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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Prayer

A Little Lower than God! Part 5: Open the Door, then Close It!

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In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol we’re introduced to Ebenezer Scrooge, a man “secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” Individuality becomes pathological when taken to extreme. We’re made for love and love requires a community where we find others to love. Nevertheless, the spiritual life begins alone and requires a regular return to solitude if it’s to flourish.

We have been considering the self as a contained space, a city that is to be enclosed within walls (Prov. 25:28). Last time we heard Jesus speaking of the self as a house. He says he stands at its door knocking, waiting for an invitation to come in. Once we’ve opened the door and embraced the presence of Jesus, he promises to eat with us. That is, he promises an intimate, satisfying experience such as good friends enjoy around a dinner table. God invites us to a delicious fellowship, firstly with him alone–a fellowship in which we come to know the unique, particular love God has for us personally. Without that experience we will not truly love others. Jesus’ certainty of this kind of relationship with his Heavenly father gave him the ability to love the disciples right to the bitter end (John 13:1).

Therefore, once we invite Jesus inside, he directs us to close the door, at times, to everything and everyone else. “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mat. 6:6). Today it is increasingly difficult to slam the door as hundreds of ads, demands and other distractions try to pry their way into our inner world daily. However, If we don’t find this “secret place,” we’re not likely to enjoy our spiritual life a whole lot.

I was taught that inviting Jesus inside means that he comes into the deepest part of me. He is there whether I feel him or not. However, if I come to believe that Jesus only dwells beyond my conscious mind, my expectation of meaningful interaction with him will fade. I begin to believe I can’t experience his presence and I end up living with an empty place at the table. It is as though I have opened the door to Jesus, but then bade him go straight to the basement until I summon him in time of need.

To be sure, there is great value in believing that Jesus lives in the deepest part of me whether I sense him or not. This assurance encourages me during times when I feel distant from God. However, if it morphs into a life of always feeling distant from God something is drastically wrong. He’s deep down in the basement and I’m not even really sure which room he’s in. I don’t go there much anyway.

The idea of Jesus in my innermost being is pretty much inaccessible to me in daily life. What I do know, however, is that meeting Jesus in other rooms within my house is something eminently practical. I can invite him into my ordinary thought life and decisions. When I get anxious because of my job or my family or my health I can go, as it were, to the kitchen where Jesus waits for me to share my concerns with him over a cup of tea. When I have conflict with someone, I can invite Jesus to pace back and forth with me in the living room as I wrestle with how I can overcome my anger. In the family room, I can give thanks for the enjoyment of family and the company of friends.

If we shut the door to be with God alone, Jesus says the Father will reward us. If this has anything to do with some great position of power, as some Christians allege, it does so only incidentally. It is not God’s power but his love that woos us. His presence is all the reward we need (Gen. 15;1).

“Father, we long for that intimate fellowship with you. We’re amazed that you long for communion with us too! Help us to be faithful in shutting the door to all that is outside. May we learn to experience the great love which you have for each one of us individually. Then we will be able to fulfill your heart’s desire of loving others as Jesus loves us.”

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Prayer

“A Little Lower than God” Part 2: The Crossroads, a Divine Place!

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In the previous post, I spoke of the Bible’s audacious claim that human beings are created in the image of God. Whatever progress I make in understanding that statement comes to a screeching halt the moment I take a good look at myself. When I consider God’s others-centered love, the contrast with my deep-rooted self-centeredness hits me like a brick wall. At the suggestion I be like Jesus, I become a small boy on a hike whose path leads straight to the foot of a 300 foot vertical cliff that somehow I must scale.

The first step in beginning the climb is understanding that this sense of utter helplessness comes about precisely because I am created in God’s image! I’m speaking of our ability to step back and think about our circumstances, in this instance to reflect on how far I am from God’s nature. Animals, whose instincts drive them on, can’t do this. We humans, on the other hand, have an amazing power to stop, consider our situation and decide on our course of action. Many men on the Titanic, for example, chose to reject the powerful instinct of self-preservation and allowed women and children to get into the lifeboats while they faced certain death.

The principle of being able to step back from reality and choose our destiny under-girds the entire Bible. Old Testament leaders such as Elijah and Joshua exhort the Israelites to “choose this day” whether they will serve God or not (1Kings 18:21;Jos. 24:15). The prophet, Joel, saw, “multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14). Billy Graham understood this truth with crystal clarity. Decision became the watchword of his ministry. He had a radio program called Hour of Decision, his magazine was simply called Decision Magazine and, of course, virtually every message he preached climaxed with a call for men and women to decide for Christ.

This incredible power of reflection, however, only reaches its full potential when we combine it with the reality of God’s presence. That is, we can step back from the current situation and reflect, but we can do it in two ways. We can think by ourselves or we can invite God to join us in our deliberations. We can go into abstraction or we can come into relationship. The difference is monumental. Alone, in the hollow halls of my own head, I eventually suffer an anguished emptiness. Reflecting with an upward glance to Jesus, I have better, higher quality ideas which lead to a sense of contented fullness.

The Bible specifically teaches us this principle when, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God says, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. (Jer 6:16). The crossroads, of course, is the place where we step back and choose which way we will go. The verse gives us two profound insights. Firstly, when we are faced with a decision, rather than merely think about it by ourselves, stop and pray. Ask God what we should do. Think about what he might want us do.

Secondly, ask for the good way. This is the secret for so many who feel they never hear from God.  “The Lord’s goodness and mercy endure forever.” To hear God speak, we must understand his language and, simply put, it is love. “God is love.” So ask God, ask yourself, “Where do I see God’s goodness most clearly? What’s the most loving thing I can do in this terrible work situation? How can I show graciousness to this troublesome individual? What career will give me the best opportunity to do good?” It’s surprising then how often we’re inspired by better thoughts than our own.

Child Direction Kid Crossroad Choice What Way

 

So every time you’re discouraged by the wall of your own self-centeredness, realize that you’re at a divine place–the crossroads. You have the power to choose! Because you’re like God, you have an opportunity to mold your own destiny. It doesn’t matter how often you seemed to have come up short, “it’s never too late to make a right decision!” You can step back; you can give an upward glance; you can look for the good way and see what God will do!

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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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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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Primal Yearning and Prayer (Excerpt from WHISPERS THAT DELIGHT)

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

Sometimes we think we must obliterate all other desires and somehow progress to a state of wanting nothing but God. However, things do not normally work that way. We cannot just cut the principle of desire out of our lives nor instantly do away with the lusts we seek to overcome. Walter Hilton states that, “Prayer is nothing else but an ascending or getting up of the desire of the heart into God by withdrawing it from earthly thoughts.” To get the longings of our heart “up into” God, we must start where we are. We do that by allowing ourselves to feel our inner life and bring whatever desires we find into the light. If the desire for companionship overwhelms us, we acknowledge that to God. If we are dominated by a longing to climb the corporate ladder or get the lead part in the play, we present this to God. If the overeating/dieting cycle ensnares us, we try to feel the force of this obsession, conscious that we are in his presence. As in deep massage where the masseuse gets below the surface muscles to those supporting them underneath, so in the stillness of prayer we seek to get below the desire for status, pleasure, or goods to our root need for God. As Goethe says, all human longing is really longing for God.

When we understand God does not want to condemn us nor annihilate our deepest passion, but rather fulfill it, we have courage to lay ourselves open honestly. In addition to sharing our wholesome wants with him, we may freely open the secret places where deep, hidden things lie—raw cravings, inappropriate sexual desires, fantasies of greatness, lust for money and power. We let all our hopes, needs, or lusts rise from our depths like water pumped up from a deep well. They originate ultimately in God though some may be so distorted we can hardly recognize their connection to him. Revenge, for example, though clearly not of God, is a misguided desire for justice. Longing for the world’s praise is quintessentially the God-given desire for glory. Wanting to simply feel good, the basis of so many sinful activities, is the desire for joy which God longs to fulfill in a healthy way. Vanity may be a warped desire for beauty, and greed, a twisted longing for security. Bringing our desires into prayer means bringing in this primordial force, whatever disfigured shape it has taken.

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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.