Personal

The outer man and the inner man

“Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.” James 4:10.

I do not want to live a dual life, a life where I am busy doing things on the outside, and then periodically throughout the day feel like I have to ‘turn back’ to God in order to feel His presence. I think that most Christians desire to know the presence of God continually, they understand that relationship with Him is the driving force behind everything they do. There seems to be such a disconnect though with this desire for the presence of God and the reality of what our days really look like. Watchman Nee, in his masterpiece ‘The breaking of the outer man and the release of the Spirit’ argues that the work of a Christian is ultimately futile if the ‘outer man’ has not been broken as he can not properly exercise the ‘inner man’, his spirit.

The Holy Spirit dwells within us, the Bible repeatedly tells us this (1 Cor. 6:9). We, ourselves, are the greatest frustration to the work we want to do for God. The prayer I want to always be praying is that God, in his mercy, breaks, disciplines and changes all those earthly things that are in my mind and fill my emotions. He can then really have his way in my life.

I need to humble myself before God, to pray that His will, not mine be done.

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The Silence

Why do we fear solitude and silence?

We appear to be apprehensive about spending scarcely twenty minutes just sitting down, doing nothing, listening to nothing, thinking of nothing in particular, simply allowing ourselves to exist in the moment. Every technological advance, everything mass media and advertising throws at us is aimed at ensuring that we do not have to stop and contemplate, but instead move and do things quicker. A recent advertisement for a well-known mobile phone company recently summed up modern thinking very well when it half-jokingly claimed that impatience was a virtue. Such is the very real need for communication to be faster.

I would argue that we fear solitude because there is something at the very heart of ourselves that we fear. Shall we call it a soul? It is seemingly unknown. If we had the time and space to reflect then we may be forced to confront our own mortality, discover more about who we are and ask ourselves real, deeper questions, possibly disquieting questions. Everything modern society creates is therefore perfectly suited to combatting this fear and (thankfully) allows us neither the time nor the desire to have to find out.

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Strength

I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint   Jeremiah 31v25.

I have been feeling emotionally and physically drained recently. A few weeks ago I completed a Masters in Education which took me over five years to do, with the last six months proving to be especially grueling.

Reason dictates that in order to restore strength I should now rest. My default position in any case is to watch movies whenever I can and put my feet up. The problem is, it only works up to a point and doesn’t bring back much ‘strength’.

Society is full of books and people who give us step by step plans designed to help us feel rested and strong, whereas the Christian way of life almost seems too easy, as the first thing that God often wants from us is to just spend time with Him, primarily through prayer. The simple act of doing this may be ‘refreshing’ for our souls.

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To be frank…

“The thing that keeps God out of our lives is not our sin. It is our compulsion to pretend, to cover up our nakedness with fig leaves, to climb sycamore trees in order to see without being seen”.
Pete Greig. God on Mute. Page 78.

I’ve been challenged recently to be constantly and habitually honest in prayer. I’ve realized that I actually find it a lot easier to be honest to those closest to me than to really be honest to God. I find in prayer that it is all too easy to follow the same old format, to repeat the same fixed expressions, true and meaningful though they are. Even after looking through the Psalms and seeing how brutally honest some of those laments are, even after reading and talking to others about how God responds to our honesty, how it unfazes Him and how he responds to it, this still hasn’t meant that I’m any closer to being honest with God on a daily basis when I shut the door and pray to Him.

Possible Solution: Pray for God’s help to be more honest!

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Into the desert

“We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them; we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good. But this is only a secondary end. The one end that includes all others is the love of God.”

Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation.

I am not very good at any kind of purposeful meditation or contemplation. To spend long periods of time in solitude attempting to be still or ‘look within myself’ feels too hard, too anxiety ridden. I have tried many times but invariably end up surrendering after about three minutes, congratulate myself on a job half done and resolve to try again another time.

For this reason, reading Thomas Merton’s book about contemplation has been very insightful and quite exciting. He accepts that physical solitude and interior silence are important for a contemplative life, but forcefully rejects the idea that we need to ‘go into the desert’ simply because we like or need to be alone. As highlighted in the above quote, for Merton, contemplation is important so that we can learn how we can best be of service to our neighbour, friend, brother, or stranger. I very much like this idea, because I believe in a relational God. I believe that a life is at its most fulfilled when we are fully invested in the lives of others, those who are our natural friends, and those who are suffering.

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Call myself a believer

Although God lives in the souls of men who are unconscious of Him, how can I say that I have found Him and found myself in Him if I never know Him or think of Him, never take any interest in Him or seek Him or desire His presence in my soul? What good does it do to say a few formal prayers to Him and then turn away and give all my mind and all my will to created things, desiring only ends that fall short of Him.”

Thomas Merton. ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’.

If I don’t know any of the players on a soccer team, am oblivious to any of the team’s achievements, and never watch any of their games, can I still call myself a supporter? Technically, yes, but doesn’t being a supporter of a team mean that one has to provide some kind of support? Surely one has to invest some part of his/her time or resources into following the club, otherwise the word ‘supporter’ simply becomes meaningless. I think an approximate analogy can be made regarding one’s relationship with God. If we don’t invest anything into our relationship with God, do we still maintain the right to call ourselves a believer in Him?

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True test of character

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” John Wooden

In a previous blog I commented on how challenging or testing situations allow one to see the condition of his/her faith. In the same way, I think we only get to genuinely see the state of our character when we discover how we chose to spend our time when no one is present to observe our actions. Although we may often need certain people or specific situations to “bring something out of us” and reveal more about our personality to both ourselves and those around us, I believe that what we do when we are alone will disclose more to us about where our heart really lies, what truly motivates us. The question that inevitably follows is what to do when we realize that that part of our heart actually needs to change.

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Genuine prayer

I’ve been challenged recently about how one can easily disengage the heart when praying and slip into the familiarly repetitive, pre-meditated expressions that almost seem to be solely for our own benefit. The quote below is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship’.

“Genuine prayer is never ‘good works,’ an exercise or a pious attitude, but it is always the prayer of a child to a Father. Hence it is never given to self-display, whether before God, ourselves, or other people. If God were ignorant of our needs, we should have to think our beforehand how we should tell him about them, what we should tell him, and whether we should tell him or not. Thus faith, which is the mainspring of Christian prayer, excludes all reflection and premeditation.
Prayer is the supreme instance of the hidden character of the Christian life. It is the antithesis of self-display. When men pray, they have ceased to know themselves, and know only God whom they call upon. Prayer does not aim at any direct effect on the world; it is addressed to God alone, and is therefore the perfect example of undemonstrative action.” (P.163)

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Faith at gunpoint

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.   James 1:2-4 (New International Version)

In J Warner Wallace’s book ‘Cold Case Christianity’, the author offers a fresh perspective on the difference between believing in something and believing that something will happen. The author recounts how a policeman friend of his was called to a crime scene where he was suddenly threatened at gunpoint by a convicted criminal out on parole. Before the policeman could draw his own gun, he realized that the convict was going to shoot him in the chest, and so in that brief second of realization he was forced to trust in the bulletproof vest that he was fortunately wearing. He had naturally been briefed before that bulletproof vests can protect the wearer from the force of a bullet, but, as the author points out, there is a big difference between believing that bulletproof vests can save your life, and actually believing in them.

The link between this story and faith in God is evident, and I think that the dramatic situation of being forced to believe in something at gunpoint is also very relevant. The Bible verses quoted at the top of this blog are some of my favourites, as regrettably it often seems to me that my default position when things in life are going well is to ease off from praying and trusting in God. It sometimes feels like I have to be suddenly confronted ‘at gunpoint’ with the potential gravity of a situation, before I will sincerely come before God in petition and prayer.

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Faith without obedience?

Can you have faith in something without obedience? If the being or entity is either inanimate or makes little demands on my behaviour, then the answer is clearly yes. But if something is actually required from me, well, what then?

In day to day life, if I am instructed to do something, then I have a choice regarding whether I will obey that instruction. I will invariably weigh up the consequences of not following that directive, consider how much authority that person has, and decide how beneficial it would be for me to conform. It is quite likely that I will opt for doing things my way as I trust that I have more insight or a better perspective into what I am being asked to do.

When I am being asked to obey an omnipotent, all-knowing God, I still have a choice, but if I decide not to obey, then the consequences are at least two-fold. Christians believe that there may be some form of punishment or discipline involved for disobeying, but what currently concerns me more is the amount of faith I can actually have in God without obeying Him. A decision not obey someone can be done for many reasons, but I think that what often lies behind the reasoning is a belief that ultimately I know what is best for me. That may be true when a fellow mortal human is telling me to do something, but to (unconsciously or not) decide that I know what is better for me than God does, surely belies a form of agnosticism in God.

In the Bible, Jesus simply said one thing to his then potential disciples as he saw them working their trades: “follow me”. I am not sure whether it was an act of faith or obedience that came first when the disciples chose to do as he told them, but it is clear that both faith and obedience were entwined. It would stand to reason that this always has to be the case when it comes to belief in God.

 

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