“Blind as we are, we hinder God, and stop the current of His graces. But when He finds a soul penetrated with a lively faith, He pours into it His graces and favors plentifully.” Brother Lawrence
In my previous post, God’s Work & My Work, I discussed those instantaneous changes in my life that God simply gifted upon me that early morning in January. For me, they were miraculous and transforming; a new state of being that was foreign, fascinating and salvific. To this day I find myself constantly reflecting on what I have referred to as the surrealism of my continuing path in life. Reality in my adult life was one of the physical. There was no spirituality within because I had been methodically walked – by my family experience and society’s push to relativism and enlightenment – to the belief that things not seen are things not in existence.
Now do not misinterpret what I say here. While as a child I was subject to the family experience without the capability to discern and affect that experience until of sufficient age, and then it was clearly too late, I was not a victim to society at all. I actively sought out the desires I found within me; taking them on as rights of being. As one learns, one acts; for good and evil. In the physical world, one only cooperates as long as it contributes to one’s needs. The world is very competitive, unforgiving, and seemingly indifferent to suffering. The world produces fear which produces sin. God creates things, and all things are good. Man creates choice and action, and in those choices and actions resides sin and evil. No, I earned my way into sin; one lust, one excess, one abuse, one indifference, one unloving act at a time.
Being so different from an existence I lead now – the willingness to God’s will – I am in constant wonder as to how I have moved forward with a whole new set of perceptive and behavioral tools without any question or fear in my mind. As of this writing, I realize that the word surreal is obviously impotent and irrelevant. Rather I may say that I am in wonder of the nature of the spiritual world, and the immense depth of its tranquility, happiness, and love.
As I have stated in two of my past essay postings, choice is ill suited as the vehicle in which to trust your soul. Like an old car, it is worn by the wear and tear of existence, and while it may get you around town, it is hardly good sense to take it out for a fast and furious ride. Only a solidly-built, well-tuned, gas-filled, armor-plated tank is suitable for the task that God calls us to face and overcome in this world, and Willingness is that tank’s name.
For me there are five steps of order to Willingness; an order I began to understand a couple of years into my faith as I began to reflect on what I had learned. By learning I do not mean the terms, facts, premises and conclusions found contained within a class curriculum or the pages of a book, but rather, “What have I learned about how to go about life with God ever present?”
So here are my five steps of order to Willingness.
Step One – A Willingness to Witness
It all starts right here; to witness the spiritual dimension of your life to others. And I do mean to all others; family, friend, ally, acquaintance, stranger, and enemy. To witness is both the willing engagement with others and the relating of your spiritual experience with others in those engagements. It’s absurd to be a wallflower at an inaugural ball, and each time you venture out into this brave new, spiritual world it is the inaugural ball; the crowning of God as Creator and Father. So much can take place, and you can do such much for others through being a witness of God.
This quality was the first thing I remember, in being born-again, that seemed to just flow from me. Normally a very reserved person (hermit) about my personal life, I had an irresistible urge to attend church; to go where I had not really gone before, and to not simply attend church, but become part of The Church. I had to go to church that first Sunday after my birth of the spirit, and I read from my Diary:
January 18, 2009 – A most important day…
Church service at New Hope Ministries with Kathryn, Kim, JP, Jodi & Stephanie.
I didn’t know quite what I was supposed to be doing, but I really wanted to be there.
I didn’t know it going in, but this day would be my moment of the formal recognition of God & Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. It became my moment where I understood the Holy Spirit was within me; working with me to become that person I have always wanted to become.
During service, Pastor Grant asked if there were people who wanted him to pray for them – “please raise your hand”. My hand went up. It seemed simple enough. Near the end of service, Pastor Grant asked the people who raised their hands to come forward and pray with the group leaders at the altar. I tapped Kim on her arm and asked to pass. Went up to the steps where I found Rosalind waiting for me.
I really didn’t know what to say, what to feel; I just wanted to be there. I asked for her prayers and confessed this was my first time; my spiritual birth happened just five days ago. Rosalind prayed for me. I was there a few minutes and then turned back to my seat. I could see my friends and Kathryn were quite taken by my moment in God’s light.
After service, Pastor Grant invited the “first timers” to his library where we talked a little bit, a met a few of the staff and parishioners, and enjoyed a drink and cookie. These moments, I was going out of my way to embrace, were events I had always shunned in the past; felt I was too strong for such things, did not need them. But these moments felt so right, so good. No embarrassment, no loss of face, no fear, no concern for what others thought. And, you know, the others thought it was great.
I found out afterward from Kathryn & friends that they all cried when they saw me go up to the altar. I had come to accept love, and I found it all around me. What a day.
This insert is my diary entry for that day. Funny thing…. I had never kept a diary throughout my adult life, and yet somehow I knew the very morning after being born-again that the days going forward needed to be noted, written down, and reflected upon in the future. I suggest that you regard your future with some import and purpose, and do the same.
As I said, one must witness to all; as I had placed myself before friend, ally, acquaintance, and stranger in attending church that Sunday, and presenting myself before God as He had asked. It is also necessary to do the same with those relationships more complex in nature; family and enemies. I’ll not place here into record the full letter I wrote to my family members, but I do want to assert the necessity to face all relational matters with submitting and disarming honesty.
So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to witness to others. Witnessing is the fuel that gives life to your spirit and renews your physical body and mind. Witnessing to others is the Word of God – that visceral image of Christ as sacrifice and love – placed before their hearts for their contemplation, experience, and hopeful acceptance. It is what God calls us all to, and what Jesus declares as our second greatest commandment; to love one another.
Step Two – A Willingness to Experience
Well, it’s pretty obvious one cannot witness unless they are willing to experience, and what I mean by that is to face the experience of inexperience; to submit yourself to places, people, conditions, and states of being that may seem to be naturally foreign or adverse to you. Humility helps greatly here and I suggest a good portion of it as your guide in all things.
Experience is wonderfully addictive when you submit to the process, and I soon found that Kathryn & I chose to enroll in New Hope’s School of Ministries. Now this was to be an experience that required all of my new found energies and willingness, for when one begins classes on subject matter like Prayer, The Holy Spirit, Integrity, the Covenants, Faith, Church Government, Sound Doctrine, The Old Testament, The New Testament, Missions, and Evangelization – and one has little concept of what is contained within any of these subject matters – then one is up for a challenge. And here is where Willingness becomes so important.
Willingness is what sheds anxiety, distrust, and fear. While Church Government seemed to be an innocuous enough subject to study, the in-class, standing prayer sessions that would go on for some time, in which we were asked to place our hands on another brother or sister and pray deeply for their physical and spiritual healing, were at first curious apparitions that soon afterwards became realities of faith and love. While Prayer class was instructive in how to relate to God through personal reflections and address to Him, it was most humbling to find out that, when asked to lead the class in prayer, I had little to say without sensing my inadequacy to show God the boundless love I truly felt for Him in bountiful and meaning word. And while the class on the Holy Spirit was most uplifting and reassuring to learn that one is not alone with their inclinations to sin, it was also a test of my very essence and worthiness to rise in front of the class and give my testimony.
And there was also a time or two at the beginning where I chose, for whatever reason, to not go willingly into the experiences that God had set fort for me. One such was an Outreach into Immokalee, Florida; one for the migrant workers. Feeling out of place in this new experience, I stayed home as I had not played any part in its development. The result was quite a lot of anxiety and repentance, and I found the only way I glean something from my errant choice was to memorize a portion of a sermon I had heard just a few days earlier.
That’s My King, by Dr. S. M. Lockeridge
The Bible says my King is the King of the Jews. He’s the King of Israel
He’s the King of Righteousness. He’s the King of the Ages.
He’s the King of Heaven. He’s the King of Glory.
He’s the King of Kings, and He’s the Lord of Lords.
That’s my King. I wonder, do you know Him?
My King is a sovereign King.
No means of measure can define His limitless love.
He’s enduringly strong. He’s entirely sincere.
He’s eternally steadfast. He’s immortally graceful.
He’s imperially powerful. He’s impartially merciful.
Do you know Him?
He’s the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizon of this world. He’s God’s Son. He’s the sinner’s Savior.
He’s the centerpiece of civilization. He’s unparalleled. He’s unprecedented.
He is the loftiest idea in literature.
He’s the highest personality in philosophy.
He’s the fundamental doctrine of true theology.
He’s the only one qualified to be an all sufficient Savior.
I wonder if you know Him today?
He supplies strength for the weak.
He’s available for the tempted and the tried.
He sympathizes and He saves.
He strengthens and sustains.
He guards and He guides.
He heals the sick. He cleansed the lepers.
He forgives sinners. He discharges debtors.
He delivers the captives. He defends the feeble.
He blesses the young. He serves the unfortunate.
He regards the aged. He rewards the diligent.
And He beautifies the meek.
I wonder if you know Him?
He’s the key to knowledge.
He’s the wellspring of wisdom.
He’s the doorway of deliverance.
He’s the pathway of peace.
He’s the roadway of righteousness.
He’s the highway of holiness.
He’s the gateway of glory.
Do you know Him?
Well, His life is matchless. His goodness is limitless.
His mercy is everlasting. His love never changes.
His Word is enough. His grace is sufficient. His reign is righteous.
And His yoke is easy. And His burden is light.
I wish I could describe Him to you.
Yes, He’s indescribable!
He’s incomprehensible. He’s invincible. He’s irresistible.
You can’t get Him out of your mind.
You can’t get Him off of your hand.
You can’t outlive Him, and you can’t live without Him.
Well, the Pharisees couldn’t stand Him,
but they found out they couldn’t stop Him.
Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him. Herod couldn’t kill Him.
Death couldn’t handle Him, and the grave couldn’t hold Him.
Yeah! That’s my King, that’s my King.
I literally spent hours that day repeating this sermon; forcing my mind into submission to my spirit. After that day, I resolved not to listen to my mind anymore.
The Willingness to Experience is the practice of facing the challenges of the growth of your spirit; to do so keeps your spirit in control of your choices and brings victory in achieving the purpose that God has set forth for your life.
Step Three – A Willingness to Patience
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
The order in which I have placed the five steps are crucial to the task. And so far, we have discussed the first and second actions of Willingness – witnessing and experience – of which they both come easily to man as it is of his natural composition; God created us as a social creature to be with one another and love one another. Patience, our third step, comes next and we are to quickly find that the path to Willingness is littered with the debris of a good and bad man’s intentions.
Patience is a virtue. It is the forbearance to endure for the attainment of a goal, and the greater the goal, so much greater the patience. There are two sources from which patience provides forbearance and attainment of goal; God and the world.
Through God’s grace and His infinite love for man, and through man’s love for God we find true and just patience. This patience permits us to tolerate the natural hardships of life and the unjust things that come against us. This patience strengthens our resolve, and fixes our focus through habit of thought, word, and action so that we may steer the course; run the race.
Through the world’s offerings and the desires we have for them we find false and unjust patience. This patience permits us to tolerate the natural hardships of life and the unjust things that come against us. This patience strengthens our resolve, and fixes our focus through habit of thought, word, and action so that we may steer the course; run the race.
No, what I have written is not a typographical error; a paste button in my word processor gone array. Patience, as it has two sources, also has two conditions and natures. Both can achieve what appear to be identical results, but in truth, only one can bring man to the nobility that God had ordained through love when He first created man.
God is the source of righteous and true patience; the world is the source of unrighteous and false patience. Human will, while the instrument of man in both natures of patience, is sufficient for true patience when it is aided by the Holy Spirit. Human will is sufficient for false patience in proportion to the lust of the person. And like true patience, false patience is praised in the world as a good thing. This is because false patience, being attributed to the human will, elevates man to replace God for guidance to all things that are good. Patience not understood for its dual nature can be a serious stumbling block in our pursuit of God.
Be most careful when you see someone who profits in this world through patience for it is not necessarily a declaration of their goodness before God, but rather a measure of their lust for the world. It is the age-old inquiry man constantly cries out to God in his anguish, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” If you ask that question, chances are that you have already ventured onto the wrong path or are in midst stumble over the block as the inclination of man to sin is a strong force that deceives the mind of man and gives him impetus to desire the world and love less our God. Better is it to hold yourself away from such matters and the Apostle John addresses this head on.
1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
Once again this brings us back to humility. The righteous strength of man comes through his endurance of the fire of humility, and through such fire man’s patience will be that which is true and accommodating to his goal; the love of God. Lean not on human will for strength unless you know that your will is that of the Holy Spirit’s, and not that of the desire to attain the world.
Patience is the key; the crucial step to Willingness that will unlock the ability of man to go on to the last two steps; obedience and discipline. It takes patience to learn those things of God to which you are to be obedient, and it takes patience to create the discipline of habit by which all virtues spring to the aid on man, and through their practice we find ourselves in the presence of He who loves us so.
It will be through your humility that patience will arise; your submission to God’s work for you; your purgatory, so to speak, in this world. Humility cleanses. I was most moved a few nights back when in class our Pastor spoke of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, and His somewhat admonishment of Peter, who thought it lowly that Jesus would wash his feet.
Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.”
God is the perfection of Patience. Has He not shown mankind a patience that exceeds all understanding of what mankind can understand of God’s love? Has Jesus not shown a patience that man simply finds divine; not only in His forbearance of Judas’ impending betrayal – knowing full well before time itself that this betrayal would be so – but even more so in receiving a kiss of betrayal from Judas in the garden at Gethsemane? How can we do less?
I give much credit here to St. Augustine for the words I placed forth, and suggest that you read his treatise, On Patience.
So why does obedience come so late in the order of things purposeful to the development of Willingness? It does seem to be out of order. Obedience to the rules of any discipline is taught to us early on as being crucial in our ability to learn the craft of the discipline. For example, language and its extensions – reading and writing – require the discipline of recognizing the audible, visual or tactile stimuli generated by an individual or group, and linking those stimuli into coherent representations of our thought, feelings, experiences and intentions to act in specific manners and purposes. It’s all quite amazing, is it not, and it all starts with our obedience to the consistency of meaning of the utterances of specific, repeating sounds, of letters representing these sounds, and the shapes of objects that denote letters and symbols.
The answer is simply that one must be a child before one can be an adult. Taking the language example once again, a child is constantly in the company of communicating individuals for some time before they can begin to work out the correct analysis of language; let alone begin to determine the consistency of specific spoken words to the environmental conditions about them, and the sensory feelings, thoughts, and actions from either the child or the communicating individual. The child has that grace period, so to speak, where they are encouraged to listen, to observe, and to experience the course of human life and the linked communications that define and enhance.
And so I believe it is the same with the order to Willingness. To learn what to be obedient to and understand its purpose, we need to see truth and its supportive law in practice many times as a child, and long before we can define the law as something to be obedient to.
It is also quite important that love precedes law. Every parent has the opportunity to teach in a manner by which all things are learned through love. Only through love can law be taught successfully; which is of course why we see such clear linkage between an unloving family life for a child, and the resultant lawlessness that a child acts out upon what the child perceives as the complicit society. To be obedient to God’s will, we must first learn what His will is. To that purpose we are the baby first, then child, then teenager, and finally adult where we can finally be held accountable for our words and actions.
Obedience is submission to true authority. The Code of Catholic Law (canon 601) defines the vow of obedience as follows:
“The evangelical counsel of obedience, undertaken in a spirit of faith and love in the following of Christ who was obedient even unto death, requires a submission of the will to legitimate superiors, who stand in the place of God when they command according to the proper constitutions.”
Obedience is also deceptive in its several natures. Compliance is simply the response to a request – either implicit or explicit. Conformity is the acquisition of communication patterns, dress codes, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs between individuals within a group, and they tend to be implicit in origin. The dangers of any of these natures will always be found in the source of authority; who or what is it that requests and how is their authority perceived and characterized.
I think by now you can see where I’m heading with the subject of obedience, and why I place it fourth of the five orders to Willingness. Great responsibility comes with obedience, for to be obedient to the wrong authority can hold great tragedy for the individual, their family, and the society in which they influence. There is a powerful purpose in humility, abstinence (from anything, not just sex), and submission (to God’s will).
At mass this morning of January 27, 2013, a family came to church on their bicycles. The father and two sons – an eighth grader and a fourth grader – took great pains to make sure the bicycles were set right within the bikes racks. I was well-warmed by this sharing of love and action as one family under God. Once inside and comfortably in my pew, I then realized that the same father and two sons had altar robes on, and apparently were to act as altar persons for the mass. My joy increased to see God playing such a large role in this family’s life. Five minutes into the service, the Pastor began to talk about the local parish school and called for a family to come forward to talk of the virtues of the school, Saint Ann’s. It was the father and his two sons, and you know, the fourth grader was as proficient at his prepared speech as was his older brother, the eighth grader.
What’s my point? Obedience, to be its most effective in enabling a person to live out God’s will, must be tempered by love, by law, and by the lessening of the influence of those societal dimensions and authorities that the church has serious concerns for. Obedience is much more than simply submission to any authority, and it is through the patience of humility that God will show us the law that is His versus the law that is man’s.
This last step has three dimensions – the discipline to develop the habit of an action, the discipline one receives for miss-action or inaction, and the discipline known as a subject of interest, the field of study, or branch of knowledge. Thank you, Dictionary.com. Let’s tackle the first one first.
I looked up the word discipline on the Dictionary.com website, as I find it both handy, extensive, and I like the audio pronunciation feature. I was quite appalled by the terminology I was presented with. Words that came into view included; drill, military, regimen, rigor, adversity, harsh, and control. They attacked my mind as would a dozen arrows shot over the castle wall would chase the bravest soldier to cover beneath an archway or vestibule. I ducked and flinched at the thought that I should have to face such discipline.
These words also gave me thought as to the concept of negative reinforcement, and its effectiveness in Christianity. By negative reinforcement I primarily refer not to dogma and liturgy, but rather to the fundamentalist manner in which it may be presented, or in how dogma and liturgy is perceived and judged. Is conservative interpretation too conservative or liberal interpretation too liberal?
I think the answer is found in wisdom, and that can be quite illusive when it comes to matters as important as one’s meaning of life and salvation. No doubt though, an overbearing presentation of Christianity is the cause of many people seeking religions that accommodate their attitudes or worse yet, agnosticism and atheism. I know that was my case. I believe the final drop of straw on my back that drove me from Christ was at my prep-school where our Presbyterian pastor seemed not to grasp the nuances of teaching Christianity in class to hormonally-charged teenage boys.
Our first discipline must be engaged as a positive force, and not negative. To do that, a teacher must be prepared to be fresh to the culture surrounding them, and relative. Yes, relative, but I do not refer to doctrinal revisionism. No, I refer to being able place doctrine into the ever-changing societal environment in order to demonstrate that God’s will is ever relevant in its absolute form. It is not the absolute form of God and His natural law that fails the task, it is us who fail to see the changing world as God’s plan; His evolution to His eschatological purposes.
We recognize the covenantal process of God; there have been several to this Age of the Church. This is His evolution of mankind and our success in witnessing His presence is fully dependent upon our ability to stay fluid to this evolution. Liberalism is merely one measure of this evolution and its benefit or harm to mankind’s relationship with God is totally dependent upon man’s ability to interpret our advancement within the positive realm of God’s teachings. So I strongly suggest that one balances their faith through a good dose of the evolving, secular environment and be not too ready to judge. There is a cry for goodness in all things, so do not turn away from that Samaritan that your culture might condemn.
As to the dimension of discipline’s second definition, it is likewise often interpreted and manifested as a negative force meant to cause good. It sounds quite contradictory to me. How about to you? We have seen much, read much, and heard of much discipline of this sort. Perhaps we have experienced some of it ourselves. The newspapers are full of disciplinary activities that authorities engage in so as to protect and preserve a status quo or advance a righteously rebellious cause. Well, how’s that working out?
I was listening to a call-in radio program on Moody Radio this past day. The format was a Christian psychologist taking people’s questions regarding difficulties in their lives. A mother was questioning her balance of discipline against the backdrop of being a loving mother. Her daughter had been acting out in disobedience both at school and at home. The problem came into painful focus when, in asking her twelve year-old daughter whether she thought her mother loved her, the daughter simply replied, “No”. The mother came to doubt and confusion as to what to do. I liked the psychologist’s answer.
He referred the mother to the book, The Five Love Languages. He noted that was crucial to know what her daughter’s love language was, and to feed it as much as possible. (I bet that was what the father was doing in my previous recounting of the altar-boys and father at church; feeding the love language of his sons by riding bikes to church rather than tossing them in the back seat of the family car so he wouldn’t break a sweat.) The psychologist went on to say that it was also crucial to never discipline through a denial of her love language; that to do so is to hurt, to inflict a personal pain, and in so doing damage or deconstruct the very core of the mother/daughter relationship. In other words, he was talking about the avoidance of negative discipline in preference to positive discipline. The daughter can make sense of a discipline that is related to the offense without being personal to what motivates love for the daughter. She gets it and sees good justice to either the positive law she broke or the natural law. But to attack and deny the very quality of the daughter’s perception of love is to wreak havoc to her understanding of God’s justice, and simply paints it all as dictatorial and judgmental; all negative.
And so I strongly suggest we all check our guns at the edge of town, like Wyatt Earp encouraged. He had the wisdom to know that man’s choices are frequently errant when mixed with alcohol, and that bullets can be deadly. Likewise, we all are all susceptible to the tipsy of responsibility, and it is ever important to be responsible to responsibility.
So how do we avoid the negative forms of discipline and embrace the positive forms of discipline? I believe we find the answer in the third dimension of the definition of discipline.
Discipline if best used as a subject of interest, a field of study, or a branch of knowledge; at least in matters of Willingness. In submission to God’s will, and in pure Willingness to pursue God and to pursue His purpose for your life, we find ourselves in God’s grace and abundant love. There can be no negativity. Discipline is the realization that our words and actions unto others are fine-tuned responses to a call for goodness, truth and justice in one’s life; no matter how deviant or obscure that call might appear on the physical and rational plane. We must always encourage that call and never debase it. Therefore, we find discipline to be a learning and adjusting process; perhaps even an art, for in beauty we please all and lift their spirits to the attainable measure we are all gifted by God. We must encourage that which loves in the truest sense, and discourage that which obscures or denies true love. To do that we must look to the individual as God has created each one of us as unique; singular in nature.
Discipline is thus the practice by which Willingness becomes our habit, and when that takes place we find ourselves freed from free-will and in enjoyment of the liberty to pursue God, for the closeness of God makes choice irrelevant.
Frankly, this post grew well beyond my expectations, but I found that the order of Willingness is a long road. Its path is that of sanctification, so God never promised you that it would be easy. To make the burden somewhat lighter, Willingness will help carry the times and trials of life in a manner that will find God a “field of study” that is worth pursuing. I can attest to a happiness now that I never contemplated as existing before God revealed Himself, and I came to the certainty of Him. It’s reciprocal. He shines His love and grace down upon each one of us as eternal inspiration; for some a whisper, for others a shout. But we can only find that happiness by turning about, from that mirror and society’s enticements, and face Him in the full recognition for who He is. When you do that, happiness abounds.
God Bless – Reese