Friday, 29 January 2016

Reading the Bible - slowly

Madame Guyon was a French mystic from the late 17th and early 18th century known for her writings on the spiritual life. She once wrote:

"If you read quickly, it will benefit you little. You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower. Instead, in this new way of reading with prayer, you must become as the bee who penetrates into the depths of the flower. You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar."

Dallas Willard writes:
"You may have been told that it is good to read the Bible through every year and that you can ensure this be reading so many verses per day from the Old and New Testaments. If you do this you may enjoy the reputation of one who reads the Bible through each tear and you may congratulate yourself on your accomplishment. But will you thereby be one more like Christ and more filled with the life of God?

It is a proven fact that many who read the Bible in this way, like taking medicine or exercising on a schedule, do not advance spiritually. Better in one year to have ten good verses transferred into the substance of our lives than yo have every word of the Bible flash before our eyes. Remember as always that "the letter killers, but the spirit givers life" (2 Corinthians 3:6). We read to open ourselves to the Spirit."
In Search of Guidance page 174

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Union with Christ and the Bible

More from Willard's book "Hearing God" (In search of guidance):

The aim of the Christian life is union with Christ (Phil 1:21; Galatians 2:20) and one of the ways to achieve this is familiarity with and constant reading and meditation of the scriptures. But how are we to read it? Here is Dallas Willard:

"We will be spiritually safe in our use of the Bible if we follow a simple rule: read in a repentant manner. That is, read with readiness to surrender all we are, all our plans, opinions, possessions, positions. Study as intelligently as possible, with all available means, but never ever merely to find the truth and still less merely to prove anything. Subordinate your desire to find the truth, and your desire to have others do the truth, to your desire to DO IT YOURSELF.

Those who wish to hear the Word and know the truth often are not prompted by their desire to DO it. The light such people find frequently proves to be their own snare and condemnation."
In search of guidance - Willard page 172-3

Willard refers to the writings of William Law:

"Therefore the Scriptures should only be read in an attitude of prayer, trusting to the inward working of the Holy Spirit to make their truths a living reality within us."

Willard continues:

"there is a simple technique or routine that all believers, no matter how trained or untrained, can follow with assurance that the very bread of life will be spread for them on the pages of the Scriptures. It is a practice very similar to one encouraged by Madame Guyon in her little book, SHORT AND VERY EASY WAY OF PRAYER, first published in 1688 in Lyons, France (republished under the title Experiencing the depths of Jesus Christ)....

When you come to the Scriptures as a part of our conscious strategy to cooperate with God for full redemption of our life, we must desire that his will in all things revealed should be true for us. Next, we begin with those parts of the Scripture with which we have some familiarity, such as the Twenty third Psalm, the Lord's Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians 13, or Romans 8.

Remember these words of Thomas a Kempis, it will help you:

"Of what use it is to discourse learnedly on the Trinity, if you lack humility and therefore displease the Trinity? Lofty words do not make a man just or holy, but a good life makes him dear to God. I would far rather feel contrition than be able to define it. If you know the whole Bible by heart, and all the teachings of the philosophers, how would this help you without the grace and the love of God?"

Your aim must be only to nourish your soul on God's word to you. Hence, go to those parts you already know, and count on your later growth and study to lead you to other parts that will be useful."
Ibid page 174

God is speaking, but are we really listening?

Walking the dog is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with God and learn to listen more closely to his still small voice. It's not easy to hear God because, like any conversation, you have to learn to pay attention, put other 'voices' to one side and focus on the One who is speaking but I think - I hope - I am getting the hang of it.

A major help to me has been the re-reading of Dallas Willard's fine book "In Search of Guidance" reprinted in some countries as "Hearing God". What I like about it is that it blends good theology (a study of God) with good Bible exposition, common sense and logic. Read carefully it leaves you with a hunger to start listening more intensely and more purposefully, to the voice of God.

We not only need to hear the voice of God but we should expect to, as it is one aspect of what it means to really be a Christian. How can you have a relationship with anyone if either you talk but never listen or you don't think it possible to have a conversation in the first place? Believing in God presupposes that relationship and therefore anticipates an ensuing conversation as a result, Even a cursory glance at the Bible or a more focussed listening to the Sunday readings will confirm this. And so we are without excuse and should pursue this as a matter of urgency.

And it is urgent. Not just for us but for the Church. I was reflecting this the other day and thinking about the changes taking place in my own denomination. The question I find myself asking is a simple one. Are we making changes because God thinks we should, or we think we should, or perhaps a little more alarming, we think God thinks we should?! Proverbs 3:5-6 as usual has something to say about this:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." (RSV)

One translation puts the second half of verse 6 "and He shall DIRECT your paths." The point is that God will show the way and we must not depend on our own insight. That is not to say that we are not to use our own initiative, but even then if we walk with the Lord is it really ours?  I love this verse from John 15:7:

"If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you."

On the face of it it looks like prayer heaven, asking and receiving anything you want. But that is not what Jesus is saying. If we are the sort of people whose lives are continually lived out in the presence and power of the Risen Christ, and are immersed in his Word and words, so much so that they form part of the very fabric of who we are, then when we ask "whatever (we) wish" and it will, say Jesus, be answered in the affirmative.Why? Because it is not the selfish, self-centred me that is asking, but the Christ-centred, Christ-ish me that is making the request. We receive the answer because we pray 'out of' or 'through' Him. 

The same goes for insights and bright ideas. If we are immersed in Him then we are more likely to come closer to what he wants than what we have casually dreamt up while waiting for a bus.

But - and it is a necessary 'but' - this is, as Dallas Willard so honestly points out, no guarantee of infallibility. We can still get it wrong. Also it is no guarantee of success either because our criteria for success is not always the same as God's anyway. But is it travelling in the right direction and if, like Abraham, Samuel and Paul before us, we make listening to God and staying close to Him our aim and goal, then God will even bless our mistakes, as "all things work to the God for them that trust God." (Romans 8:28)

When the man comes around

Johnny Cash lyrics to one of his famous songs: When the man (Jesus) comes around. "And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder O...