dependence on God

I am looking forward to reading this book: Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower. We so often think life depends on us; in fact that is our default position to which we regularly go. Unless we’ve trained ourselves with the help of the Holy Spirit in God’s grace to learn dependence on God, so that we regularly practice that. Until it becomes more and more a part of who we are. This is what I think of when I think of Dallas Willard.

I have read at least three of his books, and heard him speak at a church, I think I remember shaking hands with him afterward, and on retrospect, given what I’ve heard of him and his life, I feel blessed. A humble, gifted man, who above all else practiced an utterly dependent life on God through Jesus, in the context of God’s will as given to us in scripture, and especially the New Testament.

Just the mere thought along with pondering it is a blessing to me. We need those who have gone before us and have practiced this. A true mentor in the faith knows what they’re talking about firsthand. Otherwise it’s completely empty, and will help no one.

That is my goal, relatively late both in my life, and Christian life. To learn utter dependence on God through Christ by the Holy Spirit. I guess I would say the most upfront goal, so to speak, the rest following out of that. Growth in compliance to the first and greatest commandment and the second like it: to love God with one’s whole being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, will arise out of this. Only by faith can we enter into the love that God is in Christ, experiencing that for ourselves, so that we can love others with that same love.

Of course there’s much too the Christian life: the church, continuing through trial including “the dark night of the soul,” etc., etc. What we have to learn to do is to trust God more and more. Which goes along with a passage God seemed to impress on me a few years back, Proverbs 3:5-6. In and through Jesus.

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when not knowing what to do

There are times when we want to do something, but are at a loss to know just what to do. We can be afraid that we might do more harm than good by speaking up, or just as likely, we may wonder if speaking into a current situation might not be the wisest course, or could possibly get in the way of what can help the person grow. We want to fix the problem, or help them along. There surely are times for that, but other times when for whatever reason, surely usually unbeknownst to us, we’re better off to step back, and keep our hands off.

But one thing for sure: there’s nothing better we can do than pray, and pray again, and keep on praying. Prayer is never a substitute for something we need to do, but often enough, it’s really the only thing we should do for a time at least. Then it may dawn on us that there’s something we ought to do. That can all be a matter of timing, being the right time to act whereas before was not. And God can be answering our prayer by getting us somehow involved. But perhaps at least just as often as not, we’ll be limited to prayer. And yet while it may seem trite, it is still well spoken: There’s nothing better we can do than pray, and when we are to do something, continue in prayer.

For me, I often have to pray, even when I feel nothing at all, and it seems that it is nothing more than just something I am doing. Other times, when I do sense what I believe to be the Holy Spirit, or any urge to pray, I want to do so all the more. I realize my prayers are weak, and the only strength in them comes from God’s grace and the Spirit’s working in Jesus.

And so I will pray, and pray some more, and hopefully keep on praying. Knowing that God is at work and has us somehow involved in that work. And that somehow our prayers actually matter and make a difference in that, in and through Jesus.

becoming aware and remaining silent

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Job 2:11-13

Good start, but bad ending for Job’s three friends. Actually a good ending, considering that God had Job pray for them in the end. The fact that they sat with him in silence for seven whole days is exemplary. But what we can see from the rest of the book is that likely during those seven days their hearts and minds were stirred with thoughts for their words, essentially diatribes against Job, which followed.

Of course we wouldn’t have what turns out to be a long wisdom book without their sayings, and Job’s reply to them. It’s almost as if that dialog becomes what’s important, and especially God’s answer in the end. Not really giving Job an explanation, but instead, what Job really needed. But at the same time exonerating Job, while rebuking Job’s three friends. Interestingly, the young man who said something before Job spoke, is not corrected by God, unless one might say that he kind of anticipates God’s answer, yet even if he thinks he’s above Job’s friends, does seem to faintly echo them.

Job is actually a great book, even if puzzling and troubling on a certain level. My favorite group Bible study was one we had going through Job. It is more like an exercise in humility, rather than finding answers to help us through life. But that’s the point. We need to be silent and still before God, not just in regard to ourselves, but also concerning others. Rather than think we have all the answers based on our theology and understanding.

Does that mean we don’t try to understand the plight of others? I don’t think so. It might mean that in doing so, we try not to lean to our own understanding of even what we believe from scripture, but instead, actively lean on God. Much in our understanding might be true, as was the case with Job’s three friends, but like them, misapplied. We need to be in prayer, ask questions, and investigate. And never think we arrived to the final answer.

Of course the final answer in scripture is the gospel: God in Christ reconciling the world to himself and his good will and purpose. And that applying to every situation in some way, believe it or not. But still holding everyone accountable to accept in faith God’s word to us in Jesus, and specifically in Jesus’s incarnation, life, teachings, death and resurrection, along with his ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit, with the promise of his return. That is God’s answer to everything, which in itself is not simplistic, but points toward the completeness of the gospel itself.

So although Job’s friends did have a lot of knowledge in the way of theology, they lacked wisdom in applying it. Just the same, it is the inspired word of God, and is a case in point of how the parts as in the responses of Job’s friends need to be seen within the whole, and help us at least begin to appreciate what otherwise we never would. Job answers his friends who don’t let go, but answer back for awhile. And then God answers. All of it is instructive and important in its place.

This is a wisdom book, and unfolds in such a way as to simply make us aware of our need of God rather than some textbook answer which we can write down, and then carry out. Not that there isn’t instruction throughout, and especially in what God tells Job in the end, which really amounts to helping Job see that when it’s all said and done, Job can’t understand what only God can. And his friends failed to speak the truth about God, unlike Job, who at least was seriously wrestling with God over his disaster and the dilemma that followed. And in faith received God’s word. All of this now for us, in and through Jesus.

 

calming and quieting one’s self

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

In an age of noise and anger, and the shout political programs (I used to see years ago, but have avoided since), it is good to simply get away and calm and quiet one’s self. I might do that with classical music and a book, myself, along with coffee. And always with the Bible; in fact that might well be my book, and I do carry one around wherever I go, because that helps me in this.

To simply be in the calling God has for us, whatever that might be, and I’ll add, in all its simplicity, is good. We might be led to go beyond our capabilities, or outside of our comfort zone. Though for me I think more often than not it’s just me going there, maybe with a fair rationale, but maybe also without the Lord’s leading. Though God will be with us, and if necessary, we can always backtrack and acknowledge what error we’ve made.

I think seeking to live in God’s presence in all that we do can and naturally will help us in this. It helps us remain humble, and listen, and unlike the world, try to have a conversation on a given matter. And then get to what’s basic and best: God’s promises to us and to the world in Christ.

We simply and often don’t know as much as we might think. And we need to acknowledge that, and work on what God is teaching us and humbly own that. Only then might we have a helpful word in the matters which trouble and concern people. As we remain in prayer always, as an attitude and practice. And together with God’s people, put our hope in God now and forever in and through Jesus.

a good prayer when not knowing what to do

11 Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.

Psalm 86

There are times when we’re at a loss on what to do in a given matter. We might have inclinations, and we probably most certainly know what we would like to see happen. Though sometimes that may not even be the case.

Something important for us to learn is to pray, pray, and keep on praying. Psalm 86 is a prayer from beginning to end. The psalmist is in trouble; his very life being threatened by enemies. The psalm is attributed as a prayer of David, so that such circumstances are no surprise.

I usually know what I would like to do, and I’ve oftentimes done it, probably with mixed results at best. But I’m learning to hold back and simply pray, and keep praying. Maybe the answer from God will come sooner or later. And it likely won’t be an answer I would have come up with, or even be capable of coming up with. And with God guiding the process, God gives the grace to carry it out, something else not as true when we’re less dependent on God.

In the passage from the psalm above, that snippet of the prayer could be interpreted in reference to a specific situation, which actually was the case in the psalm. And it can also be an ongoing prayer for all of life. But in keeping with the psalm itself, it was offered when the psalmist was up against it in a particular situation.

For God to teach us his way means to do something in a different way than we ordinarily would do. It’s the desire to walk in God’s truth, or rely on his faithfulness, either one being true to the Hebrew in its translation. I’m not sure which one I would choose if I would study the text and context, and it’s never a matter (or might be rarely) of both being meant at the same time. To walk in God’s truth is so basic, yet not to be taken for granted. We easily deviate from that in our thoughts and attitudes. And to rely on God’s faithfulness is also crucial for us, because since we can count on God, why do we take matters in our own hands, even when it seems necessary to do so?

The prayer for an undivided heart that the psalmist might fear or reverence God’s name is also important. In the trial or whatever it is we’re facing, sins like pride might be uncovered. There might be a sifting, refining process going on. God might be just as concerned with the process as with the answer. Both likely go together, so that we’re changed, and therefore can live better in the outcome, even if it’s not what we would choose.

Something I’m working on, and trying to walk through. In and through Jesus.

the value of difficulty

Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to tremendous difficulties.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

It is interesting how often some do well in life in spite of difficulties which could have easily put them on a different course. Probably with most of us it’s a mixture of the two. Because of stresses or problems we have faced, perhaps we have not done as well as we could have. But along with that, have found something we can excel in.

I think of community, and specifically the church. In China the church continues to grow by leaps and bounds, still under persecution. And the church in the southern hemisphere both in Africa and again in the east seems to be growing exponentially in number day after day. There’s something to be said for that as we see in the book of Acts. Of course we don’t just want growth in numbers, but in spiritual depth as well.

Meanwhile the church in the west is either dying, or just holding its own with some exceptions to the rule, but even those exceptions at the current time seeing declining growth. Could it be that like arguably Europe in the past, this is becoming a Laodicean age for the church in the northern hemisphere, rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing (Revelation 3)?

For faith to be real faith, one’s life must be on the line. Of course when people first come to faith in Christ, they are not necessarily going to see that implication that is present. But they will learn to see it over time. God by the Spirit will not let us off the hook. Of course one’s eternal life is taken care of. But all of life is to be included in our utter dependence on God. So that when we’re up against it through whatever difficulties we face we must learn to commit it all to God and press on ahead, regardless. Following Christ means doing so no matter what.

So today that is my stand. To push ahead in faith, and do the best I can regardless of what I face. And to do so, thanking God for his promises and provision for us along the way in everything in and through Jesus.

dependency on teachers

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Acts 17:11-12

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

1 John 2:27

As it is well said, it’s better to teach a person how to fish than make them dependent on someone who fishes for them. The best teachers in the church are those who help the listeners grow up into maturity in the faith through the gospel, and be not only students of the word, but lovers of God and people. Of course that love rooted in the gospel which is the expression of God’s love to us and to the world in and through Jesus.

Poor teaching and teachers make people dependent on them and their books. The older I get, the less I take notes. I used to be a big note taker. At the same time though, the older I get, the more I appreciate teachers who make one think, and challenge their faith in ways which build us up toward being more like Jesus, and knowing God better. In the ways of faith and love.

The passages quoted above tell us to keep searching the scriptures, and that means all of them, the Old Testament as well. And to trust the Holy Spirit to help us right now, today, and in the long haul as well.

We need understanding for life, which scripture is meant to give us. Life in community in Jesus, and for others for whom Jesus died, which means everyone.

But again Jesus makes himself and God’s good news and will known by his Spirit, using teachers, but not dependent on any one of them.