Given for the Saints of the World on 2/21/10.
"And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work" (II Cor. 9:8).
"Are you enough" is a multifaceted question. The immediate answer is "NO. I am not enough," which I suspect most Christians have thought all their lives. Lack of self confidence and low self esteem are twin hazards to the mental health of God's children, in evidence everywhere the church meets. It isn't just slackers and low performing Christians who are plagued with these feelings. I heard Billy Graham say, possibly in a Larry King interview, that he worried he had not done enough for Christ. Since Billy has probably brought almost as many people to Christ as the Apostle Paul, I was astounded and saddened by his concern. Mother Teresa also had doubts about her faith in Christ, lamenting that she had lost contact with the Lord, according to some of her private letters which came to light in recent years. Paul called himself "the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God" (I Cor. 15:9).
Why so much angst about being worthy of God's love? Religion has that effect on people who try to live by the rules, but continue to experience real or imagined failures. The LAW is an impossibly difficult yardstick by which to measure our worthiness. Let's take ourselves off the hook and acknowledge that NO ONE is worthy of God's love; no one's efforts are enough. Honest people acknowledge this; insecure people try to hide behind a facade, a "mask" they wear around other Christians to attempt to fit in with what they consider the superior crowd. My observation is that Christians who came to Christ on the "good side" of the tree (born in church), try to prove they are righteous with continued good works. Christians who came from the "bad side" of the tree (sex, drugs, rock and roll), strive to make amends for their sins. None of it succeeds.
In his book, The Epistle to the Romans, Karl Barth was devastating in his evaluation of man's religious efforts: "Religion, though it come disguised as the most intimate friend of men, be they Greeks or barbarians, is nevertheless the adversary. Religion is the KRISIS of culture and of barbarism. Apart from God, it is the most dangerous enemy a man has on this side of the grave." Ouch!
These questions plague those striving for righteousness: Do you pray enough, give enough, read your Bible enough and attend services enough? Enough for what? Are you attempting to impress God, or more probably, keep Him from being displeased with you? When the Holy Spirit turned my spiritual world upside down, I began fellowshipping with other people who had recently had the same experience. We threw ourselves into the Charismatic mindset with zeal, but not much spiritual knowledge. We were encouraged to keep prayer lists in order to be sure we brought every need before the Throne of Grace, everyday.
My list filled two pages of legal sized ruled paper. By the time I just mentioned everyone on that list, I was exhausted and my mind kept wandering off. In that way God has of showing us something unexpectedly, one day the question came to me like the dawn after a dark night: does God really need me to remind Him about who needs help? Does He need me to tell Him what needs to be done? Can I really change God's mind about something He already planned to do? That was the beginning of the end of the prayer list.
In his book, The Naked Now, Richard Rohr bears witness to what I've come to as well: prayer is for our benefit, not for God's. It is our opening ourselves to the Divine Heart and Will, rather than a way to direct His steps or secure our desired outcome. (I didn't quote Rohr directly because there are stern warnings about quoting from the book without permission. The not so subtle message is that if you want to know what he says, buy your own copy of the book). The point is that rather than trying to change God's mind, prayer is a way for God to change our mind.
Didn't you ever wonder about Jesus' trips to the mountain to pray? Did He have a little scroll on which He wrote His requests? Did He have requests for Himself? Did He go to whine to His Daddy about this tough assignment He was given? I couldn't blame Him if He did, but it comes to me, that He was fellowshipping with His Father, receiving and giving love and support. Remember He said, "And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me" (John 12:50). Of His works, He said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever He does, that the Son does likewise" (John 5:19). Jesus communed with His Father, receiving the Divine Life poured out through Him to those who followed Him. Prayer is our way to experience the same blessing.
Only by fellowshipping with the Father can we be honed, polished, and filled with what we need to do His will. If Jesus did nothing on His own accord, why do we think we can figure out what to do and then do it? If He received His personal directives from His Father, why do we seek direction from pastors, preachers, or priests? It is impossible for the flesh to please God and it is equally impossible to keep 100% of the flesh out of human interaction. It's rather like trying to receive a radio signal when we don't own a radio.
We are receivers for God's signals. Period. On our own, we don't originate them, disseminate them, or take credit for them. To God belongs all the glory for what His receivers (His children) receive and transmit. And there is rest and comfort for us in that, once our ego gets over itself. We occasionally get an e-mail from some well intentioned Christian asking for us to pray for specific events and actions on God's part to help them with their needs. To these, I reply that I will pray that God's will be done. That, of course, is not to say that His will wouldn't be done if I didn't say that, but just to make the point that God "works all things after the counsel of HIS own will," never ours (Eph. 1:11).
The original question, "Are you enough?" is multifaceted. So, while on our own, of course we are not enough, nevertheless, the mystery of the gospel, Christ in us, the hope of Glory, is that in Christ, we ARE enough! I've been a Bible reader and student since I could read and that's a good thing. However, the down side of it is that I quickly discovered that I was not what the Bible said I should be, not even close. Yes, old ladies in church used to pat me on the shoulder and tell me they wished their grandchildren were like me, but that was just surface stuff. I wasn't into overt sin, the kind that set the preacher's hair on fire as he warmed up on his subject of sins of the flesh. But, the Bible speaks of another kind of inadequacy, a lack of forgiveness, compassion, mercy and kindness, and worse, judgment of others. The Bible also has the antidote for our hidden inadequacies: "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). This "course correction" and soul cleansing is the real action of the Holy Spirit.
What to do about Jesus' admonition to "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48)? That one verse used to bring me crashing down as I considered how very far from perfect I really was. He didn't leave me groveling in shame and dysfunction for long before it came to me that when God looked at Jan, He did not see my warts and zits, my flaws and failures, but rather, He saw Christ in me, the hope of glory, and me in Christ, seated in heavenly places. That's what Paul meant? Yes, indeed, it was what Paul meant, and when the Holy Spirit brings this reality to fruition, it sets us free!
Rom. 8:29-30, is one of those glorious verses where Paul lifts us up from the miry clay into which we found ourselves, and reveals us seated in heavenly places with Christ: "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." Notice that GOD, not man is the subject of all those sentences (The "he" in the verse refers to God, not man). Rejoice with me that the end of all our processings and trials is to be glorified by God.
Jonathan Mitchell sent me his translation of Rom. 8:30, which adds so much to our understanding: "Now [in fact, consider this]: those whom He at one point before-marked-out (or: designates beforehand) [A reads: knew from prior intimate experience], these He also at once called (or: calls; invited), and whom He called (or: calls; invites), these He also in one stroke rightwised (or: makes right, frees from guilt while making them fair and placing them in right relationships in the Way pointed out). Now further, those whom He rightwised (or: rightwises; turns in the right direction; frees from guilt), these He also instantly glorified (or: makes of reputation which calls forth praise; gives a splendid appearance; gives honorable thoughts and imaginations)." End Quote. Isn't it wonderfully awesome to think that God is "rightwising" us? Turning us in the right direction, and freeing us from guilt?
Guilt is truly the cancer of the soul and God Himself is freeing us from it. Of course, that was done at the cross, but it has taken time for this very Good News to percolate through our lives. The Holy Spirit is constantly "rightwising" us and that is such a comfort to me. I used to worry about taking a wrong turn, until He showed me that truly He never leaves us nor forsakes us. We cannot take a wrong turn because all roads lead to Him eventually. When He has opened our hearts and minds to Him, He fills us with Himself and shows us the way. Even temporary "detours" or what one friend calls an "oops" are no problem to Him, because He uses all things to work together for our good and His glory.
Barth puts our angst about our imperfections into perspective: "But Jesus Christ is the new man, standing beyond all piety, beyond all human possibility. He is the dissolution of the man of this world in his totality. He is the man who has passed from death to life. He is, what I am not, my existential I, the I which in God, in the freedom of God, I am! Thanks be to God: through Jesus Christ our Lord I am not the wretched man that I am." Praise be to God for the good news that because we are in Christ, and He IS enough, He in us, certainly IS enough as well.
Father, we thank You for rightwising us in all our ways, our thoughts, and our desires, and for reckoning us righteous, a New Creation in Christ. May we be light bearers and joy bringers to a darkened world so that they may see You reflected in our lives. In Christ we ask it, Amen. Jan Antonsson
Lenny and Jan Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Is God Enough?
The Epistle to the Romans by Karl Barth
The Glory Road
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This site was created on 02/17/10
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister