In the Midnight Season

In the path (way) of your judgments (justice, plan, standard, divine law),  

O Lord, we wait (we are collected, bound together with you, remain, endure, expect, look) for you;  

your name (revealed character) and remembrance (renown, memory, scent)  

are the desire (longing, satisfaction) of our soul (heart, being, life, passion, hunger and thirst, breath). 

My soul (my living being, life, self, person, desire, passion)  

yearns (covets, greatly desires, craves, longs) for you in the night (in adversity, in the midnight season); 

[Indeed! Yes! Yet!] 

my spirit (my very breath of life) within me (in my inward parts, my center)  

earnestly seeks (diligently, early in the morning, searches for) you. 

Isaiah 26:8-9 (ESV) 

In the dark path
in the midnight season
I am looking for you
seeking seeking
I breathe your lingering scent
where are you?
my soul my heart my very center
desires longs craves
in the night
in the midnight season
I search for you

Image, Dune Trees at Night by Jack Bair. All rights reserved.

Unarmed Hungers 

Naming our hungers helps. But they must be disarmed too.

This is the place 
where unnamed hungers 
are fed, the place 
of clear water, 
refreshment. 

A fellow blogger, Deep calls to deep, recently posted a poem, a redux of, or leading back to, the 23rd Psalm (full poem below). As I read the portion above, instead of “unnamed hungers,” at first I saw “unarmed hungers.” I started to laugh at myself, but then I thought, no, our hungers often are armed and need to be disarmed.  

Even unnamed hungers can be armed. They may be unnamed because they are unconscious or subconscious. Pushed down, walled off. We may not know what is fully going on down there, sometimes screaming for relief, sometimes huddled in a ball. Only God knows our hearts. But there is sure to be included unnamed hungers for love, acceptance, respect, recognition, approval, belonging, family. A hunger to be known. To be heard. 

Naming our hungers helps. But they must be disarmed too. What arms our hungers? Anger, rage, unforgiveness, bitterness, rebellion, blame, resentment, insistent claims for defrauded rights, vengeance, suspicions and assumptions, hopeless expectations. Could they even be armed with self-righteousness, pride, prejudice, denial? How can we receive his hope, strength and solace when we have armed ourselves against needing it? Against trust? 

Let us surrender to the One who fills every hunger, for Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger” (John 6:35). Let’s lay down our arms, give ourselves up, yield to his love and care, trust, rest in Him. 

You lift my head; my vision clears. 
The blessing cup overflows. 

Psalm 23 redux by Carla A. Grosch-Milleri (Blogged by Deep calls to deep https://deepcallstpdeep.wordpress.com/2021/08/30/psalm-23-redux/

This I know: 
My life is in your hands. 
I have nothing to fear. 

I stop, 
breathe, 
listen. 

Beneath the whirl of what is 
is a deep down quiet place. 
You beckon me to tarry there. 

This is the place 
where unnamed hungers 
are fed, the place 
of clear water, 
refreshment. 

My senses stilled, 
I drink deeply, 
at home in timeless territory. 

In peril, I remember: 
Death’s dark vale holds no menace. 
I lean into You; 
Your eternal presence comforts me. 
I am held tenderly. 

In the midst of all that troubles, 
that threatens and diminishes, 
You set abundance before me. 
You lift my head; my vision clears. 
The blessing cup overflows. 

This I know: 
You are my home and my hope, 
my strength and my solace, 
and so shall You ever be. 

i Psalms Redux: Poems and Prayers. Carla A. Grosch-Miller. Hymns Ancient & Modern Ltd. 2014. 

Image, photograph copyright by Jack Bair 

Holiness

God invites an intense, earnest, and continued inspection of Himself.

“The pursuit of holiness is an unrelenting, uncompromising obedience to God.” — Troy Gentz 

The above quote from our pastor really got me thinking about holiness. “… unrelenting, uncompromising, obedience.” Wow, in this day of deciding everything about ourselves for ourselves, does anyone do this anymore? Does anyone even think of obedience? Isn’t that an archaic word? An oppressive concept? Does anyone pursue holiness? Yet, God commands and, I believe, yearns for us to be holy.  

But just as he who called you is holy, so be (ginomai) holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am (eimi) holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16 

This above verse emphasizes how, for us, holiness is a pursuit or goal, the moving toward, the ongoing conforming and allowing ourselves to be transformed. There are two different verbs translated “be” and “am” in this verse. One is more like “to become” and the other one is “to exist.” We are called to become – ginomai – holy; but God is – eimi – holy. The Greek word ginomai means to become, to come into existence, begin to be, receive being. It points to our journey toward holiness, our willingness to receive a new being, become a new creature.

In contrast, the Greek word eimi means simply to be, to exist, to happen, to be present. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the word is in the first person singular present indicative and expresses, “I exist” or “I AM.” God always has and always will exist as Holy – unchanging, unfailing – the One we can fix our eyes and our hearts on, the objective, the goal, the ultimate destination of our pilgrimage here on earth. 

But why does God yearn for us to become holy? I believe at least part of the answer is in this verse: 

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14 

The Greek word translated “see” above is optanomai. It meansto look at, behold, to gaze (i.e., with wide-open eyes, as at something remarkable).” It does not denote “simply voluntary observation,” or “merely mechanical, passive or casual vision.” It is emphatic and intensive, signifying “an earnest but more continued inspection.”i That is our part – to gaze at our remarkable God with wide-open eyes. Or, as A.W. Tozer put it, “We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.”ii 

But the word also means to allow one’s self to be seen, to appear, and that is God’s part. God wants to be seen. God wants to be known. God invites an intense, earnest, and continued inspection of Himself. Doesn’t that sound like a best friend? Like a lover?  

You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions, yet now he has brought you back as his friends. He has done this through his death on the cross in his own human body. As a result, he has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. Colossians 1:21-22 

And there resides, in that verse, another fundamental truth about holiness – that we can’t do it ourselves. It is because of what Jesus did on the cross that we can pursue, or even think about pursuing, holiness. It is only because of Jesus’ death on the cross that we can come into His Presence and gaze in wide-eyed worship at the lover of our souls.  

“Here is the truth, plain and simple. Without the holiness that’s imparted by Christ alone—a precious gift we honor by leading a life devoted to obeying his every word—none of us will see the Lord. This refers not just to heaven but to our present life as well. Without holiness, we won’t see God’s presence in our daily walk, our family, our relationships, our witness or our ministry.” — David Wilkersoniii  

So, there seems to be this tension between receiving holiness as a gift that has already happened – “I have been crucified with Christ” – and something I must also pursue.  GotQuestions explains it this way: 

“Like righteousness, holiness is a gift from God. The process of becoming holy is called sanctification, and God promises to complete His sanctification in us because of Christ’s work on the cross. The writer of Hebrews explains positional sanctification: “By [God’s] will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” and also alludes to progressive sanctification, speaking of “those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:10, 14). We are perfected and sanctified by one event: Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross for our sin. As we live our lives in Christ, our holiness increases as we yield to the work of the Holy Spirit within us and follow this command: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12–13; see also Romans 12:1–2; Hebrews 12:1–2).”iv 

Let us, then, receive the amazing gift that Jesus gave us on the cross, but let’s also pursue holiness as an unrelenting, uncompromising obedience to God as he reveals his will to us. Let us run swiftly to catch, press on, press forward, seek after eagerly, earnestly endeavor to acquire holiness that we might behold Him, that we might know Him. This is the first reason to pursue holiness. I would like to explore more about holiness, including the second precious reason for pursuing it, in following blogs. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:8

i Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Greek and Hebrew Dictionaries 

ii A.W. Tozer. That Incredible Christian. “We are Saved To as Well as From.” Compiled by Anita M. Bailey. 1964.

iii David Wilkerson, Our God-given Escape Plan https://worldchallenge.org/devotion/our-god-given-escape-plan?ref=devos 

Image in the Public Domain

Don’t You Want to Be Famous?

His whole life Jesus had an audience of One .

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” John 14:21-22 

I have read this passage many times, but this time it made me sad. Jesus was in the middle of explaining to the disciples the whole reason why he came, the whole reason he was going to die on the cross for them – and he gets this totally oblivious question. 

In chapter 14 of John, Jesus is telling his disciples that when he leaves them (via his death on the cross and resurrection) the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will come. He is revealing to them the whole reason he came – to be, once and for all, the sacrifice for sin so that we could be in the Presence of God once again – that His Spirit could come and be with us and in us. The “Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive” (John 14:17). 

But they are still not getting it, and this disciple voices a question that echoes something that Jesus’ brothers had said, “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world” (John 7:4). In other words, “Don’t you want to be famous?” 

I had just read this verse about King David when I read the above verse: 

And David became famous after he returned from striking down eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt. 2 Samuel 8:13 

This is one of the stories that the disciples would have grown up hearing. David’s famous exploits. And wasn’t the Messiah the Son of David? Wasn’t he supposed to come and strike down their enemies? Wasn’t he supposed to be famous? 

But being famous was never Jesus’ goal. His goal was to fulfill the scriptures written about Messiah, one of which is, “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets (Isaiah 42:2), or as NetBible translates it, “he will not publicize himself in the streets.” Many times, “[h]e warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah” (Matthew 12:16-17). He would choose instead to reveal himself, or show who he really was, only to his followers. 

Jesus warned them about the love that the Pharisees had for honor and fame, and how that desire corrupted all of their good works (Matthew 23). Being famous had become their goal, replacing the desire to please God. Jesus commanded his disciples not to be like them.  

When I was growing up becoming famous was always pressed upon me as the most desirable goal. Being admired by others equaled being of value. So, I pursued a stage career, where standing ovations are the ultimate expression of approval and love. One night, in the middle of performing, looking out at a large, admiring (I hoped!) audience, it all seemed suddenly empty. I thought, “What am I doing here?” And when the run was done, I turned and walked away. It was only a few months later that Jesus revealed himself to me as Lord and Savior and ultimate Lover of my soul. 

If Jesus had only come to do famous exploits, to be victorious over the Romans and set Israel free as a nation, it would have just been another entry in the history books. Like David conquering the Philistines, it would have just been a good story. It would not have meant anything much to me.  

But his whole life Jesus had an audience of One – “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49) – and that audience gave him a standing ovation. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). That’s what I want, to have an audience of One, to make pleasing God my life’s goal, and to hear him say someday, “well done, good and faithful servant.” 

“Look,” [Stephen] said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:56 

Image, Ovation, by Joi Ito  https://flic.kr/p/R3nQd  

A Pure Intention of Heart

I would like to share a prayer written by Jonathan Coussins (b. 1757), one of John Wesley’s itinerant preachers (or perhaps written by his wife Penelope). I was especially struck by the phrase “a pure intention of heart.” It reminds me of the “naked intent toward God”i of the unknown monk, the “fixing of our eyes on Jesus,” the throwing off all the things that lure away and weigh down and entangle. In my mind I see them discarded along the side of the path, littering the Way. 

This prayer was committed to memory and was a great blessing to another early Methodist, Elizabeth Rhodes. She recorded it in her journalii in hope that “it may prove of equal benefit to others.”  May this prayer bless another generation of journeyers toward God. 

  “Grant me, gracious Lord, a pure intention of heart, and a steadfast regard to your glory in all my actions. Possess my mind continually with your presence, and fill it with your love, that my whole delight may be to repose in the arms of your protection. Be light to my eyes, music to my ears, sweetness to my taste, and full contentment to my heart. Be my sunshine in the day, my food at the table, my repose in the night, my clothing in company, my succor in all necessities. 

  Lord Jesus, I give you my body, my soul, my substance, my fame, my friends, my liberty, and my life. Dispose of me, and all that is mine, as seems best to you, and to the glory of your blessed name. I am not my own, but yours; therefore claim me as your right, keep me as your charge, and love me as your child. Fight for me when I am assailed, heal me when I am wounded, and revive me when I am destroyed. 

  My Lord and my God, I ask you to give me patience in troubles, humility in comforts, constancy in temptations, and victory over all my ghostly enemies. Grant me sorrow for my sins, thankfulness for my benefits, fear of your judgments, love of your mercies, and mindfulness of your presence for evermore. Make me humble to my superiors and friendly to my equals, ready to please all and loathe to offend any; loving to my friends and charitable to my enemies. Give me modesty in my countenance, gravity in my behavior, deliberation in my speech, holiness in my thoughts, and righteousness in all my actions. Let your mercy cleanse me from my sins, and your grace bring forth in me the fruits of everlasting life. 

  Lord, let me be obedient without arguing, humble without feigning, patient without grudging, pure without corruption, mercy without lightness, sad without mistrust, sober without dullness, true without duplicity, fearing you without desperation, and trusting you without presumption. Let me joyful for nothing but that which pleases you, and sorrowful for nothing but what displeases you: that labor be my delight which is for you, and let all weary me that is not in you. Give me a waking spirit, and a diligent soul, that I may seek to know your will, and when I know it may I perform it faithfully to the honor and glory of your ever blessed name. Amen.” 

i The Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous. 14th century. 

ii Memoir of Mrs. Elizabeth Rhodes. By herself. (Mason, London, 1829).

Image, free download from Pikest

… for it is God

If you feel lost. If you feel far away from God. Cry out to him, for it is God who gives, who restores, who draws, who works. He is yearning for you. You cannot make yourself want to know him. He will do it. He is already.

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Psalm 84:1-2

I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart. Jeremiah 24:7

Restore us (draw us, turn us, bring us back, restore, repair, rescue us), O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. Psalm 80:3

Restore us (draw us, turn us, bring us back, restore, repair, rescue us), O LORD, and (renew, rebuild, repair us) bring us back to you again! Lamentations 5:21

… for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13

I drew them with gentle cords, With bands of love, And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. Hosea 11:4

Naked Intent

Back then I would sneak out of choir practice and go sit in the dark sanctuary.

“This is what you are to do: lift your heart up to the Lord, with a gentle stirring of love desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts. Center all your attention and desire on him and let this be the sole concern of your mind and heart … And so diligently persevere until you feel the joy in it. For in the beginning it is usual to feel nothing but a kind of darkness about your mind, or as it were, a cloud of unknowing. You will seem to know nothing and to feel nothing except a naked intent toward God in the depths of your being … But if you strive to fix your love on him forgetting all else, which is the work of contemplation I have urged you to begin, I am confident that God in his goodness will bring you to a deep experience of himself.” — The Cloud of Unknowing, chapter 3  

“… a state of naked faith, sustained by God alone in our absolute abandonment to Him …” — Jeanne Guyon, Union with God 

Sunday at church we sang the doxology.  

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!i 

I have been singing it since I was a child in the children’s choir at the Methodist Church. Suddenly, as I sang, I was in that place beyond time singing it again as that child who didn’t really know what she was singing. The child who wasn’t sure what or who was a “Holy Ghost,” the child who looked up at the stained-glass window depicting Elijah, Jesus, and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration and was sure, as she sang those lyrics, that she was looking at a picture of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I didn’t know much, but I had a “naked intent toward God” as the unknown monk wrote, the “naked faith” described by Guyon. It was a faith beyond reasoning or logic, a faith that totally bypassed intellect because there was no real knowledge of the scriptures at that time.   
 

Back then I would sneak out of choir practice and go sit in the dark sanctuary – literally and intellectually in the darkness, in the cloud of unknowing – and wait on God. I didn’t know I was doing that; I didn’t even have any words for a prayer. Almost holding my breath, I would just be there. There was just that naked intent, that yearning and thirsting after God. And he gently met me there, though I could not fully comprehend him.  
 

I have come a long way since then. I have studied the Bible for many years and have a lot of head knowledge now. But still I know that what God wants, what he looks for, what delights his great heart is that naked intent toward God, that hunger and thirsting after Him from the depths of my being. My essence seeking after His essence. Let me just be there. 

My soul longs for You, as a parched land. Psalm 143:6 

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Matthew 11:25-26 

And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3 

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 (NASB) 

For more on the “naked intent” toward God see a previous post https://wrestlingwordblog.wordpress.com/2018/09/20/a-naked-intent-toward-god/

Photo, detail from Coloured Reflection by Ben Keating, https://flic.kr/p/GHzQ3T  

Breathing After

Maybe we were never meant to breathe on our own.

I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. But my people would not listen (shama) to me; Israel would not submit (abah) to me. Psalm 81:10-11

The phrase translated above as “you would not submit” consists of the two Hebrew words for not + willing, many times translated “unwilling” in the Bible. You were unwilling. Unfortunately, those two words mostly come together in the Bible.

The willing part of the phrase is the Hebrew word abah, which literally means to breathe after. Figuratively, it means to acquiesce, consent, rest content, will, be willing, to desire. Two other Hebrew words come from abah – the word for “longing” and the word for “reed or papyrus” in the sense of bending toward. It’s one of those passionate Hebrew words. To breathe after – like panting after – longing for, desiring.

The word translated “listen” above is shama. It means to hear, listen to, obey. It is the first word and command of the verse Jesus identified as the most important: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deut. 6:4-5). Abah and shama come together a lot and while their meanings are complimentary, G. J. Botterweck[i] defines the difference.

“The difference seems to be that ‘aba denotes the first beginnings of a positive reaction, whereas shama’ indicates complete obedience.”

Abah, the first beginnings of desire, of longing for God, the bending toward God to catch that still, small voice. Shama, hearing God’s voice and obeying with all. The Spirit of the Lord in the Old Testament means the breath, mind, or spirit of God. If we are willing to obey, we “breathe after” God, or breathe his breath after him. We are one mind and spirit with him. His breath, his command, his Word becomes part of us.

It reminds me a lot of the practice of the presence of God. Breathing His breath; breathing in tandem with the Spirit. Or maybe like God blowing his breath into us, as at creation, and us breathing it out (Genesis 2:7). The Word, the Breath, the Life. Like mouth-to-mouth respiration. Open your mouth and I will fill it! Maybe we were never meant to breathe on our own. But, isn’t that amazing? The idea that being willing and obeying God is to breathe his very breath? Isn’t the image of opening your mouth, like a baby bird, the ultimate in trusting and yielding?

Why don’t we breathe after God? In the above verse it was because of stubbornness. Sometimes it’s because of fear, caring about what people think more than pleasing God, pride, the choking need to be in control. We keep our mouths tightly shut.

Bend toward. Breathe after.

 

This is the air I breathe

This is the air I breathe

Your holy presence living in me

And I, I’m desperate for you

And I, I’m lost without you

–Michael W. Smith

 

I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. Psalms 119:131

 

[i] G. J. Botterweck in The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, I, p. 25.

Image copyright by Jack Bair

 

Left Vacant

I know that for the right practice of [the Presence of God] the heart must be empty of all other things, because God will possess the heart alone; and as He cannot possess it alone without emptying it of all besides, so neither can He act there, and do in it what He pleases, unless it be left vacant to Him. — Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, Fifth Letter.

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:33

 

Image, Open Window by Keith Ellwood https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=open%20window%20keith%20ellwood

I have no idea where I am going …

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you 
does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

–Thomas Merton

 

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