Seek First Whose Kingdom?

Ruins of a 4th century limestone synagogue built on the basalt foundation of the 1st century synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus taught.

I love these words about how surrendering what we possess is the only way to possess them…

“Now he finds that only what he gives up, he possesses, but is no longer possessed by. For only as this re-enthronement of the living God strips the auxiliary functions of his life of their claims for absolute priority, only then do these functions disclose to him their true nature.” (Steere, Douglas. Work & Contemplation. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, p. 53).

We can only truly enjoy what we surrender. Otherwise, we tend to be possessed by what we grasp with white knuckles. When we truly seek first God, His reign and His goodness in everything, we are finally able to fully enjoy everything for the first time. To whatever degree we make an idol of a possession, a dream, a pursuit or any element of our work, to that degree it ceases to be the gift of God that it actually is. Turning anything into an idol makes it something it can never be in Reality.

“Kierkegaard once declared that to anyone less than God, one dare not give oneself utterly, whether it was to a woman, or a family, or an institution, or a nation, these creaturely objects of devotion would invariably be corrupted by such absolute submission and in turn would be almost bound to exploit the giver as well. Utter self-donation to God, on the contrary, is the one situation where a man and his gifts are received and returned to the giver cleansed of their former claims to be the final goal and now blessed and ordered for true service.” (Steere, Douglas. Work & Contemplation. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, p. 54-55).

We can never give ourselves too much to God. We can give ourselves too much to another person though. Douglas Steere says things so cleanly and well. Thank You, Father, for how You spoke through his writings. Thank You for bringing him across my path some time back.

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Prayer: God’s Transforming Presence

Prayer is both the life of all lives, but also the death of everything that isn’t life. I find that a challenge because there are still so many ways I think of something as life that just isn’t. I read about this sort of wisdom in some of the older writers:

“…Augustine Baker can be understood when he speaks of the crisis situation into which genuine prayer plunges man and insists that the steady practice of prayer is the greatest mortification of all. He does not mean that prayer itself is the sacrifice. But that persistent prayer brings man into a situation where the presence of the living God will irradiate him and leave him no alternative but rebuild the room, or to break off the contemplation. Jean Grou has said, ‘The holy spirit will either control all of your actions or cease to govern your prayer,’ or the matter could be put still more bluntly in Russell Maltby’s words, ‘When we go into God’s presence, we must surrender.'” (Steere, Douglas. Work & Contemplation. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1957, p. 44).

If prayer is relationship with God, then living my life as prayer means continuing to linger in God’s presence. This will mean an exposure of that in me which is contrary to God, even opposed to God. Either that impulse will win and I will neglect the Presence, or I will bring that impulse into God’s loving, healing presence and He will win. And He’s a much more gracious Winner!

For reflection: What draws to you to prayer? What drives you away from prayer? Are you able to discern the source of these impulses and recognize the Spirit’s nudge? 

It’s All About the Seed

(A repost from May 2009)

The seed eaten by birds is as much seed as the seed that produced a hundredfold. The snatching of the Word by the devil–and the rejection of it by the shallow and the choking of it by the worldly–all take place within the working of the kingdom, not prior to it or outside of it. It is the Word alone, and not the interference with it, that finally counts. True enough, and fittingly enough, the most obvious point in the whole parable is that the fullest enjoyment of the fruitfulness of the Word is available only to those who interfere with it least. But even in making that point, Jesus still hammers away at the sovereignty and sole effectiveness of the Word. Those on the good ground, he says, are those who simply hear the Word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirty-, some sixty-, and some a hundredfold. It’s not that they do anything, you see; rather, it’s that they don’t do things that get in the Word’s way. It’s the Word, and the Word alone, that does all the rest.” (Robert Farrar Capon. The Parables of the Kingdom. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985, p. 82-83.)

In what ways are you cooperating with what God has been saying to you? In what ways are you resisting…getting in the way?

Mother Teresa: Abandon to Jesus

(A repost from December 2009)

A while back, I read the Come Be My Light, the story of Mother Teresa’s life and spiritual journey. Many know that she spent most of the last decades of her life with little or no conscious sense of God’s presence, though remained a woman of deep and faithful prayer. Here are a couple of insights that helped me:

“‘When I see someone sad,’ she would say, ‘I always think, she is refusing something to Jesus.’’ It was in giving Jesus whatever He asked that she found her deepest and lasting joy; in giving Him joy she found her own joy.” (Mother Teresa. Come Be My Light. New York: Doubleday, 2007, p. 33.)

“She would again insist: ‘Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love…. The smaller the thing, the greater must be our love.’” (p. 34.)

What little things is Jesus inviting you to do? Are you willing to do them with great love, rather than looking around for the dramatic thing you can do for Him?

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Most Visited Recent Posts

It’s time to list my most visited posts of the last month. As always, other than the home page, the two pages that continue to be visited more than any other are “Retreats” and “Ministry Burnout Statistics.” Other posts that have been popular recently (beginning with the most visited) are:

  • Spiritual Direction: Insights From a Master” – I reposted a list of some of my favorite quotations from a spiritual director I’ve appreciated over the year: Abbé Henri de Tourville. This is rich stuff!
  • A Fall Experiment: Praying the Psalms” – This launched a series of posts growing out of an experiment a few of us have been doing since Fall began of praying a psalm in common two days a week, and then sharing our insights. This post includes a downloadable journal resource.
  • Clinging to God Alone” – Here I shared a quotation about Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross and what they say about the temptation to cling to our experiences of God at the expense of clinging to God Himself.
  • A Good Word: The Fruit of Fasting” – I shared a great quotation from Scot McKnight’s book on Fasting about how we don’t fast to make something happen as much as to seek to share God’s heart.
  • I Give Up!” – I reposted a great quotation from Gerald May on the nature of true surrender that apparently struck a chord with many readers.
  • A Good Word: The Hard Habit of Regular Prayer” – A simple and profound quotation on how we learn to pray by praying, rather than reading about, talking about or hearing about prayer.

Looking Back: I Give Up

This last week at The Journey was incredibly encouraging (and a little tiring!). I’m up early now on a Saturday morning getting ready for a nice cycle down to the ocean and back.

As for today’s post, I’m sharing a link back to one from September 2008 on the theme of spiritual surrender from some of Gerald May’s writings. What does true surrender look like? False surrender?

CLICK for “I Give Up!”

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