We spend an inordinate amount of time bemoaning the evils of our day. Each day brings a new political and social organization whose primary focus is to turn our country toward “Christianity.” There is a sense that the world has never been worse than is right now.
Nearly 60 years ago C. S. Lewis said:
“The practical problem of Christian politics is not that of drawing up schemes for a Christian society, but that of living as innocently as we can with unbelieving fellow-subjects under unbelieving rulers who will never be perfectly wise and good and who will sometimes be very wicked and very foolish.”
The problem then and now is not that the society is a failure, but that individuals fail to see the role of innocence in their lives. Innocence means believing and doing the “red letter” words of the Bible, and accepting that they are the words of Jesus.
Then we can believe:
- Innocence is turning the other cheek even when we have the advantage.
- Innocence is trusting in people that are not saints.
- Innocence is giving a second chance, and the second, second chance.
- Innocence is going one more mile for someone who doesn’t deserve it.
- Innocence is believing that God will win in the end, and we don’t have to make it happen.
When we can embody these principles and more, we become world changers. Our lives and our influence become a great factor in the lives of others. Therefore, by our practice many others are led to a knowledge of the love of God and the reality of Jesus as Savior of the world.
The fact remains that contemplation will not be given to those who willfully remain at a distance from God, who confine their interior life to a few exercises of piety and a few external acts of worship and service performed as a matter of duty. Such people are careful to avoid sin. They respect God as master. But their heart does not belong to Him.
——-Thomas Merton “What is Contemplation?”
Those words written by Merton over sixty years ago still resonate for Christians in our diverse and increasingly secularized world. Surprisingly, Merton’s little book was written to lead young men as they sought to be formed as Trappist monks. The twenty first century is bringing a great cry for a deepening spirituality from all areas of society. The New Monastic movement, and interest in all forms of spirituality are on the rise. A real sense of lostness, uncertainty, and fear is gripping our world. Merton cuts to the heart of the problem. Mere personal piety, no matter how sincere, will not bring us to a heart union with God.
Let me suggest a simple spirituality that is based on contemplative prayer that allows God to enter into our lives in times of quiet stillness. This is an offering of ourselves to God without expectation or certainty. It is a call to embrace the mystery of God as a journey to the unknown. Such a journey cannot be measured by acts of piety, times of worship, but in the giving of ourselves to a God we cannot fully understand. Such acts of trust allow God to be the transforming factor of our lives.
- Be still and know that I am God (faithandpracticeindc.wordpress.com)
While very ill, John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, called to his wife and said, “Read me that Scripture where I first cast my anchor.” After he listened to the beautiful prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, he seemed to forget his weakness. He began to pray, interceding earnestly for his fellowmen. He prayed for the ungodly who had thus far rejected the gospel. He pleaded in behalf of people who had been recently converted. And he requested protection for the Lord’s servants, many of whom were facing persecution. As Knox prayed, his spirit went Home to be with the Lord. The man of whom Queen Mary had said, “I fear his prayers more than I do the armies of my enemies,” ministered through prayer until the moment of his death.
For several years now I have been on a pilgrimage of prayer-an excursion that has brought me to many different places and ideas, but in the end the greatest inspirations come from the fathers of the faith. Some of these fathers, like John Knox, come from the reformation. Others are from the desert or monasteries, but all have testimonies of the power of prayer to transcend all barriers. The mere fact that Queen Mary, enemy of all things protestant, would have a good word about the prayers of John Knox speaks volumes about the power of prayer.
Have you neglected prayer in your life? Have you limited the nature and scope of your prayer? Do you fail to spend time simply in the presence of God? If you answered yes to any of those questions you are not allowing God to bless you as fully as He might. Set aside a place, a time, a manner of prayer that is yours and yours alone. I’m afraid that the corporate prayer of worship is not enough to truly feel the complete awe and majesty of God in your life. Besides, if you come to worship primed and ready, the blessings will flow like a torrent rather than a gentle stream.
Any daily newspaper recounts tragic story after story of premature deaths, fractured relationships, and broken dreams. Indeed, we need not turn to any newspaper for an accounting of the world’s troubles and sorrows. We have only to look at our own friends and families. We have only to look into our own lives. Jesus never insulted people by telling them their problems weren’t real. He never told the sick they were never really sick or that their illness had no pain or reality. He never told people that death wasn’t real.
Hear this story of a family living in Indiana where tornadoes are frequent. The youngest member of the family had a special fear of storms. One day, when a storm threatened, the father took his son to the front of their substantial home, pointed out across the neighborhood, and said to the boy, “There, you see everything is okay. These are solid homes and we are safe and dry in them.” About that time a tornado touched down a block away and utterly destroyed several of these “substantial” homes. The storms of the natural world are real just as are the storms of the spiritual, psychological world. Trouble and tragedy are real. Evil and death are real. Jesus never said to his disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, “This is no storm. The storm is in your mind.” He never said that. Instead he said to the storm, “Peace, be still.” And it was. Are you out of a job? Did your home decline in value? Are your financial resources dwindling? Do you have a serious illness? Is your marriage not right? Is there a real problem with the children? Are you enslaved in a debilitating habit? Then don’t deny it, says Jesus. The widow never said her son wasn’t dead. Admit the problems. Don’t deny them. Simply embrace the God of peace.