All true friendliness begins with fire and food and drink and the recognition of rain or frost. Those who will not begin at the bodily end of things are already prigs... Each human soul has in a sense to enact for itself the gigantic humility of the Incarnation. Every man must descend into the flesh to meet mankind.
You state the problem very clearly, and the fact that you can do so really shows that you are very much on the right road. Many don’t even get so far.
The whole problem of our life was neatly expressed by John the Baptist when he said (John, chap 3, v. 30) ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ This you have realised. But you are expecting it to happen suddenly: and also expecting that you should be clearly aware when it does. But neither of these is usual. We are doing well enough if the slow process of being more in Christ and less in ourselves has made a decent beginning in a long life (it will be completed only in the next world). Nor can we observe it happening. All our reports on ourselves are unbelievable, even in worldly matters (no one really hears his own voice as others do, or sees his own face). Much more in spiritual matters. God sees us, and we don’t see ourselves. And by trying too hard to do so, we only get the fidgets and become either too complacent or too much the other way.
Your question what to do is already answered. Go on (as you apparently are going on) doing all your duties. And, in all lawful ways, go on enjoying all that can be enjoyed—your friends, your music, your books. Remember we are told to ‘rejoice’ [Philippians 4:4]. Sometimes when you are wondering what God wants you to do, He really wants to give you something.
As to your spiritual state, try my plan. I pray ‘Lord, show me just so much (neither more nor less) about myself as I need for doing thy will now.’
The Lord Jesus Christ acted in what he did as a great public representative person, and his dying upon the cross was the virtual dying of all his people. Then all his saints rendered unto justice what was due, and made an expiation to divine vengeance for all their sins. The apostle of the Gentiles delighted to think that as one of Christ's chosen people, he died upon the cross in Christ.
He did more than believe this doctrinally, he accepted it confidently, resting his hope upon it. He believed that by virtue of Christ's death, he had satisfied divine justice, and found reconciliation with God. Beloved, what a blessed thing it is when the soul can, as it were, stretch itself upon the cross of Christ, and feel, "I am dead; the law has slain me, and I am therefore free from its power, because in my Surety I have borne the curse, and in the person of my Substitute the whole that the law could do, by way of condemnation, has been executed upon me, for I am crucified with Christ."
But Paul meant even more than this. He not only believed in Christ's death, and trusted in it, but he actually felt its power in himself in causing the crucifixion of his old corrupt nature. When he saw the pleasures of sin, he said, "I cannot enjoy these: I am dead to them." Such is the experience of every true Christian. Having received Christ, he is to this world as one who is utterly dead. Yet, while conscious of death to the world, he can, at the same time, exclaim with the apostle, "Nevertheless I live." He is fully alive unto God.
The Christian's life is a matchless riddle. No worldling can comprehend it; even the believer himself cannot understand it. Dead, yet alive! crucified with Christ, and yet at the same time risen with Christ in newness of life! Union with the suffering, bleeding Saviour, and death to the world and sin, are soul-cheering things. O for more enjoyment of them! Charles Spurgeon - source unknown
In the earliest days of Christianity an ‘apostle’ was first and foremost a man who claimed to be an eyewitness of the Resurrection. Only a few days after the Crucifixion when two candidates were nominated for the vacancy created by the treachery of Judas, their qualification was that they had known Jesus personally both before and after His death and could offer first-hand evidence of the Resurrection in addressing the outer world (Acts1:22). A few days later St Peter, preaching the first Christian sermon, makes the same claim—‘God raised Jesus, of which we all (we Christians) are witnesses’ (Acts 2:32). In the first Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul bases his claim to apostleship on the same ground—‘Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord Jesus?’ (1:9).
As this qualification suggests, to preach Christianity meant primarily to preach the Resurrection. . . . . The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the ‘gospel’ or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the ‘gospels’, the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. . . . . The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection. If they had died without making anyone else believe this ‘gospel’ no gospels would ever have been written.
To be specific, the self-sins are these: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love, and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them. The grosser manifestations of these sins, egotism, exhibitionism, self-promotion, are strangely tolerated in Christian leaders, even in circles of impeccable orthodoxy...Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice...
Self can live unrebuked at the very altar. It can watch the bleeding Victim die and not be in the least affected by what it sees. It can fight for the faith of the Reformers and preach eloquently the creed of salvation by grace, and gain strength by its efforts. To tell all the truth, it seems actually to feed upon orthodoxy and is more at home in a Bible conference than in a tavern. Our very state of longing after God may afford it an excellent condition under which to thrive and grow.
A W Tozer in The Pursuit of God (1948), pages 45-6
It was given to St. Paul to proclaim Christianity as the spiritual law of liberty, and to exhibit Faith as the most active principle within the breast of man. It was St. John's to say that the deepest quality in the bosom of Deity is Love; and to assert that the life of God in Man is Love. It was the office of St. James to assert the necessity of Moral Rectitude; his very name marked him out peculiarly for this office: he was emphatically called, “the Just:” integrity was his peculiar characteristic. A man singularly honest, earnest, real.
Accordingly, if you read through his whole epistle, you will find it is, from first to last, one continued vindication of the first principles of morality against the semblances of religion. He protested against the censoriousness which was found connected with peculiar claims of religious feelings. “If any man among you seem to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.” He protested against that spirit which had crept into the Christian Brotherhood, truckling to the rich, and despising the poor. “If ye have respect of persons ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.” He protested against that sentimental fatalism which induced men to throw the blame of their own passions upon God. “Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot tempt to evil; neither tempteth He any man.” He protested against that unreal religion of excitement which diluted the earnestness of real religion in the enjoyment of listening. “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only; deceiving your own souls.” He protested against that trust in the correctness of theological doctrine which neglected the cultivation of character. “What doth it profit, if a man say that he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?”
Read St. James's epistle through, this is the mind breathing through it all:—all this talk about religion, and spirituality—words, words, words—nay, let us have realities.
From Frederick William Robertson's Third Series of Sermons Preached at Brighton
Psalm 120:2.Deliver my soul, O Lord, from
lying lips, etc.
In the drop of venom which distils from the sting of the
smallest insect, or the spike of the nettle leaf, there is concentrated the
quintessence of a poison so subtle that the microscope cannot distinguish it,
and yet so virulent that it can inflame the blood, irritate the whole
constitution, and convert day and night into restless misery; so it is
sometimes with the words of the slanderer.—Frederick William Robertson.
From Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, notes on Psalm 120.
Another quote from Robertson, which is worth noting:
"The one great certainty to which, in the midst of the darkest doubt, I never ceased to cling—the entire symmetry and loveliness and the unequalled nobleness of the humanity of the Son of Man." And another point about Robertson himself: [He]made a careful study of the Bible, committing to memory the entire New Testament both in English and in Greek. That's focus for you, and such memorisation pays off, in the long run.
Psalm 120: 2.Deliver my soul, O Lord, from
lying lips, etc.
An unbridled tongue is "vehiculum Diaboli", the
chariot of the Devil, wherein he rides in triumph. Greenhorn doth describe the
tongue prettily by contraries, or diversities: "It is a little piece of
flesh, small in quantity, but mighty in quality; it is soft, but slippery; it
goeth lightly, but falls heavily; it strikes soft, but wounds sore; it goeth
out quickly, but burns vehemently; it pierces deep, and therefore not healed
speedily; it hath liberty granted easily to go forth but it will find no means
easily to return home; and being once inflamed with Satan's bellows, it is like
the fire of hell."
The course of an unruly tongue is to proceed from evil
to worse, to begin with foolishness, and go on with bitterness, and to end in
mischief and madness. See Eccl. 10:13. The Jew's conference with our Saviour
began with arguments: "We be Abraham's seed," said they, etc.; but
proceeded to blasphemies: "Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and
hast a devil?" and ended in cruelty: "Then took they up stones to
cast at him." John 8:33,48,59. This also is the base disposition of a bad
tongue to hate those whom it afflicts: Pr 26:28. The mischief of the tongue may
further appear by the mercy of being delivered from it, for,
1. So God hath promised it (John 5:15,21). "God saves the
poor from the sword, from their mouth, and from the hand of the mighty," and
"thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue," or from being
betongued, as some render it, that is, from being, as it were, caned or
cudgelled with the tongues of others. "Thou shalt hide them in the secret
of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a
pavilion from the strife of tongues" (Ps 31:20); that is, from all
calumnies, reproaches, evil speakings of all kinds. God will preserve the good
names of his people from the blots and bespatterings of malicious men, as kings
protect their favourites against slanders and clamours.
2. So the saints have prayed for it, as David: "Deliver
my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue."—Edward Reyner.
Quoted in Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 120. The original material is possibly from Reyner's 'Rules for the Government of the Tongue: together with Directions in six Particular Cases,' (1656)
So how does one break down barriers and build bridges in conflicts...? Through storytelling. A mediator needs to facilitate relationship building by letting people tell their stories. This builds empathy for the other and helps one begin to see things from the other's perspective. According to Douglas E. Noll, storytelling increases empathy for the other and deescalates emotions. He writes, "Empirical evidence and deep experience suggest that storytelling is the only way through the conflict maze."
A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications) often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. . . .
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook--even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. . . . The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Measured against the ages "mere Christianity" turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible. I know it, indeed, to my cost. In the days when I still hated Christianity, I learned to recognise, like some all to familiar smell, that almost unvarying something which met me, now in Puritan Bunyan, now in Anglican Hooker, now in Thomist Dante. . . . It was of course varied; and yet--after all--so unmistakably the same; recognisable, not to be evaded, the odour which is death to us until we allow it to become life. From C S Lewis' introduction to On the Incarnation by Athanasius. 1046 edition.
We know that God is compassionate, loving kindness and all we're asked to do is to be in the world who God is. In order to make that happen, we create this community of kinship. Mother Teresa, I think, diagnosed the world's ills correctly when she suggested that the problem in the world is that we've just forgotten that we belong to each other. So how do we stand against forgetting that? How do we imagine a circle of compassion and then imagine that nobody is standing outside that circle? How do we obliterate once and for all the illusion that we're separate, that there's an "us" and a "them"?
I well remember a Christian leader who a number of years ago used to give this advice to younger Christians: 'One of the most important things in Christian leadership,' he would solemnly intone, 'is never to admit any weaknesses. If you admit weaknesses, others will exploit them to your detriment.' Astonishing! Surely there are many areas in which Christians must acknowledge their weaknesses. Isn't that Paul's policy, when in 2 Corinthians 12 he insists he has learned to 'boast' of his weaknesses so that Christ's strength might be made perfect in him?
Indeed, in the same passage, Paul circumscribes what he says about his own spiritual experiences, precisely because he is fearful that people will think too much of him. If he must be assessed, he wants to be judged by what he says and does in the public arena, not by laying claim to spiritual experiences no one else can test. What is remarkable is the way Paul's' stance differs from our own. Many Christians today, even Christian leaders, go through life fearful that people will think too little of them. They quickly become irritable if someone, especially a junior, is praised more than they. But Paul goes through life fearful that people will think too much. Follow a leader like that! He has been tested by hardship, and he is not an untested upstart of a self-promoting peacock. Emulate such leaders.
Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.
The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction.
In the second place, the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil. What He wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise—does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going. (You see how grovelling, how unspiritual, how irredeemably vulgar He is!)
This attitude, especially during sermons, creates the condition (most hostile to our whole policy) in which platitudes can become really audible to a human soul. There is hardly any sermon, or any book, which may not be dangerous to us if it is received in this temper.
[God] demands our worship, our obedience, our prostration. Do we suppose that they can do Him any good, or fear, like the chorus in Milton, that human irreverence can bring about “His glory’s diminution”? A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word “darkness” on the walls of his cell. But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces. If we do not, that only shows that what we are trying to love is not yet God—though it may be the nearest approximation to God which our thought and fantasy can attain.
Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it.
Nowadays most people hardly think of Prudence as one of the ‘virtues’. In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are ‘good’, it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding.
In the first place, most children show plenty of ‘prudence’ about doing the things they are really interested in, and think them out quite sensibly. In the second place, as St Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary. He told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves’, but also ‘as wise as serpents’. He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.
The fact that you are giving money to a charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not. The fact that what you are thinking about is God Himself (for example, when you are praying) does not mean that you can be content with the same babyish ideas which you had when you were a five-year-old.
It is, of course, quite true that God will not love you any the less, or have less use for you, if you happen to have been born with a very second-rate brain. He has room for people with very little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have. C S Lewis in Mere Christianity
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbours worthy if anything can.
In quite a lot of
Western evangelicalism, there is a worrying tendency to focus on the periphery.
I have a colleague in the Missions Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity
School whose analysis of his own heritage is very helpful. Dr Paul Hiebert
laboured for years in India before returning to the United States to teach. He
springs from Mennonite stock, and analyses his heritage in a fashion that he
himself would acknowledge is something of a simplistic caricature, but a useful
one nonetheless. One generation of Mennonites believed the gospel, and held as
well that there were certain social, economic, and political entailments. The next
generation assumed the gospel, but identified with the entailments. The following
generation denied the gospel: the entailments were everything.
Assuming this sort of
scheme for evangelicalism, one suspects that large swathes of the movement are
lodged in the second step, with some drifting toward the third.
What we must ask one another is this: what is it in the Christian faith
that makes you excited? What consumes your time? What turns you on? Today there
are endless subgroups of confessing Christians who invest enormous quantities
of time and energy in one issue or another: abortion, home schooling, the
defence of a particular Bible version, pornography issues, women’s ordination
(for or against), economic injustice, a certain style of worship, and much
more. The list varies from country to country, but not a few countries have a
full agenda of urgent, peripheral demands. Not for a moment am I suggesting we
should not think about such matters and throw our weight behind none of them. But
when such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask, in
what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel? D A Carson in Basics for Believers (reflections on Philippians) pages 26-7
We declare how we value God as much by our actions, by the
way we treat other people, by the manner in which we do our work, as by
anything we say. If my actions are wrong or wrongly motivated prayer cannot
make them right. If however, despite my failures and inconsistencies, I do on
the whole want to put God above all things then prayer will help to purify my
motives and clarify my judgement.
I have had ‘Miss Bodle’s colleague’ in my daily prayers for a long time now: is that the same young man you mention in your letter of, or do I now say ‘colleagues’? Yes: don’t bother him with my books if an aunt (it somehow would be an aunt—though I must add that most of my aunts were delightful) has been ramming them down his throat.
You know, The Pilgrim’s Progress is not, I find (to my surprise) everyone’s book. I know several people who are both Christians and lovers of literature who can’t bear it. I doubt if they were made to read it as children. Indeed, I rather wonder whether that ‘being made to read it’ has spoiled so many books as is supposed. I suspect that all the people who tell me they were ‘put off’ Scott by having Ivanhoe as a holiday task are people who would never have liked Scott anyway.
I don’t believe anything will keep the right reader and the right book apart. But our literary loves are as diverse as our human! You couldn’t make me like Henry James or dislike Jane Austen whatever you did. By the bye did Chesterton’s Everlasting Man (I’m sure I advised you to read it) succeed or fail with you?
Some writers use the word charity to describe not only Christian love between human beings, but also God’s love for man and man’s love for God. About the second of these two, people are often worried. They are told they ought to love God. They cannot find any such feeling in themselves. What are they to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you have found the answer, go and do it.
On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about.
Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him. C S Lewis, in Mere Christianity
What dimensions of our lives are presently oppressed by the captivity of powerful and destructive principalities and powers? I suspect that the answer to that question is literally, every dimension suffers under such oppression. Consequently, it is in every dimension of life that we need to engage in radical, and sometimes symbolic acts of a hope for life beyond captivity, beyond the present crisis. We need to find ways to experience God's shalom, God's redemptive presence, in all the dimensions of our lives, from the marketplace to the bedroom, from the board room to the classroom, from the theatre to the dining room. In fact, there are many rooms to our lives, and it is in all of these rooms that we need to struggle together, in community, and with the healing presence of the Holy Spirit, to have a foretaste of a creationally restoring kingdom that is yet to come in all of its fullness.
Though Christian charity sounds a very cold thing to people whose heads are full of sentimentality, and though it is quite distinct from affection, yet it leads to affection. The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or ‘likings’ and the Christian has only ‘charity’.
The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on—including people he could not even have imagined him- self liking at the beginning.
This same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction. The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them: afterwards they hated them much more because they had ill-treated them. The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become — and so on in a vicious circle for ever.
Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible. From Mere Christianity, by C S Lewis
The prophet must speak with passion because the community is in a coma. Or to shift the metaphor, we are numb. To be numb is to be without passion; it is the absence of pathos; it is apathy. We are so numb that we don't even realise what has happened to us. Our numbness denies us of a spiritually renewed imagination. We are numb, we don't notice the perverse abnormality of affluence. We are numb to the precariousness of our times, numb to the danger of the earth, to the pain of the poor, to the impossibility of our present affluent lifestyles. We are numb to our own pain, and we want to remain numb to the pain of homosexuals in our communities and to the victims of abuse and incest. And, yes, we are numbed out by the irrelevance of the church to our present cultural malaise.
As stewards of the creation we recognise that its ownership resides with God and that we are accountable, in the final analysis, to the Creator for our use of the creation. Therefore, we confess that any wanton misuse or destruction of creation -- whether the good creational gifts of land, plants, water, air and atoms, or aesthetic life, family and scholarship -- is a misuse of our stewardship, a squandering of our creational inheritance, and, therefore, a sin to the creation, to future generations, and ultimately to the Creator himself.
The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.
‘Niceness’—wholesome, integrated personality—is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up ‘nice’; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.
For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature. Of course, once it has got its wings, it will soar over fences which could never have been jumped and thus beat the natural horse at its own game. But there may be a period, while the wings are just beginning to grow, when it cannot do so: and at that stage the lumps on the shoulders—no one could tell by looking at them that they are going to be wings—may even give it an awkward appearance. From C S Lewis' Mere Christianity
We ought, indeed, to feel the dignity of the ministry; we must present some protest against the mere fraternal conception which so easily sinks into an unspiritual familiarity. But still more than the dignity of the ministry do its elect feel its solemnity. How can it be otherwise? We have to dwell much with the everlasting burnings of God’s love. We have to tend that consuming fire. We have to feed our life where all the tragedy of life is gathered to an infinite and victorious crisis in Christ. We are not the fire, but we live where it burns. The matter we handle in our theological thought we can only handle with some due protection for our face. It is one of the dangerous industries. It is continually acting on us, continually searching our inner selves that no part of us may be unforgiven, unfed , or unsanctified. We cannot hold it and examine it at arm’s length. It enters into us. It evokes the perpetual comment of our souls, and puts us continually on self-judgment. Our critic, our judge, is at the door. Self-condemnation arrests denunciation. And the true apostle can never condemn but in the spirit of self-condemnation.
But, after all, our doom is our blessing. Our Judge is on our side. For if humiliation be wrung from us, still more is faith, hope, and prayer. Everything that rebukes our self-satisfaction does still more to draw out our faith. When we are too tired or doubtful to ask we can praise and adore. When we are weary of confessing our sin we can forget ourselves in a godly sort and confess our Saviour. We can say the creed when we cannot raise the song. He also hath given us the reconciliation. The more judgment we see in the holy cross the more we see it is judgment unto salvation. The more we are humbled the more we “roll our souls upon Christ.” And we recover our self-possession only by giving our soul again and again to Christ to keep. We win a confidence in self-despair. Prayer is given us as wings wherewith to mount, but also to shield our face when they have carried us before the great white throne. It is in prayer that the holiness comes home as love, and the love is established as holiness. At every step our thought is transformed to prayer, and our prayer opens new ranges of thought.
His great revelation is His holiness, always outgoing in atoning love. The Christian revelation is not “God is love” so much as “love is God.” That is, it is not God’s love, but the infinite power of God’s love, its finality, omnipotence, and absoluteness. It is not passionate and helpless love, but it has power to subdue everything that rises against it. And that is the holiness of love - the eternal thing in it. We receive the last reconciliation. Then the very wrath of God becomes a glory. The red in the sky is the new dawn. Our self-accusation becomes a new mode of praise. Our loaded hearts spring light again. Our heavy conscience turns to grave moral power. A new love is born for our kind. A new and tender patience steals upon us. We see new ways of helping, serving, and saving. We issue into a new world. We are one with the Christ not only on His cross, but in His resurrection.
Think of the resurrection power and calm, of that solemn final peace, that infinite satisfaction in the eternal thing eternally achieved, which filled His soul when He had emerged from death, when man’s worst had been done, and God’s best had been won, forever and for all. We have our times of entrance into that Christ. As we were one with Him in the likeness of His death, so we are in the likeness of His resurrection. And the same Eternal Spirit which puts the preacher’s soul much upon the cross also raises it continually from the dead. We overcome our mistakes , negligence’s, sins; nay, we rise above the sin of the whole world, which will not let our souls be as good as they are. We overcome the world, and take courage, and are of new cheer. We are in the Spirit. And then we can preach, pray, teach, heal. And even the unclean lips then put a new thrill into our sympathy and a new tremor into our praise.
If it be not so, how shall our dangerous work not demoralize us, and we perish from our too much contact with holy things.
Forsyth, P. T. (2013-09-02). The Soul of Prayer (Kindle Locations 1021-1030). Walking Through the Word. Kindle Edition.
The work of the ministry labours under one heavy disadvantage when we regard it as a profession and compare it with other professions. In these, experience brings facility, a sense of mastery in the subject, self-satisfaction, self-confidence; but in our subject the more we pursue it, the more we enter into it, so much the more are we cast down with the overwhelming sense, not only of our insufficiency, but of our unworthiness.
Of course, in the technique of our work we acquire a certain ease. We learn to speak more or less freely and aptly. We learn the knack of handling a text, of conducting church work, or dealing with men, and the life. If it were only texts or men we had to handle! But we have to handle the gospel. We have to lift up Christ - a Christ who is the death of natural self-confidence - a humiliating, even a crushing Christ; and we are not always alive to our uplifting and resurrection in Him. We have to handle a gospel that is a new rebuke to us every step we gain in intimacy with it. There is no real intimacy with the gospel which does not mean a new sense of God’s holiness, and it may be long before we realize that the same holiness that condemns is that which saves. There is no new insight into the Cross which does not bring, whatever else come with it, a deeper sense of the solemn holiness of the love that meets us there. And there is no new sense of the holy God that does not arrest His name upon our unclean lips.
If our very repentance is to be repented of, and we should be forgiven much in our very prayers, how shall we be proud, or even pleased, with what we may think a success in our preaching? So that we are not surprised that some preachers, after what the public calls a most brilliant and impressive discourse, retire (as the emperor retired to close his life in the cloister) to humble themselves before God, to ask forgiveness for the poor message, and to call themselves most unprofitable servants--yea, even when they knew themselves that they had “done well.” The more we grasp our gospel the more it abashes us.
One of our biggest problems as Christians is that we want the miracle without the love. We want to see the kind of healing Jesus brought, but we don't want to learn Jesus' way of loving broken people. Jesus performed signs and wonders here on earth, but he was also clear that the sign of the church ought to be love: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). Love is supposed to be the abiding sign of the church. I don't think we can have beloved communities until we learn to love like Jesus loves and make that our main plan for sharing the gospel.
Sometimes, in our discussion of scripture, history, God's will, military operations, or something a famous person said or did, an opinion is offered and, in response to the stated opinion, someone says, "That's just your interpretation." Technically speaking, this isn't a response at all. Unlike a question or an observation concerning the content of what was proffered, it only devalues and expresses disapproval of someone else's words, shutting down the possibility of a good conversation involving people good-naturedly sharing their interpretations with one another. The next time someone says it, I hope I'll have the nerve to say, "True enough. But what else is there?"
How is it that the experience of life is so often barren of spiritual culture for religious people? They become stoic and stalwart, but not humble; they have been sight, but no insight. Yet it is not the stalwarts but the saints that judge the world, i.e. that take the true divine measure of the world and get to its subtle, silent, and final powers. Whole sections of our Protestantism have lost the virtue of humility or the understanding of it. It means for them no more than modesty or diffidence. It is the humility of weakness, not of power. To many useful, and even strong, people no experience seems to bring this subtle, spiritual intelligence, this finer discipline of the moral man. No rebukes, no rebuffs, no humiliations, no sorrows, seem to bring it to them. They have no spiritual history. Their spiritual biography not even an angel could write. There is no romance in their soul’s story. At sixty they are, spiritually, much where they were at twenty-six. To calamity, to discipline of any kind, they are simply resilient. Their religion is simply elasticity. It is but lusty life. They rise up after the smart is over, or the darkness fades away, as self-confident as if they were but seasoned politicians beaten at one election, but sure of doing better at the next. They are to the end just irrepressible, or persevering, or dogged. And they are as juvenile in moral insight, as boyish in spiritual perception, as ever.
Is it not because they have never really had personal religion ? That is, they have never really prayed with all their heart; only, at most, with all their fervour, certainly not with strength and mind. They have never “spread out” their whole soul and situation to a God who knows. They have never opened the petals of their soul in the warm sympathy of His knowledge. They have not become particular enough in their prayer, faithful with themselves, or relevant to their complete situation. They do not face themselves, only what happens to them. They pray with their heart and not with their conscience. They pity themselves, perhaps they spare themselves,
We are not humble in God’s sight, partly because in our prayer there is a point at which we cease to pray, where we do not turn everything out into God’s light. It is because there is a chamber or two in our souls where we do not enter in and take God with us. We hurry Him by the door as we take Him along the corridors of our life to see our tidy places or our public rooms. We ask from our prayers too exclusively comfort, strength, enjoyment, or tenderness and graciousness, and not often enough humiliation and its fine strength. We want beautiful prayers, touching prayers, simple prayers, thoughtful prayers; prayers with a quaver or a tear in them, or prayers with delicacy and dignity in them. But searching prayer, humbling prayer, which is the prayer of the conscience, and not merely of the heart or taste; prayer which is bent on reality, and to win the new joy goes through new misery if need by - are such prayers as welcome and common as they should be? Too much of our prayer is apt to leave us with the self-complacency of the sympathetically incorrigible, of the benevolent and irremediable, of the breezy octogenarian, all of whose yesterday’s look backward with a cheery and exasperating smile.
From P T Forsyth's The Soul of Prayer, chapter five.
...there is really no limitation in the New Testament on the contents of petition. Any regulation is as to the spirit of the prayer, the faith it springs from. In all distress which mars your peace, petition must be the form your faith takes - petition for rescue. Keep close to the New Testament Christ, and then ask for anything you desire in that contact. Ask for everything you can ask in Christ’s name, i.e. everything desirable by a man who is in Christ’s kingdom of God, by a man who lives for it at heart, everything in tune with the purpose and work of the kingdom in Christ . If you are in that kingdom, then pray freely for whatever you need or wish to keep you active and effective for it, from daily bread upwards and outwards. In all things make your requests known. At least you have laid them on God’s heart; and faith means confidences between you and not only favours. And there is not confidence if you keep back what is hot or heavy on your heart. If prayer is not a play of the religious fantasy, or a routine task, it must be the application of faith to a concrete actual and urgent situation. Only remember that prayer does not work by magic, and that stormy desire is not fervent, effectual prayer. You may be but exploiting a mighty power; whereas you must be in real contact with the real God. It is the man that most really has God that most really seeks God.
From The Soul of Prayer, by P T Forsyth, chapter 5.
So if you are averse to pray, pray the more. Do not call it lip-service. That is not the lip-service God disowns. It is His Spirit acting in your self-coercive will, only not yet in your heart. What is unwelcome to God is lip-service which is untroubled at not being more. As appetite comes with eating, so prayer with praying. Our hearts learn the language of the lips.
Compel yourself often to shape on your lips the detailed needs of your soul. It is not needful to inform God, but to deepen you, to inform yourself before God, to enrich that intimacy with ourself which is so necessary to answer the intimacy of God. To common sense the fact that God knows all we need, and wills us all good, the fact of His infinite Fatherhood, is a reason for not praying. Why tell Him what He knows? Why ask what He is more than willing to give? But to Christian faith and to spiritual reason it is just the other way. Asking is polar cooperation. Jesus turned the fact to a use exactly the contrary [opposite] of its deistic sense. He made the all-knowing Fatherhood the ground of true prayer. We do not ask as beggars but as children. Petition is not mere receptivity, nor is it mere pressure ; it is filial reciprocity. Love loves to be told what it knows already. Every lover knows that. It wants to be asked for what it longs to give. And that is the principle of prayer to the all-knowing Love. As God knows all, you may reckon that your brief and humble prayer will be understood (Matt. vi. 8). It will be taken up into the intercession of the Spirit stripped of its dross, its inadequacy made good, and presented as prayer should be. That is praying in the Holy Ghost.
Where should you carry your burden but to the Father, where Christ took the burden of all the world? We tell God, the heart searcher, our heavy thoughts to escape from brooding over them . “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, Thou knewest my path.” (Ps. cxlii. 3). So Paul says the Spirit intercedes for us and gives our broken prayer divine effect (Rom. viii . 26) . To be sure of God’s sympathy is to be inspired to prayer , where His mere knowledge would crush it. There is no father who would be satisfied that his son should take everything and ask for nothing. It would be thankless. To cease asking is to cease to be grateful. And what kills petition kills praise.
Go into your chamber, shut the door, and cultivate the habit of praying audibly. Write prayers and burn them. Formulate your soul. Pay no attention to literary form, only to spiritual reality. Read a passage of Scripture and then sit down and turn it into prayer, written or spoken. Learn to be particular, specific , and detailed in your prayer so long as you are not trivial. General prayers, literary prayers, and stately phrases are, for private prayer , traps and sops to the soul. To formulate your soul is one valuable means to escape formalizing it. This is the best, the wholesome, kind of self-examination. Speaking with God discovers us safely to ourselves We “find” ourselves, come to ourselves, in the Spirit. Face your special weaknesses and sins before God. Force yourself to say to God exactly where you are wrong. When anything goes wrong, do not ask to have it set right, without asking in prayer what is was in you that made it go wrong. It is somewhat fruitless to ask for a general grace to help specific flaws, sins, trials, and griefs. Let prayer be concrete, actual, a direct product of life’s real experiences . Pray as your actual self, not as some fancied saint. Let it be closely relevant to your real situation. Pray without ceasing in this sense. Pray without a break between your prayer and your life. Pray so that there is a real continuity between your prayer and your whole actual life.
From P T Forsyth, in The Soul of Prayer, chapter 5
One of my favourite Les Murray poems; difficult to get into, at first, but it becomes clearer with perseverance. It doesn't help that Murray occasionally uses words that seem to be nouns, as verbs, such as 'concert' in the first line. Poetry and Religion
Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture
into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing's said till it's dreamed out in words
and nothing's true that figures in words only.
A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier's one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is a small religion.
Full religion is the large poem in loving
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?
You can't pray a lie, said Huckleberry
you can't poe one either. It is the same mirror;
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,
fixed centrally, we call it religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught as in a mirror
that he attracted, being in the world as
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There'll always be religion around while there is poetry
or a lack of it. Both are given, and
as the action of those birds - crested pigeon, rosella parrot -
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.
So far this “pray without ceasing” from being absurd because extravagant that every man’s life is in some sense a continual state of prayer. For what is his life’s prayer but its ruling passion? All energies, ambitions and passions are but expressions of a standing nisus in life, of a hunger, a draft, a practical demand upon the future, upon the unattained and the unseen. Every life is a draft upon the unseen. If you are not praying towards God you are towards something else. You pray as your face is set--towards Jerusalem or Babylon. The very egotism of craving life is prayer. The great difference is the object of it. To whom, for what, do we pray? The man whose passion is habitually set upon pleasure, knowledge, wealth , honour, or power is in a state of prayer to these things or for them. He prays without ceasing. These are his real gods, on whom he waits day and night. He may from time to time go on his knees in church, and use words of Christian address and petition. He may even feel a momentary unction in so doing. But it is a flicker; the other devotion is his steady flame. His real God is the ruling passion and steady pursuit of his life taken as a whole. He certainly does not pray in the name of Christ. And what he worships in spirit and in truth is another God than he addresses at religious times. He prays to an unknown God for a selfish boon. Still, in a sense, he prays. The set and drift of his nature prays. It is the prayer of instinct, not of faith. It is prayer that needs total conversion. But he cannot stop praying either to God or to God’s rival--to self, society, world, flesh, or even devil. Every life that is not totally inert in praying either to God or God’s adversary.
When we are told to pray without ceasing, it seems to many tastes to-day to be somewhat extravagant language. And no doubt that is true. Why should we be concerned to deny it? Measured language and the elegant mean is not the note of the New Testament at least. Mhoen zyan, said the Greek - too much of nothing. But can we love or trust God too much? Christian faith is one that overcomes and commands the world in a passion rather than balances it. It triumphs in a conclusive bliss, it does not play off one part against another. The grace of Christ is not but graciousness of nature, and He does not rule His Church by social act. The peace of God is not the calm of culture, it is not the charm of breeding. Every great forward movement in Christianity is associated with much that seems academically extravagant. Erasmus is always shocked with Luther . It is only an outlet of that essential extravagance which makes the paradox of the Cross, and keeps it as the irritant, no less than the life of the world - perhaps because it is the life of the world.
There is nothing so abnormal, so unworldly, so supernatural, in human life as prayer, nothing that is more of an instinct, it is true, but also nothing that is less rational among all the things that keep above the level of the silly. The whole Christian life in so far as it is lived from the Cross and by the Cross is rationally an extravagance. For the Cross is the paradox of all things; and the action of the Spirit is the greatest miracle in the world; and yet it is the principle of the world. Paradox is but the expression of that dualism which is the moral foundation of a Christian world. I live who die daily. I live another’s life.
To pray without ceasing is not, of course, to engage in prayer without break. That is an impossible literalism. True, “They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who wert, and art, and art to come.” But it is mere poverty of soul to think of this as the iteration of a doxology. It is deep calling unto deep, eternity greeting eternity. The only answer to God’s eternity is an eternal attitude of prayer.
Nor does the phrase mean that the Church shall use careful means that the stream and sound of prayer shall never cease to flow at some spots of the earth, as the altar lamp goes not out. It does not mean the continuous murmur of the mass following the sun round the world, incessant relays of adoring priests, and functions going on day and night.
But it means the constant bent and drift of the soul - as the Word which was from the beginning (John 1: 1) was hroe ton Qesn. All the current of its being set towards Him. It means being “in Christ,” being in such a moving, returning Christ--reposing in this Godward, and not merely godlike life. The note of prayer becomes the habit of the heart, the tone and tension of its new nature; in such a way that when we are released from the grasp of our occupations the soul rebounds to its true bent, quest, and even pressure upon God. It is the soul’s habitual appetite and habitual food. A growing child of God is always hungry. Prayer is not identical with the occasional act of praying. Like the act of faith, it is a whole life thought of as action. It is the life of faith in its purity, in its vital action. Eating and speaking are necessary to life, but they are not living.
From P T Forsyth's The Soul of Prayer, chapter five.
Prayer is certainly not the action of a religion mainly subjective. It is the effective work of a religion which hangs upon the living God, of a soul surer of God than of itself, and living not its own life, but the life of the Son of God. To say prayer is faith in action would be better; for the word “faith” carries a more objective reference than the word “religion.” Faith is faith in another. In prayer we do not so much work as interwork. We are fellow workers with God in a reciprocity. And as God is the freest Being in existence, such co-operant prayer is the freest things that man can do. It we were free in sinning, how much more free in the praying which undoes sin! If we were free to break God’s will, how much more free to turn it or to accept it! Petitionary prayer is man’s cooperation in kind with God amidst a world He freely made for freedom. The world was made by a freedom which not only left room for the kindred freedom of prayer, but which so ordered all things in its own interest that in their deepest depths they conspire to produce prayer.
To pray in faith is to answer God’s freedom in its own great note. It means we are taken up into the fundamental movement of the world. It is to realize that for which the whole world, the world as a whole, was made. It is an earnest of the world’s consummation. We are doing what the whole world was created to do. We overleap in the spirit all between now and then , as in the return to Jesus we overleap the two thousand years that intervene. The object the Father’s loving purpose had in appointing the whole providential order was intercourse with man’s soul. That order of the world is, therefore, no rigid fixture, nor is it even a fated evolution. It is elastic, adjustable, flexible, with margins for freedom, for free modification in God and man; always keeping in view that final goal of communion, and growing into it be a spiritual interplay in which the whole of Nature is involved . The goal of the whole cosmic order is the “manifestation of the sons of God,” the realization of complete sonship, its powers and its confidences.
This signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why, He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one.
Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions.
For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction. The Brocken spectre ‘looked to every man like his first love,’ because she was a cheat. But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love.
Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.
There are three ways of taking the command to turn the other cheek. One is the Pacifist interpretation; it means what it says and imposes a duty of nonresistance on all men in all circumstances. Another is the minimising interpretation; it does not mean what it says but is merely an orientally hyperbolical way of saying that you should put up with a lot and be placable. Both you and I agree in rejecting this view. The conflict is therefore between the Pacifist interpretation and a third one which I am now going to propound. I think the text means exactly what it says, but with an understood reservation in favour of those obviously exceptional cases which every hearer would naturally assume to be exceptions without being told. . . . . That is, insofar as the only relevant factors in the case are an injury to me by my neighbour and a desire on my part to retaliate, then I hold that Christianity commands the absolute mortification of that desire. No quarter whatever is given to the voice within us which says, “He’s done it to me, so I’ll do the same to him.”
Lately I have been thinking that the point must be reached when scientists, politicians, artists, philosophers, men of religion, and all those who work in the fields should gather here, gaze out over these fields, and talk things over together. I think this is the kind of thing that must happen if people are to see beyond their specialties.... An object seen in isolation from the whole is not the real thing.
In real life, only from the ordinary adults of the city sidewalks do children learn -- if they learn it at all -- the first fundamental of successful city life: people must take a modicum of public responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each other. This is a lesson nobody learns by being told. It is learned from the experience of having other people without ties of kinship or close friendship or formal responsibility take a modicum of public responsibility for you.
There must be moments when God has beheld the nobility of His human creatures, their compassion and generosity to others; when God has looked at the integrity and courage of those who have stood up to tyrants, who have been willing to die for their faith. When God has looked at the exploits of a Francis of Assisi, a Mother Theresa, a Martin Luther King, Jr., an Albert Schweitzer, a Nelson Mandela, He has said, "No, it was worth taking the risk. They have vindicated my faith in them." And God has again rubbed His hands in divine self-satisfaction and said of what He has seen that it was not just good, but that it was all really very good.
At some thoughts a man stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and he wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide: “I will combat it by humble love.” If you resolve on that once for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.
[The demon Screwtape writes:] [God, the “Enemy,” is] a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are “pleasures for evermore.” Ugh!
Don’t think He has the least inkling of that high and austere mystery to which we rise in the Miserific Vision. He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.
Christianity isn’t merely a delegation of moral decision-making. Christian prayer and practice is meant to properly calibrate the will and desires, so that, by relying on God, we become more like him, rather than being an eternal ignoramus. It’s an education through love.
Our life together can be better. Ours is a shallow and selfish age, and we are in need of conversion -- from looking out just for ourselves to also looking out for one another. It's time to hear and heed a call to a different way of life, to reclaim a very old idea called the common good. Jesus issued that call and announced the kingdom of God -- a new order of living in sharp contrast to all the political and religious kingdoms of the world. That better way of life was meant to benefit not only his followers buy everybody else too. And that is the point of it.
Our quarrels provide a very good example of the way in which the Christian and Jewish conceptions differ, while yet both should be kept in mind. As Christians we must of course repent of all the anger, malice, and self-will which allowed the discussion to become, on our side, a quarrel at all. But there is also the question on a far lower level: 'granted the quarrel (we'll go into that later) did you fight fair?' Or did we not quite unknowingly falsify the whole issue? Did we pretend to be angry about one thing when we knew, or could have known, that our anger had a different and much less presentable cause? Did we pretend to be 'hurt' in our sensitive and tender feelings (fine natures like ours are so vulnerable) when envy, ungratified vanity, or thwarted self-will was our real trouble? Such tactics often succeed. The other parties give in. They give in not because they don't know what is really wrong with us but because they have long known it only too well, and that sleeping dog can be roused, that skeleton brought out of its cupboard, only at the cost of imperilling their whole relationship with us. It needs surgery which they know we will never face. And so we win; by cheating. But the unfairness is very deeply felt. Indeed what is commonly called 'sensitiveness' is the most powerful engine of domestic tyranny, sometimes a lifelong tyranny. How we should deal with it in others I am not sure; but we should be merciless to its first appearances in ourselves.
C S Lewis in Reflections on the Psalms, pages 18/19