Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Desert Time, pt. 1

[author's note: i have been reading Wilfrid Stinissen's little book: Into Your Hands, Father, and it brought to mind this an essay i wrote several years ago. i thought i would share it with you. it is rather long, so i'm brining it forward in several parts.]
Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live.  There I will go to the altar of God, to God – the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God!” (Psalm 43:3,4 NLT)

 The most imperative moments of our life, those instances that bear the most weight and carry ultimate significance, are those seconds we spend facing The Holy (Rudolf Otto). These are the instances when our lives are punctured with the deepest beauty and truth, when we are at our most human and most vulnerable, and when our darkest corners and our brightest possibilities are revealed to us. It is also in these moments when we find the dense clothing of God’s affection covering us so that even though we are known as we really are, we are also loved even as we are known. 

The believer’s greatest test, then, arises in the constant challenge of seeking the Living and Holy God who is really there.  It seems we have little trouble finding the God of past deeds and ancient victories, but we struggle to find the living God, the breathing God, the God of the moment. And don’t we also secretly fear what we will find living in us when we meet The Holy? Don’t we fear that the scars of our life are too painful to be exposed. Don’t we fear that God’s love may finally play out once our experiences are naked before him?
Why is this fear in our hearts? 
We may be afraid because we know what God requires. We know that the living God will allow us no other allegiances and no other gods. So the test of his presence becomes the near constant choice we must make between him and the world, him and our other interests, him and ourselves. It's God or everything else. And we are given little leeway here: It is either relationship with God (covenant) or our own self-interest (idolatry): 
I am YHWH your God
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
from a house of slaves
you shall have no other gods(Exodus 20)
Jesus said it this way:
Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness… (Matthew 6)
And St. John said:
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world, if anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him…(1 John 2)
Whatever the above readings might mean, what they certainly do mean is that God wants it all. He wants our body, our mind, our emotion, our will, and our heart. In fact, so powerful is this demand for surrender that, once given the gift of freedom (which occurs for us at conversion's door), choice becomes obligation and we are then ever-after held responsible to select God and his ways everytime over everything else! 
Let this challenge seep into your soul for a moment so that you feel the life-dominating weight with which the word surrender here confronts us. 
Just how are we to comprehend the constant pressure of this steep demand? Thinking honestly about our lifestyle and our activities, doesn’t this purity of heart or this purity of motive sound rather like the absurd, provincial notions of a disjointed religious babbler?
I mean, how could we, who always expect to enjoy our freedom and always expect to have our own way, how could we ever condone a message of demand like this one from God or anyone else? 
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Back-Channel Chatter
 “Is this why we signed on to the Jesus-way? Is this what it really meant? Were these surrender demands found buried somewhere in the fine print? To be sure, we want an escape hatch from final judgment (who doesn’t?), so we asked God to be part of our life, after which we let everyone know that we could get along on our own without any interference from him or anyone else, thank you very much. Of course, we toss up an occasional prayer now and again, and we attend the church of our choice, but what else could really be involved? And those who think otherwise should really get a life or something…”
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The point I am making is devastatingly simple. Without much effort at all we can become idol worshippers. That is, when we trust ourselves (our occupations, our friends and family, our doctors, lawyers and clergymen, our national defense and economy) for our own lives, then we make self-reliance our god; and no matter how you cut it in the end we worship ourselves. Broadly defined this is the sin of pride, the summit of the seven deadly sins, and the sin from which the other six flow. And remember, the root of pride is found in man’s not being, in some way, subject to God and his rule. (St. Thomas Aquinas) 
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Back-Channel Grumbling
“What’s he talking about? We’re humble as humble can be, and we’re proud of it!  So,  simmer down a little, preacher.”
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I wonder, do I hear a protest out there? Do some doubt that pride is our sin? Well, perhaps one question will clean-up the matter: How many hours a week, not including church activities, do we spend before the LORD God, really focused only on him? 
You see, what God really asks from us is our time (which ultimately is our life!). But isn’t it our time that we hold most dear, and isn’t it our time with which we have the greatest difficulty in letting go? Still, this demand by God on our lives continues sounding without interruption, softly reverberating back to our ears, serving only to shred our dodges and rationalizations:  “Who are you, who am I, to ignore the Living, Holy God?!”
And, while we would never say it out loud, don’t we secretly think that our agenda is more important, our cause more compelling, our duties more essential, and our needs more vital than a relationship of love with the HOLY God that involves some sort of surrender? Why else would we offer him so little of our life? The simple truth is, we love ourselves too much...
[to be continued]