The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 8

IMG_3065.JPG

Longing.

Sometimes the surest argument for the existence of something is to see the existence of its opposite, the twisted and distorted version. Suffering the discomfort of wearing poorly made shoes heightens our desire for well-fitting, high quality footwear. Ownership of a lemon of a car reminds us painfully that not all vehicles are equal. Obsessions and addictions remind us that healthy appetites can become deformed and contorted until they destroy us. Some enterprises derive their profit by deliberately twisting wholesome longings to create in their clients insatiable desires. If we are honest, we’ll recognize the dark side of desire—that when desire is corrupted it begins to rule us.

We all have desires. But by untwisting the distortion of consumer-mentality-gone-wild cravings, we can imagine that the capacity to desire in its purest form is something God gives us for our good. There are clues. Have you ever sensed a longing arrive like a mist and then disappear as suddenly, hinting of something good—really good—that you failed to fully grasp or realize? Sometimes it rides on the heels of a glance at a majestic mountain, or in the smell of spring, or in the sound of a child’s voice. Many have experienced it.

“We are homesick most,” muses author Carson McCullers, “for the places we have never known”;

“It is a longing for home,” adds poet and Nobel Prizewinner Hermann Hesse;

The author of Hebrews 11 recognizes this phenomenon in each of the women and men of faith who opened their hearts, minds and ears to the call of God. “All these people were still living by faith when they died,” narrates the first century author. “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

God is not ashamed to be called their God. What an amazing thought. A longing for something and Someone much bigger than ourselves is exactly what God created us to pursue. That longing is God calling to each of us, “Come!” King Solomon once mused that God has “set eternity in (our) hearts;” it delights God when He sees people track that heart-deep longing to its supernatural end—eternity. It is obedience to God’s most primal call in its most essential form.

Obeying this call of God, this desire to be brought into community with Him, is not only delightful to Him, it is essential to our completeness as human beings. All these people were still living by faith when they died, narrates Hebrews. They died. The great and final disquiet that each of us must face is our own personal, physical death—we cannot escape it. We must face it from one of three perspectives: We can devise a story to camouflage the problem of death; we can own the problem of death, yet see no solution; or we can admit the problem of death and accept God’s solution.

The first perspective, says D.H. Lawrence, is a lie, “…which brings us to the real dilemma of man in his adventure with consciousness. He is a liar. Man is a liar unto himself.” Os Guinness adds “the folly of the modern mind is to make the precision of scientific thinking the model for all human thinking, so as to forget the bias, self-interest and moral defect at the heart of all thinking.” We tell ourselves the story that after death we will cease to exist, or reincarnate as a greater or lesser being, or become part of the vast ocean of divinity, or something like that—anything to still our restlessness.

The second perspective, although rarely held, leads to insanity. “God is dead,’ moaned Friedrich Nietzsche. “God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves…?’ Nietzsche spent the final 11 years of his life in a state of mental insanity—the only possible outcome for the problem of considering an existence devoid of God and morality.

The third perspective is to trust God and the revelation of His Word implicitly—to trust that God created us as His image-bearers; to believe the revelation that we all have hearts bent in rebellion against Him; to believe that our rebellion leads us to become godless, Hell-bent and Hell-bound; to trust that Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, and unique resurrection is our only hope to regain community with God and a solution to our dis-ease with death and longing for eternity. This perspective alone relieves us from the restlessness of the death dilemma. This is the outcome of listening to God’s call. It gives us rest. The list of men and women of faith is a list of many who listened, longed, died, and are with God.

“You have made us for Yourself,” prays St. Augustine, “and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”

Advertisements

The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm: Part 11

Royal_Albert_Hall_-_Central_View_169.jpg

Quest of the Inner Ring.

The ten were indignant. They were incensed. They had heard the presumptuous request of James and John claiming first rights as the highest ministers in Jesus’ new sovereign state that they had envisioned. A hubbub of low murmurs was growing into exclamations of disbelief as one by one the other disciples heard of the audacity of their two fellow apprentices. They were disgruntled because of the ‘Inner Ring.’

C.S. Lewis talks about the phenomenon of the Inner Ring as an unwritten system determining who is inside and who is outside of an exclusive group. This quest to be part of an inner group of any type—whether of money-laundering drug lords or of trend-setting coffee shop dabblers—attracts each of us.

“I believe that in all (people)’s lives at certain periods,” explains Lewis, “and in many (people)’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.”

What is wrong with that?” we may ask. Aren’t Inner Rings natural groupings of like-minded people? Lewis gives two reasons why the quest—the unbridled passion— for the Inner Ring destroys all who follow it. Firstly, he says, “ Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skilful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.” Secondly, he adds, “As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want…The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.”

This was the situation facing Jesus as He saw His disciples break into bitter complaints over the blunt request of James and John to be in Jesus’ Inner Ring. Jesus saw the pride and selfishness that plagues humanity erupt in all twelve of His disciples—each of them willing to sacrifice all to enter that elusive and exclusive camaraderie with power. He could see into the future where each of the twelve would have spiralled into solitary self-absorbed chiefs grasping for their version of desired dominance, all in Jesus’ name.

So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

Jesus is showing His disciples, and all of us who attend to His words, that the desire to be “great”—to be in the only truly significant Inner Ring—is the best good a person can pursue. But here the similarity to all other Inner Rings and all other artifices of greatness disappears. This Inner Ring can only be entered by loving. Loving, explains Jesus, is the motivating force behind this quest, and serving others is the external outworking of that love. Jesus gives Himself as the prime example of One whose eternal greatness is revealed by His serving heart, by actions which would culminate in giving his life “as a ransom for many” out of sheer love.

We must love by serving others. Our serving is not to be out of mercenary interest but out of the greatest of loves existing in this universe: out of God’s love for us. This is the great purpose for which God created us in His image, to be individuals eternally expanding as co-operators with the expansive love of God. God’s love for us, in us, and through us becomes the identity with which we are known. We become lovers (not in the shallow, amorous, illicit sense—but in the deep, compassionate, self-sacrificing sense) of others. It is the natural outflowing of God’s love.

What Inner Rings do we pursue? Jesus is calling you and me to see them for what they really are: poor replacements for the one true relationship for which we are made. Child of God, come to the One who loves you as you are, then go out and serve others so they can come home to Him too. The quest for this Inner Ring is your calling.

(Photo Credit: By © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51964834)

Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 13

Aloo_Paratha_with_curd_and_Pickle.jpg

‘Kaph’

Hunger, yearning, longing, desire: these are all concepts God endorses. In contrast to Eastern religions, Christianity boldly advocates—even insists upon—desire. We’re not talking about desire as an end in itself, though; that would be discontent. Nor are we talking about desire for anything that attracts us; that would be greed. And we’re definitely not talking about desire for things that could in any way harm us or harm anyone or anything around us; that would be destruction. What Christianity embodies is a desiring for what God specifically promises us in His Word. We’re talking about desiring God. Some of His promises are accessible right now, but some of them are for the future, a distant but very real future. This is what the psalmist speaks of in the stanza labeled ‘Kaph’.

“My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word. / My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, ‘When will you comfort me?’ / Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees. / How long must your servant wait? When will you punish my persecutors? / The arrogant dig pitfalls for me, contrary to your law. / All your commands are trustworthy; help me, for men persecute me without cause. / They almost wiped me from the earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts. / Preserve my life according to your love, and I will obey the statutes of your mouth”(Psalm 119:81-88).

The psalmist is fairly bursting with desire. His soul faints with longing for God’s salvation. His eyes fail for looking for God’s promise. He bemoans how long he is being required to wait for comfort, for relief, for rescue. He desires these things so fully that it occupies his heart, his mind and his senses. This desire is essentially for God to make good on a promise He made centuries earlier. It was a promise initially wreathed in mystery with revelations by increments made through an array of God’s prophets. Yet as little as the psalmist knows of the promise’s vast extent, he is entirely consumed by hoping for it, because he knows it embodies God’s love for him. So the promise itself has been the cause of the desire that fills the psalmist.

Since Jesus incarnated as a man and accomplished His redeeming work on the cross a millennium after the psalmist lived, the bulk of the promise has been fulfilled. But rather than dulling the desire of the promise, He magnifies it. His vast expansive eternal being enlarges and expands our appetite for Him so we desire Him not less than the psalmist but more. It seems to be true that ‘the more you have the more you want’. Jesus’ unbounded, immeasurable, limitless love makes us hunger more for Him with each successive taste of Him we swallow.

Not only is Christ the source of “the mystery of God…in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3), but He is “this mystery…Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Christ living in the lives of those who invite Him within is both the source of and solution to our deepest desiring. ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’ was Bach’s name for Him. All other desires are cheap imitations of Him our true desire.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,” invites Jesus through the prophet Isaiah, “come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!…Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?…Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David” (Isaiah 55:1-3). If we want our desiring satisfied, it’s Jesus to whom we must come.

(Photo Credit: By Deepak Vallamsetti – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52197985)

The Strength of Prayer; Psalm 21

IMGP0052

Genghis Khan knew the power of numbers. Machiavelli knew the influence of cunning duplicity, Nietzsche, the ideal of uber-man. And yet, each of them succumbed to death—the great power-destroyer and equalizer. Their influence flourished briefly, but each was eventually replaced by another power-seeking protégé. If one believed that the great minds of this earth would be able to create a perfect society, the evidence would be disheartening.

If we want to find power, if we want to know the source of strength to live our lives to the fullest possible degree, there is only One who has the faculty for that. God.

“O LORD,” addresses the psalmist, “the king rejoices in your strength. How great is his joy in the victories you give!” The psalmist was King David, the ancient Hebrew regent, and the king he refers to is himself. He was a man of faith and he knew the source of his victories in protecting the land under his care. What he may not have known clearly was his prophetic voice. He may not have sensed that his words would also describe a descendent of his that would arise a millennium later as the promised Messiah and Saviour of his own soul. Not only that, but this Psalm would also describe people like us throughout the ages who, too, have faith in God’s compassionate power on our behalf.

David observes the strength of God that comes to those who call on Him, who pray for help and hope and victory in the chaos of their everyday lives. We can insert our names into the spaces of Psalm 21:

Firstly, “You (God) have granted (us) the desire of (our) heart and have not withheld the request of (our) lips.” People of faith have this in common: we desire God first and foremost above all else. The desire of our heart is not power itself, but the One who is all-powerful. We have no designs on being uber-men ourselves, but of coming under the watch care of Christ, the God-Man. God grant that this desire will rise higher in our hearts.

Secondly, “You (God) welcomed (us) with rich blessing and placed a crown of pure gold on (our) head.” The welcome we receive when we accept God’s gift of forgiveness, is the welcome He extends to us to enter into His family. God, the King of kings, calls Himself our Father and we His sons and daughters. Pure gold crowns speak of how He now views us—as pure and spotless as His only begotten Son Jesus. No regrets haunt us.

Thirdly, “(We) asked you (God) for life, and You gave it to (us)—length of days, for ever and ever.” Death has no victory over those of us who have placed ourselves in the hands of the One who overcame death by His own sacrifice on the cross. Eternity is ours.

Fourthly, “Through the victories you (God) gave, (our) glory is great; you (God) have bestowed on (us) splendor and majesty.” What greater glory than being indwelt and empowered to become like Christ in character? God is merciful and gracious.

Fifthly, “Surely you (God) have granted (us) eternal blessings and made (us) glad with the joy of your presence.” God’s presence is the greatest strength and blessing we could ever know. Experiencing His close communion with us every moment, in every situation, accessed through prayer—aloud and in silence—is eternal blessing and joy.

For (we) trust in the LORD; through the unfailing love of the Most High (we) will not be shaken.” His power comes to us in the form of unfailing love. Imagine that. Genghis Khan, Machiavelli, and Nietzsche missed it. It was at their disposal but they failed to take advantage of the simple strength of prayer. But we trust in the LORD. Our grand designs are not to be gods but to simply be God’s.

Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength; we will sing and praise your might.”

Amen.