Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting Direction

Faith is what we believe.  But it is also what we do.  If we really believe in God, we will seek to follow God’s will.
That’s not to say that we are faithless when we stray from God’s will.  We will struggle with sins and doubts as we grow in faith.  And we will be growing as long as we live.
What I’m getting at is that being a disciple means following God’s direction for our life
Lots of people are principled.  They follow a code of ethics or adhere to a philosophy of life.
Christian discipleship is different.  We don’t follow a code.  We follow a person.  We follow Jesus Christ, and we believe that he gives us direction for our life. Not just general principles to guide us, but specific guidance and even commands for the ordinary conduct of our daily lives.

And what an advantage this is! 
You see, you follow a code or a set of principles because it’s the right thing or it gives you the highest probability of success.  We follow Jesus because he’s in this life with us and for us, he knows us personally and knows the path for us to take to arrive that the infinite good that he wants for us.
So let’s get clear about how involved God gets in the details and specifics of our daily lives and how we can know what it is that God wants us to do.

As for God’s involvement level, it’s total.  He wants to be a part of every moment of every day of every month of every year of our lives.
Remember, Jesus told us, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matt. 10:29-31)
God doesn’t sit back passively and take note of all the details.  He’s not just watching and keeping score, waiting for us to stumble so that he can condemn us.
He walks slightly ahead of us in life, so that he can give us a heads up about when to turn and when to stop and when to go straight.
He’s not interested in annihilating our power of choice.  He’s dedicated to guiding our choices.
God is interested in our choice of spouse, how we parent, the quality of our work, which jobs we take and which ones we decline, where we live, and even whether we floss our teeth regularly.
God is not a control freak.  He is our wise Creator and Lord and Judge and Redeemer.
God’s involvement in our lives is just practice for eternity.  After all, God made us in his image. He made us for eternity.  Eternity with him up close and completely personal.
God direct our actions every day because we can only be all that we can be when we’re in step with him.
So let’s look at what it means to get direction God.
A lot of people seem to expect God to speak to them like he did to Moses.  God appeared to Moses in a burning bush whose flames did not consume the bush.
God made his presence unmistakably clear so that Moses will know without a doubt that God is speaking.
He gives Moses very orders: Go to Egypt.  God has heard his people’s cry and he is in this thing with them.  Moses is God’s representative in the largest rescue mission the world has ever seen.
If you read the rest of Exodus and Numbers, you’ll see that the pattern continues.  God repeatedly tells Moses exactly what to do: hold up your staff at the Red Sea, strike that rock for water, follow these pillars of cloud and fire
Step by step he tells Moses how to get the Israelites to the Promised Land.
Lots of Christians (and lots of spiritual but not especially religious people) pray to God to give them a sign or to tell them what to do.  Generally, they do this for the really big stuff. 
But the point is this.  They are looking for some version of the Burning Bush.  Even in the very reasonable Episcopal Church we talk about listening for the guidance of the Spirit.
Sometimes God gives us burning bushes.  He actually tells us what he wants us to do.
But this is very rare.  And for good reason.  The voices we hear in our hearts are very hard to sort out.  Are they my fleeting desire? A demonic suggestion? A divine inspiration? Or just mental indigestion?
Don’t get me wrong.  I believe that the Holy Spirit reveals all truth and actively moves in our lives.  I have even heard in that odd, indescribably way, the voice of God in my heart.
But like the burning bush, those were standout experiences.  Nothing to be sought every day.
And if we do dwell on those inner voices we are all too likely to kid ourselves into thinking God is telling us to do something when in fact it’s just what we want to do.
God can still speak to us in mystical ways, but mostly he speaks to us through Holy Scripture.
And there are several ways that He guides us through the Bible.
The Bible gives us clear moral laws.  The Ten Commandments is a perfect example.
Keep the Sabbath holy.  Honor your mother and father.  Don’t murder and don’t steal.
These laws and those like them tell us explicitly what to do and what to avoid doing.
These are laws given to us by God, so by obeying them we stay in step with God.  But it’s a distant kind of relationship and doesn’t drill down very deep into our daily lives.
I mean really, even though we might get frustrated and angry with loved ones, we wouldn’t really dream of killing them.  It’s like he gave us broad marching order from a distance and we just follow it because he will look in on us from time to time.
He wants to get closer.  And he does.
Listen to what Jesus says to his disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. (Matt. 16:24-25)
This is not just a list of what to do and what not to do.  It’s a teaching about how to live every moment of our lives.  
Jesus is talking about our attitude, our goals, and our behavior in every kind of situation that might arise
He’s telling us how to deal with moral dilemmas but also with ordinary stuff in life: our marriage, raising our kids, what jobs to take and which ones to quit
We hear what he says as our teacher and say, “Can you tell us exactly what that means? How do I do that?
We need wisdom to apply his teaching.  And that is just what Jesus intends to teach us: wisdom.
And this is how teaches us how to be wise:
Jesus urges us to commit to a regular pattern of studying the Bible.  Faithful Bible study gives us quantity time with Jesus.
There is no quality time with Jesus without quantity.  That’s because imparting wisdom takes extended time.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is teaching us how to think, perceive, respond, will and even feel like he does.  This is what St. Paul means when he talks about taking on the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16)
Though the analogy is not perfect, I’m reminded of my Dissertation Director Dr. Rudolf Makkreel.  Rudi scrutinized every line of every chapter of my dissertation.   He then sat with me and went over every unclear passage, every weak argument, and every suspect interpretation, and every questionable translation.  
By spending time with me and by wrestling with me intellectually, Rudi Makkreel taught me to read carefully, to think critically, to write precisely, and to render interpretations on solid evidence.  In other words, Rudi didn’t just teach me what to think.  He taught me how to think like a philosopher and an intellectual historian.
Jesus teaches us the truth about God’s will for us, but he also imparts wisdom to us.  By spending time with us, his way of thinking, feeling, willing, imagining and perceiving sort of rubs off on us.  
Wisdom doesn’t save us.  Jesus does not teach us wisdom so we can get by without him.
In fact, the beginning and the end of wisdom is the understanding that we are utterly dependent upon the mercy of God and the merciful God is in it with us, through thick and think.
Jesus’ clearest, most fundamental direction to each is that he has come to give us the mercy we need and desire.  He has come to deliver us from our bondage to sin and sorrow, suffering and death.
He has come to guide us in marriage and parenting, in work and play, in good times and hard times.
Moses knew that God was speaking because of the burning bush.  We know that the only Son God is speaking because he speaks from the Cross.
He speaks eternal life from the midst of an instrument of death.  And when we hear his words with the wisdom he has taught us, we can face any challenge, any obstacle, any enemy with the bold confidence that in Jesus Christ we will be more than conquerors.
(The image above is Abraham Rattner's "Moses and the Burning Bush" found at this link.)

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