Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 13

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‘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)

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DANIEL: PATTERN FOR PRAYER #8

FASTING

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“So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).

Extreme. Daniel sounds extreme in his practice of prayer. While many people pray, maybe even most people petition God in a crisis, who still fasts? — (Not to mention dressing in sackcloth and ashes). What is fasting and why would anyone choose such an extreme accompaniment to prayer?

In the past, Daniel has been conscious of the spiritual benefits of physical self-restraint rather than self-indulgence. Remember the teenaged Daniel and his three Jewish friends’ diet change back in their early captivity? Their rejection of decadence had borne good results. But this fasting is something completely other than that. It’s not just simplicity. It’s moving from temperate to extreme. Daniel senses that he’s at an unparalleled crossroad, that exceptional situations call for uncommon measures. He is intentional in preparing himself to petition God; he chooses to fast.

It takes intention to fast; who simply forgets to satisfy hunger? Perhaps fasting enables us to see the unseen, to enter into the realm of spirit too easily obscured by daily routine. Fasting replaces the sensation of satiety with an awareness of need. It exchanges pleasure for an aching hunger. It’s not surprising that a synonym for pleasure is diversion. When we experience self-indulgence we divert ourselves from our primary function as spiritual beings communing with God. But when we temporarily set aside the pleasure of the feast, we lead ourselves back into our principal functionality, our raison d’être. It has been said that there is no feast without a fast.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship comments, “If there is no element of asceticism in our lives, if we give free rein to the desires of the flesh (taking care of course to keep within the limits of what seems permissible to the world), we shall find it hard to train for the service of Christ. When the flesh is satisfied it is hard to pray with cheerfulness or to devote oneself to a life of service which calls for much self-renunciation.”

It’s an oxymoron: to truly live we must die to self, yet if we fast long enough, we will end life. So it must be intentional: neither dull the spirit nor kill the body.

I bring up this topic of fasting for two reasons: Firstly, Daniel models it in his life of prayer, so it is inevitable we must study it. We must observe the facts and come to a livable conclusion. We must, like responsible jury members, ask whether there is any reason, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to ignore it. Secondly, I want to hear from the Body of Christ on this topic. Something in my spirit has been nudging me to find out what my brothers and sisters are practicing regarding fasting, that I, in my self-indulgent westernization have conveniently omitted. Perhaps, in the anonymity afforded by blogging I might entice some feedback on the topic. (I promise to think neither better nor worse of you if you tell me your experience regarding fasting). Tell me: How do you fast?

 

PRAYING THE BEATITUDES, PART 5

PRAYING THE BEATITUDES, PART 5

Matthew 5:6

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

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English writer Samuel Johnson once observed, “A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything than he does of his dinner.”  We might add to that breakfast and lunch! When Jesus describes spiritual earnestness in the allegorical terms of hunger and thirst, He successfully captures our attention. We know what it is to hunger and thirst in the physical sense. We have spent years developing the feeding of that life-sustaining habit. In His classic understated style, Jesus uses this fourth axiom to portray another aspect of kingdom living.  He emphasizes here righteousness. Righteousness is God’s character trait that demands He maintain absolute integrity to goodness and justice. It is moral perfection. God is eternally consistent in maintaining His own righteousness. Not only that, but He has big plans for us too. Jesus Himself came to earth to catalyze the plan in His atonement-by-sacrifice endeavor. The result?  We earthly offspring of God may be considered as having the same righteousness as His one and only heavenly Son, Jesus, if we accept the offer. But we must seize the opportunity. No dilly-dallying passivity will suffice. While we cannot earn this estate, we must demonstrate our desire for it.

Not surprisingly, prayer comes into the process again. Jesus advises us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Maybe He means breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I have a hunch it’s more than that. I think He’s pointing us to this hunger and thirst for righteousness. He’s reminding us that we not only find our physical needs supplied by our Maker, but more importantly, our spiritual needs. Not only that, but our spiritual sensitivity can be honed by the very act of petitioning God.

Saint Augustine observed the connection between spiritual earnestness and prayer, advising, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” Scripture repeatedly points to spiritual earnestness, a hunger and thirst for relationship with God, as the crucial mindset of a true follower of Christ.

The author of Hebrews observes that God ‘rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb.11:6). Like the previous three axioms, number four has its reward too: “They will be filled”. The hungry will be satisfied. The thirsty will find their dryness quenched. We are enabled to “participate in the divine nature and escape corruption” (II Pet.1:4). As if that were not enough, the promise is that we will be filled with the Spirit of Christ Himself. Jesus lives in us, through us, with us and for us.

We need to take a deep breath and ponder this. It feels like we’ve just feasted on an amazing banquet of truths. Our full, thankful, restful spirits absorb the nutrients that will sustain our souls. Jesus’ beatitudes are everything and more. We are blessed.

PROSPECTUS FOR THE PRAYING PERSON, PART 5: Eternal Life

Eternal Life: John 14:8-26              Vs.19 “Because I live, you also will live”.

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C.S. Lewis observes, “…You won’t get eternal life by just feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.”  He goes on to say,

If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die.

Jesus tells us in verse 19 that our access to life is contingent upon His life.  Knowing He was about to die, it’s an interesting comment He makes.  In fact, He’s revealing to His disciples (and us, by extension) the promise every person longs for.  He’s promising eternal life.

He’s showing us how life becomes Life; how the temporal becomes eternal; how creatures of God become children of God.  Tell me this earthly life is enough (that it’s a fluke of chance, and we must make the most of it) and I’ll ask you to explain why we are so bothered by death.

Lewis has understood something core to the concept of this eternal life.  It’s not obtained by talking oneself into the idea that peace and beauty bestow the Life. Eternal life is borne out of the eternal One. It is not an impersonal aura transposed from some cosmic source of energy. Jesus claims it can only be procured through Him.  He is Life.  His resurrection displays what we will someday experience.

But wait a minute.  Who is the ‘we’ that will experience this eternal life?

Jesus is very clear about the extension of His Life to people.  While it is freely given, it was purchased at a dear price (a costly ransom of forgiveness), and is not automatically dispensed at birth or any other time; it is available to those who want it badly enough.  It cannot be bought by money, good works, church attendance, knowing the who’s who of Christendom or any of this world’s religions.  But it will cost me giving up my own plans.  I must give up my own ideas for procuring eternal life and accept His.  I must give up my own ideas of what is sin and what is right. I must give up any hope of self-righteousness and accept that it is only Jesus’ life, given for me, that makes me righteous in the sight of an eternally holy God.

Unending existence is something every human soul is granted by God, but eternal life is His gift only a few will consent to accept.  He promises to give it.  It really is the keynote promise for the praying person.  By prayer we step into the realm of faith that says, “I’m trusting You, God, to make good on your promise. I want to be part of the Life that exudes from You, and I’m willing to give up my pride and independence in order to receive it”.

Amazing Life, this God-borne thing, held out to me, O gift of love. My every thirst and hunger deep, I see is but a symptom of my want of this Eternal Life. Because You Live, I also live, O Christ of God, O Life of life.  And as I take this gift You give, my soul is held in loving grip within Your Self, O Mystery!  Eternal Life, how broad and deep, I would but drown beneath its depth, except You breathe Eternal Breath in me. My Life’s first cry, “O God, I live!” will echo on eternally.