; Daniel 3: 16-18, GNB)
It must have been painful for Peter to be reminded of the times when he goofed!
In fact it is one of the subtle miracles of the New Testament, that the stories of Peter's failure became incorporated in the Gospel accounts. Surely they should have been edited out! At the time of the compilation of Matthew's Gospel, Peter had been a respected figure in the church. He had a reputation for strong leadership. The flocks looked to him for pastoral wisdom. He was a rock on which Christian communities depended for stability.
In Matthew 14 we have the embarrassing story of Peter climbing out of the boat with holy bravado, then sinking in the waters of his panic. It's all so unbecoming!
Certainly the story would have been encouraging to the young churches experiencing the first fierce winds of persecution. The account reminded them that in the midst of such storms the Lord Christ would come to them through the storm. He was never far away even though his people may have felt alone and unprotected.
It was so typically impulsive of Peter: 'Lord, let me come to you on the water.' It was bold, rash and enthusiastic. If he'd thought a moment more he may have stayed in the boat. But Jesus' coming to them made him feel confident. A kind of brash faith.
It was not the kind of thing we would do... surely! We'd need to weigh it up carefully, taking soundings, put it to the vote, call for a feasibility study, test the idea in controlled conditions!
But Peter failed. Spectacularly. His confidence could not keep him afloat. And with wise theological hindsight we nod our heads and damn him for lack of trust. It was foolhardy anyhow, we tell him.
The feeling is familiar. We've dreamed of making a mark for God. Our ardour for his kingdom encouraged us to take bold steps for him. But then we lost our nerve and the initiative failed.
So, once bitten, next time we are more careful. And we become tentative, a little less enthusiastic about the kingdom. Our love becomes tepid. We begin to feel that we are not quite as keen to do anything our Lord may want us to do. Perhaps almost anything... given the right situation and if the project seems viable. We cool off. We become formal. Our Christianity loses its sense of adventure. It's not safe outside the boat, you see.
Good for you, Peter. You had a go. You failed, that's true. So what? At least you got out of the boat!
I find that your will knows no end in me. And when old words die out on the tongue new melodies break forth from the heart.
Keep your feet on the ground, but let your heart soar as high as it will. Refuse to be average or to surrender to the chill of your spiritual environment.
A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous
He was a gambler, too... And, sitting down, they watched him there, The soldiers did; There, while they played with dice, He made his sacrifice, And died upon the cross to rid God's world of sin. He was a gambler, too, my Christ, He took his Life and threw It for the world redeemed. And ere his agony was done, Before the westering sun went down, Crowning that day with its crimson crown, He knew that he had won.
G.A. Studdart Kennedy, The Unutterable Beauty
Nothing before, nothing behind; The steps of faith Fall on the seeming void, and find The rock beneath.
John Greenleaf Whittier
Not daring to care, Not caring to share; Not seeing a want, Not wanting to know; Not trying to think, Not thinking to try; Not hearing a cry, Not crying for change; Not living a hope, Never hoping to live. ... Dare to Live!
On the earlier occasion of storm on the lake, Jesus had been with them in the ship. Now he withdraws, as though to teach them to battle alone and to rely upon an aid they could not see; he sends them into the tumult and darkness without his visible presence. God often does this. It is his will that we should grow to spiritual maturity and trust where we cannot see. Too often in such situations of testing, past lessons are forgotten, and fear banishes faith. But God is always in the shadows, keeping watch over his own. We have only to cry out and he is by our side.
E.M. Blaiklock, Bible Characters and Doctrines
Risk means the refusal to be shaped by the world as it is. It is a refusal to be cowed by tradition, realism, 'the facts' or social pressure. It is an act of freedom and a breaking of bondage. It is an insistence on reopening situations that appear closed, on following a third alternative when only two seem to be available... Maybe the situation is closed. But maybe not! If God himself can enter human history in Jesus Christ, if God can carry out the Great Miracle, the resurrection from the dead, then anything is possible.
David W. Gill, Peter the Rock
If someone had come up to Jesus when he was on the cross and asked him if he hurt, he might have answered, like the man in the old joke, 'Only when I laugh.' But he wouldn't have been joking. Faith dies, as it lives, laughing.
Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you're going but going anyway. A journey without maps.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking
Life opens up. Instead of the stuffy, ponderous life of Ur in the Chaldees -- rich, oppressive, monotonous -- there is a wind-blown life in the austere desert, a place that is empty of human achievement, but full of opportunity to respond to the great invisibles of grace and love and hope. Life becomes adventure, growth, exploration, faith.
Abraham was the person for whom the invisible was more real than the visible. What God said to him was more important than what others said about him. He chose to live extravagantly and recklessly by promise rather than cautiously on a guaranteed income from the Chaldean banks. He chose to live the free life.
Eugene Peterson, Travelling Light
Half of the failures in life arise from pulling in one's horse as he is leaping.
Julius and Augustus Hare, Guesses at Truth
It is faith that lifts us up to heaven. It is faith that saves us from the flood tide of fear. It is faith that sets us free from our prisons, extinguishes the burning fire that threatens us, feeds us when we are hungry, raises us from death and makes nobodies into somebodies.
Aphraates of Persis
Those who are free to fail are the most free. Fear of failure inhibits freedom; the freedom to fail encourages it. The life of faith encourages the risk-taking that frequently results in failure, for it encourages human ventures into crisis and the unknown. When we are in situations where we are untested (like Peter at the arrest of Jesus) or unaccustomed (like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration), we are sometimes going to fail, sometimes ignominiously. These failures, though, are never disasters because they become the means by which we realise new depths of our humanity and new vistas of divine grace.
Eugene Peterson, Travelling Light
Nothing ventured, Nothing gained.
Have faith. The faith that uproots trees, moves mountains, calms the sea, extinguishes fire, heals the sick, raises the dead. Have faith. Live selflessly while others are trying to profit from everything. Be poor, while others are thinking only about increasing their wealth. Work, while others are neglecting their duties. Serve the people, while others are just wanting to be served. Be charitable, while others are thinking only about themselves. Stay in the shadow, while others are striving to glitter in the limelight. Have faith.
May we live our lives conscious of our past and true to our heritage, keeping ablaze the fires our prophets lit. May we, like our fathers, still stand out against the multitude, protesting with all our might against its follies and its fears. May a divine discontent give colour to our dreams, and a passion for holy heresy set the tone of our thoughts. May the soul of the rebel still throb in us as it throbbed in our forefathers that, refusing to be silenced, we may take the part of those without a voice. And may our ultimate loyalty be only to you, that we may never surrender to the threat of falsehood, or capitulate to the idols, caesars and powers of this world.
Terry Falla, Be our Freedom Lord
Save me Lord, I'm sinking! I'm sinking... in trivia and detail in soft and safe options in church politics in shuffling papers in the avoidance of bold decisions in familiar well-worn things by meeting people's expectations by keeping machinery oiled by doing what is normal and predictable by propping things up that have outlived their usefulness. I don't think I can tread water much longer.
Let me know you will catch me and pull me out. Help me to really believe you are there, your arm still strong to save.
Lord Jesus, I feel safe in the boat. Especially when the wind is blowing so hard. I enjoy the fellowship; it's so supportive.
But I feel compelled to ask whether there's something new you want me to do. I'm rather hoping you'll be willing to leave me where I am and as I am. But maybe there is something more.
You know I love you. I've told you so. Do you really want me to show you?
If you need to shake me from complacency and half-hearted devotion, I'm willing for that. Help me to climb out and walk to you.
Take a step today. Not too many. Enough to know you're heading in the right direction. Keep your eyes on Jesus.
May the Lord reassure you that he is there with you. And even if you fail, be encouraged that he is strong enough to hold you.
Place your confidence in him.
Rowland Croucher, ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys (Albatross/Lion) chapter 50
Friday, July 27, 2007
0 sing to the Lord a new song because he has performed wondrous things! His right hand and his holy arm have gained him victory. The Lord has made known his salvation; He has unveiled his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his loving-kindness and his faithfulness to Israel's descendants. All the ends of the earth have witnessed the salvation of our God...
Let the sea in its vastness roar in praise, the world and its inhabitants! Let the rivers clap their hands and the mountains sing praises together before the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with justice, the peoples with unfaltering fairness..
Psalm 98:1-3 and 7-9, Berkeley
There is a God in heaven... God is with you. God conceals himself... God reveals mysteries.
The Lord is King; the people tremble... He has pity on the weak and poor.
The high and lofty One who inhabits eternity... inhabits the praises of Israel.
The world and all that is in it belong to the Lord... the cattle on a thousand hills... Rich as he was, he made himself poor for your sake.
God is ready to judge the living and the dead. Our God is a consuming fire... He will save his people from their sins.
I am your God -- let nothing terrify you! God remembers those who suffer. God is wise and powerful! Praise him for ever and ever. He reveals things that are deep and secret; he knows what is hidden in darkness, and he himself is surrounded by light. How deep is God's wisdom and knowledge! Who can explain his decisions? Who can understand his ways?... All things exist through him and for him.
The Lord's unfailing love and mercy still continue, fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, and so I put my hope in him.
In view of all this, what can we say? If God is for us, who can be against us? Nothing can separate us from God's love. God, the source of my happiness.
(Daniel 2: 28; Isaiah 45: 14-15; Daniel 2: 29; Psalm 99:1 and 72: 13 -- all GNB; Isaiah 57: 15, RSV; Psalm 22: 3, KJV; Psalm 24: 1 and 50: 10; 2 Corinthians 8: 9; 1 Peter 4:5 -- all GNB; Hebrews 12: 29, RSV; Psalm 130: 8; Isaiah 41: 10; Psalm 9: 12; Daniel 2:20 and 22; Romans 11:33 and 36; Lamentations 3: 22-24; Romans 8: 31 and 38; Psalm 43:4 -- all GNB)
The novelist Katherine Mansfield, an atheist, woke up one lovely morning at her villa in the south of France, looked out her window at the beauty of it all, and said: 'How I wish there were someone to thank!'
There is, Katherine. And God heard you... Who is God? Where is God? What is God like? When you come into contact with the God depicted in the Bible, you'd better be ready for some surprises. We define reality in terms of our limited experience and, if that experience was flawed by bad relationships, 'bad luck' or bad life-management, we may create expectations about God that are also flawed. We know only in part and see through a glass darkly. So our 'God-talk' suffers from severe limitations.
Who is God? The German mystic Gerhard Tersteegan wrote: 'A god understood, a god comprehended, is no god.' After all the words and theories, preachings and theologies, God is still incognito and beyond our comprehension. 'We cannot see light,' wrote C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves, 'though by light we can see things. Statements about God are extrapolations from the knowledge of other things which the divine illumination enables us to know.'
The Eastern Orthodox tradition has always held that God in his essence is unknown; he is discerned through his works and words.
'God' is not a static noun but a dynamic verb. It's like trying to understand a train trip by studying the timetables: you have to take the journey to experience it. Nicolas Berdyaev, the Russian philosopher, reminds us that theological doctrine is not necessary for faith, but that faith is necessary for theological doctrine. Believing is seeing.
According to Paul the apostle, the God of the Bible is one who can make the things that are out of things that are not: he can make the dead come to lffe again. God is the sum of all possibilities.
God is love and God is just. God's justice, says C.S. Lewis, is his love labouring to make us lovable. When our sin is abhorrent to us as it is so manifestly to God, we may understand a little of his holy anger against that which is destroying us. He has given us ten commandments (not ten suggestions) to preserve a moral environment in which humans can survive. God's kindness and severity (Romans 11: 22) are joined together in the Bible, and what God has joined together let not the Pharisees or the sentimentalists separate (even if there is great mystery here). The judge of all the earth will act justly, he can do it without our help, and that's comforting.
Where is God? In heaven, in sacred places and religious celebrations, yes, but also within us, as the ground of our being (Tillich), in ordinariness and in crisis, in the variegated beauty of creation, in others and uniquely in Jesus of Nazareth -- 'God was in Christ'. We think about God in terms of transcendence -- ('out-thereness') -- and immanence ('down-hereness'). God is not merely far away, beyond the bright blue sky; he is closer than breathing, nearer than hands and feet. God is the life in every living thing -- Justin Martyr says he is 'present in all his works though still unseen' -- but as Creator he is greater than the sum of all his creation.
But the more urgent questions are: 'Where is God when it hurts?' and 'Is God deaf?' From biblical times, God's apparent absence or silence have puzzled and pained his people. In Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, 'God', we assume, does not come. Since Auschwitz we wonder if we can still praise him. And today, in many parts of the world, his servants are ridiculed, tortured and killed. And the cries of the martyrs are still louder than those protesting the injustices done to those martyrs.
God is not deaf; he is listening. He suffers with his people and hears their cries. 'Where was your God when my son was killed in a car accident?' asked the distraught mother. The pastor quietly replied, 'The same place he was when his son was killed.'
What is God like? Our hunger for God was articulated by Philip: 'Lord, show us the Father, that is all we need' (John 14: 8). Jesus' answer was breathtaking: 'Whoever has seen me has seen the Father' (John 14: 9). What is God like? He is like Jesus. Jesus is God for you, near you. Your faith depends on him from start to finish (Hebrews 12: 2). He cannot stop loving you. He thinks you're beautiful, he delights in you, so in the joy and comfort of this total acceptance, make room for surprise and hope and wonder and the unexpected and, above all, the warm certainty that you are loved for ever.
And never forget, as an old mystic said, if you have God and everything else you have no more than having God only; and if you have everything else and not God you have nothing.
No philosophical theory which I have yet come across is a radical improvement on the words of Genesis, that 'In the beginning God made heaven and earth.'
C.S. Lewis, Miracles
Some people want to love God in the same way as they love a cow. You love it for the milk and the cheese and for your own profit. So do all people who love God for the sake of outward riches or inward consolation. But they do not love God correctly, for they merely love their own advantage.
You are looking for something along with God, and you are behaving exactly as if you were making of God a candle so that you could look for something. When we find the things we are looking for, we throw the candle away. Whatever you are seeking along with God is nothing. It does not matter what it is -- be it an advantage or a reward or a kind of spirituality or whatever else -you are seeking a nothingness and for this reason you find a nothingness.
God is a lover different from human lovers, who give a gift which is exterior to them. God is working in all his gifts, giving of himself as a sign of his love. Creation is an ongoing process and God is patiently working from inside each creature in the potentiality he has poured into that finite creature. He is the ground of being directing all creatures to their full actuality...
George A. Maloney, Alone with the Alone
The God of the gospel is the God... who again and again discloses himself anew and must be discovered anew... In this he is, without doubt, a God wholly different from other gods. Other gods do not seem to prohibit their theologies from boasting that each one is the most correct or even the only correct theology...
The God of the gospel is no lonely God, self-sufficient and self-contained... He is our God. He exists neither next to us nor merely above us, but rather with us, by us and, most important of all, for us... The content of God's Word is his free, undeserved Yes to the whole human race, in spite of all human unreasonableness and corruption.
Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology
People become like their gods. It is not that we, since the creation of the world, have created gods in our image. Rather we have imagined the sort of gods who might be useful for us. If we want to conquer our enemies, our god will be warlike; if we need to feel okay when we've done wrong, then our god will be appeased through sacrifices.
The gods of the American Zuni Indians are kindly and beneficent; so these people have no sorcery, they dance a lot and life is a constant celebration. The Ojibwa gods, on the other hand, have to be bargained with and bribed; their religion is fear motivated; life is selfish and there is an abundance of black magic...
The god of the Pharisees is stern and legalistic, so life for them is governed by 'decency', authority and duty, and their preaching aims to induce guilt. The God of Jesus loves sinners, so Jesus enjoys partying, life is zestful and spontaneous, the kingdom is one of feasting, of joyful celebration. For the Pharisees 'repentance precedes acceptance'; with Jesus it was the other way around.
William Temple once wrote: 'If your conception of God is radically false, then the more devout you are the worse it will be for you... You had better be an atheist.' A legalistic religion is a heavy burden to carry. Jesus' religion carries us...
The appropriate stance in relation to the Holy One is utter openness and flexibility and high sensitivity. We humans must prepare for God's coming with silence, emptiness and receptivity.
To me, God is the Holy One whose other name is Surprise. The willingness to let the Ultimate assume whatever form he will and come in whatever manner he chooses is absolutely crucial, and it must be coupled with our trust that God wants to become known to us and is able to communicate with us, if we will allow it on those terms...
The bumper sticker 'Let God be God' states the most important imperative of life. What could be more important, really, than letting one's god be the true God -letting the one who is God by nature function as one's God in fact? Every day of our lives the God who made us does battle with the gods we have made... Only the Creator can fully satisfy and genuinely fulfil a creature. As St Augustine said so long ago, 'You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.'
The self we love is not the self God loves; the neighbours we do not prize are his treasures, the truth we ignore is the truth he maintains, the justice we seek because it is our own is not the justice that his love desires. The righteousness he demands and gives is not our righteousness, but greater and different.
He requires of us the sacrifice of all we would conserve and grants us gifts we had not dreamed of... repentance and sorrow for our transgressions rather than forgetfulness; faith in him rather than confidence in ourselves; trust in his mercy rather than sight of his presence; instead of rest, an ever-recurrent torment that will not let us be content; instead of the peace and joy of the world, the hope of the world to come. He forces us to take our sorrows as a gift from him and to suspect our joys lest they be purchased by the anguish of his Son incarnate again in every neighbour. He ministers indeed to all our good, but all our good is other than we thought.
H. Richard Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation
There is only one good definition of God: the freedom that allows other freedoms to exist.
John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman
...God is still the God who evokes reverence and awe. It is a distorted Christianity which in the midst of the joy of the heavenly journey forgets the awe and the dread... 'Our God is a consuming fire' (Hebrews 13: 16).
Michael Ramsay, Be Still and Know
[When young I used to say to myself] 'If God does not punish me for my sin, he ought to do so.' I felt that God was just, and that he knew that I did not wish him to be anything else but just; for even my imperfect knowledge of God included my recognition that he was a just and holy God. If I could have been certain of salvation by any method by which God could have ceased to be just, I could not have accepted even salvation on those terms; I should have felt that it was derogatory to the dignity of the Most High and that it was contrary to the universal laws of right.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Great Texts of the Bible
'I love you,' said a tiny voice. I looked around. No-one was there. Just a chain link fence with a sign that said 'Humpty Dumpty Nursery.'
Then I saw a little girl, almost hidden, perched in a bush. Her friendly, chocolate-covered smile peeped out among the leaves. I felt warm inside... like a squeezed teddy bear. She loves me, eh? But she doesn't know me.
But wait. She wasn't evaluating me; she was expressing herself.
God says, 'I love you.' But we don't believe it. How could he love us? He knows us. We forget God's declaration isn't a judgment about us, but a revelation about him.
Late have I loved you, O beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved you. For behold you were within me, and I outside; and I sought you outside and in my ugliness fell upon those lovely things that you have made. You were with me and I was not with you. I was kept from you by those things, yet had they not been in you, they would not have been at all. You called and cried to me and broke upon my deafness; and you sent forth your light and shone upon me, and chased away my blindness. You breathed fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and do now pant for you: I tasted you and I now hunger and thirst for you; you touched me, and I have burned for your peace.
St Augustine of Hippo
Lord God, Creator, Saviour and friend, I see glimpses of your creative beauty in the stars, in the mountains, in trees and birds and flowers. The sun sings your praises, the moon gives you glory, the oceans, storms and thunder join the mighty chorus to extol your majesty.
You are the One in whom I live and move and have my being: you are not a remote unfeeling deity but, amazingly, are deeply concerned about all my ways. I even 1, can experience your healing presence in my valleys, my lonely nights and my grievings.
In my waywardness when I am inclined to self-destruct, your grace covers a multitude of sins. Your will is my peace. To obey you is perfect freedom. Your energising power gives my life purpose and meaning, and the promise of your nearness offers renewing hope. Thankyou for your gifts of fresh new mornings, work and play, laughter and cheerfulness, rest and sleep. Above all, thankyou for your word to guide me, strength to love, the fellowship of your people and the sure promise of eternal life.
Lord, may I give you the same place in my heart that you have in the universe.
Eternal God, the light of the minds that know you, the joy of the hearts that love you and the strength of the wills that serve you; grant us so to know you, that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
St Augustine of Hippo
May the 'Lord of all being, throned afar' be enthroned within you. May he whose 'glory flames from sun and star' be glorified in your life.
May the 'centre and soul of every sphere' be centre of all your thinking and speaking and acting. May the One who is near each loving heart stay close by you, for ever. Amen.
By Rowland Croucher, chapter one in High Mountains Deep Valleys, ed., Rowland Croucher (Albatross/Lion).
Look At Life As God Sees It (Michel Quoist)
'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord.
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for if you gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.
If you want to be first, you must be the very last, and the servant of all. Whoever is least among you all is the greatest.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
Let God remould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good.
Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. However, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him' -- but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
(Isaiah 55:8; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:25; Matthew 16:25-26; Luke 12:22 and 23; Mark 9:35; Luke 9:48; Matthew 5:44-45; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Corinthians 2:9)
Have you read today's newspaper yet? How much of a mention did God get? Probably not a lot. A clergyman in trouble, a religious war, maybe even a scripture verse tucked away amongst the small ads. But no hint that world events and individual lives are acted out in the awesome presence of God. No suggestion that the one in whom we 'live and move and have our being' is directly involved in those situations which are so graphically reported. And maybe that isn't too surprising. As T.S. Eliot said, humankind 'cannot bear very much reality'.
That partial reality seems to come to us from every direction: the media, conversations at work, even our human environment. All, in a fallen world, give us a distorted picture of reality. So, like the navigation system of an aircraft, our map of reality needs constant and conscious correction. Wrong attitudes need to be challenged, existing priorities re-ordered, new values adopted. Only in that way will our map be accurate enough to enable us 'to negotiate the terrain of life' (M. Scott Peck).
God, in his grace, has provided those re-programming opportunities if only we will take them. Meditation on the scriptures, fellowship with the Holy Spirit in us, the re-orientation brought about in our worship together - none of them are new or original. All of them can be empty ritual. But when received gladly they are God's means of helping us to see things as they really are. And that involves no less than us having 'the mind of Christ' (1 Corinthians 2: 16).
Patients tested for glaucoma are shown a circle which represents their visual field and then asked to point out the areas they can see. The disease typically darkens the centre of the field, while leaving some vision on the periphery. The fallen mind's view of the world is like that of a glaucoma patient. Its view of all things is darkened and distorted by sin, but it has a sort of twilight vision of the periphery of life. In the inner circle of ultimate concerns, however, it is in deeper darkness.
Richard Lovelace, Renewal as a Way of Life
[Bubu, a tadpole, argues with a frog about the reality of the world beyond the pond.] Something akin to pity filled the frog's eyes as he looked at him.
'But Bubu,' he said quietly, 'the world up above that I talk about is real. I can't explain it, but in a sense it's more real than the watery universe we live in.' 'More real to you.' 'More real to anybody, Bubu.' 'But not at all real to me.' The frog had lost his bantering manner entirely.
'Bubu, the world would be there whether I could feel it or not. It's still there even though you don't believe in it.'
John White, 'Metamorphosis'
Fortunately, truth does not cease just because people give up believing it.
In 1952 when I was twenty-one and still an atheist studying philosophy at Yale, I picked up a copy of Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain... As I read, my mind became enlightened by the reality of the presence of God . . . it seemed as though a window in the depths of my consciousness, a window I had never seen before, had suddenly been opened, allowing a blazing glimpse of new orders of existence. My mind was suddenly filled with streams of thinking which reordered my understanding around the central fact of God, streams which I knew were not rising from any source within my natural awareness, which now seemed a desert by comparison.
Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life
The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
To live in the Spirit is to be agonisingly aware of the contrast between what is and what should be.
The religious man is forever bringing all affairs of the first level down into the Light, holding them there in the Presence, re-seeing them and the whole of the world of men and things in a new and overturning way, and responding to them in spontaneous, incisive and simple ways of love and faith.
Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion
Do we, as Christians, mentally inhabit the world presented to us by the faith of the Church as the real world? Do we mentally inhabit a world with a Heaven above it and a Hell beneath it; a world in which we are called to live daily, hourly, in contact with the God whom neither space nor time can limit? Do we as Christians mentally inhabit an order of being which is superior to decay and death?
Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind
At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.
C.S. Lewis, 'The Weight of Glory'
Where is the reality, Lord? Is it in the hourly radio headlines or the beckoning salesmen or the ambition of my friends? Where is it?
I guess it's the wrong question I've asked. I only know true reality when I think your thoughts, look at the world through your eyes. But how can I do that in the face of the onslaught that hits me every day? Who am I to resist those overpowering voices and listen to you?
Thank you for the fixed points, the times to take stock, to reorder my thinking, to see things as you see them. Forgive me for neglecting those times. And even more, forgive me for avoiding the reality I would rather not face. Help me today to see the world in the light of your truth. Amen.
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
Then give us power to grasp how long, and high, and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. Amen.
Rowland Croucher ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys (Albatross/Lion) chapter 42
Friday, July 20, 2007
Send My Roots Rain (Gerard Manley Hopkins)
But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God... Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face... Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated. Can anyone bring charges against me? If so, I will be silent and die. Only grant me these two things, O God, and then I will not hide from you: Withdraw your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with your terrors. Then summon me and I will answer, or let me speak, and you reply. How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offence and my sin. Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy? Will you torment a wind-blown leaf? Will you chase after dry chaff?
Then Job replied to the Lord: 'I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, "Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?" Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, "Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me." My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.'
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me. They hurl insults, shaking their heads: 'He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.'
(Job 13: 3, 15, 18-25; Job 42: 1-6; Psalm 22:1-8 -- all NIV)
'It's not fair,' my five-year-old daughter used to declare. And I had to agree with her that life is very seldom fair. But we have the conviction that God, at least, ought to be fair. If we serve him faithfully, there should be the rewards of service, some blessing, some recognition that we are doing well. On the other hand, we agree with David that evil men ought not to prosper. The schemers, the manipulators, the self-seekers ought to be punished as they deserve.
Yet anyone who has been some distance on the Christian way knows that it does not always work out that way. Often our best efforts meet with disappointment and failure so that others say to us, 'Is it really worth it? What are you achieving?' I suppose we should not be surprised at this situation, for Jesus never promised us 'success' as a result of our ministry; quite the reverse. And there are plenty of examples in scripture of those who walked by faith, yet saw no mighty 'results'.
It doesn't make us feel any better about it. How can God treat us this way, when we have tried with our whole hearts to obey and serve him? Is it his fault or ours?
God does not defend himself or answer our complaints. But he does come close to us and reveal himself to us.
I struck the board and cried, 'No more; I will abroad. What? shall I ever sigh and pine? My lines and life are free; free as the road, Loose as the wind, as large as store. Shall I be still in suit? Have I no harvest but a thorn To let me blood and not restore What I have lost with cordial fruit? Sure there was wine Before my sighs did dry it; there was corn Before my tears did drown it; Is the year only lost to me? Have I no bays to crown it, No flowers, no garlands gay? All blasted, All wasted? Not so, my heart; but there is fruit, And thou hast hands. Recover all thy sigh-blown age On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute Of what is fit and not; forsake thy cage, Thy rope of sands Which petty thoughts have made; and made to thee Good cable, to enforce and draw, And be thy law, While thou didst wink and wouldst not see. Away; take heed; I will abroad. Call in thy death's head there; tie up thy fears. He that forbears To suit and serve his need Deserves his load. But as I raved, and grew more fierce and wild At every word, Methought I heard one calling, 'Child!' And I replied, "My Lord.'
George Herbert, 'The Collar'
Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just. Why do sinners' ways prosper? and why must Disappointment all I endeavour end? Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend, How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost Defeat, thwart me? Oh the sots and thralls of lust Do in spare house more thrive than I that spend, Sir, life upon thy cause. See banks and brakes Now, leaved how thick! laced they are again With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes Them; birds build -- but not I build: no, but strain, Time's eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes. Mine, O thou Lord of life, send my roots rain.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, 'Thou art indeed just'
Sometimes the establishment of this degree of prayer comes by way of a painful inward struggle and aridity; what St John of the Cross has described as 'the night of the senses' -- a period of distress and obscurity in which it seems to the soul that it is losing all it had gained of the life of prayer... It meets and must conquer many resistances in the active mind, must cut for itself new paths; and this may involve tensions and suffering and the apparent withdrawal of the ordinary power of prayer.
Evelyn Underhill, Collected Papers
The mystics down the centuries have often referred to 'the dark night of the soul'. This describes those periods when God seems strangely silent and absent in spite of personal need. We wonder what he is doing, why he is withholding his presence from us. We pray to him, but the heavens seem as brass and we feel trapped by the prison of our own dark moods. 'The greatest test of a Christian's life is to live with the silence of God,' wrote Bishop Mervyn Stockwood in a letter to me recently. How far can we keep trusting God when we have no experience of his love? Is it enough to take him at his word when we feel no reality behind those familiar phrases?
David Watson, Fear No Evil
It's no fun, Lord, I can't keep anything for myself, The flower that I pick fades in my hands. My laugh freezes on my lips. The waltz I dance leaves me restless and uneasy. Everything seems empty, Everything seems hollow, You have made a desert around me. I am hungry and thirsty, And the whole world cannot satisfy me. And yet I loved you Lord; what have I done to you? I worked for you; I gave myself for you. O great and terrible God, What more do you want?
Child, I want more for you and for the world. Until now you have planned your actions, but I have no need of them. You have asked for my approval, you have asked for my support, You have wanted to interest me in your work. But don't you see, child, that you were reversing the roles. I have watched you, I have seen your goodwill, And I want more than you now. You will no longer do your own works, but the will of your Father in heaven.
Michel Quoist, Prayers of Life
I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face, questions die away. What other answer would suffice?
C.S. Lewis, Till We have Faces
Lord, all our lives we have been taught to believe that when we needed you, you would always be there. We have grown up with the idea that if we seek to do your will, you will surely bless us.
But it doesn't always work out that way. It is so hard to understand that we may be in your will and yet fail. It is so difficult to stand by and see others riding the crest of the wave while we struggle and flounder. We confess that we resent it. We blame them. We blame you. We blame ourselves. We demand explanations. We sink into waves of depression until we are near drowning in our own tears.
In our hearts we know we cannot put you on trial. You do not have to defend yourself. But in your love, O Lord, draw near to us. Fill our emptiness with your presence, so that we do not need to be filled with the gratification of success. Make us content to be yours, and to leave the answers in your hands.
Now may the God, who blesses us in ways we do not always recognise -- who himself, in Jesus, bore the pain of rejection and desolation, who through the Holy Spirit draws near to fill our emptiness -- send the rain to seep through to our roots and bring us to life again.
High Mountains Deep Valleys, ed. Rowland Croucher (Albatross/Lion) chapter 6.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
And there was evening and there was morning -- the first day. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love. Morning by morning, O Lord, you hear my voice, morning by morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation. As morning breaks, I look to you O God, to be my strength this day.
His anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.
But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like-calves released from the stall.
And the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala went to the tomb and saw the stone had been removed from the entrance.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. He called out to them, 'Friends, haven't you any fish?' 'No,' they answered. He said, 'Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.' When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish... Jesus said to them, 'Come and have breakfast.'
(Genesis 1: 5, NIV; Psalm 57: 8, NIV; Psalm 59: 16, NIV; Psalm 5: 3, NIV; Psalm 30: 5, NIV; Lamentations 3: 22-23, RSV; Malachi 4: 2, NIV; Luke 1: 78-79, RSV; Mark 1: 35, NIV; John 20: 1, NW; John 21: 4-6,12, NIV)
A friend in the midst of a black-as-night depression once sent me a Christmas card from a psychiatric hospital. It was inscribed with the words, 'the sun of righteousness shall dawn upon you with healing in his wings.' It was these words, she said, that had kept her going. We need to know that tears will run their course, even when etched deep into our cheeks, and that each morning is another chance, an opportunity to get up and dance or at least take one hesitant step forward. The resurrection is the assurance that there will be a morning of rejoicing and healing.
Morning is the time to greet the day, to receive our lives afresh again, direct from God's hand. It is the time to arise and pray, not as a way of earning our way into God's good books, or because evangelical tradition decrees so, but as a way of receiving the day as sheer grace, and not taking it for granted. It is to recognise the wonder of it all, that we are alive and awake, not still asleep, dead or non-existent as we could quite easily be. From the womb of the morning, of the resurrection morning, we are brought to birth and new birth, day after day.
We can then face each day as an act of daring, of defying death and depression, of rising to new life with Christ. We can face it even when worn out after a night of heavy and fruitless fishing, worn out by the work of the kingdom. We can face it utterly dependent on the risen Jesus, standing on the shore, giving us courage to lower our nets once more, listening for a word to show us the way to abundant and fruitful ministry and mission. But above all, any considerations of ministry or mission productivity aside, he is the one who invites us to breakfast with him. Let's join him.
Morning has broken
ike the first morning
blackbird has spoken
like the first bird.
Praise for the singing,
praise for the morning,
praise for them, springing
fresh from the word...
Mine is the sunlight;
mine is the morning
born of the one light
Eden saw play
Praise with elation
praise every morning
of the new day.
Eleanor Farjeon, 'Morning Has Broken'
Beloved, it is morn! A redder berry on the thorn, A deeper yellow on the corn, For this good day new-born: Pray, Sweet, for me That I may be Faithful to God and thee
Emily Henrietta Hickey, 'Beloved, it is Morn'
The day does now dark night dispel;
Dear Christians, wake and rouse you well,
Give glory to our God and Lord
Once more the daylight shines abroad,
O brethren let us praise the Lord,
Whose grace and mercy thus
have kept The nightly watch
while we have slept
We offer up ourselves to thee,
That heart and word and deed may be
In all things guided by thy mind
And in thine eyes acceptance find.
'Ere yet the dawn hath filled the skies
Behold my Saviour Christ arise.
He chaseth from us sin and night,
And brings us joy and life and light. Hallelujah!
What do we today, who no longer have any fear or awe of night, know of the great joy that our forefathers and the early Christians felt every morning at the return of light? If we were to learn again something of the praise and adoration that is due the triune God at break of day, God the Father and Creator, who has preserved our life through the dark night and wakened us to a new day, God the Son and Saviour, who conquered death and hell for us, and dwells in our midst as Victor, God the Holy Spirit, who pours the bright gleam of God's Word into our hearts at the dawn of day, driving away all darkness and sin and teaching us to pray aright -- then we would also begin to sense something of the joy that comes when night is past and brethren who dwell together in unity come together early in the morning for common praise of their God, common hearing of the Word and common prayer. Morning does not belong to the individual, it belongs to the Church, to the Christian family, to the brotherhood...
For Christians, the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day's work. At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him.
Therefore, at the beginning of the day let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to him to whom our life belongs. 'Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light' (Eph 5: 14).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
I wake up, rested, jump out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, and rush out the door to get things started. The first thing I discover (a great blow to the ego) is that everything was started hours ago. All the important things got underway while I was fast asleep. When I dash into the workday, I walk into an operation that is half over already. I enter into work in which the basic plan is already established, the assignments given, the operations in motion.
Sometimes, still in a stupor, I blunder into the middle of something that is nearly done and go to work thinking I am starting it. But when I do, I interfere with what has already been accomplished. My sincere intentions and cheerful whistle while I work make it no less a blunder and an aggravation. The sensible thing is to ask, 'Where do I fit? Where do you need an extra hand? What still needs to be done?'
The Hebrew evening/morning sequence conditions us to the rhythms of grace. We go to sleep, and God begins his work... We wake and are called out to participate in God's creative action. We respond in faith, in work. We wake into a world we didn't make, into a salvation we didn't earn.
Eugene H. Peterson, 'The Pastor's Sabbath'
. . .As earth waits patiently for sun's warmth, so must my soul, expectant, wait in silent, unseeing trust. Only if Love wills shall his finger find me and piercing darkness, bind me.
Merle Davis, 'Morning Prayer'
Lord, you have already passed this way, And laid in wait the coming day. The tassels of your robe have brushed The dust away. And though the storms you have not hushed Nor spared the troubles, Yours is a wondrous strategy.
Help me to see The people placed in awkward corners By your grace, The kindly loan, The warmth of voice on the telephone, The love in each new smiling face.
Help me then to throw to you beyond the wall, The ball of each new day; For only then can I unfettered, child-like play, As through time I go.
Pauline Young, 'A Prayer'
Creating God, as the curtain of night is drawn back, and the golden robes of the day arrive over sea and mountain, expel from our minds all sour thoughts, that we may greet this new day as a gift fresh from the hands of creation, and filled with hope, and bright with gladness, and glorify the One who makes all things new: Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
As the fieldlark rises at daybreak to offer its praise high above wheatfields, trees and farmhouses: So may we, in this hour of awakening, let our gratitude ascend to you O Lord Most High.
God of the inner light, come to us on the golden rays of the morning, warming moods that are frosty; enlightening minds that are gloomy; and, as the sun swings higher, so may our lives rise to you in the active praise of this day's duties: through Jesus, our risen Light.
Spirit of new life, grant unto us this day the grace to recognise new life breaking through in unlikely events; and, in so recognising it, to be ready to trust it and delight in it: through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Bruce Prewer, Australian Prayers
May the God who makes each morning like creation's first morning, give us grace to greet every day in the light of the Resurrection morning, to grasp its unique opportunity with eager hands, to experience it as gift and calling before demand, and so to pass it on as a gift to others.
Rowland Croucher ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys, Albatross/Lion, chapter 26.
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Wednesday, July 18, 2007
And God spoke all these words: 'I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.'
Present the offerings made to the Lord by fire, the food of their God.
The true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise -- the fruit of lips that confess his name.
Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error; they have been destroyed in Korah's rebellion. These men are blemishes at your love feasts.
To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna.
(Exodus 20: 1-5; Leviticus 21: 6; John 4: 23; 1 Peter 2: 9; Hebrews 13: 15; Jude 11 and 12; Revelation 2:17 -- all NIV)
God himself first identified the offerings of the priests as his food. It's not that God needed actual meat and grain to eat. The satisfaction he sought ascended to him through the obedience of prescribed worship laid down in the tabernacle sacrifices. He wanted worship. As often as his people expected to eat, God expected his meals of praise.
Whereas demons demanded sacrifices of others as a basis for their food, God prepared his own menu -- Christ. All of the work at the altar pictured God's work in Christ. The implied message is clear: God wants to be richly rewarded with worship. It is like food to him. He wants it lovingly prepared, generously offered and faithfully renewed. Nothing but Christ satisfies him.
God's method is simple: feed the people on the truths of the work of Christ and they in turn should praise him for what he has done. In the wilderness, God's singular menu of manna strengthened the people to offer him food. Now, since the cross, no better food than Christ can be found for God's servants because he is the essential ingredient of elective worship.
Those who commune with God know the value of Jesus' flesh and blood, but so do God's enemies. Demons who have been robbed of the human attentions they crave have not been able to stop the church from filling God's plate, but in many cases they have managed to spoil the taste. Tainted food will not do for God.
Offering God the praise he deserves for the unmatchable work of Christ is the true worshipper's daily work and this is God's food. For this he bought us and for this we must live. In a sense God is leading us to join him in truly living on love: his love to us in Christ and our love to him for Christ. Here is a feast of love for every day.
Old Testament saints understood that sacrifice was central to worship and it is wrong to assume that Christian worship is not also sacrificial. Although our Lord Jesus made the one final sacrifice for our sins, never to be repeated, we are to offer what Peter calls 'spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ'. And this can be done only when one's whole attention is focused upon God, 'lost in wonder, love and praise'. Then, in fact, the worshippers receive far more than they can ever give, because the paradoxical fact is that there is no experience more completely blessed than true, spiritual worship. But it is absolutely crucial to keep these matters the right way around. Come to give, not to get. It is the only proper way!
Stuart A. Frayne, What is Worship?
As we come before God, we shouldn't come with empty hands. We should bring him a sacrifice! This does not mean an animal sacrifice, for Christ himself has offered himself as our sacrifice for all time. But the Old Testament principle is still true. We should bring God something. Often people get nothing out of worship because they don't come to give something to God first. The sacrifice we should bring is the sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. And when we bring praise to God we find his presence draws near to us in a special way. Praise him that he is a great God! Praise him that he is King over all gods, the Lord over all the earth! Praise him for what he has made -- the majestic mountains, the deep valleys, the rolling seas! Let's thank, praise and honour him for who he is! This focuses our attention on him and prepares our hearts for worship.
lan Malins, Come Let Us Worship
Break thou the bread of life, Dear Lord, to me, As thou didst break the bread Beside the sea. Beyond the sacred page I seek thee, Lord; My spirit pants for thee, O living word!
Thou art the bread of life, O Lord, to me, Thy holy word the truth That saveth me. Give me to eat and live With thee above, Teach me to love thy truth For thou art love.
Mary Artemisia Lathbury and Alexander Groves
Soren Kierkegaard... watched his contemporaries in nineteenth century Denmark go to church ritualistically and participate much as they would in a theatre. The worshippers saw themselves as essentially spectators. They understood the clergy and the choir to be the main performers in the service and, if God were present at all in the process, he was a remote prompter, off in the wings somewhere. In this frame of reference, of course, the whole interaction was horizontal. It was people watching other people do certain rituals, with little depth, little awe, little real involvement on the part of the individual worshippers. To this whole way of conceiving worship, Kierkegaard thundered: 'Not so!' A church and a theatre are not similar processes at all. To worship is to do something quite different than going to a concert or a play. For one thing, the worshipper is the prime actor and God is the audience. The role of the clergy and choir is that of prompters, standing alongside the process reminding and suggesting. Worship is not something done by the clergy for the worshippers' perusal, but something worshippers do for God out of their own depths.
John Claypool, Worship as Involvement
To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of humans is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about his love for them, and his service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of himself -- creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like his own, not because he has absorbed them, but because their wills freely conform to his. We want cattle who can finally become food; he wants servants who can finally become his children. We want to suck in, he wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; he is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to him but still distinct.
Screwtape in C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
I'm deathly afraid of personal spiritual deterioration, of having a name that I'm alive when I'm really dead... The present crisis won't be solved by Christians who get their food and weapons secondhand. It will be solved by people who walk with God, who feed on his word, who have strength for the battle, and who know how to use the sword of the Spirit. We need a return to the oldfashioned spiritual disciplines of life.
Warren Wiersbe, The Integrity Crisis
We're here to be worshippers first and workers only second. We take a convert and immediately make that new Christian a worker. God never meant it to be so. God meant that a convert should learn to be a worshipper, and after that he or she can learn to be a worker... The work done by a worshipper will have eternity in it.
A.W. Tozer, Great Quotes & Illustrations
I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe to all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to his people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us he waits so long, so very long, in vain.
A.W. Tozer in The Best of A.W. Tozer
Heavenly Father, I rejoice in the immutable, absolute truth of your word. In your grace, keep me from knowing only the letter of truth and sound doctrine. Let it enter my spirit, let it control my mind, let it stabilise and energize my emotions. I will to apply your truth aggressively and to depend upon its power to defeat all of my enemies. Through the intercessory work of the Holy Spirit and in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ, I thank you for hearing this petition. Amen
Mark Bubeck, The Adversary
Grant, almighty God, that as we are inclined not only to superstitions, but also to many vices, we may be restrained by thy word; and as thou art pleased daily to remind us of thy benefits, that thou mayest keep us in the practice of true religion. 0 grant that we may not be led astray by the delusions of Satan and by our own vanity, but continue firm and steady in our obedience to thee, and constantly proceed in the course of true piety, so that we may at length partake of its fruit in thy celestial kingdom, which has been obtained for us by the blood of thine only begotten Son. Amen.
May the Father show you his mercy by enriching you in the grace which enlightens your eyes to the greater glories of Jesus so that you may be refreshed in the communion of the Father's love and overflow with praise and thanksgiving. May the Spirit of Truth capture your mind and heart with an ever deepening knowledge of the holy.
Chapter four in Rowland Croucher ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys, Albatross/Lion.