Saturday, July 25, 2020

becoming less

“My heart is not lifted up, O Lord, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”(Psalm 131:1)
     
The truth be known, most of us do concern ourselves with great matters.  In fact, we pursue them.  We like to be right in the middle of the action.  We have a need to leave our mark, air our opinions, show our wisdom.  It is what gives us value and worth.
     
The only problem is that that’s not the way the life of the Spirit was meant to be lived.  Life with Jesus is not a life in which we are constantly trying to make a splash, to achieve great things, to make a name for ourselves.  In fact, Jesus did quite the opposite, and calls us to do the same: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself and made himself nothing,.” (Philippians 2:5-7)
     
King David knew this also, that’s why he did not concern himself with great matters or things too wonderful for him.  He knew the value of humility.  He knew that true spiritual leadership was best exercised by becoming less and making yourself nothing, not by becoming more and constantly trying to make yourself something—which is counter-intuitive in the world in which we live.  In life with Jesus, less is more and small is big and last is first and poor is rich and weak is strong and low is high.  The path to spiritual greatness comes through humbling ourselves.  Thus, humility, or becoming less, is not just something to be embraced, but something to be pursued.
     
That’s why the word David uses in Psalm 131:1 that is most often translated “concern myself with” or “occupy myself with” is halak in the Hebrew, which literally means to walk.  Therefore, probably a better translation of what David is saying is that “I don’t walk after, or pursue, great things or things too wonderful for me.” Which sounds like a small thing, but is really anything but that.  In fact, it is a subtle, yet monumental shift.  No longer is becoming less merely something I have to embrace, as the circumstances of life do their work on me, but it is actually something I am called to actively pursue, just like Jesus did.
     
Thus, the height of the spiritual journey is not about discovering who we are (although that’s important), or even becoming who we are (which is significant as well), but about making ourselves nothing for Jesus.  Life with Jesus, like John the Baptist told us, is about becoming less that he might become all.

Monday, July 20, 2020

from activity to receptivity


Show me your ways. O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. (Psalm 25:4-5)

Which word best describes your life, activity or receptivity?

The life of the Spirit is not one of incessant activity, but of continual receptivity.  That means we don’t merely charge off in a direction and hope that God comes along for the ride, we actually start by stopping.  We ask God, as David did, for his wisdom and direction and guidance, then we listen for his answer.  Only then do we spring into action.  Otherwise it is just activity for activity’s sake; which does no one any good.

“When we pray without listening,” Eugene Peterson writes, “we pray out of context.”  That is because it all starts with God, not with us, even in prayer.  Ours is to maintain a stance of humble receptivity, to continually realize that, apart from God’s leadership and guidance, we don’t really know what to do.  Thus, the first movement of the spiritual journey, Bernard of Clairvaux reminds us, is to “cast ourselves at his feet” and to “kneel before the Lord, our maker.”  Only when we start there do we have any real hope of living the life God most wants us to live.  

He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. (Psalm 25:9)


Sunday, July 19, 2020

one or many

One of the greatest temptations of the spiritual life is to pay attention to the many things, rather than the one thing. (Luke 10:38-42) That is because the many things are often good things, in and of themselves, they are just not the best thing.  And we are so easily distracted, it seems, by the urgent, at the expense of the important.

That is why we must make time and space each day to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what he has to say.  That is why we must start by stopping; in order to remind ourselves of what is important and what is merely urgent, what is essential and what is tangential, what is focal and what is peripheral.  It is the only way we will really have a chance of living the life God most deeply wants to live in and through us.

Lord Jesus, why do I allow myself to get so worried and distracted by the many things, when only one thing really matters—you.  Help me to choose the one thing today—to sit at your feet and listen to what you have to say.  Amen.

Friday, July 17, 2020

don't settle

Jesus looked at the man and loved him.  “One thing you still lack,” he said.  “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

“I know that may sound demanding, and maybe even a little harsh, but it is what will bring you to life inside.  I made you for so much more than the life you are experiencing.  I long to give you more than the life, and the lesser loves and treasures, you are willing to settle for.  Raise your aspirations!  Stop just trying to slide by on the minimum requirement.  Stop just trying to feel better.  Stop running to broken wells that cannot satisfy.  I love you far too much to allow you to settle for less than all the life and the fullness and the love I made you for.  Come, follow me.”

Lord Jesus, show me where I am settling for less.  Show me where and how I am just trying to get by.  Show me the things, or the people, that I am putting before you, and give me the grace and the strength and the courage to let them go of them so I can truly follow you.  Amen.


Thursday, July 16, 2020

while he was still a long way off

“While he was still a long way off.” (Luke 15:20) While he was still a long way off, he was seen by the eyes of love.  While he was still a long way off, the heart of the Father leaped within him.  While he was still a long way off, the Father left the house and ran out to embrace, and to kiss, his son.  All of that happened while he was still a long way off.  He didn’t even have a chance to give the Father his speech.

What is it about us that feels the need to put conditions on unconditional love? Even the son did it: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.”  Luckily his sonship was not dependent upon his worthiness.  And you know what?  Neither is ours.  Thanks be to God!  

Thank you, Heavenly Father, that you love us even while we are still a long way off.  I, for one, have not yet arrived; I still get it all wrong far too often.  My life is still a mess at times.  Thank you that all of that doesn't keep you from loving me, running to me, wrapping your arms around me, and kissing me.  I certainly do not deserve it.  It is all grace and I thank you for that.  Amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

seen

Hagar was on the run. (Genesis 16:1-14) Life was not going well at all.  She was young and she was pregnant and she was alone.  She had been cruelly mistreated by her mistress, Sarai, and was so miserable and so desperate that she had run away.  She had no idea where she was going, but knew that anything would be better than the affliction and oppression and browbeating (‘anah in the Hebrew) she was receiving at the hands of Sarai. 

So when the angel of the Lord found her near a spring in the desert, he asked her the million dollar question: “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”  It was a question that the angel surely knew the answer to, but one that Hagar needed to know the answer to as well.  For in the midst of her pain and loneliness and desperation and confusion, she needed to fully realize that she was not alone.  God was with her.  God, the Living One, had seen her.  He had seen her plight and had seen her mistreatment and had seen the desperate state of her heart.  “I see you, Hagar.  I see both where you have come from and where you are going, and I am with you.  Do not fear.  Do not be discouraged.  Do not be dismayed.  I see you, and I will take care of you.  I am your God and I love you more than you could ever imagine.”

And you have to love Hagar’s response.  “You are the God who sees me.  I have now seen the One who sees me.”  Somehow in being seen, Hagar had seen the One who sees her, knows her and loves her.  And, somehow, seeing the One who sees her had changed everything.

God sees you too.  He sees your life and he sees your heart.  He sees what you are going through, whatever that may be.  He sees your joys, he sees your pains, and he sees your sorrows.  You are not alone.  And in being seen by him, he wants you to see him, the One who sees.  Thanks be to God!

Saturday, July 11, 2020

captive


God’s desire is that we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), and, yet, what we seem to be doing in this day and age is to take God captive to our own thoughts of him and make him obedient to us.  Forcing him to bend to our own will and reason and intellect, to our own thoughts and feelings, in an effort to create a God that is more acceptable to our world, to our postmodern culture, and to ourselves, than the God of the Scriptures.

It is the tendency of the intellect to say, “Unless I can understand it, unless it makes sense to me, it must not be true.”  Which takes God captive, and subjects and imprisons him to our own ability to understand and comprehend him.  Or, as I am more often guilty of, to make God the captive of our feelings.  It is the tendency of the emotions to rest our certainty and our perception of what is true on whether it feels right and true or not. 

The only problem is that any God who is created by us, is no God at all, but merely a fabrication, a creation of our own thoughts, feelings, and preferences.  The product of a manufactured theology meant only to suit our own tastes, an apologetic crafted to defend our own opinions, and a narrative spun to make God into who and what we want him to be, rather than allowing him to be the wild and free and untamable God that he is.  We must stop making God bend to us, rather than bowing down in awestruck wonder and dumbfounded amazement before him.  We must get back to taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 

Forgive us, O Lord, when we try to make you the captive of our thoughts and feelings, rather than taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.  Help us to hold fast to your word and your truth, by the power of your Holy Spirit, so that we will become more and more like you, rather than trying to make you more and more like us.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

i belong to you

“I belong to my beloved and his desire is for me.” (Song of Songs 7:10) 

The way of the Lord is the way of passionate love.  It is about fully knowing that we do, indeed, belong to the Beloved, and that his desire is for us.  Once we experience that, once we receive his kiss, the kisses of others simply will not do.  All other loves will pale in comparison to his love.  And it will change everything about us.
     
O my Beloved, thank you that I belong to you and that your desire is for me.  Help me to live from that place of love and belonging and delight, this day and every day.  Amen.


Monday, July 6, 2020

he kissed him much

“He kissed him much.”  That’s the literal translation of what the father did when me met his lost son in the middle of the field. (Luke 15:20) He didn’t just see him, he didn’t just run to him, and he didn’t just kiss him.  He kissed him much.

And every parent, or grandparent, gets it.  For, from the days our little ones were babes, they held a special and tender place in our hearts.  In fact, our hearts were so full of love for them that we simply couldn’t contain it.  And when they were younger we didn’t have to.  We just couldn’t keep our lips from their cheeks.  And we didn’t just kiss them once, we kissed them much.

But somewhere along the line they grew up.  Somewhere along the line they stopped being like little children, and kissing them much was not acceptable anymore.  And it left a void in our hearts.  It made us get creative, and learn how to “kiss them much” in other ways.  But every now and then something happens, an event or a circumstance comes along—a victory, an achievement, and accomplishment, a graduation, a wedding—and allows us the permission to kiss them much once again. 

I wonder how long it had been since the lost son had allowed his father to kiss him much.  Who knows, it might even have been a part of the reason he left in the first place.  Not because the father didn’t want to kiss him much, but because somewhere along the line the son stopped being willing to allow it.

It makes me wonder if it is the same way with us and God.  I wonder if, buried deep in the heart of our God, there is still an intense longing to kiss us much, but somehow we have gotten too old to think it’s still appropriate.  Perhaps that is even part of what Jesus meant when he told us that we must become like little children.  Perhaps God’s deepest desire is that we recapture the beauty and the innocence of allowing him to kiss us much.  Because something tells me that if we were able to recapture than innocence, it would change everything about us.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

the kisses of his mouth

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine.” (Song of Songs 1:2) 

Kiss me with the kisses of your mouth, O Lord, for once my soul receives your kiss, it will never want for another.  It will no longer relentlessly pursue approval, admiration, or applause; it will not constantly need to be included, invited, or sought after; and its state will no longer be dependent upon acceptance, achievement, or affirmation, for you, O Lord, will be all I need.  So kiss me, O Lover of My Soul, with the kisses of your mouth, and that will be enough.