Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Devotion for today: Whoever would find Him must go to the foot of the Cross…

I have written a long blog today, but I want you to take several days to read it. I have before you the passage in the Bible known as the Beatitudes. This is the passage I would ask you to meditate on this week. I have written my own thoughts on Lectio Divina, also known as prayerful reading of the Word of God. Lastly, I have recorded a beautiful section from a letter Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his brother-in-law about prayerful reading of Scripture. If you think this blog is too long for one day, you are right! Taken over a few day, however, I think will help you come to a deeper understanding of the beauty of God’s Word, as it was written by Him to His beloved – YOU!

The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:3-12
He said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

A very good way to get closer to God and find Him in your daily life is to choose a passage from the Bible and lose yourself in it. First, get comfortable. Then pray to the Holy Spirit to enlighten you to as to what God is saying to YOU in this passage. Then clear your head of all the chatter which usually goes on up there. Take a deep breath, and begin to read, slowly and thoughtfully, pondering each line and letting the meaning sink in. Picture yourself at the spot where Jesus is speaking, and let His gaze fall upon you. He is speaking to you and He wants you to hear His message for you. After you have read the passage, just sit and let the words play in your heart and mind. Say a prayer to Jesus to thank Him for this love letter, and keep it uppermost in your being all day long. It is yours to bring back up and ponder, to love and to answer. This method of study is called Lectio Divina, and it is akin to reading a love letter with time and emphasis on each word, as though each word will reveal a little more about the beloved to the reader. What better passage to meditate on in this way than the passage we call the Beatitudes. I put it above so you can read it throughout the next several days and let it soak in.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran minister who was faithful to God and not to Hitler at the time of great turmoil in his beloved Church and Germany, and who is described on the cover of the book, Bonhoeffer as “pastor, martyr, prophet, spy” once wrote to his brother-in-law about reading the Bible. He said:
…. One cannot simply read the Bible like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the Bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one’s own strength, one has to enquire of him. Only if we seek him, will he answer us. Of course it is also possible to read the Bible like any other book, that is to say from the point of view of textual criticism, etc.: there is nothing to be said against that. Only that that is not the method which will reveal to us the heart of the Bible, but only the surface, just as we do not grasp the words of someone we love by taking them to bits, but by simply receiving them, so that for days they go on lingering in our minds, simply because they are the words of a person we love; and just as  these words reveal more and more of the person who said them as we go on, like Mary, “pondering them in our heart,” so it will be with the words of the Bible. Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible, as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does not will to leave us alone with our questions, only so shall we learn from the Bible…

If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not immediately pleasing to my nature and which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ. And whoever would find him must go to the foot of the Cross, as the Sermon on the Mount commands. This is not according to our nature at all, it is entirely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible, not only in the New but also in the Old Testament…

And I would like to tell you now quite personally: since I have learnt to read the Bible in this way – and this has not been for so very long – it becomes every day more wonderful to me. I read it in the morning and the evening, often during the day was well, and every day I consider a text which I have chosen for the whole week, and try to sink deeply into it, so as really to hear what it is saying. I know that without this I could not live properly any longer.

(Bonhoeffer, written by Eric Metaxas, Thomas Nelson Press, 2010)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Devotion for today: Practice the presence of God

Psalm 16:11: You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

One of my favorite books is a little gem titled “The Practice of the Presence of God.” I carry it in my purse and read it whenever I find myself with time to kill. I pull it out, turn to any page and read. I always find a pearl to live by. The author, Brother Lawrence, was an amazingly simply monk who discovered the secret to a peaceful, happy life. He discovered how to live in the presence of God every waking moment and through the letters and conversations printed in this book, we can come to live the same way, by spending every moment in the presence of God. How do we do this? Here is Brother Lawrence’s thought on prayer:

The most effective way Brother Lawrence had for communicating with God was to simply do his ordinary work. He did this obediently, out of a pure love of God, purifying it as much as was humanly possible. He believed it was a serious mistake to think of our prayer time as being different from any other. Our actions should unite us with God when we are involved in our daily activities, just as our prayer unites us with Him in our quiet time. He said his prayers consisted totally and simply of God’s presence. His soul was resting in God, having lost its awareness of everything but love of Him. When he wasn’t in prayer, he felt practically the same way. Remaining near to God, he praised and blessed Him with all his strength. Because of this, his life was full of continual joy.

How beautiful is that? To live a life where every single thought, word and deed is pure and lovely enough to be a continual prayer to God every single minute of every single day. The result is a life full of continual joy!! Here is another of my favorite passages:

The most perfect union with God is the actual presence of God. Although this relationship with God is totally spiritual, it is quite dynamic, because the soul is not asleep, but powerfully excited. It is livelier than fire and brighter than the unclouded sun. Yet, it is at the same time tender and devout. It is not a simple expression of the heart, like saying, “Lord, I love You with all my heart,” or other similar words. Rather, it is an inexpressible state of the soul – gentle, peaceful, respectful, humble, loving and very simple – that urges it to love God, to adore Him and to embrace Him with both tenderness and joy. Everyone who is striving for divine union must realize that just because something is agreeable and delightful to the will does not mean that it will bring one closer to God. Sometimes it is helpful to disengage the sentiments of the will from the world, in order that it can focus entirely on God. For if the will is able in some manner to comprehend Him, it can be only by love. And that love, which has its end in God, will be hindered by the things of this world.

This is similar to what I spoke of in yesterday’s blog. If you want to feel God in your life, and you want to experience a taste of heaven in this life, you need to remove everything that keeps you from God. If what you watch, say and read is shameful to God, you will not feel His presence. You will be like Adam and Eve in the garden, hiding themselves from God because of their sin. Let’s just give it up and let God in. Brother Lawrence did, and his book is filled with the joy of a peaceful man.

If you need a good book to carry with you for life, pick up “The Practice of the Presence of God.” I have owned it for many, many years and never tire of reading the wisdom on each page. As one of my favorite hymns states, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of the earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace!”

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Devotion for today: Lead a life worthy of your calling

Ephesians 2:10: For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Matthew 6:25-27: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

The other day I was trying to figure out how Noah could honestly have gotten one of every single kind of animal into his ark. How did he get all the food in there? How did his family fit? I moved onto wondering why David, who loved God so much that he was able to compose beautiful psalms, could actually have Uriah the Hittite killed so he could marry his wife Bathsheba. Why didn't he just stop and read some of his own psalms?

My point in bringing this up is simple. I waste a lot of brain space on inconsequential matters. What difference will it make to my salvation if I ever figure out either of my two musings? None; yet this is indicative of the way many of us use our precious time on earth. We are only here for a brief time; we are pilgrims, sojourners, finding our way back to heaven, seeking the face of God in our lives, and yet we waste away hours on silly matters. Jesus tells us there is no point in this. We have a Father in heaven. He made us, He loves us, and He will take care of us. Our job is to stop worrying about earthly things and start living a life of faith, trust and love.

How much time do we spend each day in the 4 types of prayer: praise, thanksgiving, supplication and contrition? How much time do we spend each day engaged in devotional reading? What about studying the lives of the saints? How about checking our fantasy baseball teams or playing on-line games with strangers? What about reading the latest book on the New York Times best seller list?

Are we to cut out worldly entertainment and concentrate solely on getting to heaven? Well, yes and no. We should be sure that our worldly entertainment helps us to get to heaven at best, and doesn’t keep us from heaven at worst. We need to take the time to do an inventory of our typical day, and see if our entertainment hours are not near occasions of sin, and are truly worthy of our time. Is our relaxation the reward for a day spent in hard work and service to the Lord? Does it follow our prayer time or our visit to the chapel or our inspirational reading? We can certainly use our free time to pursue our interests, but we must limit and choose wisely. If we are spending many hours killing robots on a screen and only 10 minutes in prayer, we are seriously off balance. If we are obsessed with talk radio and TV and not even mildly interested in Catholic programming, we are wasting our time. If we spend a lot of money eating out and do not regularly donate time and money to a food bank, we are neglectful. It hurts to admit it, but all of us have a weak area where we put ourselves first and God last. We are quick to point out the good we do and yet seldom stop to examine if we should be doing more. If we take the time to ask God if we are leading the life He needs us to lead, He will let us know. Sometimes our worrying is just a result of wasting time on unnecessary matters and not enough time on what counts. Ask God for help, and He will help you meet all your needs.

We are here but for a short time, and in eternity forever. When we die, all we own will be given away. All the worry we spent on food and shelter will be over. If we are good stewards of our money, living a simple life filled with time for God and His people, we will be satisfied. None of us can stop death, but we need not fear it. If we own the world, and the world doesn’t own us, we will always have the faith, hope and love to make the world a better place. We will find the time to simply relax, love God and man, and contemplate the beauty of God’s creation.

Heaven awaits us all. Let us get a peek of it here on earth by thinking about God and not about the amount of space required to house a zillion species of birds and animal in an ark. As for David, well, he turned out OK in the end! He repented; God forgave him, and from his family line came the Messiah. I could have just read the rest of the story. We only have so much time and brain space. Let us use it for the greater glory of God!!