Monday, October 27, 2014

Afraid of God's Answer...

Be willing to be only a voice that is heard but not seen, or a mirror whose glass the eye cannot see because it is reflecting the brilliant glory of the Son. Be willing to be a breeze that arises just before daylight, saying, "The dawn! The dawn!" and then fades away.*
"What prayer are you praying right now that you're afraid God will answer?" Dark, questioning eyes probed my startled face when my friend asked me this question many summers ago. What was I praying that I wasn't sure I wanted God to answer? In a moment I knew. I blurted out, "I have been praying for humility." My friend nodded. Yes, she had prayed for that before and knew the double-edged piercing of such a request. I looked down, ashamed to realise that I was afraid that God would grant me my request. Humility would mean a tumble from my self-aggrandised opinion-spewing. It would mean learning to listen to conversations, not joining in until asked. Humility would mean crumpling my desires to look intelligent in front of others. 

Confusedly, I assumed that humility inevitably meant humiliation for the asker; as if that were the only way to expunge arrogance. I am slow to learn, and am no great expert in humility, even all these years after the above exchange. However, I have learned that God goes about shaping a humble person differently than I then imagined. Humility is an attitude of the heart, whereas humiliation is a surface blow to our pride. There are still moments when a friend pulls me aside to tell me I'm behaving like a jackwagon. My arrogance is suffocating in the workplace, in various conversations where I assert my opinion as fact, and in my own thoughts. 

Sometimes it stings to be told to knock off certain behaviour, but the pique is usually replaced by gratitude that my friend had the courage to speak up for my good and that of others. Oh, I still resent the remark, chafe against it, and doggedly defend myself until the Holy Spirit's nudges and whispers become seismic shocks and trumpet blasts. It can be hard to get my attention when I am loudly defending myself. That flare of resentment is a reaction to feeling humiliated, taken to task, lowered by someone else. It is the rearing up of my pride that needs to be mortified. The flood of thankfulness at being told of my ugly pride and foolishness is the heart attitude of humility. Humility reminds me that I cannot say that I am an ambassador of Christ—His temple, in fact—if I am walking in the flesh rather than the Spirit. 

Though I am still quick to defend myself when taken to task—by friends and family, or by God—I am learning to pray that I would more rapidly receive the truth with gratitude and humility. It remains a somewhat scary request because there is so much still to be pruned, and the pruning is painful for a time. Yet it is that pruning that is shaping me into the image of Christ, who "made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."**


* Cowman, L. B. Streams in the Desert (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008) 87

** Philippians 2:7-8 The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Friday, October 3, 2014

When the Cards All Fold

Imagine Dragons begins their song "Demons" by painting the scene of a hopeless man in the cold, watching the cards fold. The only saints he can see are made of gold rather than flesh and bone. All that is good is extinguished from his life and he can turn nowhere for help because the problem lies with the demons inside... 

But what if the saints were clothed in sinews and skin? What if they had eyes of gold, or even brown, blue, green and every hue between? What if the saints reached out their hands to this flailing man, lost in the sea of deepest darkness? 

What if
you were that saint?

Perhaps you think being a saint sounds farfetched, or too Catholic (or Orthodox), or more holy than you could be. You might be thinking of that egregious line bandied about in many Christians circles, "I'm just a sinner, saved by grace!" Let us set the record straight here and now: if you have been  "saved by grace"—redeemed by Christ—you are no longer a sinner, but a saint. 

The Apostle Paul makes this clear: "We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin."* We are no longer enslaved by sin, no longer defined by sin. We cannot be both sinners and saints, for those are mutually exclusive natures. Not that saints cannot sin, we all live under the curse of the Fall and often allow it to come in to our lives. However, this means we are changed into a new creature now, in this life. We are transformed into hagiosa most holy thing, a saint—because the Spirit of God has made us His dwelling place. Like the Holy of Holies in the temple, our frail flesh is made the house of God.

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord."**  We are being made into that holy temple, brick by brick, believer by believer, with Christ as our foundation and cornerstone—by Christ in us.

Christ in us is a now-and-not-yet reality. We are saints 
now—but we are still being sanctified, refined into the perfected likeness of Jesus. Put another way, "God came down and lived in this world as a man. He showed us how to live in this world, subject to its vicissitudes and necessities, that we might be changed, not into angels or storybook princesses, not wafted into another world, but changed into saints in this world."*** 

Do you realise the implications of this? It means that we are in the company of saints—those in history past to the ones yet to come. Those who have come before inspire—breathe life into—us to be like Christ. They were ordinary men and women who had struggles, thorns in the flesh, selfishness to overcome, sorrow, and loss, yet they kept their eyes on the LORD. They chose to lay not only all their sins but also their good works at the foot of the Cross to be sacrificed. 

We have been made saints, holy ones, with the great company of witnesses. We are not gilded and in the grave, we are able to reach out a corporeal hand to those in need, sorrow, or despair. As the dwelling place of God we carry Christ to the world, to one person at a time. Gerard Manley Hopkins eloquently penned it thus:

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.****


Romans 6:6-7 (ESVUK)

** Ephesians 2:19-21 (ESVUK)

*** Elliot, Elisabeth Be Still My Soul (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Publishing Group, 2003) 57 (emphasis mine)

**** Hopkins, Gerard Manley As Kingfishers Catch Fire Poems and Prose (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd, 1982) 51

Photo Courtesy of Pintrest