Thursday, November 12, 2015

Is it "mysticism" or just deeply living the Christian life?

What I'm trying to say about a "true" mysticism is that I've found that compared to other Christian writings, some of those called mystical convey a deep love of God and a high view of God, to an extent I don't find anywhere else, and based on scripture too.  And it's contagious:   it has the power to lead the reader closer to the same experiences.  You get some of this in other writings, even theological writings, but the mystics I have in mind spend their time living in this deep love and high view of God to an extent others generally don't, and seek to live daily even more deeply and magnify God in His majesty more and more too.

There is often a progressive pattern to their writings, as if every word of scripture can be understood by stages of revelation of its truth, each stage deeper and higher than the previous, as if it penetrates by degrees deeper into the soul. Deeper sense of humility, stronger hatred of sin, stronger power over sin, greater sense of God's love, God's mercy to sinners, God's majesty, God's sovereignty, greater trust in God, sense of dependence on Him in all things.

It's all in the Bible, but what happens all too often is that we get in the habit of reading even the most sublime descriptions of God in a way that turns them into mere empty words and ends up trivializing the very revelations that should magnify Him. This could be the result of spending way too much time in the company of unbelievers. It's like what has been done to words like "awesome" that is so often made to apply to things that are anything but awe-inspiring. In our day it seems we have to make a special effort to appreciate the reality that is there in the words if only we could apprehend it. I think some acquaintance with the God-melted mystics could raise our understanding of scripture.  The same result might be had just by reading the Bible with a view to deepening our understanding, praying for that understanding as we read. The important thing is to understand that we need a higher view of God than we have and to determine to do whatever it takes to develop it.

Googling "a high view of God" turns up this quote from A.W. Tozer at more than one website. It's from his book The Knowledge of the Holy.
The Loss of a High View of God

"The church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic. This low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking.

With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit. The words, 'Be still, and know that I am God,' mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshiper in this middle period of the twentieth century.

This loss of the concept of majesty has come just when the forces of religion are making dramatic gains and the churches are more prosperous than at any time within the past several hundred years. But the alarming thing is that our gains are mostly external and our losses wholly internal; and since it is the quality of our religion that is affected by internal conditions, it may be that our supposed gains are but losses spread over a wider field."

-A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
A pretty sad assessment but only too true for most of us.
Rev. 2:4-5: Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works ...
A hope of returning to my first love is what has led me back to the mystics. I didn't know if there was anything that could rekindle any of that first love, but thanks to God some of it has come back from reading a little of Gerhard Tersteegen, and I'll get to him eventually here. The Bible still conveys its truths, but I want to FEEL those truths as they are meant to be felt, as I once felt them.

Here's a sampling of Gerhard Tersteegen, 18th Century Protestant mystic, yes Protestant:
True godliness (eusebeia) is that inward state or disposition, which is wrought by the Holy Spirit, and the occupation of the soul, which springs from it, by which she again renders that homage and worship to the triune God, which is due to him, and which is in some measure worthy of him. It consists in filial fear and veneration, in a heartfelt confidence and faith, and in a fervent attachment and love to God, which three things are like so many essential parts of the spiritual temple, in which God is worshipped. For since he is a Spirit, it necessarily follows, that he must be worshipped not in a mere external, ceremonial,and hypocritical manner, but inwardly, heartlily, in spirit and in truth, if it is to be done in a manner worthy of him, as our divine Teacher himself demonstrates. (John iv. 24.)

I say the Holy Spirit produces this state or disposition of the soul, whilst inwardly giving her to know, (to one soul more, and as though at once, and with great power, and to another more imperceptibly and gradually,) in a (supernatural, vital, and powerful manner), the truth, glory, land loveliness of the omnipresent being of God.

This immediately produces in the soul an unspeakably profound veneration, admiration, filial reverence, and inward humiliation of all that is within her, in the presence of the exalted Majesty of God. This glorious being appears to her to be alone great and good, and she herself, together with every other creature, utterly mean, little, and despicable.
What is a "mystic" anyway? Seems to me it's often a Christian who seeks God more earnestly than most of the rest of us, seeks really to live for Him and for nothing else. Those who seek with such intensity and diligence to understand and know God through His word may come to have an actual experience of some of the very qualities of God and dispositions of our own souls that we are all exhorted to learn anyway. If God chooses to reveal them to some in a greater depth than to others, that seems to make that person a "mystic" though there's nothing different in the content than what a good preacher exhorts us all to practice.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Is there a true Christian mysticism?

In contrast with the Emerging Church's "contemplative prayer," the mysticism I want to defend is so difficult to practice rightly it's hard to see that it could ever become a large movement in the churches. In fact it wouldn't be wrong in many cases to think of it as the entire life of a Christian's growth in sanctification condensed into intense periods of prayer and meditation on the Bible and other appropriate sources of inspiration.

The rightly criticized current practice is nothing at all like the Christian mysticism of John of the Cross or Madame Guyon or Gerhard Tersteegen, whose main practices were self-denial and mortification of sin and of the fallen nature and worldliness. As I mentioned in the previous post, I haven't found one advocate of today's popular version of contemplative prayer saying anything about self-denial or mortification of sin, it's all quite the opposite, seeking an experience of your "true Self" which is far from a Christian objective. And as the critics warn, that sort of pursuit will not lead you to God, but may very well lead you to demonic counterfeits and even possession. In fact it should be kept in mind that even when we are sincerely seeking God, the attempt to practice a deeper sort of prayer that focuses on having an experience of God is also open to such counterfeits, just because we are prone to deceive ourselves about whether we are truly denying ourselves and mortifying our sins, or really seeking God for that matter.

One of the Emerging Church teachers I didn't mention in the previous post is Richard Rohr who has many lectures at You Tube, a Catholic as so many of these teachers are, a Franciscan priest, who apparently specializes in "contemplative prayer." According to Rohr, "contemplation" is "non-dualistic thinking" which he says we desperately need to learn. Dualistic thinking is making distinctions, discriminating between true and false, right and wrong, but what we need is unity, coming together, giving up our distinctions, giving up conflict in order to find true ecumenical accord. I don't know if this is New Age or Postmodernism, or both or neither, but it isn't Christianity.

Besides the technique of meditation I described in the previous post, which is basically Transcendental Meditation done with a more or less Christianized "mantra" of your own choosing, there is another method he says Karl Keating, another Catholic priest, describes, of simply watching your thoughts: letting your thoughts arise, labeling or acknowledging them and sending them away, in a boat or something like that I think he said. This he calls "self-denial" because it's giving up such an entrenched habit that you are attached to. It's very much like some Buddhist technique I read about, if I remember rightly, and the word for it may be "mindfulness." Watching your thoughts and letting them go.

The utter lack of a prescribed content, any content at all but certainly Christian content, in all these video presentations is something to marvel at. Everything is scaffolding or skeletal structure without an edifice, without content. We are taught to get rid of our thoughts, the idea being to leave yourself open to whatever then comes in, supposedly God but it won't be God. Also in this nondualistic system we are exhorted to give up our "differences" without any of those differences being discussed or in some cases even mentioned. Doctrinal differences between Catholic and Protestant are a major theme because these are the groups coming together in the Emerging Church. But the doctrinal differences between Catholicism and Protestantism are a matter of life or death, eternal life or death, no small thing. No matter, all that is to be ignored in the service of ecumenical unity, one big happy family, apparently embracing a big emptiness of nondualistic thinking or in other words nonthinking.

But if there is such a thing as true Christian mystics, their mysticism is full of Christian content, biblical content. That is, they are actively seeking the God of the Bible, not just some generic god or generic experience. If there is an aspect of their seeking that is similar to the emptying of the mind of the new agey practices of the Emerging Church, it's the negating of everything that is not God, the purging of the fallen nature, of sin.

I don't want to recommend the 16th century Catholic mystic John of the Cross beyond saying that his method, if it can be called a method, is clearly Christian, clearly Biblical. He aims to quiet his own fallen nature in order to draw close to God, which quieting he calls a "dark night" because it's a closing off of the natural physical senses so that the spiritual nature can reach out to God. And along with quieting the soul, at the same time he is cultivating a deep love toward God.

Here are a few stanzas of the famous poem of John of the Cross:
The Dark Night of the Soul

On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!– I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised–oh, happy chance!– In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.

In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me, Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.

This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me– A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!
This poem is the basis of John of the Cross's treatise on this method of approach to God, titled The Ascent of Mount Carmel. This is no emptying of the mind, there is no emptiness here at all. As the fallen nature is mortified and the dark night darkens, the soul is filled more and more with the spiritual love and yearnings toward God.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Mysticisms False and True -- or are they all false? The Emerging Church and Contemplative Prayer

Mysticism is a bad word among the majority of Christian churches, and for the most part it should be.  The latest mysticism to capture Christians is "contemplative prayer," which is associated with the Emerging Church movement.  Not knowing much about this movement I've been watching some You Tube discussions of the phenomenon, by both its leaders and its critics.  After some acquaintance with these sources it becomes clear that contemplative prayer is only one of the errors of the movement, that the whole thing is gross apostasy.  Brian McLaren, for instance, maybe the main leader of the movement, quotes the Bible quite freely, but makes its words mean something altogether different from what the traditional Church believes.  Without going into his viewpoint it can be said that he's made the otherworldly religion of Christ into a formula for worldly action of various sorts.  Instead of being taught how to put off the old man and put on the new man we're treated as able to engage with the world on social and political issues apparently just as we are.

I haven't found a video of McLaren discussing contemplative prayer, but there are some Catholic priests who discuss it, and consider themselves to be part of the Emerging Church movement.  I've always associated the idea of contemplative prayer with the Catholic mystics of five or six centuries ago, such as Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross, though I don't have a clear idea of how they would define it.  One thing that was true of them, however, is that they taught a very rigorous practice of dying to self, taking up your cross, mortifying sin and "inordinate desires," the works of the "old man" or fallen nature, as the essential work of a contemplative Christian.  The 'mysticism" was something that happened in response to that work, that is, it was something that God did, that they themselves didn't bring about, various experiences of God. 

That is a very different sort of mysticism, a very different sort of contemplative prayer, than what I've been finding in connection with today's Emerging Church movement.  The rigorous death to sin and self is exactly what is missing from all the Emerging Church presentations.  They use language more like "finding your highest Self" which is the exact opposite of losing yourself for Christ.  I haven't heard one mention of sin or the problems of dealing with sin, it's all how to have an experience, and their "mystical"  practices are definitely their own seeking of an experience, not something given by God that you can't control. 

There is a superficial similarity with the old mystics in one respect, in that they sought to subdue the fallen nature in order to be open to God.  This involves mortifying our love of the world, our love of the creature rather than the Creator, the quelling of our selfish passions,  The subduing the current mystics do is an attempt to silence the mind in order to hear from the spirit world.  If that sounds similar, it's not:  it's a mechanical practice rather than a moral work.  Whereas the old mystics sought to be conformed to the character of Christ, today's Emerging Church mystics just want to empty their minds.

As many of the critics pointed out, this is really eastern religion, Hinduism or Buddhism, rather than Christianity.  Silencing the mind can open a person to the work of demonic spirits, but not to God.  It's a method practiced in shamanism and the seeking of occult powers.

One of the Catholic priests who described the method made it sound exactly like Transcendental Meditation, the method of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who was popularized by the Beatles back in the seventies.  I went to a TM class myself in those days and learned the method, which was promoted as a "scientific" way to manage the stresses of life.  To believe that it's scientific you have to do some mental gymnastics, at least ignore all the religious trappings that go with it, such as the altar with the large picture of Maharishi over it, the offering of fruit and flowers you are asked to bring to lay on the altar alongside everybody else's offerings.  But the method is very simple.  You are given a strange word or sound that one of the leaders whispers in your ear, which is to be your own personal "mantra," to be kept private.  Then you are instructed to spend twenty minutes every day sitting in meditation and focusing your mind on your mantra.  You are told to go about this quietly and calmly, to quiet yourself before introducing the sound into your mind, and if your mind wanders, to quietly and calmly resume focusing on it. 

This is exactly how the priest on You Tube (Keating I believe) described the practice of "contemplative prayer" in today's Emerging Church context.  Only he instructed people to choose their own "sacred word" to meditate on, in the place of the foreign-sounding Hindu mantra.

Let me tell you my own experience of Transcendental Meditation.  I'd only done the twenty-minute sitting for a few days when on the next occasion, soon after I began to focus on my mantra, that strange sound that had been whispered n my ear, I had a very startling experience.  My eyes had been closed and I was concentrating on my mantra when it was as if a curtain parted behind my closed eyelids, or a sliding door slid open with a sudden whoosh, and I was in another place.  Or I was seeing another place.  I was facing a vast landscape with a city barely visible in the far distance.  There was a feeling associated with the vision, something otherworldly, maybe in a sense beautiful, though I was so startled I didn't continue in the experience.  There was nothing frightening about the image or the feeling, it could have been interpreted something like "You are beginning your journey toward the far celestial city" or something like that, but just the fact of being so vividly "transported" (it was that real)  to this other place was frightening in itself.  I jumped up and never practiced TM again. 

That all occurred at least a decade before I became a Christian and I had no categories for understanding it, except to say that it was a "vision" or something definitely "transcendental" or otherworldly.   Why was I frightened?  Others might have welcomed such an experience and pursued it.  All I can think is that God protected me from continuing into something that was surely demonically inspired.  (A similar experience of being protected occurred some years later when a friend who was practicing Zen Buddhism took me to "sit zazen" with her, which means sitting cross-legged facing a wall for something like forty-five minutes, and my legs fell asleep so that I was unable to bow down to the Buddha statue afterward, thus being spared that act of idolatry.  From some things my friend told me about her experiences in Zen meditation they were definitely otherworldly in a similar way to the one I'd had through TM.)

I'm glad I had that experience of what meditating on a mantra can do because it puts reality to the sense that practitioners of "contemplative prayer" are opening themselves up to something dangerous, something supernatural that is not God.  These are Christians, or nominal Christians at least, sheep to the slaughter, far from the disciplines of a follower of Christ.

All that certainly accords with the criticism and warnings about "mysticism" so many church leaders are giving these days.  There are some very thorough presentations at You Tube of what these practices are and how they are dangerous deceptions that Christians should avoid.  Ray Yungen is one of the most thorough, worth listening to.

There is a false mysticism for sure.  Is there also a true mysticism?     

 I'm writing this on the blog intended to explore such experiences, the "higher" Christian teachings including mysticism, because I still think there is a valid mysticism and that the blanket dismissal of all unusual spiritual experiences by so many good Christian teachers risks losing something important.   

But I'll write this much for now, about the false mysticisms, hoping to follow it with some thoughts about true mysticism, or at least questions about it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Being Born From Above / and Waiting Upon the Lord


I just heard the best sermon I've ever heard on the subject of the new birth, by a pastor Grant Van Leuven of Puritan Evangelical Church of America in San Diego.  He's come to this topic in the process of working through a series on the Westminster Catechism, and he covers quite a range of related information including how we inherit the sin of Adam and how Jesus was born sinless.

To be Conveyed Into Heaven You Must be Born from Above

UPDATE 8/26: WAIT ON THE LORD: WAIT, I SAY, ON THE LORD.

I just have to report that I've listened to more of this pastor's sermons and in the sermon "Wait on God" from Exodus, he spoke of his own prayer life briefly but enough to tell me that this is why I'm impressed with his sermons. The truth I know and forget: He spends much time with the Lord, even "wrestling" with the Lord. THAT is the crucial element in the Christian life, especially for a preacher or teacher of the Word. It's something you can feel in your spirit (at least if you have SOME experience of waiting on the Lord yourself, and the more you have the more you can sense it in others) when someone has spent time with the Lord: He has the scent of the Lord about him you could say, there is a resonance between his spirit and your spirit.

It's an amazing experience and yet how few of us there are who live like this or even try to live like this. I certainly don't but it inspires me afresh to seek it. Waiting on the Lord. That's where the power of the Holy Spirit comes from. That's where the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to impart life to others comes from.

I'm ashamed that I rely so much on my own abilities instead of seeking the Lord more. It's not that I don't pray, I do pray, and sometimes I pray a great deal over, for instance, a particular post I might write, but although I think the Lord does lead me from this paltry effort, I have to admit that it is paltry. There's no value to anyone in a paltry prayer life. Yet most preachers do the same and you can feel that too, at least you can if you've had some experience of it yourself and know the difference from someone who does wait upon the Lord.

Yes, let us learn to wait upon the Lord. It's THE crucial thing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

False / fatuous ideas of Love answered by Zac Poonen

We hear a lot about how Christianity isn't "loving" because we oppose gay marriage and abortion and other violations of God's law, as if love means tolerating sin, even murder. How this pernicious notion of love got started is something to think about but right now I'm just going to post today's email I got from Zac Poonen's ministry which explains that true love is sometimes very severe indeed.

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Christian Fellowship Church, Bangalore, India
http://www.cfcindia.com
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God Waits for Man’s Sin to Become Ripe for Judgment

Zac Poonen

The people of Canaan, whom God commanded to be killed, were being punished just like Sodom and Gomorrah was punished and like the world in Noah’s day was punished. The whole earth had become corrupt in Noah’s time with sexual sins (Gen.6:11). The Canaanites too were indulging in degrading sexual sins and Satan worship. And so “the land itself spewed them out”. (Leviticus 18:24, 25). Deuteronomy 9:4 and 18:10-12 give us clear reasons as to why God destroyed the Canaanites. Where there are polluting influences in any nation that defile and corrupt the land, the only thing to do is to punish such a nation by eliminating the people – lest their influence spread and corrupt others too.

A God of love destroys some people just like a kind doctor amputates a man’s foot when the gangrene in his foot is so severe that it threatens to destroy the whole body. If you saw a doctor sawing off somebody’s leg, and did not understand medicine, you would imagine that the doctor hated that man. But actually the opposite would have been true. The doctor was doing it in love. God also acts in love for the world when He cuts off certain people who would otherwise corrupt it. Wiping out the world’s population at the time of the flood was an act of love, so that the human race could be preserved without being totally controlled by demons (Gen.6:2 – where the “sons of God” refer to God’s creation - the angels who fell). The apostle Paul once smote a man with blindness because he was leading another person astray (Acts.13:8-12). I have heard of cases of people who were smitten dead by God because they opposed a revival. So what we read of in Joshua was not the murder of the Canaanites. It was surgery for the world.

Many years earlier, when Abraham was living in Canaan, there were Canaanites there. But God did not destroy the Canaanites then. God waited for over 400 years, because, as He told Abraham, the Canaanites were not “ripe for judgment” at that time (Gen.15:16). We pluck mangoes when they are ripe. God also waits for man’s sin to become ripe for judgment, before He judges. He judged Sodom and Gomorrah when their sin was ripe. So too with the Canaanites.

After Israel had occupied Canaan for 700 years, when they committed the same sins as the Canaanites, God drove them out of the land too. The Assyrians came and captured them. One hundred and twenty-five years later, when Judah, the southern kingdom, rejected the messages of God’s prophets and ripened for judgment, God sent the Babylonians to destroy them too. God is not partial. Whether it be the Canaanites or the Israelites or the people of Judah, His standards are the same. If His people keep on violating His standards and ignoring His prophets, He performs the same surgery on them too. God does the same with us too. If God were to excuse your sin, it would prove that He did not love you. If a father were to allow his children to live with their diseases, it would prove that he did not really love his children.

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For more information write to: wftw@cfcindia.com
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This email may be copied and distributed freely, without any alterations, ensuring that the author's name and the CFC website address are clearly mentioned.
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To read or download previous issues of "WORD FOR THE WEEK" please go to:
http://www.cfcindia.com/wftw
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Leonard Ravenhill, Revival Praying

I love Leonard Ravenhill as much as any of the many great Christian teachers I'm collecting on this blog and want to post some from his book, Revival Praying. I wish I could be as obedient to his advice as he teaches we should be and I know I should be. It's miserable to know what you should do and find yourself failing to do it at every turn. However, what he teaches is so absolutely necessary if there is any hope of the Church becoming what we are meant to be I can only post such exhortations as his and hope they set a fire under me as well as anyone else who happens to read them. And they DO inspire me. My prayer life is much the better for such readings even if I fail most of the time to get anywhere near the vision of what the true Christian ought to be.

He quotes his mentor, Samuel Chadwick (The Path of Prayer) in his Preface:
"Brethren, the crying sin of the Church is her laziness after God."
And goes on to say in his own words:
Prayer demands will power. Prayer recognizes unfinished business with and for God. Prayer is a battle for full-grown men, fully armed and fully awake to the possibilities of grace. I write here by constraint, for my spirit is sore, my heart sick at the slothfulness with which we tarry in prayer. My head hangs low that Communists will give more for their dying cause than we will give for the living Christ. [This book was published in 1962
He spends the first few pages chronicling the sin and corruption of America in those days and the apostasy and weakness of the Church in its response.
The world has lost the power to blush over its vice; the Church has lost her power to weep over it. [p. 22]
And he ends his Preface with:
Hear me! Every church without a prayer meeting condemns us; every Bible daily unopened condemns us; every promise of God unusued condemns us; every lost neighbor condemns us; every lost heathn condemns us; every dry eye among us condemns us; every wasted minute of our time condemns us; every unclaimed oppoertunity for God condemns us.
In 1962 he is seeing the barbarians at the gate, in the form of Khrushchev and the threat of Communism, and the daily dying of millions into a Christless eternity. How much farther the barbarians have come in our own time and the millions go on dying and the Church goes on in the same weakness and irrelevance.
Never was there a need for the trumpeters on Zion's walls to sound a louder blast to sleeping believers than at this moment. [p.27]
If that was true in 1962 so much the truer now.

Where is our faith? Where is our sense of mission to this world? It's not that we have none, it's that we have nothing near what we could and should have.
I have said before that one of these days someone will read the Bible for the first time, believe it, and act on it with a daring, simple faith
Many of us when we first believe have something of that fire of faith, but it is quickly quenched among the multitudes of older believers who regard it as fanaticism. But I do think of Bakht Singh who had such a response to his first encounter with the Bible and maintained his simple powerful faith for the rest of his life, which included such exploits as expecting his ticket to be paid for when he got to the airport or the train station for a trip on business for the Lord, and according to the resports it always was paid for through nothing but faith. The power we should have as believers in the God of the Bible is just about never seen among us, so such incidents stand out as unusual when they should be common.
Faith honors God. God honors faith and goes wherever faith puts Him. Faith, Biblical faith, can do all that God can do. (Because its sole desire is God's glory, it would not ask anything amiss -- 1 John 5:14.) Faith's supreme longing is for the return of the glory that has departed from the sanctuary. Its ambition is not colored by the clay vessel. Faith is wedded to the love which "seeketh not her own." Faith longs for an overthrow of the powers of darkness. Faith yearns that the world might know the message of redeeming love, and aches for enslaved millions to be unfettered from the chains of sin.

...What are we Christians doing? To use a very tattered phrase, are we just "playing church"? With all our revival campaigns, are we getting folk into Biblical regeneration? Is it really a comfort to knw that the recent converts will become just like us? What if they are as lazy and self-excusing in the matter of personal devotion to Jesus and active engagement in soul-winning as the rest of our listed church members? ...Surely we need some injection into the Church of the living God immediately.
Then he gets into the conditions for prayer:
The path to the new individual and collective power [the Church needs] would be as follows: First, renunciation of all known sin; Secondly, sorrowful confession that we have failed so much and have been satisfied so long with the status quo; Thirdly, a seeking of God's face in earnest prayer; And finally, Bible study, in order to uncover the promises of God directed to this desperate age and our needy churches.

In making a request of God, the first thing we have to be sure of is this: Is our relationship right? Once we are convinced by the witness of the Spirit that we are blood-related to the Father and not at variance with others, we can come with boldness to the throne of grace. Soiled hearts that operate soiled hands can not plunder the resources of God, for God's command is "Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord." Assured that we are joint-heirs with Christ of the fabulous riches of God, what manner of persons we ought to be! Is there any excuse at all for our present poverty? When He longs to give full vision, is there any reason why we should still be seeing men as trees walking? With the promise of the mighty Holy Ghost to empower us, is there any self-defense when we stagger under the load and fail to "put to flight the armies of the aliens"? Has God failed? Is God unwilling to bless? No! Ten thousand times no! [p.32]

...Men of faith see -- they see the unseeable. Men of faith know a dimension that is unknown to those who pray only routine prayers.
[to be continued]

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pondering the practicalities of improving the practice of prayer

William Law's advice for daily prayer (as spelled out in his Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life)is probably only really doable by someone in his position, independently wealthy with no need to work, and unmarried with no family responsibilities. He dedicated his life to serving the Lord with prayer and the use of his wealth for the poor, and he had the time for it.

He recommends praying six times a day, at 6 and 9AM, at noon, and at 3, 6 and 9PM, and he suggests topics he considers appropriate for those times. He doesn't prescribe how LONG each session should be, but the way he words it here and there hints that maybe he actually has in mind a whole hour at each session. Six hours a day! I'll be doing VERY well if I can arrange for two sessions of an hour each, or more sessions at fifteen minutes or so.

Many have written that the more you do the more you CAN do so it's mostly a matter of getting started.

He suggests Praise and Thanksgiving for the 6AM prayer, with the reading or chanting of certain psalms; Humility (the cultivation of humility and confession of lack of humility) for 9AM; prayer for universal love, and intercession for the people in your life for noon. Then Resignation is the subject of the 3PM prayer, "resignation" being the old-fashioned word for acceptance of everything the Lord brings into your life, contentment with thanks and praise, and "rejoicing in all circumstances," or willing what God wills, the ultimate expression of trust in God. Confession of sin is for 6PM and meditating on Death for 9PM.

I think I'd combine his prayers for the virtues of humility and universal love and resignation in one session, and combine thanksgiving and confession with other topics of my own, but otherwise I have other things I want to concentrate on. The state of the church is a big one, which includes prayer for revival, and "understanding the times" is another big one. If I ever could give specific times to my prayers I'd give each of these topics their own "hour" (even if that hour is only fifteen minutes). Right now I just pray my whole prayer list in one session whenever I sit down for that purpose. I haven't been able to come up with a way to apportion the topics on my list over the day as he suggests, but maybe a natural apportioning would come with time. Of course his method doesn't have to be followed at all, it's just that it appeals to me as a way to pray at length for important things.

If I'm honest I have to admit that I have plenty of time, no family responsibilities and only 20 to 30 working hours a week, at home too, so that I can apportion the time as I please. I have no excuse not to devote the remaining time to prayer. If I worked at it diligently eventually I might even be able to organize my day to provide for regular hours of prayer as Law advises. It's quite clear, however, that my prayerlessness has nothing to do with practicalities. I suspect that even for the busiest of people the problem is always motivation or commitment. Once the commitment is made the time takes care of itself, some forms of busyness get dropped because you come to see that they are not serving any good purpose anyway, and others get taken care of in less time at better times.

The biographies of some of the most dedicated saints often show a prodigious dedication of time to the Lord even in the busiest life. That's how the spiritual power they are known for was won. I forget who it was who worked a twelve-hour day then came home and studied the Bible and prayed for something like another six to eight hours and slept for only the few hours left. He was young. Could I get my sleep needs down at all? Maybe I could, maybe a lot of it is simply habit, and time with the Lord invigorates too. Do I have the excuse of not being young? It's probably best not to explain away anything but put it in the Lord's hands.

At the moment making a regular schedule does seem to be beyond me, I must admit. I haven't been able to sleep at regular times for years now. Just when I think I may be getting onto a reasonable sleep schedule I find myself lying awake for hours, and back I go to sleeping during the day, which I'd rather not do. I end up working during the night, and I pray only when I'm awake and not having to work and there's nothing else I really have to do. In other words, not nearly enough.

Prayer is crucial, the more the better, and fasting with prayer some of those times just as crucial. I know this, I know it I know it I know it, but doing it is SO hard. Sometimes I'm just sitting and thinking Why can't I be praying right now? Getting started seems impossible sometimes.

But at least I'm getting a prayer list worked out. Just to give the barest outline:

For myself: The virtues Law recommends, and healing for arthritis pain and other physical problems.

For friends and family and neighbors: Salvation and God's blessings.

For the church: An increase in the spirit of prayer above all. Just what I'm writing about here and want for myself. Honestly facing disobedience in the church and purging it.

Understanding the times: Right now I really want to understand the Rapture claims, meaning the expectation of the removal of the church from earth as a separate event at some time before the Second Coming. There is a lot that supports it but still enough to keep me from completely accepting it. I'm definitely a Futurist as far as prophecy goes. About all I know for sure is that I can't accept Amillennialism or Preterism. I wrote some about this on the End Times Monitor blog a while back.