A Little Lower than God

A Little Lower than God! Part 6: Cooperating with the Spirit

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The most exciting part of the Gospel is often understated, that is, that the cross and its accompanying forgiveness were a means to an end and not the end itself. The purpose for which Jesus died was that God’s Spirit could fully inhabit human beings once again. This is the great truth of Pentecost. When we think of the Spirit coming into us, do we play any role? “Surely God is sovereign,” some would say, “and does what he pleases. We can’t have anything to do with the Spirit’s arrival in our lives.”

Yet we can and do. We are high beings with the God-like capacity of rationality. We can direct our minds wherever we choose. And when we choose to think about the Spirit’s quality i.e. the Goodness, we direct ourselves to the shoreline of heaven.

infilling

Through this process of using my mind in prayer to think about God’s Love, I tentatively walk out upon the water and sense that a meeting is taking place. God is calling me to cooperate with him in some way.

I reach out and receive; I take what is being offered, the Goodness. And I must take. God doesn’t do it all. He waits for me. I must stretch out in faith.

As the Spirit comes, the tension smooths out. I may confidently embrace the Spirit’s essence, the Christ of God. Jesus’ sacrifice makes me worthy now. I don’t have to be afraid anymore. I am a high being and able to interact even with the Creator. I breathe in peace.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour

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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).

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Confession–Relief from Deafening Pain (Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT)

Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT–Copyright © 2008 Andrew T. Hawkins

After lifting our minds in praise to our Heavenly Father, self-examination and confession flow rather naturally. Having glanced toward his beauty and grace, our thoughts inevitably drift back to how unfortunately different we are. Two frightening consequences of the Fall make this attention shift unavoidable, namely, guilt and shame. Their painful weight upon our heart demands our attention, making it impossible to tune into God. Nothing does more to deafen us to his voice than these two debilitating emotions and the anxiety they generate. Confession freshens the inner life by dispelling these dark clouds and preparing us to hear our Lord once again. . . .

Confession opens the inner life the way the surgeon’s knife opens the body. However, just being cut open heals no one. When the doctor finishes his repair work and closes the incision, the body’s natural healing processes take over and recovery occurs. Similarly, although a necessary first step, merely examining ourselves to see what we have done wrong brings no relief. Down through church history Christians have not been helped by incessantly hashing and rehashing the past, but by taking their burdens to the Lord and leaving them there, as the old song says. When Brother Lawrence did something to let God down, he simply said to him, “I shall never do otherwise if You leave me to myself; it is You who must hinder my falling and mend what is amiss.” After this he gave himself no further uneasiness about it—and went back to placing his mind on God.
In summary, a time of confession brightens the inner life and prepares us to listen to God by dispelling the oppressive weight of guilt and shame which inevitably attracts our attention and thus prevents us from attending to our Heavenly Father.

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Are All My Thoughts & Feelings My Own? (Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT)

Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT–Copyright © 2008 Andrew T. Hawkins

For God to communicate with us, we must sense him in some way and he normally chooses such commonplace means as thinking or feeling. Christians have long recognized that, just as the Evil One can put “fiery darts” in our minds (Eph. 6:16 NKJ), so God can put his thoughts in our minds. Jesus told his disciples, for example, that when the Holy Spirit came to them he would remind them of everything Jesus had said (John 14:26). In addition to thoughts, God can also speak to us through feelings or desires. . . .

Our default understanding–that everything which passes through our mind and emotions comes from us–kills the devotional life. Expectation of hearing him dies because we effectively negate the main way God speaks to us. If we believe Ignatius, we realize that the field where the treasure lies buried is the inner world, and the treasure itself is the thoughts, feelings, images, and desires that come from God. We will now pay close attention to these movements rather than see them as purely part of the unending stream of our own consciousness. We will finally be delivered from the world of psycho-babble that reduces the spiritual realm to nothing more than our own mind. We will be set free from the lie that neatly disposes of anything mysterious or supernatural as a product of our own subconscious, a catchall where apparently anything beyond our understanding can be dumped. When convinced that God speaks in us, we will sift through the flow of inward motions as a miner pans for gold. Feelings of increased love for God, sorrow for self-centeredness, thoughts of helping a neighbour in need, or desires to encourage others will be identified, at the least, as echoes of God’s voice.

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A Warmth that Lifts Up (Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT)

Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT–Copyright © 2008 Andrew T. Hawkins

When we expect to hear God speaking to us about his love, the joy he bestows, the life of grace, the invitation to come to him boldly, we have tuned into the divine frequency. In other words, the goodness of God is an interpretive key for discerning his voice. Now, as we wait in the stillness and solitude, we may look for signs of encouragement welling up from inside. For many years our family lived beside the Niagara Escarpment, a long cliff several hundred feet high that stretches from Niagara Falls many miles north into Ontario before heading south into Wisconsin. Every year thousands of birds of prey are funnelled between Lakes Erie and Ontario up and over the Escarpment on their annual spring migration. Hundreds of people come to watch at strategic points where the birds use thermals to ascend easily over the Escarpment and onward on their journey north. In the listening portion of prayer, we wait like the big birds for the warm breathings of God’s Spirit to lift us up. For where we feel the swell of hope, there we will be justified in looking for God. But “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31).

 

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The Beauty of Christian Simplicity

The essence of all Christian living consists in only two things–listening to God and responding to him. That’s it. That’s all we have to do! If we do but these two things, we can assure ourselves that we please God immensely. We fulfill our destiny. We function the way God made human beings to function. His wind fills our sails.

We build church services around these two elements and personal prayer should be likewise structured. The ‘PARE’ prayer pattern outlined in my book is built around these two elements, listening (attentiveness) and response to God. The “P” in PARE stands for preparation to hear and the “E” stands for enjoyment (lingering at the end of prayer to simply enjoy God’s presence). So the pattern is Preparation-Attentiveness-Response-Enjoyment.

Having said that, however, we can simplify our responsibility even further. Jesus told Martha he required only ONE thing. Martha’s sister, Mary, knew what that one thing is, listening to Jesus (Luke 10:38-42). If we steadfastly listen to him, we will inevitably respond by living the way he wants. We’ll love, pray, forgive, help the vulnerable, stand up to injustice etc.

Perhaps someone would argue that we can hear God and refuse to obey him. That’s only partially true. We can say no to God only if we turn away from him. We can’t keep listening and disobey for the pressure would drive us crazy. By listening to God we open ourselves to the power of the universe and that current moves us in the direction of his will–loving and doing good works. To refuse to go along with God would be harder than standing against the Niagara. The human frame could not take it. We would end up like those who stoned Stephen. When they heard him speaking God’s truth, they covered their ears and yelled as loud as they could to drown out the heavenly words he spoke (Acts 7:56,57). If we don’t want to do what God says, avoiding him remains our only option.

If we decide to keep listening, as stated above, we open ourselves to wonderful, divine power. We may feel pressure build as elements within us resist going God’s way, but as we stay the course God helps us through. The river of his presence washes those blockages away like so much driftwood. We begin to move in the Spirit. Therefore, whatever you do, build some quiet attentiveness to God into your prayer time.