May 24, 2008

Broken Pots

There is more joy in heaven over a converted sinner than over a righteous person standing firm.

A leader in battle has more love for a soldier who returns after fleeing, and who valiantly pursues the enemy, than for one who never turned back, but who never acted valiantly either.

A farmer has greater love for land which bears fruitfully, after he has cleared it of thorns, than for land which never had thorns but which never yielded a fruitful harvest.

- St Gregory the Great

At first glance, this appears that God loves the broken more than the holy. Ah...but what we think is holy and what God considers holy are worlds apart. Trying hard to be holy does not constitute holiness. Doing "holy" things does not confer holiness. Embracing holy thoughts does not give birth to holiness. Holiness cannot be copied or manufactured. Only God can impart holiness and righteousness. Only he can bring out true love, grace and mercy in our lives. There is only one source of these heavenly, holy virtues - God himself. There are no shortcuts. There are no substitutions. You have to have the genuine article or else it's a cheap imitation.

But we don't like this pathway! It's painful, humiliating and degrading. If I choose this road, it will be filled with insecurity, vulnerability, humility, and weakness. How could that be good? This flies in the face of all we have been taught in the American culture about freedom, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and wealth. There really is a "fork in the road" and there really are 2 very opposite journeys. We have the choice. Our sense of logic and rationality cannot grasp that brokenness, contrition and servant hood could be the best position for life. Society calls us "losers" and "unambitious." We become a "drag" on the upwardly mobile and the fiercely independent. We don't want to be reminded of human weakness, failures or faults.

But God...God's power and love blazes forth in the midst of this environment. The soil is ripe and fertilized, ready for tremendous growth and fruition. Now he can do mighty works and bring many more to himself for salvation and redemption. Pulling the thorns and getting bloody, admitting failure and standing up again, asking for forgiveness and apologizing, being willing to give up the comfortable and satisfying - these are the things that produce great results, great glory and great joy. It's counter intuitive, I know. But it's all a part of God's upside down kingdom. This truism is repeated over and over by the church fathers and the martyrs who lived it and saw the reality in their own lives.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

[Paul speaking to the Corinthians]

May 10, 2008

Praying for Others

Do not set your heart on what seems good to you but rather what is pleasing to God when you pray. This will free you from disturbance and leave you occupied with thanksgiving in your prayer.
- Evagrius of Pontus

As someone who was a part of evangelical circles for several decades, I was always instructed to be specific in my prayers for others. This ended up being a great frustration to me over the years, because I didn't know what specifically to pray for people. How could I know what would be best for them? How could I know all the details of their situation? There was always the attempt to get as much information as possible from those who requested prayer, so that "more effective prayers" could be offered on their behalf. This practice frequently resulted in an hour of "sharing" and no time to pray!

But even when I possessed a great quantity of background about that individual and what was going on, I still didn't trust my own conclusions on what God should do in the situation. My prayers ended up being "Lord, if it is your will..." do this or that. Why was it necessary to verbalize a variety of possible outcomes to the situation in my prayers? How could I hope to pray for another's situation when the events in my own life rarely made sense!

I have found tremendous freedom in the Eastern Church as we petition God on behalf of others. We ask for God to glorify himself and that his kingdom would be established here on earth as it is in heaven. I am not required to be the spiritual guide for everyone who asks me to pray for them. I need only bring that person's needs before the Father and ask for his mercy and blessing upon him/her. My focus is on the Godhead and the power and mercy and love that is shown toward us. I plead on another's behalf, as I do for myself. God's answers are too varied, too marvelous and too complex for me to even fathom them in my mind. As Mary, the mother of Jesus, was known to do, she saw others' needs and took them to her Son. Remember the wedding at Cana? Mary didn't presume to tell Jesus what he should do. She merely presented the situation to him. As I hear a person's request or see his/her situation, my responsibility is to lift them to the Father. Those who have gone before us also pray for us, and we can ask them to join us in our prayers to the Father.

There is this constant flow from us and the saints to the throne of God and back - a continual "conversation". The Trinity is working in marvelous ways each and every day, throughout the world, and we are a part of that heavenly stream of faith, hope and love. May we not become entangled in what we should request or how it should be presented. May our focus be on pleasing you.

May 2, 2008

Link by Link

Why do you increase your bonds? Take hold of your life before your light grows dark and you seek help and do not find it. This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits.
- St Isaac of Syria

Here are some of my thoughts on this:

  • We can add to or increase the "chains" that bind us - these chains can be in the form of addictions, fear of the unknown, fear of the unanticipated, anxieties over job and career, financial worries, fears of failing, I am reminded of that scene in Scrooge where Ebenezer's previous friend and co-worker, Marley, explains to Ebenezer that the chain he bears was crafted by himself "link by link". We have a natural tendency to blame others or circumstances for the chains that bind us. If we are truly "free in Christ" then those chains are crafted by ourselves.

  • We have been given a certain amount of light - wisdom? discernment? - but that light can fade and disappear completely.

  • We have choices in regard to how we respond to things that happen to us or what things we wrap our lives around.

  • We can seek help too late - answers will not be given and we won't find the hope for which we are looking.

  • We can "waste" our life by running after those things that are not eternal - status, material goods, the approval of others, physical pleasures, beauty, relationships, careers, money, security, the praise of others, etc.

  • New concept - the life God has given me is to be contemplated with the end result of repentance. It is not for my pleasure, my benefit, my selfish goals. If practiced daily, such an attitude would radically change my outlook on life! My life has meaning only in relation to God. That said, my soul is in a sorry condition and needs repentance and cleansing from sin daily. My "feet" need to be washed daily, and the only One who can effectively wash them is Christ through his shed blood and broken body.

My prayer in the morning should be: "Lord, my heart is wicked and prone to evil always. Have mercy upon me."

My prayer during the day should be: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

My prayer at night should be: "Lord, I have sinned without number in what I have done and what I have left undone. Have mercy upon me."