One day we shall ride

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To shrink back from all that can be called Nature into negative spirituality is as if we ran away from horses instead of learning to ride. There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room (more room than most of us like) for abstinence and renunciation and mortifying our natural desires. But behind all asceticism the thought should be, ‘Who will trust us with the true wealth if we cannot be trusted even with the wealth that perishes?’

Who will trust me with a spiritual body
if I cannot control even an earthly body?

These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether but that some day we may ride bareback, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world-shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables. Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else – since He has retained His own charger – should we accompany Him?

–C.S. Lewis
Miracles

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The joyful awareness

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The goal of prayer is to live
all of my life and speak all of my words
in the joyful awareness of the presence of God.
Prayer becomes real when we grasp
the reality and goodness
of God’s constant presence
with ‘the real me.’

–John Ortberg Jr.

That is what grace means

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Our problem is that we assume prayer is something to master the way we master algebra or auto mechanics. That puts us in the “on-top” position, where we are competent and in control. But when praying, we come “underneath,” where we calmly and deliberately surrender control and become incompetent… The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter.

Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel
the good from the bad, the pure from the impure.

God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by it, we live by it as well. And we pray by it.

–Richard J. Foster

Published in: on 02/28/2013 at 3:47  Leave a Comment  
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The misery and the marvel

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God is right here in the thick
of our day-by-day lives . . .
trying to get messages
through our blindness
as we move around down here
knee-deep in the fragrant muck
and misery and marvel
of the world.

–Frederick Buechner
The Magnificent Defeat

Image by Vivienne Gucwa

Praying with your heart

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The more that prayer
becomes the untrammelled,
free and natural expression
of the desires of our hearts,
the more real it becomes.

–Ole Hallesby
(1879 – 1961)

God at work

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Remember God is acting
on your soul all the time,
whether you have spiritual
sensations or not.

–Evelyn Underhill
(1875 – 1941)

Spirituality, intimacy and illusions

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Many people assume that spirituality is about becoming emotionally intimate with God. That’s a naïve view of spirituality. What we’re talking about is the Christian life. It’s following Jesus. Spirituality is no different from what we’ve been doing for two thousand years just by going to church and receiving the sacraments, being baptized, learning to pray, and reading Scriptures rightly. It’s just ordinary stuff.

This promise of intimacy is both right and wrong. There is an intimacy with God, but it’s like any other intimacy; it’s part of the fabric of your life. In marriage you don’t feel intimate most of the time. Nor with a friend. Intimacy isn’t primarily a mystical emotion. It’s a way of life, a life of openness, honesty, a certain transparency . . .

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It involves following Jesus. It involves the Cross. It involves death, an acceptable sacrifice. We give up our lives. The Gospel of Mark is so graphic this way. The first half of the Gospel is Jesus showing people how to live. He’s healing everybody. Then right in the middle, he shifts. He starts showing people how to die: “Now that you’ve got a life, I’m going to show you how to give it up.” That’s the whole spiritual life. It’s learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love.

–Eugene Peterson
Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons
Interview by Mark Galli, Christianity Today

Meeting the real God

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Only if God can say things
that make you struggle
will you know that you have met
a real God and not a figment
of your imagination.

–Tim Keller

Published in: on 02/17/2013 at 4:25  Leave a Comment  
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Joyful uncertainty

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We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us, He begins to fill our lives with surprises.

When we become simply a promoter
or a defender of a particular belief,
something within us dies.

That is not believing God — it is only believing our belief about Him. Jesus said, “. . . unless you . . . become as little children . . .” (Matthew 18:3 ). The spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next. If our certainty is only in our beliefs, we develop a sense of self-righteousness, become overly critical, and are limited by the view that our beliefs are complete and settled.

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. . . when we have the right
relationship with God,
life is full of spontaneous,
joyful uncertainty
and expectancy.

Jesus said, “. . . believe also in Me” (John 14:1 ), not, “Believe certain things about Me”. Leave everything to Him and it will be gloriously and graciously uncertain how He will come in— but you can be certain that He will come. Remain faithful to Him.

–Oswald Chambers
My Utmost For His Highest
(emphasis added)

Back to wholeness

God did not tell us to follow Him
because He needed our help,
but because He knew that loving Him
would make us whole.

–Irenaeus (ca. 125-202)

An Audience with the King

by Jurgen Schulz

Many years ago, the citizens of a far away land lived under the rule of a most wonderful king. As might be expected, this monarch resided in a magnificent palace. It was a most impressive edifice with towers that stretched skyward, priceless paintings, gardens with fountains, busy butlers, crystal chandeliers. A place truly fit for a king.

Among the many palace workers was a team of royal gardeners. They were charged with the task of maintaining the hedges, flower-gardens, fountains, lawns and trees. These laborers went about their duties carefully following the established royal garden procedures. They were constantly trimming, watering, weeding and generally making the grounds look like a corner of paradise. On coffee break they would sit together and chat about their work or events in the community. Sometimes they would exchange words with one of the cooks or butlers.

Although the gardeners worked on the palace grounds they never actually saw the king. They knew he lived there. They understood that occasionally he would travel elsewhere, but not one of them had ever caught a glimpse of him. He never seemed to visit the garden. Occasionally the staff that worked inside the palace would share some interesting tidbit involving His Majesty’s activities. The gardeners always listened with fascination and envy. Seeing the king was a special honor they did not enjoy.

If the monarch was ever mentioned in the gardeners’ conversations, it was always second hand information gleaned from others or read in the local paper. Mostly they talked about the gardens, the affairs in the town, or the latest soccer match. They worked on the grounds around the palace, but they were not among the privileged “insiders” who had contact with the king. They had resigned themselves to the fact that gardeners don’t meet kings. And, with that understanding, they simply carried on with their work.

However, one day it happened. One of the new gardeners was over on the east side of the palace grounds trimming a bush, and there, beyond a row of trees, he caught a glimpse of him. Unmistakably, it was the king. For one fleeting moment he saw his majesty strolling in the garden. The gardener stood riveted. His Highness was everything he had imagined him to be and much more. A most extraordinary man. And, after a few seconds, he passed out of view. The gardener strained to catch sight of him again, but he was gone.

Hardly believing his good fortune, he turned back to his work. However, after having laid eyes on the king, it was most difficult to continue calmly trimming bushes. He had actually caught sight of him!

At coffee break, he excitedly broke the remarkable news to his colleagues. However, the response was not at all favorable. His co-workers scoffed and told him “to get real”. They dismissed the idea as absurd, and went back to discussing the affairs of the garden.

It was all very puzzling to the new gardener. How could they have worked here so long without ever catching sight of the king? And why would they not believe his story? Did they think the ruler of the land was just an idea, a theory, a topic of discussion? The gardener quietly withdrew from the group. After having seen His Highness, garden-talk failed to captivate his interest. As a matter of fact, everything else had become strangely uninteresting.

In the weeks that followed he sighted the king on several occasions. Each time it was a fleeting glimpse, a momentary sighting, but it left him more and more intrigued with His Royal Majesty. The gardener’s whole outlook changed. He no longer came to the palace grounds to tend a garden; he came to look for the king.

The gardener came to realize that, contrary to the opinion of his colleagues, if you remained vigilant, you might just spot Him among the trees of the garden. It was hard for him to understand how some of his friends had worked there for so many years and had never caught sight of Him. They simply tended gardens; he was on the look-out for His Majesty.

For a few weeks, things in the royal grounds continued in a normal fashion. Then something unthinkable occurred. One of the butlers appeared in the garden and made a startling announcement to the new gardener, “The king requires your presence. He wants to see you right away in the drawing room.” The worker was dumbfounded. Could this really be true?

He quickly washed his hands and, straightening his hair, he nervously walked along behind the butler. Why would the king want to see him? With his heart pounding, he followed the man into the palace, through several passageways, and up two flights of stairs. An oak door was opened and he was ushered into the stately room where the king sat expecting him.

Hat in hand, the gardener bowed. The king smiled. The laborer had never seen a face so kind and so wise. His Majesty was evidently very pleased to see him and motioned him to an armchair.

Never had he spoken face to face with royalty. He was at a loss for words, but the king very quickly put him at ease. He was so friendly, so courteous, so gracious. He inquired about the gardener’s wife and children. He knew them all by name, and was immensely interested in each one. It was almost like conversing with a old friend. No one had ever made him feel so special.

The king walked over to the window and gazed out. “I often stand here and watch as you work,” he commented. “And I am most grateful for your diligent labor in the gardens.” The laborer was astonished. He had never dreamed that the king might be observing him from afar. He managed to stammer, “It is a great privilege to work here, your Highness.” This was amazing! The king had been looking his way and appreciated his work!

The wonder-struck gardener felt a gladness surge within him that went beyond anything he had ever known. It was like some extravagant joy that he had never thought possible. Delight and amazement flooded over him like waves. Never had he met someone who evoked such deep pleasure and satisfaction.

Finally, after about an hour (that seemed like five minutes), the remarkable visit came to an end. The gardener withdrew from the king’s presence, and returned to his work in the garden, dumbfounded at what had taken place. One of the palace cooks commented to the others that he was sure he had seen one of the gardeners pass by dancing across the grass.

Sighting one of his co-workers, the new gardener sauntered over and declared, “You’re never going to believe this, but I have just been in the palace conversing with the king.” His co-worker threw his head back and roared with laughter. “Do you expect me to believe that?” he mocked. Not for a moment did the man consider it to be true. Gardeners don’t meet with royalty. Evidently this new worker had much to learn about affairs in the palace grounds. Those who had been here for years had never known such a thing to happen. Obviously the newcomer was making this up.

Admittedly it was hard to believe. Kings are not in the habit of fraternizing with gardeners. Everybody knows that. But this had actually taken place!

By coffee break time, the rest of the crew had heard the story and took to ridiculing the new gardener. He became the laughing stock of the palace grounds. Some were sure that the new worker was having hallucinations. Others concluded that people like him should not be working in the royal gardens. None gave credence to his story.

But the garden worker knew that it was true! He had talked face to face with the king! His colleagues turned to arguing about some policy in the Royal Procedures Manual, but the new gardener could not stop pondering his encounter with the king.

He continued to attend to his daily responsibilities in the palace gardens. He did so to the best of his abilities, but somehow everything was different. He had become acquainted with His Majesty! The king had become his friend! The excitement of it all took his breath away and made his heart take flight. Every once in a while he could be seen throwing a glance at the windows on the second floor of the palace.

His co-workers were intent on following the Royal Manual, he was interested in knowing His Royal Highness. Some people just dream about this sort of thing. But this wasn’t a dream! It was unmistakably real.

And he was certain that life could never be the same.

Published in: on 10/23/2012 at 6:46  Leave a Comment  
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He is the seeker

Another picture that our Lord loves to use is that of the shepherd who goes out to look for the sheep that is lost.

So long as we imagine
that it is we who have to look for God,
then we must often lost heart.
But it is the other way about:
He is looking for us.

And so we can afford to recognize that very often we are not looking for God; far from it, we are in full flight from Him, in high rebellion against Him. And He knows that and has taken it into account He has followed us into our own darkness; there where we thought finally to escape Him, we run straight into His arms.

So we do not have to erect a false piety for ourselves, to give us hope of salvation. Our hope is in His determination to save us. And He will not give in!

–Simon Tugwell

He keeps knocking

Jesus also wants very much to have rich fellowship with us today, for he declares, “Here I am! I [always] stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). God himself thus wants nothing so much as to have fellowship with each of us; otherwise he would not keep knocking twenty-four hours a day.

–Daniel P. Fuller

This is not heaven

For now we see in a mirror dimly,
but then face to face;
now I know in part,
but then I shall know fully
just as I also have been fully known.
(1 Cor. 13:12)

God wants us to know right up front that this is not heaven on earth. He knows me intimately, and He also knows that I don’t know Him in the same way.

Sometimes we can fatigue ourselves greatly
in a never-ending quest to feel
closer and closer to God.

We feel second-rate, because our knowledge of God is so imperfect. Of course we are right in one sense; none of us knows our Creator the way we should, the way we long to. But the true fulfillment of those desires awaits another age. To know that my present dim apprehension of God is only to be expected is incredibly comforting. I am eager for more, but I don’t have to thrash myself with guilt for not knowing God better.

The important thing now is not that I know God,
but that He knows me.

One day He will lift the veil totally and irrevocably in a way that all my spiritual strivings never could.

–Ron Julian
(emphasis added)

Tender and terrible

I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery.

–Brennan Manning

When God whispers

“For God does speak
– now one way, now another –
though man may not perceive it.”
Job 33:14

I long to be on intimate terms with God and I have often felt offended that God makes it so hard to hear him and to sense him at work in my life. After much seeking of God about this puzzle I have at last made the heart-warming discovery that God hiding himself in no way suggests that he wants to remain aloof. On the contrary, he longs for us to find him. Nothing thrills him more than us by faith seeing through his disguises and discovering him speaking and loving us through people, thoughts, circumstances, desires, books, songs, dreams, billboards, nature, movies, Scriptures . . . does the list ever end? It is only if God lovingly hides himself that we can win the eternal glory of those who by the eyes of faith pierce the apparent darkness and silence and evil to see our holy, triumphant Lord loving us and speaking to us and weaving all things together for good.

Perhaps you have heard of the man who in utter frustration asked his pastor why God had not been giving him answers. Unable to hear the pastor’s mumbled reply, the man moved closer, asking the pastor to repeat what he had said. Still unable to hear the reply, he moved closer and closer until finally his ear was almost touching the pastor. Then he heard in the faintest voice, ‘Sometimes God whispers so that we will move closer to him.’

–Grantley Morris

Delight and desire

You called and cried out loud
and shattered my deafness.
You were radiant and resplendent,
you put to flight my blindness.
You were fragrant,
and I drew in my breath
and now pant after you.
I tasted you, and I feel
but hunger and thirst for you.
You touched me,
and I am set on fire to attain
the peace which is yours.

–Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430)

Oblivious to the concert

But so many Christians
are like deaf people at a concert.
They study the programme carefully,
believe every statement made in it,
speak respectfully of the quality of the music,
but only really hear a phrase now and again.
So they have no notion at all
of the mighty symphony
which fills the universe,
to which our lives are destined
to make their tiny contribution,
and which is the self-expression
of the Eternal God.

–Evelyn Underhill (1875 – 1941)

Made to be lovers of God

Prayer is central to our lives because it reaches into the very core of our being, into the heart of human existence. In his Confessions . . . Augustine said that our central drive is our desire for God, whether we recognize this or not. We are not capable of generating our own happiness; we must go outside ourselves to find it. Augustine once told his congregation: “Men are not sufficient for their own bliss.” C. S. Lewis described this process as being “surprised by joy”—the sudden discovery that all our lives we were looking for something beyond our relationships, achievements and successes.

We were, in fact, looking for God,
but did not know it.

Only when our drives and desires, hopes and loves are redirected towards God, do we become fully human. We were made for our relationships, created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The function of prayer is to bring these realizations to the surface of our lives.

Prayer points us beyond ourselves,
beyond our friendships,
to the deepest realization of all:
that God made us to be lovers of God.
He is at the very heart of our hearts.

–James Houston

Rumors of another world

I began to listen to my own longings as rumours of another world, a bright clue to the nature of the Creator. Somehow I had fallen for the deception of judging the natural world as unspiritual and God as antipleasure.

But God invented matter, after all,
including all the sensors in the body
through which I experience pleasure.

Nature and supernature are not two separate worlds, but different expressions of the same reality.

–Philip Yancey

Prayer of blessing

“May all your expectations be frustrated.
May all your plans be thwarted.
May all your desires be withered
into nothingness, that you may experience
the powerlessness and poverty of a child
and sing and dance in the love of God
the Father, the Son
and the Spirit.”

–Jean Vanier

Where’s the cookies?

In His reply to the disciples’ question about who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1), Jesus abolished any distinction between the elite and the ordinary in the Christian community. “He called a little child to him and set the child in front of them. Then he said,I tell you solemnly, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And so, the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2-4).

Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter as He sits the child on His knee. The child is unself-conscious, incapable of pretense. I am reminded of the night little John Dyer, three years old, knocked on our door flanked by his parents. I looked down and said, “Hi, John. I am delighted to see you.” He looked neither to the right nor left. His face was set like flint. He narrowed his eyes with the apocalyptic glint of an aimed gun. “Where’s the cookies?” he demanded.

The Kingdom belongs to people who aren’t trying to look good or impress anybody, even themselves. They are not plotting how they can call attention to themselves, worrying about how their actions will be interpreted or wondering if they will get gold stars for their behaviour. Twenty centuries later, Jesus speaks pointedly to the preening ascetic trapped in the fatal narcissism of spiritual perfectionism, to those of us caught up in boasting about our victories in the vineyard, to those of us fretting and flapping about our human weakness and character defects.

The child doesn’t have to struggle
to get himself in a good position
for having a relationship with God…

He doesn’t have to craft ingenious way of explaining his position to Jesus; he doesn’t have to create a pretty face for himself; he doesn’t have to achieve any state of spiritual feeling or intellectual understanding. All he has to do is to happily accept the cookies: the gift of the Kingdom.

–Brennan Manning

The Pharisee and the child

The Pharisee and the child in the gospels stand for opposite types—one had attained, had closed up, was impervious to anything outside of the closed system and his closed soul, while the child was open, eager, full of questions, explorative. Jesus could do nothing with the one and everything with the other.

–E. Stanley Jones

The sublime wonder of living

The surest way to suppress
our ability to understand
the meaning of God
and the importance of worship
is to take things for granted.
Indifference to
the sublime wonder of living
is the root of sin.

–Abraham Joshua Heschel
(1907 – 1972)

The eternal appetite of infancy

A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, Do it again; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.

For grown-up people are not strong enough
to exult in monotony.

But perhaps God is strong enough… It is possible that God says every morning, Do it again, to the sun; and every evening, Do it again, to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

–G. K. Chesterton
(1874 – 1936)

 

The curse that kills wonder

The curse that came before history has laid on us all a tendency to be weary of wonders. If we saw the sun for the first time it would be the most fearful and beautiful of meteors. Now that we see it for the hundreth time we call it, in the hideous and blasphemous phrase of Wordsworth, “the light of common day.”

–G. K. Chesterton
(1874 – 1936)

The wisdom of wonder

The Greek philosophers . . . called the deepest ground of knowing wonder. In wonder the senses are opened for the immediate impression of the world. In wonder the things perceived penetrate the sense fresh and unfiltered. They impose themselves on us. They make an impression on us . . .

People who can no longer be astonished, people who have got used to everything, people who perceive only as a matter of routine and react accordingly: people who live like this let reality pass them by . . .

Wonder is the inexhaustible foundation of our community with each other, with nature, with God.

–Jürgen Moltmann

Mud or miracle?

Jewish tradition says that the splitting of the Red Sea was the greatest miracle ever performed. It was so extraordinary that on that day even a common servant beheld more than all the miracles beheld by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel combined. And yet we have one midrash that mentions two Israelites, Reuven and Shimon, who had a different experience.

Apparently the bottom of the sea, though safe to walk on, was not completely dry but a little muddy, like a beach at low tide. Reuven stepped into it and curled his lip. “What is this muck?”

Shimon scowled, “There’s mud all over the place!”

“This is just like the slime pits of Egypt!” replied Reuven.

“What’s the difference?” complained Shimon. “Mud here, mud there; it’s all the same.”

And so it went for the two of them, grumbling all the way across the bottom of the sea. And, because they never once looked up, they never understood why on the distant shore, everyone else was singing songs of praise. For Reuven and Shimon the miracle never happened.

–Lawrence Kushner

Captivated by wonder

One of the most attractive things about G. K. Chesterton was the unending sense of surprised delight he had for all creation, the world and everything in it. He found newspaper ink to be as wonderful as beach glass, which—it went without saying—was as marvelous to him as any good cigar.

He was as awe-struck and grateful
for the world as a teenager in love,
and he wondered about the unconditional
gift of days that God had given him.

He asked with astonishment, “Why am I allowed two?”—a great question in an age where we expect unending, medically-engineered days.

Chesterton was joyful, because he was grateful; he was grateful because even within his busy life, he was allowed the leisure of silence, with which gift, he was able to wonder. And, as St. Gregory of Nyssa is credited with saying, “only wonder leads to knowing.”

If we cannot wonder, how can we presume to know the Timeless and Eternal God?

–Elizabeth Scalia

The mystery of nature

I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what [C. S.] Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.

–Clyde Kilby (1902 – 1986)

Published in: on 08/16/2012 at 8:28  Leave a Comment  
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