Abstruse Lucidity

Where the abstruse becomes lucid…or not.

Receiving God’s Will

In 1 Kings chapter 5, we learn of Naaman, a general from Syria, who suffered from leprosy. He was told that the prophet Elisha would able to heal him. So Naaman sought out Elisha requesting his blessing. When Naaman arrived, Elisha sent a messenger to meet him saying, “Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.” (Verse 10)

But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.
(Verses 11-12)

Naaman had three problems with the answer Elisha gave him:

1. He was offended that Elisha did not receive him personally. He also expected more of a production. He discounted the answer because of the way it was given.
Most often, God answers prayers through quiet, gentle thoughts or feelings from the Spirit, or through another person. If we are expecting angelic visits or some other dramatic manifestation, we will likely miss the response He gives.

2. Naaman was disappointed by the simplicity of what he was asked to do. He apparently wanted his answer to be more grand.
The gospel is simple. Jesus himself taught that the entire gospel can be summarized in two commandments: “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” (Matthew 22:37) and “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matthew 22:39) If we are looking for an elaborate solution to our problems, we may find ourselves disappointed when the actual answer is more akin to daily scripture study and prayer.

3. Naaman was uncomfortable with the details of what was required of him. He would have preferred to do it in a different way.
Many of the things God asks us to do will take us out of our comfort zones. We may be okay with loving our neighbors, but what about our enemies? That is much harder. We need to be willing to stretch ourselves in God’s service in order to receive the full benefit of what He wants to give us.

There is a happy ending to Naaman’s story. His servants asked him “if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” (Verse 13) Then Naaman went and did what Elisha had told him to do, and he was healed, as he had been promised.

When we seek the Lord’s will, how do we receive the answer? Do we reject it because its presentation was too mundane, its content was too simple, or its requirements were too uncomfortable? Or do we follow the Lord’s counsel and receive his promised blessings?

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Waiting for the Miracle

Most parents are probably familiar with this scenario: a child asks his mother if he can have a cookie. The mother says no. She may not explain all of her logic to her son, but she does have reasons for her denial. She is cooking dinner, and she wants him to have room in his stomach for something with more nutritional value than a cookie. The son, however, may simply feel that his mother hates him and decide to go pout in his room and refuse to come out when dinner is ready.

In John chapter 11, we can read the story of Martha asking Jesus for a miracle. Her brother, Lazarus, is very ill. She sends a message to Jesus requesting that he come and heal her brother. But Jesus doesn’t come. Lazarus gets worse, and then he dies. And Jesus still doesn’t come. Lazarus has been dead four days before Jesus arrives. Martha could have been bitter and refused to talk to him. Instead, they have this conversation:

Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.

(John 11:21-27)

I think Martha is saying, in effect, “you didn’t give me the miracle I asked for, but I still need a miracle and I still have faith that you can give me one.” Jesus then does two things. First, seeing her grief, he weeps with her. Sometimes the most helpful thing to do when someone is mourning is to genuinely mourn with them. Second, he raises Lazarus from the dead. Although Martha surely felt the opportunity was past, Jesus still gave her the exact miracle she had requested.

There have been many times in my life when I have asked God for a miracle, large or small. Many of those times, it has seemed that the answer was no. However, as in Martha’s experience, the answer may really have been not yet. Other times, like the mother at the beginning of this post, I believe God is telling me that if He gave me what I asked for, I would not be able to receive a greater blessing he is preparing for me.

This leaves me at a crossroads. I can choose to respond like the pouting son, effectively telling God that I am not talking or listening to Him. I can refuse to receive what He is offering me. Or I can, like Martha, in faith tell God that I trust Him to give me the miracle that I really need, when I need it. Even if it is not the miracle I thought I wanted.

Time to Reflect

When tragedy strikes, we often want to make sense of the senseless. This can be an excellent time to reflect on our lives. But I have noticed a couple of trends that I find disturbing.

First, that the immediate reaction of many people is to place blame. They want to say that it was due to gun laws that are too lenient, or a society that is too overstimulated with violent images, or the media that focuses so much on negative things. I am sure all of these things (and many more) play a role, but I can’t help but wonder if focusing on these issues is simply a way of avoiding personal responsibility.

For example, people often ask the question why. Why would a shooter kill innocent children? Of course that is not a question we can answer definitively, as we will never know exactly what was going through his head at the time. I am also not sure that knowing the answer would be very satisfactory. Any reason that a shooter has would not be justification, and would likely implicate all of us to some extent. A better question might be, “What can I do personally to help prevent this kind of situation?”

I will come back to that question in a moment. There is one other thing I have noticed regarding people’s reactions to senseless violence. Many, many times I have read or heard the admonition to “hug your children a little tighter tonight.” I  wonder what this response teaches the children. Do they only get attention or affection when a tragedy occurs? Especially if the tragedy is not personal to them, I worry that the message being sent to children might be something to the effect of “I only care about you when I am afraid you might die.” Or perhaps, “I don’t care about you individually, I only care about children in the aggregate.”  Children need individual affection all of the time, not only when terrible things happen.

Getting back to the question of what I can personally do, perhaps if children know that they are loved and valued, personally, they will feel secure enough in themselves that they will not ever feel the need to cause a tragedy to gain attention or punish people or society in general.

I am a strong believer that introspection is a good thing. It is important to try to find solutions. Some of them would undoubtedly be in the form of policies and regulations. Others would require cultural changes. But let us not forget to also be the change we want to see in the world.

Walking on Water

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is from Matthew chapter 14.  After feeding the five thousand, Jesus sends the multitudes away and tells his disciples to sail across the Sea of Galilee while he has some alone time to pray.  When they were out in the middle of the sea, “the ship was . . .  tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.” (Verse 24)  Now, I am not a sailor, but I would be terrified about this time.  I suspect the disciples in the boat were afraid for their lives, and may have been wishing that Jesus was with them, since his very presence would have given them courage.

In this state, it is not very surprising that they were frightened by the sight of someone walking on the water. But when Jesus identified himself, Peter declared, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” (Verse 28)  I do not think Peter doubted it was the Savior, he simply felt he would be better off with Jesus than waiting in the boat, and asked if he could come out.  And Jesus’ response to that question will always be “come.”  (Verse 29)

Then Peter did something unthinkable.  He got out of the boat, in the middle of a sea, in the middle of a storm.  As long as he focused on the Savior he could walk on the water.  There came a point, however, when his focus changed: “when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid.” (Verse 29)  He must have thought THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE!  And he started to sink, crying out, “Lord, save me.” (Verse 30)

“And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”  (Verse 31)  Now, I do not think Jesus was criticizing Peter.  A little faith can do big things!  I think his point was that Peter had faith, so why did he let it drown in his fear and doubt?  And Jesus immediately pulled Peter up out of the water.  Interestingly enough, it seems as though Peter lost his focus when he was within an arm’s length of the Savior.  Perhaps he thought since he was with Jesus he did not need to try so hard any more.

Matthew does not tell us how they got back to the boat.  I doubt it was via teleportation.  I guess Jesus walked with Peter.  “And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.”  (Verse 32)

So what does this mean to me?  There are many storms in life, and it is often frightening.  Jesus comes to us while we are in the midst of these trials.  Though He wants to be with us, He will not force us to be with Him.  He waits for us to ask for Him, and His answer will be, “come.”  He wants us to leave our problems and come to Him.  And so we can step out of our storm-tossed ship and walk to Jesus.

As long as we are focused on our goal, nothing is impossible.  But as soon as we shift our focus to the difficulties, the fearful “realities” around us, we will sink into them.  What we focus on will be what we get.  But even if we fall, all is not lost.  If we still ask for help, Jesus will immediately stretch out his hand and lift us up.  Notice, however, that the wind did not immediately cease.  Our trials do not simply go away.  But Jesus will walk with us, and eventually, those trials will subside.

How have you walked on water?

Price of Admission

I recently saw a sign at a church that got me thinking.  It said something to the effect of “Free trip to Heaven, Inquire inside.”  While I understand what they are trying to say, I cannot help but think that it is false advertising.

Isaiah said, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1)  I once heard someone else say, “you could pile up the accumulated currency of the entire world and it could not buy a loaf of bread in the economy of heaven.”  (Full text here.)

God does not want our money.  It does him no good.  But that does not mean there is no cost.  You really do get what you pay for!  In order to reach heaven, what you have to give God is youAll of you.  Not all that you have, all that you are.

Now, for all value-conscious shoppers out there, this price may elicit some sticker shock.  That seems pretty steep.  So we would be justified in asking what is included for that price.

For starters, he gives us ourselves, except more.  He makes us more than we were.  And we can continue with this cycle.  We give ourselves to God again, and he gives us back, better, again.  That actually sounds like a pretty good deal, right?

But wait, there’s more!

God said to Abraham, “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” (Genesis 15:1)  Ultimately, if I give all of myself to God, He will give all of Himself to me.

So my ticket to Heaven is not free.  The price of admission is me.  But that cost really is a bargain.

Jesus Wept

John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the Bible.  Yet its two words can teach us a great deal about faith in the face of adversity.

First, a little background.  Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, were good friends of the Savior.  He seems to have been a frequent house guest of theirs, and it is apparent that there was great mutual love and friendship.  Thus, when Mary and Martha sent for Jesus to tell him that their brother was deathly ill, they had full confidence that he would not only come, but also heal Lazarus.  But he did not come immediately.

We are not told specifically why he stayed where he was.  I tend to believe that he had work to do there which could not wait.  Be that as it may, when they arrived at Lazarus’ house, he had been dead for four days already.  Jesus met with Martha and Mary, who both expressed to him their continued belief that had he arrived soon enough, their brother would not have died.

They may have been questioning why he delayed, but I believe they were primarily expressing their grief over their brother’s death.  And what was Jesus’ response when he saw the sorrow of these two sisters, as well as their gathered friends and relatives?  He wept.

Of course, Jesus understood the doctrine of resurrection.  He certainly knew better than anyone else the state of Lazarus’ soul.  And he probably even knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.  So, why did he weep?  I believe the answer is very simple.  He was sad.  And he expressed his sorrow through tears.

I have sometimes felt that to express my grief over some trial I am facing would be a denial of faith.  If I truly had enough faith, I rationalize, this would not even be a trial.  So why should I be sad?  If a loved one dies, for example, I should be happy that they are in a better place, right?  Why are there so many tears at a funeral?

Because grief is a healthy response to loss.  Clearly Jesus had faith, so I do not need to feel that I am lacking in faith if I express my sorrow in the same way he did.  Because Jesus wept, so can I.

New Blog

Thank you for stopping by.  We are undergoing a few changes here.  This blog will be devoted more to spiritual musings or deep thoughts moving forward.  The content related to writing has moved to Crucial Creativity.  That blog will explore aspects of the creative process.  I will be joined by another blog author, Stacey.

Thanks again, and feel free to come back later.