“Happy are they who give themselves to God! They are delivered from their passions, from the judgements of other, from their malice, form the tyranny of their sayings, from their cold and wretched mocking, from the misfortunes which the world distributes to wealth, from the unfaithfulness and inconstancy of friends, from the wiles of snares of the enemy, from our own weakness, from the misfortunes and brevity of life, from the horrors of a profane death, from cruel remorse attached to wicked pleasures, and in the end, from the eternal condemnation of God.” Francois Fenelon
“Lord, I am yours; I do yield myself up entirely to you, and I believe that you accept me. I leave myself with You. Work in me all the good pleasure of Your will, and I will only lie still in Your hands and trust you.” Hannah Whitall Smith (p 44)
The Apostle Paul understood that only those who obey in the moment can link their obedient moments into a significant lifetime…The point is that we are to offer our days as a sacrifice of sliver on the altar of God.
Time may be either the friend or enemy of our surrender to Christ. The Chinese sage summed up our clockish biographies in three words – hurry, worry, bury – How often the trinity of words describes our surface churchmanship…Exhausted by our frantic externalness, we collapse in bet at night, and for what? Does our hurried religiosity cause us to lift up our eyes to our King? Have we looked upon our small performance with spurious pride? Have we sighed over our small prayers and been satisfied? All the while we know – deep in our hearts – there must be some deeper, more meaningful way to live for Christ.
When we sum up our large professions and our little faith, we know we need to confess our spastic obedience to time. “Lord Jesus forgive us our hurry. Help us to remember that across from hurry, worry, bury, stands a loftier trio of words: cling, linger and savour.” We need to pray, “Lord, our spiritual dysfunction is an indication that we are splashing about on the shallow surface of our religiosity to avoid diving int Your depths.” …Time itself must be surrendered to the pursuit of the depths of God. God does not wear a watch. His unthinkable glory is learned only in our time-consuming communion with Him. But once we learn it, we are delivered.
We must slow down and get quiet in our worship. Why are we frightened of silence in evangelical churches? When worship gest quiet, evangelicals get fidgety. Thomas Merton suggested that people who don’t like each other have trouble being quiet together. The Quakers long ago learned the power of corporate silence. Evangelicals need to learn that to be quiet before God is to see him.
But God does not meet with us in the silence so that He can produce something in our lives. There is nothing to produce. The silences do not exist to create product but to bless us with authenticity.
How much time do these prayer rendezvous take? Time is not the object. We do not punch a time clock in our fellowship with God. We meet and wait and measure nothing. (pp 48-49)
“God is the friend of silence…See how nature, the trees, the flowers, the grass grow in deep silence. See how the stares, the moon and the sun move in silence. The more we receive in our silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta (p 213)
As evangelicals read the Bible, they agree with Zwingli. “Thou shalt not make unto the any graven image” (Exodus 20:4 KJV) Do not Aaron set up a golden calf and lead Israel unto sin? Even the brazen serpent of Numbers 21, by 2 Kings 18: 4 has become “Nehushtan,” an object of worship. Joshua called on Israel to put away the gods of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Habakkuk pointed out that the idols were dumb before their artisans (2:19). What exactly is the point? Idols are dumb and they are powerless as gods. Not every statue, though, is an idol; an idol is not art. Art is the definition of our praise – an idol is the recipient of it.
Jesus saves. We define his glory. Art is born. Art doesn’t become idolatry until our praise of God dies and all that is left is our praise for the art form. Idols are born when artists quit worshipping God and begin signing te deums to their own genius. Idols are always ego gods. Artists who will not offer God their self-denial [surrender] begin to worship only tier creative genius. Idols are personal portraits of self-interest. They exist to assure worshippers they can have their way. (p 65)
“At first, art imitates life. Then life will imitate art. Then life will find its very existence from the arts.” Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Because Francis and his companions were called by God and chosen to hear in their hearts and in their works, and to preach with their tongues the Cross of Christ, they seemed – and were – crucified… Because they preferred to bear shame and insults for the love of Christ over the hoors of the world and the respect and praise of men…and so they went though the world as pilgrims and strangers, being nothing with them save Christ Crucified.” Ugolino (p 80)
“Desiring exquisite goods and clothing is like painting firewood. These things are consumables. Clothes keep you warm regardless of their colour. Common foods with satisfy your hunger. Desire what is right for you.” Guigo I
Jesus is the sinless son of God, but He did not come to be a pet for our personal piety. He came on a rugged, double-fisted agenda to save humankind. He should always be adored within the context of His saving mission. Further, he should always be celebrated within the framework of His calling on our lives. If we start adoring Him romantically and with no ministry content, He will lose the office of His saving work and become and idol for the sweet and shallow and superstitious.
By the time Jesus came into the world, the word “self” had to be reckoned with and put int its place. Self-had to be denied, said Jesus. “Crucified”, said Paul. Why? Because the self served only self. The ego thrives best in soil so shallow it can give no root to the purposes of God.
Scripture never encourages us to negate ourselves (become non-existent). Scripture teaches us to deny ourselves, to abdicate our passions and get rid of those things that claim our lives with petty self-interest. Prayer is a dialogue of lovers. But if we negate ourselves to the point that we are not there, God cannot talk to us at all. (p 107)
Thus self-denial, not self-negation, is the path to obedience. Gregory the Great is worth hearing when he says, “To renounce what one has is a minor thing; to renounce what one is, that is asking a lot.” To what degree would God ask us not to be what we are? He would never ask us to stop being. He does ask us to stop being self-serving, stop being an addict to any of our passions, stop being shallow in our adoration, but never to stop being. (p 108)
At the depths of centred praying lies a hush. Gabby godliness is crushed to silence by majesty. In the majesty of final things there was silence in heaven for half an hour (Revelation 8:1). One of the theologians use the term mysterium tremendum (Latin for “overwhelming mystery”). In the Holy of Holies, we are forbidden trivial speech because the air is too heavy with unfathomable glory. (p 111)
God healed the world once for all on a hilltop through Hi own incarnate brokenness. Now the world that we have seen can be heals only by our incarnate brokenness. Jeremiah’s suffering stirs and old irreconcilable truth. When we get self-important, God often gets quiet. It is not the prevalence of people’s words that troubles the prophet. It is the absence of the words of God.
In the absence of pain, the intensity of our devotion is lost. Solzhenitsyn said, “if there are no real writers in the West, this must be the reason: There is no real pain in the West.” We are drowning in the cream of utopia. Few real writers? Perhaps few real Christians for the same reason. Jeremiah was caught in the crisis of the war that was destroying his beloved homeland. Like Barth at Safenwil, Thielicke in Stuttgart, or Gilkey in China, Jeremiah lived in times that made him rich with wounds that only God could heal.
What do unwounded servants do? They become arrogant, join country clubs, sell out to middle-class mediocrity, or become fox-hunting Christians. They may even tend toward liberalism, because only the protected have the privilege of making theology a discussion: the endangered cling to it and weep. Liberalism always comes from people with too little need of God. (pp 143-144)
The ocean is too vast and scary for us, so we dump the Great Barrier Reef in favour of Gilligan’s Island. I think most Americans liked Gilligan’s Island because it was fixed sociology. The island was a proscribed world where Gilligan, the Skipper, Mary Ann, Ginger, the Professor, and, of course, a couple of rich plutocrats were making life work as best they could. None of them were going anywhere really. They were just living and talking about a bigger world. But their conversation never amounted to much and none of them sacrificed themselves in any major way to get off their island.
How often the church is like Gilligan’s Island. Christians aren’t really living on the edge. The church doesn’t encourage them to break out of their insular spirituality. In fact, the best way to live comfortably as believers is to accept island living. Never even think about taking up your cross and risking yourself in some genuine spirituality. Keep your nose clean. Do your committee work, reads your Sunday school leaflet. Tithe. Attend the deeper life studies. It is enough to study the deeper life – but remember, you could lose your lace in the bridge square if you actually began to live it. (pp 225-226)
Catherine of Siena says it best for me: “Am I always, because of my faithlessness, to shut the gates against Divine Providence…Lord, unmake me and break my hardness of heart, that I be not a tool which spoils Your work.” I want to be free in Christ to feel God, but religious exhibition, like any other kind, mottles the face of God for those who do not believe. We are under obligation to make our devotion to God so attractive that all who see us lost in the wonder of our praise might desire to know the object of our praise.
The knee of the servant bends (Philippians 2:10). Where the knee bends, character is born. Not that posture alone is the key to power with God, but it is an indicator of how we see the Almighty…The knee must bend…Our whole lives come down to ruin when we live as though we had no knees! I know now that the form of a servant is a kneeling form. Consider the things that keep our legs straight. First there is self-sufficiency. We need to learn poverty of spirit. Besides praying, begging is also a kneeling posture. Begging is a pitiful way to make a living – but it is always done with the head lower than the need of the supplier. See yourself as poor and you will come to Christ kneeling, and kneeling you will receive. Then you will insert yourself into meaningful Beatitudes: Blessed are we who are poor in spirit, for ours is the kingdom (pp 153-154)
“The best thing of all is to surrender to God’s will, and bear affliction with confidence in God. The Lord seeing our affliction will never give us too much to bear. If we seem to ourselves to be greatly afflicted, it means that we have not surrendered to the will of God.” St Silouan (p 182)
Selected Excerpts from the book Into the Depths of God – Where Eyes See the Invisible, Ears Hear the Inaudible, and Minds Conceive the Inconceivable. © 2000, Professor Emeritus Calvin Miller Poet, Pastor, Theologian and Painter (Bethany House Publishers)