Taking the Initiative Against Despair

Taking the Initiative Against Despair

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples went to sleep when they should have stayed awake, and once they realized what they had done it produced despair. The sense of having done something irreversible tends to make us despair. We say, “Well, it’s all over and ruined now; what’s the point in trying anymore.” If we think this kind of despair is an exception, we are mistaken. It is a very ordinary human experience. Whenever we realize we have not taken advantage of a magnificent opportunity, we are apt to sink into despair. But Jesus comes and lovingly says to us, in essence, “Sleep on now. That opportunity is lost forever and you can’t change that. But get up, and let’s go on to the next thing.” In other words, let the past sleep, but let it sleep in the sweet embrace of Christ, and let us go on into the invincible future with Him.

There will be experiences like this in each of our lives. We will have times of despair caused by real events in our lives, and we will be unable to lift ourselves out of them. The disciples, in this instance, had done a downright unthinkable thing— they had gone to sleep instead of watching with Jesus. But our Lord came to them taking the spiritual initiative against their despair and said, in effect, “Get up, and do the next thing.” If we are inspired by God, what is the next thing? It is to trust Him absolutely and to pray on the basis of His redemption.

Never let the sense of past failure defeat your next step.

The Face of Christ

https://i0.wp.com/www.awakentoprayer.org/face.christ.jpgWe began our Lenten journey considering what it means to “seek His face”.  This is a consistent theme in the Psalms and throughout the Old Testament, suggesting an intimacy and love between God and His people unknown in the other religions of the Ancient Near East.

Most human religions focus on gaining favors from the divine realm, with man trying to figure out how to coerce the gods into bestowing blessings.  In contrast the God of Scripture initiates relationship with His people in order to bless them, freely.  And He invites His people to trust and obey Him, not on the basis of superior power or domination, but because of His steadfast love. Again and again He invites His people to seek His face.  Of course this is a metaphor. But the message is powerful; God wants a personal relationship with His people.  In our fallenness we would seek his “hand” (and handouts!); for our salvation He invites us to seek His face.

In 2 Cor 4:6 St Paul picks up this same theme and applies it to God’s ultimate self-revelation in Jesus Christ. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  This is amazing! The Almighty Creator God who in the beginning said “Let there be light,” has now given Himself as the “Light of the Word” in Jesus Christ, more specifically, in the face of Jesus Christ.

The human face communicates in ways too complex for us to fully understand.  Infants begin reading faces from the moment they start nursing.  We draw life from our mother’s loving eyes as much as from her breast.  Later when we encounter faces of hate and rejection we feel the chill as life drains out of us.  A kind face and warm, accepting smile can restore our spirits without a word being said.  We are “wired” for face-to-face interaction.

Where do we see the “face of Jesus Christ”?  Surely we meet him in the gospels as we “see” him moving in a rich variety of human interactions.  Artists have tried to help us see him.  Usually their Jesus is visually attractive by the standards of the culture and time.  But the Scriptures plainly say, “ he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is 53:2).  For those who have come love Jesus this is hard to imagine. But perhaps this is why so many people had a hard time believing he could be the Messiah.  Perhaps in their own first century way they too were image conscious.

Could we too be missing Him, or a message from Him, because of preconceived notions of what Jesus must look like?  Are we open to “seeing” Jesus, and hearing from Jesus, in unexpected places, even in what the world might consider ugly?  Often the Holy Spirit speaks to us through face-to-face encounters with others.  If train our eyes we will meet Biblical characters today on the street, at the grocery, at work, at Starbucks.  There is Zacchaeus, there is Peter, there is Mary Magdalene, and Martha, the blind man and the leper, the centurion.  In every human face we see some expression of our need for Jesus, and our longing him, though it is often buried deep and disguised.  And sometimes we may even encounter Jesus himself.

This music video by Chris Rice captures some of what I am talking about.  I hope it will inspire us not only to seek His face, but to be more attentive to the faces of others.  In fact, I think the two go together. As we seek His face He enables us to see with His eyes the faces of others.  And having seen, how might He be calling us to respond?

The Gift of Imagination

Is your imagination stayed on God or is it starved? The starvation of the imagination is one of the most fruitful sources of exhaustion and sapping in a worker’s life. If you have never used your imagination to put yourself before God, begin to do it now. It is no use waiting for God to come; you must put your imagination away from the face of idols and look unto Him and be saved. Imagination is the greatest gift God has given us and it ought to be devoted entirely to Him. If you have been bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, it will be one of the greatest assets to faith when the time of trial comes, because your faith and the Spirit of God will work together. Learn to associate ideas worthy of God with all that happens in Nature – the sunrises and the sunsets, the sun and the stars, the changing seasons, and your imagination will never be at the mercy of your impulses, but will always be at the service of God.

“We have sinned with our fathers…[and] remembered not” – then put a stiletto in the place where you have gone to sleep. “God is not talking to me just now,” but He ought to be. Remember Whose you are and Whom you serve. Provoke yourself by recollection, and your affection for God will increase tenfold; your imagination will not be starved any longer, but will be quick and enthusiastic, and your hope will be inexpressibly bright.

Shelter in His Presence

I found today’s Psalm selection in Read Through the Bible particularly meaningful.  It fits perfectly with our Lenten theme of “Seeking His Face.”  See what you think.

Our God is eager to shelter and protect those who seek Him. And not just a little.  He “lavishes” his goodness on those who come to Him for protection (v. 19). In His presence we experience the wonders of His unfailing love (v. 21). In His presence we find the basis for strength and courage (v. 24).

Psalm 31:19-24

19 How great is the goodness
    you have stored up for those who fear you.
You lavish it on those who come to you for protection,
    blessing them before the watching world.
20 You hide them in the shelter of your presence,
    safe from those who conspire against them.
You shelter them in your presence,
    far from accusing tongues.

21 Praise the Lord,
    for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love.
    He kept me safe when my city was under attack.
22 In panic I cried out,
    “I am cut off from the Lord!”
But you heard my cry for mercy
    and answered my call for help.

23 Love the Lord, all you godly ones!
    For the Lord protects those who are loyal to him,
    but he harshly punishes the arrogant.
24 So be strong and courageous,
    all you who put your hope in the Lord!

Christian Year

https://i2.wp.com/wp.patheos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs/johnshore/files/2014/04/Church_Calendar-300x300.jpgAs you know Lent at St. Peter’s begins at noon at our Ash Wednesday service.  In preparation for this season of reflection and repentance before Easter I recommend this short video explaining the Christian Year.  It is also worth sharing with friends who may not be familiar with liturgical worship traditions as a conversation starter.