Wednesday, August 8, 2012

it's not that complicated

Hosea 1
2 When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” 3 So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. 4 And the LORD said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” 6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. 7 But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.” 8 When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. 9 And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” 10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” 11And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.

Psalm 85
LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah 3 You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger. 4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! 5 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? 6 Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? 7 Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation. 8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. 9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. 10 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. 11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. 12 Yes, the LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. 13 Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.

Colossians 2
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. 16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Luke 11
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread, 4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” 5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

I am currently anticipating a coming hardship. Perhaps it will not be as bad as I fear, it does appear promising, in a bad way. It will be something that must be endured, though the fact that is in essence has blindsided me does not make me feel any more well-disposed to it.

In my quest to continue learning, particular in regards to the Bible, my road lies through a course that, had I known what it was about, I would likely have either tried to avoid it, or even not enrolled in courses at the place of study. The name of the course did not give me a hint about what it will be about, it wasn't until I was looking at a draft of the syllabus online that it's real contents were made known to me. Assuming the draft will be anything like the actually course contents, I'm not anticipating things.

The course is about something called “spiritual formation”. In getting a jump on the class, and out of a morbid sense of curiosity, I've already read one of the books the draft syllabus says we will use during the course, and am just now starting another. I'm not impressed with either.

“Spiritual formation” has to do with certain practices, or disciplines. The one books I've read so far lists several, such as solitude, lectio divina, breath prayer, some weird form of discerning, and a few other I may mention if the need arises. The other book, which I haven't gotten far into, stresses much the same kind of thing, though it calls it “contemplative spirituality”.

Call it this or call it that, it's complicated. They try to make it seem all simple and natural, but really, it's complicated. If you're going to do the breath prayer thing, for example, you have to come up with a simply phrase you need to say whenever you breath. You need to remember to say it, not necessarily aloud, every time you breath. You're going to forget, but don't feel guilty about that, though if forgetting means you've somehow broken the command to “pray without ceasing”, should you feel guilty and repent of having broken that command? No, don't think about that, just get right back on that horse and start doing it again, and soon enough, you'll be doing it without even thinking about it. Thought that does kind of raise the question, how good is it to be praying without really thinking about what you're saying?

Or lectio divina. This is complicated, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. And it takes time, or so I guess, not having really done it myself, and myself having no desire to engage in it anyway, but still, from my reading of it, it'll take a while. It's a four-step process, where you take some few verses, read them r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y several times, then...well, it's...messy. What the verses actually teach isn't really important. The important thing is that, as you're reading, watch out for a word or phrase that “stands out” from the rest, or that makes you react, or some such thing. Again, let me repeat, what the passage means in an objective sense is not important in this kind of reading. Then we read ourselves into the text. Then there's some kind of response to what you've...gotten, for lack of a better word...from your reading between the lines. Again, remember, it's not what the text has said, but what you've somehow gotten outside of the text that's important.

And if you're thinking “Wouldn't it be better to simply read the Bible?”, I think you're right.

But let me be real, this isn't the first time I've been around people who have tried to complicate things.

When I was in Youth with A Mission, we use to do similar things. It wasn't as polished as these comtemplative things are, but it was closely related. There were, for example, the “principles of prayer and intercession”. These were steps that some YWAM leader had determined must be taken in order for prayers to be effective. Why Paul or some other apostles, or even Jesus himself, had not expounded these things, and told us to do them, is hard to figure out, but thankfully YWAM had a woman who after almost 2000 years of church history had figured them out. Anyway, there would be about 10 or so of us, and we'd be sitting in chairs and sofas around a table, I suppose kind of like sitting in a circle thought that actual shape was more rectangular, and one by one we would do whatever step in the principles was next, until such time as we had come to one where we were to sit silently and listen for whatever God was saying inside of us. Then, at some undefined time, we would start praying again, finishing up the all-important steps of prayer, and then share what things we thought God had told us.

There are still other, newer things being implemented too, inside and outside of YWAM. There is a group out there that tries to build what they call “boiler rooms”, where people meet and pray at all hours of the day and night. This group even calls itself 24-7 Prayer. There are others that focus on worship, claiming that significant spiritual things happen when there is worship. People in either group speak about things like “thin places” or an “open heaven” or somehow establishing the tabernacle of David so that God can dwell there.

I know that tone is sometimes hard to get when reading, but if you've understood that I'm at least now very critical of these activities, both the ones I've been involved in myself and ones I've encountered in my reading and studying, you've understood correctly. I am very skeptical that these kinds of activities are so important.

Look at the biblical passages above. Look at what Paul says. He tells the people of the Colossian church that no one has the right to judge them because of what they eat and drink or by what days we celebrate, not even in regards to the sabbath. Not only that, but we can disqualify ourselves from a prize by listening to those who brag about their ascetic practices and who go on about the kinds of visions they have had, putting their faith in what they do and have experienced rather than in Christ.

Prayer is one of the things that often becomes the focus of these practices. The 24-7 people think that their continual or near-continual praying will open some door for God to do something in a certain area. The contemplatives and spiritual formation people think that mindlessly repeating a short prayer will somehow be pleasing to God. Others, such am Mark Batterson, say that if our prayers are too small, if we aren't praying for something that we would consider impossible, if our prayers are not big and bold and audacious enough, if what we pray for doesn't scare us, then we're insult God.

When His disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, how does He do it? If you are familiar with the current crop of popular prayer methods, perhaps even some I haven't mentioned here, you may be surprised by Jesus' response. Instead of saying they need to pray for hours at a time, he gives them a short prayer that can said in seconds. Instead of having them prayer a short phrase they can mindlessly repeat over and over, He gives them a prayer that requires thought and a good form of contemplation, a contemplation that has them consider how they have forgiven others for their sins against them. Instead of having them pray big, bold, audacious, scary prayers, he says that they should pray for the food they will need for tomorrow. Instead of giving us a method and steps that we must pray through, he gives a prayer that is fairly plain and simple and does not require things like principles in order to pray it properly.

This is important. Jesus does not give us hoops to jump through. While He does encourage persistence in prayer, He does not encourage mindless repetition. In fact, in another place, He speaks strongly against those who think that God will hear them if they practice multiply words in prayer, thinking that through such wordinessGod will more readily listen to them.

When Jesus teaches his disciples, and us, how to pray, He does so in a way that is devoid of any great complications. How great is the contrast between what Jesus' taught and what these spiritual leader today teach us. For them, it is all hoops. We must do things a certain way in order for our prayers to be acceptable, or to make our prayers more effective. It is, in effect, all about us and our efforts, all about the things we do to put ourselves in position.

Can we at least for a moment put aside the temptation to try to impress God? It is useless, but still a great temptation. It is true that God knows us, but let us not think that this is only a positive thing. God is familiar with everything in us, and has already declared, “There is no one who does good, no, not one”. Colossians 2 says that we who are now children of God were among those “were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh...”. God has no illusions about us. Our attempts to impress with ascetic practices is in vain. Our attempts to impress others with the any visions we may have had is silly.

It is telling that the New Testament knows nothing about such spiritual practices. Now, those who teach them do point to their antiquity, pointing out that they go back to some people in the fourth or fifth century who went out into the deserts. But they cannot find them anywhere in the Scriptures themselves.

Prayer wasn't meant to be an intricate thing designed to appeal to our pride. Our pride must be killed, pure and simple. In His death and resurrection Christ has already opened for us the way to the Father. Christ has done the work, Christ has done the difficult part, the part that we cannot do ourselves. We can stop trying to add works to prayer.

And studying the Bible isn't suppose to be about trying to get some kind of message apart from the text, to essentially make the text worthless while we're trying to hear God apart from what He has written. Is that not simply insulting? God spoke to the prophets over thousands of years, the Spirit worked through the writers to insure that what was written was true, God sent His Son Jesus to be born among men, then to teach and preach using the language of His day and place, and then He sent the Spirit to the Apostles to remind them of what He had taught. The Bible is a unique book, inspired by God, inerrant. And we would dare to say that what God said in it is not important? That we're suppose to read Scripture, not to learn what the Bible says, but to get some message from God apart from the text?

That's arrogance, something to be repented of.

There is something I wish to address. There are some things that seem similar to these contemplative practices, but that are different. I have only recently been introduced to what is called the Church Calendar, and also to using a lectionary to assist in reading the Scriptures. So far as I know, I think there is some good in these things, especially the lectionary, as they give some structure, which for one like myself is helpful. But these are merely tools, and we need to be careful of making them anything else, and especially in making them necessary. Let a person not observe a sabbath or any ceremony before he or she thinks that doing so earns merit from God. Let a person read the Scriptures at random before thinking that following a lectionary makes him or her superior to one who does not.

What is the difference? Lectio divina is wrong because it seeks to hear God beyond the Word He has given us. Repetitions as prayer are wrong because it is about attempts to make our prayers more acceptable to God by our efforts. The lectionary is something that provides structure, it is about reading and studying the Scriptures as they are, not to gain some kind of message through or behind or beyond them. There are dangers in that a person may do it legalistically, or may think themselves superior because they follow it, but there is in itself nothing against it.

This coming situation bodes, and not well. I'm not looking for conflict, but I will not be pressured into doing things that I am sure are wrong. I see no biblical reason to do these spiritual practices, and if I refuse, I anticipate only that it will be taken as an act of rebellion or in some other negative way. I hope it won't be that way, but that is possible.

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