Sunday, 15 August 2010

Step Ten: falling off the horse and getting right back on

'Oh that I were as in months past' (Job 29:2)
'. . . they look upon the days which they have passed in communing with the Lord as being the sweetest and the best they have ever known, but as to the present, it is clad in a sable garb of gloom and dreariness. They complain that . . . they have not present peace of mind. . . The causes of this mournful state of things are manifold. It may arise through a comparative neglect of prayer. . . Or it may be the result of idolatry. The heart has been occupied with something else, more than with God; the affection have been set on the things of earth, instead of the things of heaven. . . Or the cause may be found in self-confidence and self-righteousness.' (Charles Spurgeon)
'I must turn in all things to the Father of Light who presides over us all.' (14:1, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')
'Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well.' (63:1)

I will on occasion discover myself dejected because the thrill, or the glow, or the ease and comfort of a life centred in trying to do God's work in AA has dissipated somewhat or outright disappeared and been replaced by an unease, a tiredness, a lack of trust in God's providence, and a sense that 'nothing will ever be the same again'. You know, that familiar alcoholic doom—distorted AND exaggerated, of course? (108:1)

(1) Neglect of prayer

How much quiet time did I have this morning? Less than an hour? 'nuff said, really. A lifetime of twisted, self-centred thinking surrounded by people doing just the same is not going to be overturned by uttering a few 'vain repetitions, as the heathen do' (cf. Matthew 6:7) culled from the Book. I need to spend time using my own voice and my own language to communicate with God from the heart: tell him what is going on; ask for the strength; ask for the guidance. I do not need to work out precisely what I need: He knows already; I do not need to work out ~how~ He is going to achieve what He will achieve in my life and in the lives of those around me (cf. Matthew 6:8). I need also to fill my thoughts with those who have experienced God, to supplant my own thinking. Books are vital as a way of listening to and for God. I cannot make up my own vision and structural understanding of how to build a relationship with God. I need to be shown the way. I have to go to God with an open heart and empty hands, no 'plan B', no fingers crossed behind my back, no doubt about the goodness of God's plan for me.

(2) Idolatry

This does not, of course, mean the literal worship of statues of God but the placement of anything in my heart as the centre and main objective of my life other than God. This 'worship of other things' (55:2) will immediately obscure the idea of God. If I want to know what I have placed above God, all I need to do is look at what my thoughts centre on. The exercise of jotting down every half-hour the dominant thinking of the previous half-hour and examining this at the end of the day will tell me what I am focused on—and therefore worshipping. Typically, if I am troubled, there will be something I believe I need for happiness and satisfaction that is out of reach or slipping from my grasp. The simple question, 'what do I want that I am not getting?' will immediately reveal the source of the problem. The term 'idolater' literally means a slave to an idol. Whatever is the centre and main objective of my life (or my day) I will be a slave to. I get to be either a servant of God (and reap the rewards—'He provided what we needed . . .') or a slave my idols ('sold under sin'—Romans 7:14). What I want that I am not getting may not necessarily be a bad thing in itself—it could be the health or welfare of someone I love—but placing this as a demand on the universe entraps me and blocks me from God; my focus is taken off God and concentrated on my mental interference usually in something I cannot directly influence, or at least can influence only partially, imperfectly, and with far from satisfactory results.

(3) Self-confidence and self-righteousness

Here, the idol I am worshipping is me. The usual sign that this is operative is the sense that others are wrong. Others, of course, can be wrong only if I am right. Criticism of others necessarily implies my placement of myself in the position of righteousness. And that is to deny that everything good in my life has flowed from God, and, consequently to deny God. Little surprise I feel cold in my lofty abode of judgement, then. One answer here is to look at the results: if I am so 'right', why do I feel so 'wrong'?

In the Book of Jonah, the city of Nineveh repents after being warned by Jonah of its sin, and God justifies his ready forgiveness, by comparing Nineveh to a plant given to Jonah for shade, which is then destroyed by God:

'But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?" "I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die." But the Lord said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" '

I trust that if I return to God with empty hands, no excuses, contrition, and an open heart, I will be received back instantly. That has been my experience.

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