So I was reading some Meister Eckhart yesterday morning. If you’re not familiar with him, he lived 1260-1328, and was a German theologian, philosopher, professor, and mystic. He became professor of theology at the University of Paris and took a leading pastoral and organizational role in the Dominican Order. I came across a section of a sermon that has been kind of haunting me, in a holy way. A Holy Spirit haunting, if you will. Here’s the section from his sermon entitled Nothing Above The Soul with Proverbs 31:27 as the text:
“I have said often that those who fast much, and watch much and do great things, but fail to correct their faults or improve their ways–which alone is true progress–deceive themselves and are the devil’s laughingstock. A man once had a hedgehog by which he got rich. He lived by the sea. When the hedgehog sensed a change of wind, he tapped his hide and turned his back to that direction. Then the man went to the sea and said to them [i.e., the people who lived there]: ‘What will you give me to show you how the wind is going to turn?’ And he sold them [the means of foretelling changes of] wind and got rich on it. Thus too a person may grow rich in virtue by discovering the point at which he is weakest and correcting it, and by turning his chief care to overcoming his weakness.”
I’ve heard it said that if you just eliminate one bad habit (be it a physical one or a habit of thought) per year, then you are growing at a very fine rate. The same goes for obtaining a good habit every year. I do believe we are designed to grow, to mature as human beings throughout our short time here. To stagnate and flounder in the same old habits does not ring of abundant life.
I hope this gives you something meaningful to ponder as it did for me!
What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of you’re minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete. ~Romans 12:2 [NTE]
“The ultimate freedom we have as human beings is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon.”
This quote by Dallas Willard is one of my favorites of all time.
We can choose what we dwell on in our thought life. God would not have told us to “set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth” if it were not possible to do so. No mere human has the authority to dictate what I should think about. No entity of this world has the God-given right to command my direction of thoughts, let alone my allegiance. Rather, we are to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and lean not on our own understanding. We must in all our ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct our path (Proverbs 3:5-6). He will direct your neural pathways. He has every right and every good intention to do this.
Now God may use people, organizations, or even the news media, to bring your awareness to an issue, or to where He would like you to direct your thought, but just because something is making headlines does not automatically make it worthy of my attention.
Oh it is the magician’s trick, so often employed by the evil one, to draw your focus to one hand while the other is doing what he doesn’t want you to see.
I am convinced that the devil’s number one strategy is to keep us away from constant conversation and contemplation with God. For in spiritual warfare, just as in physical warfare, your enemy will always try to cut off your supply lines so that you run out of energy and can no longer put up a fight.
The thing is, our enemy can’t cut off our supply line–only distract us from connecting to it. You always have a choice of where to direct your thoughts and energy. Even if something is in your face everyday, you can still pray, though it may not be as easy as, say, when you’re sitting by a beautiful lake all alone.
“Conformity to this age is to be wrapped up in the things that are temporal, to have all our thought oriented to that which is seen and temporal…If all our calculations, plans, ambitions are determined by what falls within life here, then we are children of this age.” says commentator John Murray on our verse Romans 12:2.
It can sometimes feel like that lonely daffodil up there–everyone around you might be doom and gloom, worrying constantly about getting sick or who’s in office, and you just try to continue to shine. And that gets lonely, but don’t give in and succumb to directing your precious focus where others try to steer you just because you think you should. Guard your immensely valuable attention that it is not given away, at great cost, to the magicians always selling something. Keep your focus where God would have it be–on Him. Seek God first, and He will direct your thoughts, which may or may not be what everybody else is screaming about.
As three of you know, I’m a huge Rambo fan. I really love what Sylvester Stallone did with the fourth installment in 2008. He researched all over the world for the greatest atrocities with the least amount of media coverage. This he found to be the genocide in Burma, or what is now called Myanmar. And he made his movie in order to bring awareness to that devastation. He did not simply go with what was most popular, or what everyone was talking about. He shed light on what was mostly hidden.
Verse 2 may be translated: “Do not let yourselves be shaped by what everyone else does, but rather let yourselves be transformed by a whole new way of thinking, so you can discern what conforms to God’s will, namely what is good, and pleasing, and perfect.” ~Paul Achtemeier
Can Donald Trump separate us from the love of God?
Can Joe Biden separate us from the love of God?
My goodness, some of us Christians sure act like they can, don’t we?
I am convinced that no president shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God.
How does the president of the United States change your relationship with God?
How does the president affect your personal interactions with the risen Christ?
How does political leadership prevent you from doing good to your neighbor who is right in front of you?
How does congress make you pray less?
Does the senate block the Holy Spirit from being the great Comforter?
No matter who our leaders are, I keep praying everyday. I continue to interact with Jesus about everything throughout each day. I keep loving the person the Holy Spirit places in front of me. Leaders may be able to change some of our outer circumstances, but they will never be able to take our inner freedom to experience the love of God. No leader can affect our personal relationship with God through Christ Jesus, or prevent us from loving our neighbor.
Do not be drunk with wine, which will ruin you, but be filled with the Spirit. ~Ephesians 5:18
I remember reading the above comic strip when I was about ten years old. Someone had bought several of the Garfield books for me, and this one in particular has always remained memorable for some reason. Perhaps it’s the vivid spiritual lesson that has drawn my mind back to this little strip again and again.
The more we fill ourselves with God, the less we want of anything else.
It’s a very wise diet.
I find that when my priority is to first ingest Christ, that there is automatically significantly less room for other much less meaningful thoughts and activities. Not only less room, but less desire. For example, this past week I’ve made a commitment to begin each day with 45 minutes of silent waiting upon, and listening to, God. I cannot adequately convey just how peacefully tone-setting this one simple non-negotiable practice has been for me. Another aspect of my “5 lbs. of carrots” is making sure to pray thoughtfully and specifically every day for about a dozen people close to me. Also writing down the three things I’m most thankful for. Making sure I eat these carrots first, or at least as soon as possible, I find that my perspective is shaped in a more appreciative, open, and clear-headed manner.
I really like how Matthew McConaughey said it in a podcast recently about the first thing you do in the morning:
“Check in with yourself before you check in with the world.”
Upon waking, check in with Jesus, with yourself, eat your 5 lbs. of carrots, whatever that is for you, and go to bed (hopefully after going over your day with God) giving so little room for anxious thoughts, cares of this life, and the worries of 2020, that you drift off quickly in heavenly peace.
Now I must confess that I’m not exactly sure of the spiritual significance of that third frame up there, other than maybe that’s how we treat God or holy messengers of divine wisdom.
Let’s talk about the other “Tion” our adversary uses to throw us off course that we would do well to shun–Speculation. This is something my friend Julie brought up some weeks back that I’ve been pondering a bit. We can what-if ourselves into oblivion, into insanity, can’t we? We have the ability, and even affinity, to give priority and importance to that which has not happened, to that which we do not even know. Talk about a colossal waste of energy and time.
We tend to fill in gaps with our imagination, which is not always positive or helpful. “So and so didn’t say ‘hi’ to me. They’re likely not happy with me.”“Mr. Dude is probably going to be elected president, then this and this and this will happen, and the country will look like hell.” Or what I tend to do these days: “My left ring finger feels a little tingly…I might be dead by morning.” All of these speculations knock us out of the present moment, increase fears of various kinds, and worst of all, take our minds off God. At a bare minimum, we can start by turning all of these speculations into conversations with God. This is a very good move. This is what I call “the mill house of prayer”–taking judgments, worries, and what-ifs and grinding them into dialogue with God, into prayers, something that is actually life-giving instead of soul-sucking. Also, we can check our faith to see if we believe Jesus really is the good Shepherd, ultimately in control, and always desiring what is absolutely best for us in all situations, as well as always instructing us through all situations.
A couple weeks ago I was watching The Village, one of my favorite movies, with our eldest daughter Gabriela, and was struck by this great exchange between the characters Ivy and Lucius sitting on the porch:
Ivy: “How is it you are brave when all the rest of us shake in our boots?” Lucius: “I do not worry about what will happen, only what needs to be done.”
There it is.
For our purposes here we could say, “I do not worry about what might happen” or “about what others might be thinking…”
Worrying about what might happen or what others are thinking serves only to distract us from whatever we need to be doing right now….which may be as simple as conversing with God.
A couple of those “Tions” to shun, which I believe our adversary employs quite vigorously to throw us of course, are: classifications and speculations.
Today, we’ll discuss classifications. Or we might say categorizing. We can easily become entrenched in categorizing people, can’t we? When you take some time to critically think about this though, it’s rather ridiculous. We human beings are exquisitely complex creations. It hit me a couple of months ago how no one can possibly know 98.7% of the thoughts that go through my mind in the course of a single day, nor would you likely want to as they are so darn weird and awkward many of them. And it’s simply impossible to know any significant percentage of the memories and experiences I’ve accumulated in my forty-seven years and eight months.
I’ve always thought our culture conditions us to be judgmental and categorizing. With social media more than ever. Hey, here’s one sentence about one thing this person did/said, now start judging their entire life, GO! And we’re led to believe we can do this because we classify and categorize people so much that it then seems easy to know everything we need to know about them, right? I mean, we see somebody driving an old pickup truck with one bumper sticker and suddenly think we know half their life story.
Now there’s something in the meditation world called “Beginner’s Mind”. Have you heard of this? It’s quite lovely. It’s the idea of purposefully encountering everything and everyone you meet each day as if for the first time, because in reality, you are. For example, I saw my friend Jon on Labor Day. A week and a half later he stopped by my house. He was not the same person he was on Labor Day because he had experiences, learning, growth, and change since then. So I truly was encountering him as he was on that day for the very first time.
It is so good to be lovingly curious about who the person is in front of you right now. Think of the great gift this kind of presence can be for someone. Bringing no judgement of their past and no prediction for their future with you, only loving attentiveness to who they are right now this moment. This is most difficult of course with those closest to you, who you’ve known the longest, especially family. This is why we pray–for help doing that which we cannot do on our own. It also takes training, typically in the form of meditative prayer, which I believe God is more than happy to honor. I believe Jesus loves to heal and reverse our subconscious sinful tendencies, but first asks that we grant Him access.
One other thought my friend Jon brought up at the end of our walk: “What if I treated myself this way??”
One of the greatest gifts we can give or receive as human beings is listening without judgment.
Yesterday at the gym Ana (mi esposa) got done before me, and said she’d be waiting out front, no rush. I finished up, walked outside, looked left, looked right–no Ana to be seen. “Where the heck did she go off to?” I wondered. Car was locked and I had the key, so she wasn’t in there. Then suddenly I heard her voice very close to me: “Hey there, how was your workout?” Still not seeing her, the audio seemed to be coming from the potted shrub about eight inches away to my left. Was I having a burning bush experience?? Does Yahweh sound just like my wife?? I then took a half step forward and saw Ana, clearly, sitting in a lawn chair directly behind the shielding greenery. She was two feet away from me the whole time and I didn’t even realize it.
A significant portion of the spiritual life/journey/battle is the removal of obstacles. Jesus is always right there next to you. Even closer than right next to you.
What is in the way?
What’s blocking your view?
It could be a mind filled with worries, what-ifs, and the cares of this world.
Maybe it’s the “Weapons of Mass Distraction“–Facebook, YouTube, & Netflix.
Some obsess over work, or give too much attention to politics.
Is it an inordinate pursuit of comfort?
You could be a “What’s next?” person instead of a “What’s now?” person, missing the present moment.
Perhaps you don’t need to do more, but rather need to remove whatever inhibitors are shielding your view of God with you right now.
“I can’t do anything on my own authority,” Jesus went on. “I judge on the basis of what I hear. And my judgment is just, because I’m not trying to carry out my own wishes, but the wishes of the one who sent me.” ~John 5:30 [KNT]
…there was no place for them in the inn. ~Luke 2:7
Looking for a place for the Son of God to be birthed. Would you believe there were no rooms available? They don’t yell at anyone, or force their way in. They simply move on to wherever there was room for them.
And this is still how it is for Jesus today. It’s been said that we can have as much of His Spirit as we want or will allow. It depends on how much space we make available. Jesus typically doesn’t barge in and start moving your stuff out of the way. He politely asks and waits. Do we make space for Him? A mind filled with worry or what’s next or what people think leaves no room for the Son of God to come in, let alone have a place to sit and actually stay a while. He doesn’t yell, or force His way in. He simply lodges where He’s welcomed, where there is a vacancy.
The room we allow for the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to tap into the spiritual power and energy of Jesus, thus the “Divine Taproom”. Without divine power, this world will crush you. Do you have any vacancies? Or are all your rooms booked up with human ideas and influences? It is imperative, and extremely challenging today, to make space for Jesus to fill us with His mind, with Himself. To do this, we must have times of evacuation. Some people call this a “brain dump”. The only way I have found to do this is to be still and silent, to let all thoughts settle and drift away, then simply listen to what the Lord may want to say to me or show me. This can be done with Scripture of course (lectio divina), a prayer word (centering prayer), while taking a walk, staring at a tree, or just sitting in a silent room. It’s difficult to overstate the peace, refreshment, guidance, an energy I gain from this oh so simple practice that anyone can do. To clear out a space for Jesus to come in and sit and talk–there’s nothing better, for there is no better house guest.