Confidently Receiving from God

The Bible offers a lot of promises, but there may be none more extraordinary than the one in I John 5:14-15:

“And this is the confidence (the assurance, the privilege of boldness) which we have in Him: [we are sure] that if we ask anything (make any request) according to His will (in agreement with His own plan), He listens to and hears us. And if (since) we [positively] know that He listens to us in whatever we ask, we also know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that we have [granted us as our present possessions] the requests made of Him.”

That is from the Amplified Bible, which throws in lots of clarifications to make sure we really get the point. Here it is from the NIV, the stripped-down version:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

The Message gives us the same point but with updated language: “And how bold and free we then become in his presence, freely asking according to his will, sure that he’s listening. And if we’re confident that he’s listening, we know that what we’ve asked for is as good as ours.”

There is one inviolate phrase that all three versions leave intact: “according to His will.” Whatever we ask according to His will, we can be sure that He hears us and will grant us that request. How do we know what His will is? There are two ways. One is to make a concerted effort of Bible study until the assurance grows within you that you understand God’s will for you. The other is to put these verses into practice: Ask God in regular prayer what His will is for you, and when you feel the assurance that He has heard you, and has responded to you, then adjust your life accordingly.

           

Community

I think I’ve discussed community before on this blog, sometime in its six or seven years of existence. There have been times, I’d have to admit, when I was a little hazy myself on the importance of community, especially in relation to the issue of spirituality. It’s a temptation for an introvert to focus her spirituality into avenues that are not dependent on the presence or participation of other people.

So, I was intrigued by how much my attention was drawn to, and has returned to, a paragraph in Wendell Berry’s novel Hannah Coulter.

The paragraph is presented as the public comment of a character named Burley Coulter (one of my favorite characters in the story), who is known for referring to residents of the village of Port William, Kentucky, as all being part of a membership. The paragraph reads as follows:

“Oh, yes, brothers and sisters, we are members one of another. The difference, beloved, ain’t in who is and who’s not, but in who knows it and who don’t. Oh, my friends, there ain’t no nonmembers, living nor dead nor yet to come. Do you know it? Or do you don’t? A man is a member of a woman and a worm. A woman is a member of a man and a mole. Oh, beloved, it’s all one piece of work.”

We’ve all heard expressions of similar concepts: “We are all one.” “We’re all in this together.” “No man is an island.”  But somehow Burley’s statement about membership strikes a chord that the others don’t quite manage. The difference, for me, is between anonymity and known identity. Burley’s statement eliminates anonymity in favor of a sense of belonging. And with belonging goes a natural, mutual responsibility for the others in the membership. Even an introvert likes to know where she belongs.

So, what does that have to do with “everyday spirituality”? What comes immediately to mind is the passage in Isaiah 54, recorded in The Message this way: “Clear lots of ground for your tents! Make your tents large. Spread out! Think big! Use plenty of rope, drive the tent pegs deep. You’re going to need lots of elbow room for your growing family….” [This passage of Scripture also figured in the September 22, 2016, post.]

“Your growing family” is another phrase for your membership. The more deeply you go into your spiritual self, the more your spiritual world can expand the coverage of its tent to recognize others as part of your membership.

As Burley would say: Do you recognize your membership or do you don’t?

           

Giving Thanks In All Things

You’ve surely heard the Biblical instruction “give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God for you.” It is Verse 18 of I Thessalonians 5. You certainly heard it if you were in a Christian church on Thanksgiving Sunday. Most people who point to this verse emphasize that we are instructed to give thanks IN all things, not FOR all things, indicating a prevailing attitude of trust and gratitude that we should maintain no matter what is going on in our lives.

But I would like to point out something else that I don’t usually hear mentioned. This verse is one of three exhortations in one sentence. They are verses 16, 17, and 18 from I Thessalonians 5, and together they form a single sentence. It reads: “(16) Rejoice always, (17) pray constantly, (18) give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” That’s how the NIV puts it. The International Standard Version reads, “(16) Always be joyful, (17) continually be prayerful, (18) in everything be thankful, because this is God’s will in Christ Jesus for you.”

If all you read was the International Standard Version, you might think that only the third part, giving thanks in all things, is God’s will for you, but if you see the NIV, you can’t miss that semicolon—which brings both of the earlier two parts under the same umbrella. All three are God’s will for you.

The Message makes that last point especially clear. Set off in a paragraph by themselves are verses 16–18: “Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.”

Happy Thanksgiving, joyfully, prayerfully.

           

Manna

It may be impossible to think of manna without thinking of the story in Exodus of God providing daily provision to the Israelites in the wilderness. Manna was that strange substance that fed them and all they had to do was pick it up off the ground. But each person had a daily portion, to be gathered on the day of its use. The only day of the week they could gather a double portion without the oversupply “going bad” was in preparation for the Sabbath.

I have come to think of “everyday spirituality” as a kind of manna. It seems to be part of our human nature that life works best for us when we renew our spiritual provisions every day. We are best served, best fed, by pursuing on an everyday basis the spiritual practices that keep us in touch with the Divine. Skipping days works only to our own detriment. The gathering is easy because we are offered a wide range of spiritual practices, and the blessings that come as a result are renewed for us every day. And unlike the Israelites, we are free to gather as much as we want. There are no limits to this daily provision.

           

How to Welcome Change

I guess it wouldn’t be Life if we did not always see change. In fact, change is so unavoidable that it makes me wonder why we always dread change. It makes more sense to dread the opposite of change, which is surely death. From that perspective, perhaps we should spread our arms and welcome all the change we can find.

Several changes stand before me, on the verge of unfolding. These range from the totally mundane to the exceptional. On the mundane side, I find I will have to do the research this year to find a new health care plan because providers I use will be dropped from my coverage in 2016. Aaaargh! No one consulted me about this change. In that way, it is typical of most change that comes my way.

On the exceptional side, I am in a weekly walk with a favorite gentleman who appears to be nearing the end of his life. He has reached the stage when he experiences spikes of good days and drops to bad days, but succeeding spikes don’t ascend as high, and the descents to bad days reach greater and greater depth. What’s painful is that everyone involved, most assuredly the gentleman himself, must learn how to do this as we go.

Nathaniel Branden wrote: “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” I am fully located on the second step with my mundane issue, but somewhere in the middle of the staircase with the serious change, which will bring impact to many people, not just me, in many ways.

My greatest gratitude is that I don’t face any changes, not even the small ones and certainly not the large ones, alone. God has promised to walk with us, never to leave us, and His strength and guidance are available to us at every step, as close to us as our very breath.

           

Learnings from a Broken Foot

I made reference to my broken metatarsal in my last post and even put in a photograph of the walking boot. Since then I have adjusted (pretty much) to using a crutch and to going very, very slow. If I don’t go slow, I risk accidentally coming down hard on the foot that is healing, and that is never good.

Back in August when I saw the X-ray of the broken bone, I put my trust in God to bring something good out of this situation. Now, two and a half weeks after acknowledging the break and putting on the walking boot, here are a couple of learnings gained from this experience:

1. Using a crutch always slows you down. Right now my crutch is a metal apparatus that reaches from my armpit to the floor, but I’ve had lots of crutches in my life: regret, guilt, feeling inadequate, the paralysis of inaction, etc., etc. Every single one of these crutches has slowed me down.

2. God can bring healing to any bad break in my life — certainly the physical break of a bone, but just as certainly the bad breaks of difficult relationships, poor decisions, unexpected storms, traffic delays, or illness. My job is to hold on to the faith that God, as promised, will be with me wherever I go and whatever I encounter.

           

Developing Perseverance

“Consider it pure joy,” says the book of James, “whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Notice that James (this is in James 1:2) doesn’t say “trials of any kind,” but rather “trials of many kinds.”

So I am practicing considering it pure joy that a broken metatarsal has me in a walking boot and forced the cancellation of a long-planned trip to see family and friends—some of whom I have not seen in decades. Everything had been lined up so painstakingly, I am doubtful that I could work all that out again.

However, though disappointed at the unraveling of those plans, I am also just as willing to see the dissolution as ultimately working out for the best. If I take the oft-quoted perspective that everything happens for a reason, then I must be willing to have faith that there is a good reason even when I can’t see one. And really, that could be a corollary to the definition of perseverance (steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success).

So I am patiently sitting here with my foot mending in a walking boot, trusting that what I am really doing is developing perseverance, in order to be “mature and complete.”

           

Peace Defined

I never particularly thought I needed a definition of peace. The word has always seemed to signify a self-explanatory end point—a goal to which much of my life has been aimed.

So I was surprised a few days ago to find in Jeremiah, in the Amplified Bible, a verse (33:6) in which there appears to be a definition of peace.

In this verse, Jeremiah is prophesying the future in a restored Jerusalem: “I will lay upon it health and healing, and I will cure them and will reveal to them the abundance of peace (prosperity, security, stability) and truth.”

Since I came across this verse, this definition has been running around the back of my mind. I have been trying it on for size. Had you asked me last week what my definition for peace is, I’m sure I would have come up with something other than “prosperity, security, stability.” Yet, if I have all of those elements squared away, how could I not be in peace?

Once again, the Amplified has shown the way!

           

Value of Loneliness

This morning I caught a few minutes of Jesse Duplantis, a television minister whose message is usually good and whose delivery is always lively. Though I did not hear his entire message, I was struck by this comment:

“Lonely times and wilderness times in your life—you’re going to have them—help you get clearer on your calling and your goals.”

Lonely times and wilderness times both refer to those times that come to all of us when we feel isolated, alone, and lost. We sometimes remain in those places so long that we begin to drift. It doesn’t take long before we conclude that there is very little worth working for; we give up on pushing toward our goals because they aren’t materializing anyway; we are left going in circles and getting nowhere, much like the Israelites who took forty years to make an eleven-day journey.

Duplantis is saying that those times are, instead, perfect opportunities for stopping to reflect on where we are going in life. The dissatisfaction inherent in those lonely, lost times provides the optimal environment for us to ask the important questions, such as: Where am I supposed to be headed? What am I supposed to be doing with my life? Is this emptiness what God intended for me, or am I missing something really important here? What could my life be about if I only allow it to go in the direction I believe God has in mind for me, based on the talents I was given?

Asking these questions prayerfully and letting God provide the answers to us will not only reconnect us with our talents, goals, and calling, but also help us find our way out of the wilderness.

           

The Value of a Good Book

The monthly newsletter for Parkplace Books, Kirkland, Washington, featured a quote from Oscar Wilde that I want to share:  “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

Is that nothing more than a clever twisting of phrases? Or is there something worth thinking about here? I voted for the latter because of the inherent point about building character.

The various kinds of media engagement have impacts on who we are. Certainly films and songs and social media can affect us deeply, or can be simply passing entertainment. But generally a book requires a commitment of time, of living with one story or one point of view for some duration of time, and that is formative by nature. It subtly shapes the attitudes and outlook of the reader as it broadens his or her experience of life. This, in turn, alters who that person becomes.

There are all manner of books that we can choose to read, but what if we spend time every day (or at least very often) reading the Bible, even though we don’t have to? With no effort on the reader’s part, other than the simple act of reading, the messages, the themes, the guidance, the perspective, the promises of the Bible begin to shape who that person is, how that person thinks, and how that person reacts to life. Or as Oscar Wilde put it, it determines who that person will be when he or she can’t help it.

The next time you are choosing a book to read, maybe it would be wise to consider the kind of person you want to be.