Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Secret to L.I.F.E.

Life is an adventure, a mystery and a challenge—to be lived one-day-at-a-time. Because we know that life leads to death, and therefore eternity, we have the right reason now to do what we can to live aright. Living intentionally for eternity is about planning for the inevitable and to live life accordingly.
The secret to living intentionally for eternity (L.I.F.E.) is accountability—principally to God, for our attitudes and our actions—yes, all of them.
Simple illustrations for the accountable life involve the eyes, to guard what we take a second look at; the tongue, by what we say and how we say things; and our ears, by what we choose to listen to. Underpinning accountability is our heart.
A Great Duty Of Life
One of our greatest duties in life is holding ourselves to safe account. Much of life, otherwise, holds us to account: our parents and teachers when we were young, our bosses in the workplace, and the law, etc.
But if we can hold ourselves to a dutiable self-account we may even render other authorities and mechanisms of accountability, in some cases, redundant.
Where we can hold ourselves to good account we enjoy more control over our lives.
Of course, the highest good in keeping ourselves to close account is we honour God.
When we value accountability over the self, we show ourselves as responsible, and we demonstrate that truth—despite our sinful natures—is a value we hold.
We worship the Lord, solely, in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Being accountable is the best way to worship the Lord by honouring the truth.
When we struggle with accountability we are actually disobeying God.
Being Accountable Is A Quiet Activity
The best feature of the accountable is their quite certitude toward the task. For Jesus said:
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
~Matthew 6:1 (NRSV)
Jesus referred to this principle of keeping quiet regarding good deeds in the context of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. What sense is there in claiming credit for simply doing that which we should be doing anyway?
Two things come into view: the accountable obey God by their acts of accountability and, perhaps even more importantly, by revealing a heart centred on God—they retain the secret. In their accountability they see nothing as personally creditable.
Of course, this shows us all up. I, for one, too often claim credit for the things I should do anyway; in doing so I, myself, steal away the blessings that the Father is storing for me in heaven. We all do it. The key is to stop doing it, and to pick ourselves up in the moment of being motivated to claim credit.
The obedient-accountable person does what they need to do and they claim no credit.
To live intentionally for eternity requires us to embrace self-accountability. When we welcome the truth, and prove obedient in quiet ways, heaven truly is in our heart.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Honouring God’s Will By Prayer

“Do not try to bind the purposes of the Lord our God; for God is not like a human being, to be threatened, or like a mere mortal, to be won over by pleading. Therefore, while we wait for his deliverance, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our voice, if it pleases him.”
~Judith 8:16-17 (NRSV)
Apparently the story of Judith (set in the Sixth Century bce) was very popular and influential in Jesus’ time. This apocryphal book speaks of the courageous leadership of a woman prepared to fast and pray and wait on God’s perfect will. What is stated above is a timely reminder to honour God in prayer, by acknowledging, God’s hand will not be coerced.
Perhaps the most important part of the above two verses are the final four words—“if it pleases him.”
Being Totally Open To The Way Life Works Out
Honouring God in our prayers of pleading must certainly be about giving our concerns to him, without condition, and being totally open, then, to the way life works out.
Can we pray to God for a partner, believing that God can give us a partner, and then accept it if no partner comes?
Can we pray to God for a job, believing that God can give us the opportunity for a good career, and accept it if the great career doesn’t materialise?
We can add permeations of our own personal concerns in the method of the questions above. This is where faith becomes hardest: to allow God (as if we could control things anyway?) the latitude to bless us however he likes. Our spiritual mandate is to truly let go and be completely open to whatever eventuality God deems fit.
God, I am reasonably sure, could not ask anything harder of us than that. But this is what we are to aspire to: to honour God in our pleas by holding no condition over God, either within our prayers or within our lives.
A Hard-Reality Indicator For Spiritual Maturity
None of us likes this reality, deep within, I am sure. We believe, by faith, that God will hear our voice as we raise our pleas before him. But God may not hear our prayers in the affirmative. We may think that God has something better for us, if he won’t answer this particular prayer. That can help our faith.
But, God will bring to us those things that he has already planned for us.
In some situations of life we may say, “How could this possibly be part of God’s plan for me?” But God’s plan is not just the circumstances of life; it is also about the capacity and scope we have in responding to those circumstances. God’s plan is far more dynamic than we often realise. We don’t see the multiplicity of angles regarding how life will work out.
The hard-reality indicator of our spiritual maturity is the level of our acceptance of all that God gives and doesn’t give us.
The plea that honours God is given to God without expectation for an affirmative answer, but in faith that he will hear. When we pray by faith we accept God will act as it pleases him. God delivers us in accordance, always, with his perfect love.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Living Intentionally for Eternity

Living intentionally for eternity is about viewing everything, certainly every life experience, from the context of eternity—as in, how each and every event will be reviewed—in what light—when we grace the courts of heaven? More and more, consequentially, the way we live life is influenced by this perspective.
It is about living for truth, upholding justice, and investing in love.
It is seeing life from a post-physical-death viewpoint; doing what we do now with the very end in mind.
Importantly, it is not viewing life fearfully for judgment.
This is one of the barriers we need to overcome; worry for judgment. We know we do bad things. How will God view them? At this point we must be reminded, if we are saved, that we have already been forgiven. Grace covers all our sin; past, present, and future. Therefore, we do not tread with fear when approaching heaven. We should not fear judgment. But in the same way we should live for truth.
As we operate from this perspective we are employing wisdom, for we take counsel from God with the aim of living for him. The more we can shift our motives in viewing life from this perspective the less psychological indifference we will suffer.
Living intentionally for eternity has impact on how we handle:
Truth and Lies – we have additional reasons, and maybe the ultimate reason, to side with truth. Truth and lies play themselves out in our relationships. There is no benefit in siding with non-truth. And if there is no benefit in siding with non-truth in this life, we can taste even a little of the gravity of siding with non-truth for eternity. Whilst we shouldn’t fear judgment, we will face only truth in eternity—the inflow of God’s perfect justice.
Justice and Injustice – flowing on from truth, because truth informs equity and fairness, justice is another chief test. We learn a lot about God’s thoughts on justice and injustice through reading Proverbs. God loves justice and hates injustice, and we are to be the same, advocating social justice issues and fighting the good fight of faith upon areas of injustice.
Love and Fear – we, as normal human beings, experience both in copious quantities. Rare it is that people would experience no love, but sadly it still happens all too often. A human being not loved is a horrible travesty in a world God created. Yet we are vessels for love, and we contain the material and the motive to love. Still again, we are bitten by fear and our own sense for rejection. At many levels fear spurns love; it spoils our experience of life. Yet some fear is good—it warns us of danger. If we are heading to eternity, and there’s nothing more certain, our fear should convert into an awed respect for God and life.
Life is a one-day-at-a-time adventure, mystery and challenge. We can be sure that life leads to death and, therefore, eternity. Living intentionally for eternity is about planning for that eventuality and living life accordingly.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, June 25, 2012

When Brokenness is the Beginning

“... let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
~James 1:4 (NRSV)
The greatest paradox in the world is that only from comprehensive brokenness is there a full and fresh beginning. And the beauty of life is that it provides us ample opportunity, and each day may be seen as one, where our brokenness can be transformed into something magnificently beautiful. But not without simple surrender.
When we are broken we become strangely honest. When we are honest we are reachable. When we are reachable God speaks into our lives, we listen, we learn, and we apply. The darkest end created the brightest beginning.
The Basic Beauty Of Weakness
Many programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery, have majored on the Gospel fact that in weakness there is matchless strength.
Perhaps one of the reasons weakness can be turned to strength is the fellowship-safety in numbers and sponsorship support provident of these programs.
But we must continue to herald the majesty of weakness. That, in our depression and our anxiousness and within our general lethargy, we find hope when we least expect it; by surrendering all our feelings in honesty, and actively, to God.
When we have nothing more to lose we have so much more to gain.
Even after a day or two onward of the fresh beginning we feel more hopeful and light flourishes within our souls. Our acknowledged weakness has facilitated strength.
God’s Work In Progress
When we let endurance have its full effect, and even as we endure in our weakness before the strength comes, we forge the character capacity that will power us through when the strength comes. And, as we wait, see, it comes!
In the beginning is all the potential in the world. God proves this in the creation account. Before day one, when there was no evidence for created order, nothing of this potential was visible. As for us, our potential for strength may lay dormant. But we can know that the passage to strength is through the gaudy gates of weakness.
When we let endurance have its full effect, we understand, afresh, that God has, in us, a work in progress.
God reminds us when we endure our hardships, and in coming home to acknowledge our brokenness, that the present challenges are facilitating our faith. And by enduring our hardships only so long in our own strength do we surrender in our weakness to God. When we do this we remind ourselves that we are, still, a work in progress.
The purpose of life is preparation for eternity. We will be just right, mature and complete, when we reach there.
Brokenness can be a beautiful thing to look back on. It was the start of something truly miraculous—where God became our solidarity of strength in our rock bottom weakness. Our maturity is facilitated never better than by accepting our ongoing brokenness.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

God’s Institutes of Praise, Prayer and Prophecy

“What, then, is the Church in the world? It is God’s institute of praise, God’s institute of prayer, and God’s institute of prophecy.”
~G. Campbell Morgan (1863–1945)
From the sermon entitled “The Holy Spirit through Christ, in the Church, for the World” three institutes of difference are set forth.
This is the positive impact and purpose of the Church in the world. And in a world that has, certainly of recent times, found much to criticise in God’s holiest vessel, these three institutes are ever important. Then again, the Church has always been an easy target; which is plain verification of the gospel truth relating to the Persecuted Church.
But I digress. What is the Church’s purpose in the world? It is represented in these three:
1. The Institute of Praise
That which separates us from the world is the mode of praise in a world more apt to complain. It is unbecoming for the Christian to complain as the world complains. Their complaint, in the form of lament, becomes as a prayer to God.
Instead of virulent complaining, and of lamenting like the world does, we are to find room for praise in all circumstances; not for the circumstances, themselves, but for the fact of God. Merely the fact of God is worthy of the respect of praise.
The first difference the Church makes in the world is that it praises God.
2. The Institute of Prayer
Upon many mysterious bindings the world is given to despair where we, the Church, are called to pray. This is a simple yet profound difference.
Prayer is the uncommon answer to all our ills. Where we are burdened, worried, betwixt or confounded we meet our lack by casting our troubles into the furnace of the Lord. There, in the moment of release, we are healed. The Church is an image to the world of faith and healing through prayer.
Prayer also serves the practical end of providing hope to the world in times of catastrophe. How quickly the world turns to the Church when tragedy strikes! And, typically well, the Church responds.
The second difference the Church makes in the world is that it prays.
3. The Institute of Prophecy
As the prophets of antiquity so faithfully did, in the Old Testament tradition, the Church has a unique function to advise the State. And in maintaining a separateness from the State, this holiest vessel of God’s, by the Holy Spirit, sits serenely upon the knife’s edge. The Church helps to balance morality, even though issues of State are not its domain. The Church must influence the world, but not, as a rule, politically; though there are times when the Church must intercede.
Having no formal role can be delicate, because only the Church can reveal to the world the will of God.
The third difference the Church makes in the world is that it reveals the will of God.
Praise, prayer, and prophecy are three activities bearing the revelation of God in the world.
By praising we have a way past complaint, by praying we have a way superior to worry, and by prophesying we have a way of speaking God’s revealed truth to the world.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

It Is Finished!

Jesus said: “It is finished.”
~John 19:30 (NRSV)
When things come to an end they come to an end. What Jesus finished is finished for good. No stain or stench remains over the saved. Their Saviour has done it.
What we finish can, just as well, be finished if we say so.
We can just as easily start afresh, any time, anywhere. And though we carry about in our mortal bodies the representation of our person, a person entrenched in a personality not easily changed, we do still choose.
All good things come to an end—like all lives. It is also our hope that bad things do, too.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Rest for Weary and Burdened Souls

Sometimes we can be in such a hurry to get to a peaceful end, when we finally arrive there we are too worn out to enjoy it. Then we get frustrated, even angry, that we cannot enjoy the time of peace created—a vacation or respite from the strains of life. Sometimes we let the chaos endure because we have no energy left to stop its vicious momentum. Sometimes we just don’t have the energy left to battle with the fierce gusts that batter against us, weathering our resilience. Sometimes it seems easier to concede.
I have often come back to this pattern of living, cursing the sense of sickening déjà vu that reminds me how far I may have strayed from God’s designated rest. Having come to a point in life where family and work and volunteer obligations all collide, and sometimes it seems never-ending, I have run dangerously short on resources for sustaining it all. A deadening fatigue ensues as deeper into the cesspool I seem to go.
But, of course, I, in my own strength, have forgotten how to draw on the light and easy yoke of the Lord Jesus:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
~Matthew 11:28 (NRSV)
Finding Rest En Route
Life is stressful. Anyone pretending it isn’t is deluded. Nowhere in life do we get to escape into a wonderland of peace with any sense of finality. We need a way of operating that helps us enjoy the rest en route, each day.
Being conscious of our encroaching fatigue is the critical thing. All we need do, then, is act on the suggestion of God to find even a moment’s space; the more habitual our acceptance of rest, the better.
The build-up of frustration, and our propensity for anger, should be vital clues.
At recognition of these notes of psychological dissonance God will invite us to use our logical mind to make an important decision. Brought to the precipice God is pushing us to choose for rest or choose to continue the madness in our own strength.
Finding rest en route is as simple as choosing to obey God in our weakness; to draw upon divine strength is the simple but courageous decision to simplify, focus and overcome. Jesus has taught us the way.
Sometimes we can be in such a hurry to get to a peaceful end, when we finally arrive there we are too worn out to enjoy it. It’s better to find rest every day along the way; rest for the weary and burdened—Christ’s strength for our weakness.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, June 22, 2012

God’s Vessel for Truth

“... those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
~John 3:21 (NRSV)
Nurturing a faith in God is simply making ourselves available to truth—such that we may seek, hear, see, taste, touch, and smell truth; that we wouldn’t run or hide from it; that it would find, in us, a living space, a vessel, with which to reside.
As Christians we are vessels for truth.
And when we are vessels for truth we come to the light, and it is clear to others for whom our deeds have been done.
We are simply to present ourselves as available, to God, for God, and for the glory of God.
The Importance Of Surrender
Being truly available means being surrendered to the point that any truth is able to shake us; to stir us toward its bolder claim. In this way truth is irrepressible. It commands our allegiance. It awakens us from any slumber.
But much of the time in this life, we are compelled by our battling flesh and the trappings of the world, and we choose to remove our availability to be influenced so strictly by the truth. We may bear disobedience as a habit, certainly in habitual ways.
Instead we are exhorted to a process involving two things.
First, we must search for, look for, and listen for, truth. We allow the Holy Spirit to intrigue our senses so we may pick up the gentle wisps of truth as they blow wistfully through the meadows of our consciences.
Second, we can develop the brash decisiveness to act on what we find, see, and hear. This is nothing ill-considered. It is the preparedness to act in accord with the revealed truth. And God is revealing truths to us all time.
It is up to us as to whether we are able to discern it and whether we are truly available to God in putting it into place. We are to make a place for truth in our lives—we are called to give it first place, right there with God.
Being a vessel for truth is contingent on surrender. We are the body, the bones and the muscles, the mind, heart and soul, and we are usable if we are ready to commit. God wants to use us, just as God wants to bless us in his use of us.
One of the most important functions of being a Christian is being a vessel for truth. We are to make ourselves available to truth—to all truth. And truth is to find, within us, a place to reside. We are vessels of God.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Graphic Credit: Loot du Joor.

What Do I Trust?

What am I entrusting to my mouth, my stomach, my lungs, my system? Why do I trust these things—is it taste, a sensation, or are they healthy? I can choose. These things I put into my body don’t force my hand. But with my mind, and my mind alone, one moment at a time, I control my hand.
What am I entrusting to my ears? There are physical and spiritual hazards that will threaten to dull and deafen my hearing. Do I subject myself to loud noises, unprotected? Am I preserving my sense of hearing? And, what am I hearing? What, and more appropriately who, is putting in a Royal command performance; influencing what I know and believe? Am I awake and attuned to the many voices in the world that seek to ravage, overwhelm or underwhelm my senses for passion and curiosity. Is the hearing of my conscience healthy? What am I telling myself?
What am I entrusting to my eyes? The eyes are the window to the soul in more ways than one. And when we let the darkness in through the window of our psyches, our souls’ light is dimmed. What do I allow myself the pleasure of? Am I captivated by sexualised images? Do I linger there? And what is running through my mind—what conversation takes place there—what feelings?
What am I entrusting to my mind? Do I understand that what goes through my mind impacts my thinking? How marvellous that God has made us in ways to absorb what we expose ourselves to. But when these things can damage us we are to be cautioned. What am I reading and listening to? Are these things healthy for me? Are they taking me in the right direction?
What am I entrusting to my heart? Am I routinely checking the status of my feelings, honestly? Or, like the foods I put in my mouth, those which make me unhealthy, am I allowing bad feeling to reside within, without thinking my way through them? Am I keeping my emotional world intact? Am I being honest and truthful? And, I can know that my heart is deep, because hearts are. The less wisely I manage my life, the more impact there will be in my felt world. My heart is susceptible. So, what am I entrusting myself to?
What do I trust in this often scary world?
And why do I assume horrors won’t be hurled?
For what I allow in will certainly decree,
Exactly what I am coming now to be.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Guilt – A Worthless Emotion, Unless...

There is only one foreseeable reason guilt can be a good thing—it causes us to repent. For one moment it becomes the ally of God, compelling us to turn back from the path leading to ruin and back onto a path destined for God.
But other than that one reason, guilt has no part in the life of the servant of God.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t have a part, for many of us struggle with guilt for one reason or many. Guilt for past transgressions, or for future lamentations, and guilt for reasons we do not know; all these come abounding in the name of the wrong motive.
Whenever we are motivated by guilt, a worthless emotion compels us forward.
Whenever we are ambushed by guilt, a troublesome thinking pattern emerges.
And whenever we languish in guilt, it provides the motivation to act. And any such action will not, ultimately, go well for us or for those related. Guilt is not love, no matter how we dress it up.
Show us a better way, Lord, we pray
Because we are so prone to darkness that is worlds beneath our consciousness, we are given to guilt much more readily than we hope or can help. Some have more problems with guilt than others. Some have more reason. But overall, we all struggle.
If we pray to God, asking for God to heal us of our feelings for guilt, we can, somehow, hope that God might replace these feelings of guilt with love that acts appropriately.
What must come with our prayers, however, is the courage to do what we can. Doing what we can will involve repenting. Are we to feel guilty for feeling guilty? No, not really. But it is still a sin to allow ourselves to fall into guilt’s trap.
Perhaps we have been lulled there. Now, no longer. We are shown a better way. Repent and be done with the guilt, once and for all, and when it comes back, we repent again.
We ask God for the better way. In faith we know there is always a better way than guilt. That better way is love. Guilt is merely a fabrication, a counterfeit, of love.
Guilt has no part in our flourishing lives. It can only hold us back. Best we deal with it—turning it over to God—allowing the grace of God to relieve us of it. Then we can love, freely and abundantly.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Everyday Walking, Talking Prayer

“Prayer is the application of the heart to God and the internal exercise of love.”
~Madame Guyon (1648–1717)
Many people have ill-conceived notions on how to pray, and when, and so forth. As the Presence of God is entirely present, so too is the opportunity to pray. Prayer is simple and is best left simple. And prayer is not just talking, it’s listening too.
But still there is a deep mystery surrounding prayer.
People unconsciously avoid it, ever wanting to master it, but may be too wary and too afraid of failing. But prayer is so easy, requiring nothing of us but our strict yet malleable surrender, we miss its simplicity. And we judge ourselves, also unconsciously, as being ill-devoted.
One Easy Illustration Of Praying In Everyday Life
I find God speaks to me, which is just as much a mode of prayer than me speaking to him, most when I am mobile.
When I walk God talks to me and I often talk back. When I ride the train God speaks to me and I write down those ideas. Often when I ride my bike God drops a word into my heart or between my ears. (God doesn’t speak to me audibly.)
This form of prayer, of course, is revelation.
Now revelation is one of those things that seems easy, but is, in fact, hard. It needs to be nurtured. God will not force his way into our lives. We must seek him. We must desire him. We must live for him.
When God alone commands our attentions his revelation becomes natural discourse.
So, for me, mobility is the key to hearing God’s voice as it resounds via the manifestations within my life, and within the lives of others that I observe.
Nurturing The Experience Of God’s Revelation
Learning to hear God in our day-to-day, walking and talking lives is about giving our hearts to God, as implied above, as well as learning to receive God’s love and truth. That is, resting in the glorious knowledge that we, alone and collectively, are beloved.
Holding both of these in tension—giving our hearts to God and receiving God’s love and truth—is a sure and certain way of praying in an everyday way.
Revelation is the key to prayer given that prayer is a conversation, and no conversations take place with only one entity talking. We must be able to hear God; this is the start of a good prayer life.
Prayer is conversation with God. More important than talking is listening. Receiving God’s revelation is receiving his love and truth. This keeps us on the straight path. Our conversing with God should never cease.
Giving our hearts to God in prayer,
Is just as much receiving his care.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.