All Posts Tagged: Elijah
From Making All Things New by Henri Nouwen
Henri Nouwen’s books are widely read today by Protestants and Catholics alike. The Wounded Healer, In the Name of Jesus, The Life of the Beloved, and The Way of the Heart are just a few of the more widely recognized titles. After nearly two decades of teaching at the Menninger Foundation Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, and at the University of Notre Dame, Yale University and Harvard University, he went to share his life with mentally handicapped people at the L’Arche community of Daybreak in Toronto, Canada. After a long period of declining energy, which he chronicled in his final book, Sabbatical Journey, he died in September 1996 from a sudden heart attack.
For the background to this post, please first read Prayer—an inventor’s perspective.
The spiritual life is a gift. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who lifts us up into the kingdom of God’s love. But to say that being lifted up into the kingdom of love is a divine gift does not mean that we wait passively until the gift is offered to us.
Jesus tells us to set our hearts on the kingdom. Setting our hearts on something involves not only serious aspiration but also strong determination. A spiritual life requires human effort. The forces that keep pulling us back into a worry-filled life are far from easy to overcome.
“How hard it is,” Jesus exclaims, “… to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23, JB). And to convince us of the need for hard work, He says, “If anyone wants to be a follower of Mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24, JB).
The Still Small Voice
Here we touch the question of discipline in the spiritual life. A spiritual life without discipline is impossible. Discipline is the other side of discipleship. The practice of a spiritual discipline makes us more sensitive to the small, gentle voice of God.
The prophet Elijah did not encounter God in the mighty wind or in the earthquake or in the fire, but in the small voice (see 1 Kings 19:9-13). Through the practice of a spiritual discipline we become attentive to that small voice and willing to respond when we hear it.
From an Absurd to an Obedient Life
From all that I said about our worried, overfilled lives, it is clear that we are usually surrounded by so much outer noise that it is hard to truly hear our God when He is speaking to us. We have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us and unable to understand in which direction He calls us.
Thus our lives have become absurd. In the word absurd we find the Latin word surdus, which means “deaf.” A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, Who constantly speaks but Whom we seldom hear.
When, however, we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives. The word obedient comes from the Latin word audire, which means “listening.” A spiritual discipline is necessary in order to move slowly from an absurd to an obedient life, from a life filled with noisy worries to a life in which there is some free inner space where we can listen to our God and follow His guidance.
Jesus’ life was a life of obedience. He was always listening to the Father, always attentive to His voice, always alert for His directions. Jesus was “all ears.” That is true prayer: being all ears for God. The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obediently standing in the presence of God.
The Concentrated Effort
A spiritual discipline, therefore, is the concentrated effort to create some inner and outer space in our lives, where this obedience can be practiced. Through a spiritual discipline we prevent the world from filling our lives to such an extent that there is no place left to listen. A spiritual discipline sets us free to pray or, to say it better, allows the Spirit of God to pray in us.
A Time and a Space
Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and a place for God, and Him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that He is actively present in our lives—healing, teaching, and guiding—we need to set aside a time and a space to give Him our undivided attention. Jesus says, “Go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to the Father Who is in that secret place” (Matt. 6:6, JB).
To bring some solitude into our lives is one of the most necessary but also most difficult disciplines. Even though we may have a deep desire for real solitude, we also experience a certain apprehension as we approach that solitary place and time. As soon as we are alone, without people to talk with, books to read, TV to watch, or phone calls to make, an inner chaos opens up in us.
This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings, and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distractions, we often find that our inner distractions manifest themselves to us in full force.
We often use these outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. It is thus not surprising that we have a difficult time being alone. The confrontation with our inner conflicts can be too painful for us to endure.
This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important. Solitude is not a spontaneous response to an occupied and preoccupied life. There are too many reasons not to be alone. Therefore we must begin by carefully planning some solitude.
Stay tuned for Part 2 from Henri Nouwen coming next week…
Faith in Jesus makes up the Mechanics of Life.
When Elijah saw he was a marked man, he ran for dear life into the desert. He came to a broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to die: “God! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!” (1 Kings 19:3-5)
Physical exercise can produce tiredness. Similarly, spiritual exercise, what I call “faithing,” can also produce fatigue. Such was the case with Elijah. This powerhouse of faith had scored a major victory over the adulterated establishment of Israel. As a result he was marked for death. In exhaustion Elijah became frightened and ran for his life into the desert of despair. His great faith had been fractured by fatigue!
The Creator of the ends of the earth doesn’t grow tired or become weary. The strength of those who wait on the Lord will be renewed. They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings. (Isaiah 40:28-31)
Whereas humans “grow tired and become weary,” our Creator does not. He is a solid source of strength! Isaiah, another great figure of faith, provides a formula of sorts for combating faith fatigue. It begins with a promissory principle: “The strength of those who wait on the Lord will be renewed.” When tired or weary, ones strength can be renewed by “waiting on the Lord.” What’s “waiting”?
The five mile long Mackinaw Bridge is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Michigan. The bridge is suspended between two 550-foot towers. The cables are 24.5-foot in diameter. They’re comprised of 12,580 wires woven together. Why? Because small wires woven together are astronomically stronger than a single, solid cable. No, I don’t understand the physics involved!
The root of the Hebrew word “waiting” means “to weave.” Hence, when one weaves her weakness with God’s strength, her fatigue is converted to force. Now, here’s the illustration—“They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings.” What do eagles know about “weaving”? Surprisingly, A BUNCH!
When an eagle encounters a violent storm, she does not attempt to fly through the storm. Rather, she employs a four step strategy (you can find this all on Google):
- Ceasing self-energized flight, she senses the warm air updrafts of the storm.
- She weaves herself with these currents, rising upwards, using no energy.
- Arriving at the top of the storm, she glides on the warm air until she gets to the opposite end of the storm.
- Once again she weaves herself, this time with cold air currents going downward. To get through the storm the eagle exerts no energy!
So, when faith fatigue sweeps in like a tsunami, look to the mighty eagle! Specifically, focus on the warm thermals of Father’s love in the storm. “The One who loves us gives us an overwhelming victory in all these difficulties. I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love which Christ Jesus our Lord shows us.” (Romans 8:37-40)
Check out other posts in the Faith on Fridays series by clicking here.
Faith in Jesus makes up the Mechanics of Life.
Elijah (1 Kings 19:3-5)—Terrified, Elijah quickly ran for his life. He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all—to just die: “Enough of this, God! Take my life!”
David (Psalm 22:1-2)—My God, my God, why have You abandoned me? Why are You so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to You, my God, but You do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.
Solomon (Ecclesiastes 2:17-20)—This made me hate life. It was depressing to think that everything in this life is useless, like trying to catch the wind. That’s when I called it quits, gave up on anything that could be hoped for on this earth.”
Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:20)—I gave up on life altogether. I said to myself, “This is it. I’m finished.”
Paul (2 Corinthians 1:8)—We do not want you to be uninformed about the troubles we experienced in Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.
Elijah, David, Solomon, Jeremiah and Paul—these were heavy hitters in the realm of faith! YET, they experienced and expressed deep emotion! Conclusion: faith and feelings are not mutually exclusive. Emotion is part of the original human package. Look at the Model: “Jesus saw Mary weeping, and He saw how the people with her were weeping also; His heart was touched, and He was deeply moved. ‘Where have you buried Lazarus?’ He asked them. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they answered. Jesus wept” (John 11:30-33).
“To ignore, repress, or dismiss our feelings is to fail to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit within our emotional life. The gospel portrait of the beloved Child of Abba is that of a man exquisitely attuned to His emotions and uninhibited in expressing them. The Son of Man did not scorn or reject feelings as fickle and unreliable. They were sensitive antennae to which He listened carefully and through which He perceived the will of His Father for congruent speech and action.” —Brennan Manning
Here’s practical advice for balancing faith and feelings: “Buffeted by the fickle winds of failure, battered by their own unruly emotions, and bruised by rejection and ridicule, authentic disciples may stumble and frequently fall, endure lapses and relapses, get handcuffed to the fleshpots and wander into a far county. Yet, they keep coming back to Jesus” (Manning). Why? “Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.” —C.S. Lewis
Check back next Friday as we continue our Faith on Fridays series.