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)

GOD’S LIFEWORK: Part 4

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Journey of Belief

Our life journeys are predictably unpredictable. With regular irregularity our spirits rise and fall with external events like the ragged breathing of a sprinter. The blind beggar of John 9 had thought this day would be like every other until he met Jesus. Now, moving about in the confidence of his newly received sight he finds himself ostracized from temple life for defending his healer. One moment it’s euphoria, the next is shock as he finds himself labeled now another sort of outcast. It is all a bit puzzling. The road of healing is not as smooth as he had imagined it would be.

Some of us know what that feels like. We’ve been touched by the Healer of all wounds; we’ve been given new hearts, new eyes, new leases on life. But we find ourselves facing different sorts of challenges that can be puzzling. We may even begin to ask ourselves if Jesus really is who we at first experienced Him to be.

Jesus knew what was going on in this man’s life. He had heard about his excommunication from temple life. And we’re told Jesus came back into the neighbourhood to find him.

“Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

This interaction is so characteristic of Jesus. He heals, He forgives, and He continues to pursue because He knows that belief grows in spits and spurts. Finding the man, the first thing He asks is, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” That was vernacular for ‘Messiah’, the One prophesied to come and fulfill all of God’s promises for mankind.

The man’s response is open. He is honest about his growing understanding of God’s purposes for him. He says ‘I know the teaching about Messiah, but I want to know HIM. Tell me who he is so I can invest my faith in a person, not just a prophecy.’ I’m sure Jesus’ face breaks into a smile, a glowing, joyful beam of pure pleasure as He faces the man who only hours earlier had never before seen a face.

‘You’re looking at HIM!’ is Jesus’ response.

This was the ‘aha’ moment we experience in those spits and spurts of growing faith. The man recognizes it and worships Him then and there. No need for an external temple, onerous rules or Pharisaic dictates. This is the Messiah, and nothing but worship is more appropriate right now. This is the purpose for blind eyes being given sight.

Step into that man’s sandals. Better yet, let’s step into our own. We have our own story and Jesus is in the process of touching our hearts and making them glow with new life. He is healing our poor blind eyes so we can catch glimpses of Him closer than we ever before realized anyone could be. And He is reminding us that He is the One prophesied to fulfill every promise God ever spoke over us. He is our Healer, Helper, Pursuer and Lover of our Soul. Our rightful response is to worship Him, here and now. That’s prayer.

“Jesus, Healer of…”

 

 

GOD’S LIFEWORK: Part 3

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Interrogation (John 9:8-34)

Remember the Tesla globes displayed in science centres? Electricity would light up gases in purples and pinks pressing toward the hands of participants. Or remember the Van de Graaff generator that could make the hair of volunteers stand on end? The globes remind me of how God works in the lives of people.

Jesus shows us that our life’s purpose is to display God’s handiwork. In the process, He infuses our hopes and prayers with the light of insight. He is the central electrode. We are globes, filled with His Spirit. As we come into contact with other people, something amazing happens: His energy flows through us toward them. His design is that our lives impact others.

The newly sighted man of John 9 shows us how it’s done. His sprightly pace is the first clue others notice. He strides along the path he had before known only by feel, greeting those he sees along the way. He looks up at the sky in a new way, seeing leaves on trees and birds on the wing for the first time. He simply cannot stop drinking in the beauty around him. Soon friends and family surround him, wanting to know what has changed him. It is the Sabbath, a day of rest, refreshment and celebration. What a day for healing!

Yet not everyone is happy about him. Some, soured by life’s difficulties, doubt his identity. They begin talking about him the way they used to when he was blind. Soon, they’ve attracted the attention of the Pharisees, a bitter band if ever there was one. The Pharisees cannot see the miracle for the misdemeanor: healing is work, and work is forbidden on the Sabbath. They suspect Jesus is somehow involved.

“Where is this man?” the Pharisees interrogate. “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” As the interrogation progresses, the Pharisees become increasingly frustrated. This man, who formerly had sat helpless in the dust, begging, is simply glowing. He is exuding a joy they have never known and it infuriates them. It, metaphorically speaking, makes their hair stand on end.

But something amazing is happening to the once-blind man. A second miracle is happening before their eyes. His answers to their first questions are merely factual: Who healed him? “Jesus”. How? “Mud and washing”. Although he had been a beggar, he is not blind to the growing animosity the Pharisees feel for this healer, Jesus. He well knows acknowledging Jesus as God’s Chosen One will mean cultural suicide. To be ostracized from temple life is unthinkable for a Jew. It is worse than being a blind beggar. Yet, rather than weakening him, the more they interrogate him, the stronger becomes his confidence. He begins to challenge them, “Do you want to become his disciples, too?” With the word, ‘too’, he boldly and publicly moves into the Christ-following camp. Summing up his observations, the now-sighted man delivers his closing argument in favour of his healer, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”. As expected, the incensed religious leaders banish him from the temple. They can’t help but noticing how this man’s whole demeanor has changed since being with the enigmatic Jesus.

Sometimes our lives are like that. We pray for healing of body and mind and He loves to heal. But maybe we need eyes to see how His work in our lives is intended also to connect with others. How we become living reflections of the One whose power makes blind eyes see and timid lives bold. How we become people of influence, not for our own platform or benefit, but for God’s glory. His lifework always points back to him. So go ahead. Put your hands out toward your Maker and be amazed. His lifework will be displayed, your life will have significance, and others will see God.

PROSPECTUS FOR THE PRAYING PERSON, PART 6: John 14:8-26; Holy Community

Vs. 20 “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

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re·al·ize transitive verb \ˈrē-ə-ˌlīz\ become fully aware of (something) as a fact; understand clearly.

Have you ever woken from a dream only to gradually realize your dream was not real? What had seemed so vivid and logical now no longer makes sense? You might even laugh at the crazy incongruity of the events of the dream as you begin to compare them to your waking reality.

Little episodes like that remind us that while we are truly amazing creations, we humans are also rather frail in many ways, such as in discerning reality.  I think most of us would say, however, that we want to be aware of reality; we don’t like the idea of being self-deceived.

Jesus talks about a reality that is revealed to those who honestly seek relationship with Him. He has revealed truths of limitless power, indwelling counsel, spiritual vision, and eternal life (see previous four blog posts). Now He introduces a reality new to our experience, but not new to Him. He says we will realize that there is a holy community within the Godhead, between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; but more than that, He says we believers, disciples, praying people, are invited into that community.  He will later go on to describe it in terms of a body.  It’s like He is the head and we are all the parts (different forms, different functions) of His body. It’s an analogy to try to help us realize the kind of diverse oneness in which we were designed to partake with God.

It’s baffling really; it’s a mystery beyond comprehending. I don’t pretend to understand it. But I believe it’s true. I believe He is Truth and I’m just waking up to the reality of this truth. A wise follower of Jesus once put it very succinctly, ”Christ in you, the hope of glory”.  Christ in me?  I am awestruck.  This is hope and glory. This is the thrilling reality our culture tries to replicate with all its extreme endeavors, but cannot even remotely approach.

We previously talked about the Holy Spirit’s indwelling counsel, now we have the Father and the Son in whom we live and who live in us. This reality can get confusing if we are still thinking in terms of this material world. But it’s time to wake up. Get out of the bed of our superficial, here-and-now thinking. Shake off the mist of our sleepy, temporal mindset.  Yes, the movements of our daily living must happen: we wake to alarms, dress for our tasks, earn our living and try to live meaningful lives.  But let’s not be deceived into thinking that leaving the world a better place is all there is to life. Our purpose for living is in entering into this amazing holy community of God’s existence.

Let’s get on our knees and open ourselves to God living in us. Let’s get real.

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.

PROSPECTUS OF THE PRAYING PERSON, PART 4: John 14:8-26 Spiritual Vision

Vs. 17-19 “…but you know him…you will see me…”

 Here, Jesus promises the praying person will know and see Someone no one other than believers is able to know and see.  Sounds interesting.  Maybe even a little Sci-Fi. He says we will know the Holy Spirit, and we will see Jesus Himself.

For centuries philosophers have bemoaned, debated, discussed and complained about something called the ‘hiddenness of God”. They view it this way: If God is completely good, loving, powerful, all-knowing and ever-present, He would want the best for people, His creatures. Relationship with Him would be the best thing for them; an awareness of Him is essential in order to have relationship with Him, but His hiddenness limits that awareness. Some, in frustration, have even declared God must not exist since His presence cannot be verified by empirical data. They cannot see, hear, taste, smell or touch Him.

Jesus confirms they have a problem. He observes, “The world cannot accept him (the Holy Spirit), because it neither sees him nor knows him.”

I don’t presume to have the answer to age-old deep philosophical questions. But Jesus is making a promise in this segment of Scripture that seems relevant to the discussion. He is explaining the connection between sensing God and having a relationship with Him. The ‘world’ (those that are not His followers) wants sensation first; it wants evidence, empirical data, proof that He exists. Then, it will submit to relationship. Jesus says ‘you’ (followers of Him) are different: you submit to relationship first (now that’s faith!), and then you find confirmation in your spirit that HE IS; you come to know Him and see Him with the spiritual vision He supplies you.

It’s like character. No one sees character. We see the effects of character, and then surmise the existence of the core value. For instance, think of endurance. That’s a character trait. When I look at someone, I can’t actually see endurance; it’s not like a nose, or a knee, or a skin tone. As I observe that person for a bit, though, I begin to develop a picture in my mind of something much deeper than skin.  Perhaps I see that person going on regular early morning runs. I begin to think she has set a goal for herself and is trying hard to attain it.  After several weeks or months, if she keeps at it, I begin to see she is quite dedicated.  It’s not until she completes the marathon for which she’s been training, though, that I am finally able to observe in her the trait of endurance. (Perhaps she sees the same perseverance in me for all the months of watching!)

Jesus promises something similar. Those of us who have submitted to God, who have accepted the atonement for our sinfulness provided by Jesus’ redeeming death and resurrection, have moved into relationship with God. We have become His people. As we begin to live each day with this relationship in mind, seeking to please Him in every way, His Spirit reveals Himself to our spirits in a deeper-than-skin way. We know Him and see Him through our spiritual vision.

He’s right, isn’t He? If you love Him, you know what I mean. If you haven’t chosen yet to love Him, what’s stopping you?

God of the universe,

Good and all-powerful,

All-knowing all-present One,

You give me that for which

my deepest spirit longs:

You show me your very Self.

Just who am I that You willingly give

Such a great gift, this knowledge of You.

What of Your hiddenness?

Thus is my spirit

Unseen, with Your presence, at home.

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PROSPECTUS OF THE PRAYING PERSON, PART 3: Indwelling Counsel

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HOLY SPIRIT – FOIX (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Vs.16,17  “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

 

There is something about prayer that is impenetrable; it’s perplexing, intricate, strenuous and unpredictable. But we do have an amazing role model. Jesus himself. We have examples of Him praying through many situations during His life on earth. But it doesn’t end there. Jesus, right now, is praying for those that have chosen to love and obey Him. He promises to ask the Father for something on our behalf. I don’t think this is a one-time affair either. The ramifications of his eternal nature point to an unceasing supplication for our benefit. He is asking continually. The implications of this are immense. We have the Creator of the universe, who is called the ‘Word’ communicating with the eternal Father, petitioning for us. What is it we so desperately need? The verse says  “another Counselor”.

 

Jesus had been a true friend, leader, and transformer of the motley group of followers He called disciples his final three years of life on earth. He had been their counselor, living, eating, travelling and experiencing life with them. When it was time for Him to leave them physically, the Father’s will was to continue their transformation. This would take place only by the provision of an internal counselor, One who would indwell followers in their deep inner spirits. This would be the job of the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” Jesus promised. Only in this way would the transformation of the ragtag crew of disciples be complete.

 

This is where we come in. As present-day followers of Jesus, as people who look daily to God’s grace and mercy, we too fall into the category of those for whom Jesus is praying. We too are recipients of the indwelling counsel of the Spirit of truth. We too need change deeper than skin-level.

 

I’m intrigued by Jesus’ last statement in this verse we are exploring. Regarding the Holy Spirit, he consoles His followers, “but you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” It’s almost as if Jesus is mildly chiding us to open our eyes to see something the world cannot see. He’s urging us to use our spiritual senses to become aware of this non-physical Someone who is with us and in us. And what is the best way to increase our awareness of His presence? By talking with him, of course. This is what we call prayer. When we pray we are not chatting with the air; we’re not having auditory hallucinations with non-existent entities. We’re actually communicating with the Greatest Entity in existence, Him who lives within our very spirits. Be struck with the immensity of it!

 

So our prospectus as praying people expands: We have talked about the access to Limitless Power we have been granted in order to bring glory to God (see Part 2, July 5/13); now we add the Indwelling Counsel of the Holy Spirit. The weight of these truths is stunning.

 

A fitting response is to say with the psalmist:

 

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. (Psalm 63:2-5 NIV).