In this series we have been examining one of the most fundamental things that makes us human, the ability to step back into our own inner world and make decisions free from external pressures. This amazing power remains intact despite the most extreme circumstances as we see in the life of the Anabaptist, Mattheus Mair, who was martyred in Baden, Germany on July 27, 1592. After six days of imprisonment, during which the priests tried in vain to convert him, he was drowned. Three or four times the executioner pulled him out of the water to ask him whether he would recant, but he refused as long as he could speak.
Mattheus Mair’ ability to make his own choices in the face of unimaginable fear and suffering illustrates how no one can take this freedom from us. On the other hand we sometimes find ourselves feeling like we’re not free to make even very small decisions (Rom. 7:15-25). We decide not to gossip or eat another chocolate bar and then go right ahead and do it anyway. How can this be?
No one can take our God-given freedom from us, but we can give it away as we saw last time in the life of Samson. There must be some secret whereby we go from being a spiritual weakling to a Mattheus Mair superhero of faith. Scripture pictures the strong human self as an ancient city protected from enemies by impregnable walls. It says that if we relinquish control over ourselves, we become weak and vulnerable like a city without walls. It is God who gives spiritual strength, but clearly, we have a role to play. We must build the walls and we too decide to whom we open the gates.
God designs this inner city to have the kind of power we see in the life of Mattheus Mair if, and only if, there are two residents in it–ourselves and God. We see this throughout the New Testament, for example, in the concept of the indwelling Spirit, the One who lives inside us. And here too, we retain control. Jesus graciously waits for us to open the door and invite him in. William Holman Hunt made a famous painting to illustrate Jesus’ statement that he was standing at the door of our hearts knocking. Hunt was asked if he hadn’t made a mistake because there is no handle on the outside of the door. Hunt said, no, that was deliberate. Jesus waits for us to open to him from the inside.
And just as Jesus doesn’t break down the door to get in, neither does he dominate us once inside. He doesn’t drive. His voice is not harsh and insistent like that of the enemy. When we make room for God in this sacred space, there is room. There is time–to think, to reflect, to decide what we really want.
Furthermore, contrary to the view of some, God is NOT always there to tell us what to do. Some Christians instinctively resist opening up their inner real estate to God because they seem to have a master-puppet conception of our relationship with God. If we were ever to be truly in tune with God, they imagine, we would just be obeying one command after another. His unceasing demands would crowd out our inner space completely. There would be no room to reflect and make decisions. Life would be one long oppressive succession of duties. In other words, we somehow believe that if we make room for God, there will be no room at all!
Some Christian teaching has perpetuated this unappealing view of the human being with what has been dubbed worm theology– “I’m so bad God must just want me for a boot-licking lackey. I’m so useless all I can do is take orders.” You remember that was exactly what the Prodigal Son thought after he’d taken his father’s money and blown it living a wild life with prostitutes and other disreputable people. All he could conceive was that the father might want him back as a slave. However, his father would hear none of it and immediately restored him to sonship. The love of his father heart overwhelmed any feelings of disappointment. He “had to celebrate and rejoice” because his lost son was found.
It is this image of God as father that really allows things to become clear. No matter how good he may be, no one is drawn to an overbearing father who smothers them at every turn with his demands. God has created in us the powerful desire to make up our own minds, to be able to create, not just take orders. When God created the animals, he didn’t tell Adam what to name them. Rather God brought them to Adam to see what he would name them. When we invite Jesus in, rather than simply tell us what to do all the time, he comes alongside us and makes suggestions, “Wouldn’t the relationship with your wife go a lot better if you held your tongue in situations like this?” When we ask him what he thinks we should do, he might throw it back on us, “What do you think you should do?” He appeals to our higher self. He trusts us more than we trust ourselves.
A couple of years ago I awoke in the middle of the night and, for some inexplicable reason, found myself pondering the story of Cinderella. As I did, I felt a distinct impression, “That’s you.”
As when God speaks, it created delight in me.
The glass slipper speaks of a beautiful realm that Cinderella was made for, a world that contrasted vividly with the shabby one of forced servitude that she had to inhabit . Each one of us is a prince or princess created to fit perfectly–fit into a world of royalty much more magnificent and mystical than what we have imagined.
In short, we are God-like–the wonderful mystery that Christians almost never take seriously. The church has been very efficient at pointing out how fallen we are, but tends to never get much past that. We have sinned, no question, but we are being made good again, “redeemed!” When we actually see what the Bible means by that term, we thrill with the mystery of it!
Think about it, what does it mean to be “one spirit with” God (1Co 6:17) or to “partake of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4)? What does it mean to be created in the very image of God (Gen 1:27)? Jesus didn’t shy away from this truth. Indeed, he astounded his hearers when he referenced a verse in the Psalms which calls human beings ‘gods.’ Just to make sure they got the point, he reminded them that the scripture cannot be made void (Joh 10:35). Thus he expected his followers to live up to this high calling by being perfect–just like their Heavenly Father (Mat 5:44).
Can this really be true? How, in any meaningful sense, are we actually like God? It’s not in our intellect. As someone has noted, compared to God, we’re all developmentally delayed. It’s not in our power. We live in a frail body destined for the grave. The one area where we can enter into the divine is that of goodness. It’s by love, even for our enemies, that we show ourselves to be children of God. The littlest kindnesses, even simply greeting people we don’t know, demonstrate perfection like that of our Father in heaven. (Mat. 5:43-48).
It’s time we throw off the cloak of negativity and self-condemnation in order to embrace the whole truth. The good news is NOT that we’re selfish and sinful. Rather it is that we were created to be like God and that he has come down to restore his image in us once again through the Gospel. So great was God’s desire for us to fit into his royal kingdom, he didn’t just put outward garments on us like the fairy godmother did for Cinderella. No, he placed his very essence in our innermost being, the promised Holy Spirit, the Christ of God! Now you can go out and do something good!
Henri Nouwen writes, “For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required.” This is true of everyone, not just leaders. By moral he means the human attempt to do the right thing on one’s own. While such an effort may evoke our admiration, eventually it saps the joy of the one who trudges on in this solitary way.
On the other hand, by mystical Nouwen means the experience of intimacy with God such that we make our choices together in conversation with Him. Rather than the drudgery of mere moralism, we derive an energy from being connected to something larger and wiser than ourselves. When we touch the mystical, however, we find that, low and behold, it is moral. Goodness is divine. When the light penetrates, we may revel in love.
And the moral-mystical is all around us. For example, I often saw it when my five month old granddaughter, Molly, smiled at me. The pure goodness and innocence of her smile captivated me. There was something ancient about it. As I gazed at her, suddenly she would beam at me–as though she recognized me from long ago. As though we had some long lost primordial connection. An eternal flame gently burned in her smile or rather, her smile released its warmth from some inner depth–and it kindled the light of a smile in me.
Recently we were driving Highway 21, the road that skirts the eastern shoreline of Lake Huron. As we drove along, we passed dozens and dozens of wind turbines.
The questions of whether these things produce energy efficiently or destroy the beauty of the countryside, as many contend, didn’t occupy my mental landscape. I’ll leave such considerations to the experts and to those who must live with them. No, it was not the controversy they’ve created, but their wonder that caught my imagination–the mystery that when you simply rotate copper coils in a magnetic field, out comes electricity–magic extraordinaire!
Everyday is filled with magic and to encounter it would be to live in wonder and be primed for worship!
Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT–Copyright © 2008 Andrew T. Hawkins
Passion must at times animate our prayer and if we do not get our hearts’ longings into our prayer closet, our devotional life is finished. Fenelon claims that to pray is to desire. Without it, he says, we do not really pray, but merely go through mental exercises. We will dabble at prayer and find it tedious if we never drill down to the desire level of our soul. When our prayer life deals in the currency of desire, our inner being begins to vibrate with expectancy. In the forum of prayer we cultivate spiritual longing and if we have tuned in to our innate, God-given desire, we may now look to him to satisfy it.
Meditating upon the Bible’s message about the believer’s relationship to the mysterious third Person of the Trinity encourages pure spiritual desire. At a gut level we all ache intensely to connect with the deep from whence we were drawn. By nature we long for supernatural contact. We crave an infilling of the divine. Rather than dampen this spark, God pours gasoline on it with an astounding promise. Actually, scripture talks about it, not as “a” promise, but “the” promise (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4 NKJ), the supreme gift of God to humanity. He claims he will fill us with his own essence, the Holy Spirit, the Christ of God. . . .
Jesus painted a compelling picture of the Spirit-endued individual. The thought of being “free as the wind” has always exercised a powerful pull on the human imagination and he said those born of the Spirit have entered into that kind of liberty (John 3:8). Jesus illustrates this freedom when he walks on the water and thereby teaches us that the Spirit-graced life raises us above many of our human struggles. Mark notes a fascinating, somewhat comical detail in his account when he says that as the disciples strained at the oars against a contrary wind, Jesus walked toward their boat and “intended to pass them by”(Mark 6:47-52).
The Greek word translated straining is a strong word, most often translated torment. It sometimes describes the pain of a woman in childbirth. With the disciples near the breaking point, Jesus strolls by them on the water. We know he would not show off, so what could his motive possibly be? The fact that in Matthew’s account of the incident he invited Peter to join him on the water and then rebuked him for a lack of faith when Peter started to sink, suggests that an easier way of living is available to all who believe. We often strive and strain when simple, child-like trust would instantly relieve our burdens and lift us to a higher realm and a more carefree life. Of course, we will have opposition from negative forces, whether human or spiritual, as well as from our own selfish nature, but as we learn to overcome these opponents, the Spirit-led life becomes easy.
Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT–Copyright © 2008 Andrew T. Hawkins
Hearing that God can speak directly to us can feel intimidating because of our seeming inability to tune into his voice. I certainly do not hear him so plainly in everyday experience. However, I find that most of the time my problem comes from not slowing down long enough to listen. As I run through life, my hurried footsteps harden the soil of my heart so that the word cannot penetrate. When we come to scripture with a quiet and receptive heart, and feel the love of God, we easily sense some directive from him. For example, if we are meditating on the story of the four friends bringing the paralytic to Jesus (Mark 2:1-12), we sense that we should go to greater lengths to help one of our friends. When we hear Jesus say to the paralysed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven”, we could feel challenged to receive more completely the forgiveness for a troubling fault. Or, knowing his desire to do good to us, we may sense that we ought to believe God for some difficult situation in our lives as the paralytic believed to be healed.
Speaking of this explicit guidance from God, Carlo Caretto says it arises from our abandonment to God’s love. “Live love, let love invade you. It will never fail to teach you what you must do. Charity, which is God in us, will point to the way ahead. It will say to you ‘Now kneel,’ or ‘Now leave’ . . . . Don’t interrogate heaven repeatedly and uselessly saying, ‘What course of action should I pursue?’ Concentrate on loving instead. And by loving you will find out what is for you. Loving, you will listen to the Voice.” Love is a Person, not just a lifestyle. Like so many others before him, Caretto puts great confidence in God’s willingness to intervene in history and speak guiding words to us. He infers that we can reach a state of spiritual maturity where, at any given moment, we could be directed by God to know exactly what to do. However, this does not happen by fretful worrying about God’s will, but by simply giving ourselves to love which, it turns out, is God himself (1 John 4:7,8).