Each of us is a kind of sovereign lord and, like all rulers, we have a territory we rule over. That territory is the inner space where we step back from the world to make decisions, imagine and create. Not even God himself trespasses there. As previously mentioned, he waits for us to invite him in. Having such authority is part of what it means to be created in God’s image.
We are, however, only an image of God, not God himself. As the picture projected onto a screen needs light in order to be seen, so we are only clearly the image of God when we invite the Light into this sacred inner space. When we do, our innermost being becomes the Holy of Holies, that place where God dwelt in Israel’s tabernacle in the wilderness.
In Hebrews 9:19-28 the writer speaks of this tabernacle being a picture of heaven and then makes a most curious assertion–heaven itself needs to be purified! How can this be? I thought heaven by definition was pure. Whatever the mystery contained in all this, one thing is certain, there is a direct relationship between our deepest, truest nature and the heavenly realm. For our inner being to be cleansed, heaven needs to be cleansed. So Hebrews speaks virtually interchangeably of both heaven and the hearts of believers being sprinkled with the blood of Christ. c.f. Hebrews 10:22
So then, when we have invited Christ into our inner sanctuary, our hearts become a beachhead, part of God’s sovereign kingdom upon earth. We are called to protect this holy territory and to extend it out into the world by letting his love reign in our lives–family, work, community etc. The heavenly kingdom comes as God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
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.
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.