Prayer

“A Little Lower than God” Part 1: Who Was I? Who Am I?

Extended Fam - Edited

Back in the late 60s you would often hear people speaking about the need to “find yourself.” An incident involving a friend of mine and a university professor highlighted my desperate need to do just exactly that. We were in the office of my friend’s former professor visiting. After they chatted for a few minutes, the professor turned to me and said, “And so Andrew, who are you?” The question threw me off. In a flippant manner I started to recount my biography, “I attended Riverside Public School in London. . . ,” but after only a few seconds I found a lump of fear in my stomach and I couldn’t speak. My friend and the professor stared at me wondering what was going on. The professor asked, “Do you not like me?” He was befuddled. We all were. “Who are you?” a simple question, but an obvious and painful revelation that I didn’t know.

You may not have an experience as dramatic (or fearful) as me, but have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and wondered who am I? “Where did I come from?” is a natural question for the simple reason that we didn’t make ourselves. More to the point, as a Christian, who do you conceive yourself to be? What do you feel yourself to be? Are you a glorious being created in the image of God or a sinner saved by grace?

The question is of the utmost practical importance for we will never grow beyond the vision we have of ourselves. Let me illustrate with a story. A Wisconsin farmer walking early in the season in his pumpkin patch sees a bottle lying on the ground. He carefully inserts one of the tiny, young pumpkins into the bottle so as to not damage the vine and puts it back on the ground. In the fall when he returns he finds the pumpkin is no bigger than the bottle which it has perfectly filled.

If all we conceive ourselves to be is a “sinner saved by grace,” that’s all we’ll ever be. Too often we focus on the negative side of our beings because we’re all too aware of our shortcomings, “the carnal self.” However, there is an older, original self that pulsates with the heartbeat of God. We were born in sin, that is, in some mysterious sense we were “in Adam” when he sinned. However, the whole truth is that we were also “in him” when he was created a glorious being! Your true self, at the core, is full of wonder, the very reflection of the divine!

The Gospel message proclaims that because of what Jesus has done, we can now consider the old self yesterday’s news (Rom. 6:11). The only thing that matters anymore is the new glorious self (Gal. 6:15) which is in fact God’s original!

May we keep in mind these powerful and beautiful words from Max Lucado, “Your life emerged from the greatest mind and kindest heart in the history of the universe.”

(Next)

 

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christian · Prayer

Responding to the Spirit (excerpt from “Whispers that Delight”)

The Spirit of Our Actions is What Counts

When we speak of responding to God in prayer, therefore, we do not mean an intellectual exercise of trying to discern our marching orders for the day (though he could direct us to specific actions, as we shall see). Our Father’s first order of business is not to assign tasks, but to transform hearts. He seeks a profound response, something we cannot manufacture by human ability. God is a Spirit and his kingdom a spiritual one. His interest lies in the attitude or spirit with which we carry out even the smallest task. Not what we do, but how we do it matters most. Jesus highlights this truth when he draws the disciples’ attention to a widow putting two small copper coins in the offering box (Luke 21:1-4). Her offering, though appearing paltry, dwarfed all the others because she gave with great love and self-sacrifice. The amount of money given was irrelevant. The only measurement that mattered was the size of her heart. On another occasion, Jesus conveys this principle to his disciples by telling them that something as inconsequential as the giving of a cup of cold water, when done with the right attitude, has eternal benefits (Mark 9:41).

God concerns himself with our spirit, something we cannot change on our own. He must work his grace into our lives through prayer. By looking to Jesus, not only do we understand that our response to God should be one of love, we are also empowered to carry it out. Just spending time listening to him automatically makes us more loving people in the same way one coal irradiates another. Frank Bartleman describes a prayer meeting during the great Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit in the early 1900s when Jesus manifested himself for several hours to Bartleman and a friend. He said, “my whole being seemed to flow down before him, like wax before the fire,” and, Jesus “ravished our spirits with his presence.” The story fascinates me primarily because of the effect Bartleman says the encounter had upon him. “For days that marvellous presence seemed to walk by my side. The Lord Jesus was so real. I could scarcely take up with human conversation again. It seemed so crude and empty. Human spirits seemed so harsh, earthly fellowship a torment. How far we are naturally from the gentle spirit of Christ!” When we spend time with Jesus we conduct ourselves with a kinder, gentler disposition. He sweetens our spirit and softens the hard edges of our personality.

Without a revelation of Christ’s love, we cannot respond adequately. God demands our all and we will not give it unless we know his love by experience. We cannot give ourselves to someone we do not fully trust and we can only trust if we believe the person has our best interest at heart. The revelation of divine love loosens our grip on self-will and allows us to surrender to God’s will.

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The Magnificent Mystery of Us

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!

christian · Uncategorized

Molly’s Mystical Smile

Molly's Mystical Smile

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.

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An Everyday Wonder!

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!

Copper coil rotating in magnetic field produces electricity

Everyday is filled with magic and to encounter it would be to live in wonder and be primed for worship!

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Desire and the Spirit-Led Life (Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT)

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.

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Love, a Simple Secret for Hearing God (Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT)

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).