Evelyn Underhill: Innumerable responsibilities

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Evelyn Underhill: Innumerable responsibilities

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Luke 2:36-37

“We know, as a historical fact, unusually well attested by contemporary evidence and quite outside the sphere of hagiographic romance, that both St. Catherine of Siena and her namesake St. Catherine of Genoa — active women as well as ecstatics, the first a philanthropist, reformer, and politician, the second an original theologian and for many years the highly efficient matron of a large hospital — lived, in the first case for years, in the second for con- stantly repeated periods of many weeks, without other food than the consecrated Host which they received at Holy Communion. They did this, not by way of difficult obedience to a pious vow, but because they could not live in any other way. Whilst fasting, they were well and active, capable of dealing with the innumerable responsibilities which filled their lives.”

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) in Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (Grand Rapids: CCEL, 1911) 59.

I felt led by God to look up fasting in the thinking of Evelyn Underhill yesterday, and I am glad I did. In this excerpt which is outside the norm of my regular posts, Underhill reveals a spiritual secret of two famous Catherine’s in church history, one a generous giver and reformer and the other a theologian and hospital administrator. They actively fasted.

Do you feel God has called you as a giver or a ministry administrator to juggle “innumerable responsibilities” for Him? I know I do right now in my life. If so, join me in this. Set aside your desires for God’s through the adoption of a regular pattern of fasting. Do this so that all that you do is guided and sustained by God. Both Catherine’s would say there is no other way to live.

Today is my last day set aside to work on a draft of the GTP training program with my colleague, Ereny Monir, before she heads to the Global Leadership Summit in Chicago, and before Jenni and I head to teach at the Kurios Gospel Forum in Seattle tomorrow. Pray for a fruitful day of meetings at the Denver office of Nathan Jones of Youth For Christ. Thanks.

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Richard Foster: Fasting reveals the things that control us

Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for Me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?'” Zechariah 7:4-6</a>

“If our fasting is not unto God, we have failed. Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights — these must never replace God as the center of our fasting…

Once the primary purpose of fasting is firmly fixed in our hearts, we are at liberty to understand that there are also secondary purposes in fasting. More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.

If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David writes, ”I humbled my soul with fasting“ (Psalm 69:10). Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear — if they are within us, they will surface during fasting.

At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.

Fasting reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Food does not sustain us; God sustains us. In Christ, “All things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Therefore, in experiences of fasting we are not so much abstaining from food as we are feasting on the word of God. Fasting is feasting!”

Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998) 55.

For those who desire to grow in generosity, I’d encourage you to adopt a discipline of fasting. Focus on God, set aside your desires, and see what things surface. As Foster notes, “fasting reveals the things that control us.”

What controls you? If that sounds awkward, think of it this way. What do you feel like you need or can’t live without? Whatever your answer, like it or not, that is something that controls you.

The early church adopted a discipline of fasting two days a week (Wednesdays and Fridays in contrast to the Pharisees who fasted on Mondays and Thursdays). I encourage people to do the same thing.

Skip a meal, for example, every Wednesday and Friday. Instead of eating, feast on God’s Word. Seek His heart. Discern what controls you and surrender it to God. Fasting helps us remove obstacles to the Spirit’s work of generosity in our lives.

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John Stott: Translate our beliefs into deeds

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

“Supposing Jesus was the Son of God, is basic Christianity merely an acceptance of this fact? No. Once persuaded of the deity of His person, we must examine the nature of His work. What did He come to do? The biblical answer is, He “came into the world to save sinners.”

Jesus of Nazareth is the heavensent Savior we sinners need. We need to be forgiven and restored to fellowship with the all-holy God, from whom our sins have separated us. We need to be set free from our selfishness and given strength to live up to our ideals. We need to learn to love one another, friend and foe alike. This is the meaning of “salvation.” This is what Christ came to win for us by His death and resurrection.

Then is basic Christianity the belief that Jesus is the Son of God who came to be the Savior of the world? No, it is not even that. To assent to His divine person, to acknowledge man’s need of salvation, and to believe in Christ’s saving work are not enough. Christianity is not just a creed; it involves action. Our intellectual belief may be beyond criticism; but we have to translate our beliefs into deeds.

What must we do, then? We must commit ourselves, heart and mind, soul and will, home and life, personally and unreservedly to Jesus Christ. We must humble ourselves before Him. We must trust in Him as our Savior and submit to him as our Lord; and then go on to take our place as loyal members of the church and responsible citizens in the community.”

John Stott (1921-2011) in Basic Christianity (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 1971) 12-13.

Four ideas from Stott inspire me this morning.

Firstly, “we need to be set free from selfishness and given strength to live up to our ideals.” This is an important response to the offer of salvation from Jesus. He’s saving us from ourselves and teaching us that we need His strength and not ours to live out our Christian existence.

Secondly, “we need to learn to love one another, friend and foe alike.” This is another powerful idea. Even as we are loved with an otherworldly kind of love, we need to love others the same way. This includes those that are different from us or those the world deems dangerous, unloveable or even undeserving of love.

Thirdly, “Christianity is not just a creed; it involves action.” Our heavenly salvation has an earthly purpose. Our new deeds or our ‘doing’ flows out of our new ‘being’ or identity in Christ and out of our ‘knowing’ the truth from the Word. The Apostles Paul and James sum it up: we are saved by grace through faith to do good works, and faith without such works is dead.

Fourthly, “we must humble ourselves before Him.” Stott reveals rightly that humility combines trust and submission. To live humbly is to live responsibly. This is not easy, but it opens the door to generous service that influences the lives of all those around us and shapes the world in which we live.

God, translate our beliefs into actions by your Holy Spirit. In your mercy, hear our prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Andrew Murray: Giving up of self

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:3-11

“Humility leads to perfect death. Humility means the giving up of self and the taking of the place of perfect nothingness before God. Jesus humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death. In death He gave the highest, the perfect proof of having given up His will to the will of God. In death He gave up His self, with its natural reluctance to drink the cup; He gave up the life He had in union with our human nature; He died to self, and the sin that tempted Him; so, as man, He entered into the perfect life of God. If it had not been for His boundless humility, counting Himself as nothing except as a servant to do and suffer the will of God, He never would have died.

This gives us the answer to the question so often asked, and of which the meaning is so seldom clearly apprehended: How can I die to self? The death to self is not your work, it is God’s work. In Christ you are dead to sin, the life there is in you has gone through the process of death and resurrection; you may be sure you are indeed dead to sin. But the full manifestation of the power of this death in your disposition and conduct depends upon the measure in which the Holy Spirit imparts the power of the death of Christ. And here it is that the teaching is needed: if you would enter into full fellowship with Christ in His death, and know the full deliverance from self, humble yourself.

This is your one duty. Place yourself before God in your utter helplessness; consent heartily to the fact of your impotence to slay or make alive yourself; sink down into your own nothingness, in the spirit of meek and patient and trustful surrender to God. Accept every humiliation, look upon every fellow-man who tries or vexes you, as a means of grace to humble you. Use every opportunity of humbling yourself before your fellow-men as a help to abide humble before God. God will accept such humbling of yourself as the proof that your whole heart desires it, as the very best prayer for it, as your preparation for His mighty work of grace, when, by the mighty strengthening of His Holy Spirit, He reveals Christ fully in you, so that He, in His form of a servant, is truly formed in you, and dwells in your heart. It is the path of humility which leads to perfect death, the full and perfect experience that we are dead in Christ.”

Andrew Murray in Humility (New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Co, 1895) 34-35. Special thanks to Dan Busby of ECFA for recently reminding me of the great value of this book.

Humility, like generosity, is tricky to locate (and Murray uses the word ‘perfect’ we need to think: complete). It’s a work of God experienced only when we give up our self. I see it in my wife, Jenni, with whom I am thankful to be reunited. There’s no place like home!

But how does humility relate to generosity? It is our one responsibility to place our selves in “utter helplessness” before God. It’s a position most people would deem either ‘impossible’ or ‘irresponsible’ behavior. Both perspectives are far from the truth. When self if removed from the picture we are positioned to serve as conduits of divine blessing. This is easy to say and hard to do. It gets to the heart of whom we trust to supply us for our days, months, and years, and for our generosity.

Humility breaks through fears, accepts humiliations, and lives by grace. As our GTP meetings have wrapped up, I am thankful for the humility and generosity of my team members. I see God’s grace at work in their surrendered lives. They are giving up self to serve the world with me.

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A. W. Tozer: Eager to be friends

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:15

“Divine goodness, as one of God’s attributes, is self-caused, infinite, perfect, and eternal. Since God is immutable He never varies in the intensity of His loving-kindness.

He has never been kinder than He now is, nor will He ever be less kind. He is no respecter of persons but makes His sun to shine on the evil as well as on the good, and sends His rain on the just and on the unjust. The cause of His goodness is in Himself, the recipients of His goodness are all His beneficiaries without merit and without recompense.

With this agrees reason, and the moral wisdom that knows itself runs to acknowledge that there can be no merit in human conduct, not even in the purest and the best. Always God’s goodness is the ground of our expectation. Repentance, though necessary, is not meritorious but a condition for receiving the gracious gift of pardon which God gives of His goodness.

Prayer is not itself meritorious. It lays God under no obligation nor puts Him in debt to any. He hears prayer because He is good, and for no other reason. Nor is faith meritorious; it is simply confidence in the goodness of God, and the lack of it is a reflection upon God’s holy character.

The whole outlook of mankind might be changed if we could all believe that we dwell under a friendly sky and that the God of heaven, though exalted in power and majesty is eager to be friends with us.”

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) in “The Goodness of God” in Knowledge of the Holy, 57-58.

God has been good to the GTP team on our retreat with generous hosts, David and Rhonda Snyder. We have felt His kindness to us through them because of His grace and generosity. We have not earned it but we have received it with open hands.

God has been overwhelming us with the beauty of His creation and wildlife. As we sit “under a friendly sky” (pictured above from their porch) in the reality that “the God of heaven, though exalted in power and majesty is “eager” to befriend us, we rejoice.

This joy strengthens us to serve in the power of His precious promises and to minister according to His might. We need it as we have work to do. But we know Christ is with us and cares for us, because we are His friends.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ also fill you with hope and joy. May His unfailing kindness change your whole outlook as it has shaped ours. May your relationship with Him propel you to selfless service for God’s glory.

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Brother Lawrence: Continual Conversation with God

Pray continually. 1 Thessalonians 5:17

“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God: those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it; yet I do not advise you to do it from that motive; it is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise; but let us do it from a principle of love, and because God would have us.

Were I a preacher, I should above all other things preach the practice of the presence of God; and were I a director, I should advise all the world to do it: so necessary do I think it, and so easy too. Ah! knew we but the want we have of the grace and assistance of God, we should never lose sight of Him, no, not for a moment.

Believe me; make immediately a holy and firm resolution never more wilfully to forget Him, and to spend the rest of your days in His sacred presence, deprived for the love of Him, if He thinks fit, of all consolations. Set heartily about this work, and if you do it as you ought, be assured that you will soon find the effects of it.”

Brother Lawrence (1611-1691) in the “Fifth Letter” in The Practice of the Presence of God (London: Epworth Press) 15.

As a GTP team, we have discussed that “continual conversation with God” is the pathway for positioning ourselves to be healthy workers for God who exhibit peace, joy, discernment, and vibrant faith. But we must set ourselves heartily to this, not for what we will gain (as the list of gains goes on and on) but to be generous conduits of God’s love.

What about you? Do you practice God’s presence to help you survive, or do you do it to thrive as a conduit of divine love? I wrote a 30 day devotional called Thrive with Ross Piper of Christian Super. Reply if you’d like a free copy of it in PDF form. And practice God’s presence daily and you too will find the effects of it.

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Watchman Nee: Giving Living Water

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:38

“We need to drink deeply of the Lord and out of our innermost being, not merely a canal or channel. We need drink deeply of the Lord, and out of our innermost depths shall flow rivers of living waters… Unfortunately, many living waters become dead waters after they have passed through a man’s innermost depths. A minister of God’s Word is to be the channel for giving living waters to people. The ministry of the Word is not merely objective, for the Word is the living water that has come forth after having been thoroughly digested within the minister himself. God does not want mere objective ministry. His Word must have the human element.”

Watchman Nee in Spiritual Discernment (New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc.) 38-39.

Yesterday Sammy, my son, and I served as fly fishing guides for the GTP team. Ruthie, Ereny, and Shawn did great landing 15 trout. It was a gorgeous morning of wading in the Colorado River. Just like the water teemed with life, so must we. The living water must stir in us and flow through us so that we are giving living water wherever we go. Does His water flow through you or are you dead water?

We are only alive if we are letting the Word flow in and out. This requires discipline in a busy world, tuning out the noise in a world filled with chaos, and identifying places to dispense God’s blessings lest they stagnate with us. To give living water you must tap into it and dispense it. It’s one of few things more fun than a day of fly fishing (and I love fly fishing). It’s more like serving as a fly fishing guide: sharing the blessing with others.

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Oswald Chambers: Absolute Certainty

Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Revelation 3:10

“Tenacity is more than endurance, it is endurance combined with the absolute certainty that what we are looking for is going to transpire. Tenacity is more than hanging on, which may be but the weakness of being too afraid to fall off. Tenacity is the supreme effort of a man refusing to believe that his hero is going to be conquered.

The greatest fear a man has is not that he will be damned, but that Jesus Christ will be worsted, that the things He stood for – love and justice and forgiveness and kindness among men – will not win out in the end; the things He stands for look like will-o’-the-wisps. Then comes the call to spiritual tenacity, not to hang on and do nothing, but to work deliberately on the certainty that God is not going to be worsted.

If our hopes are being disappointed just now, it means that they are being purified. There is nothing noble the human mind has ever hoped for or dreamed of that will not be fulfilled. One of the greatest strains in life is the strain of waiting for God. “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience.” Remain spiritually tenacious.”

Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 2017) devotional for 22 February.

The only thing I have absolute certainty about is Jesus Christ. I’m thankful my GTP team members concur. The Holy Spirit has reinforced this idea on our retreat in the mountains, and for that I rejoice. As we have reflected on all God has done to get us this far, we find ourselves encouraged and strengthened to abide in Him, and let him continue to guide our work.

We resolve to remain spiritually tenacious. We have discussed that our spiritual lives and physical fitness, our being, must precede our doing. Spiritual tenacity is fueled by our knowing and living according to what is true. So, from the place of abiding, we can tenaciously go forth in His service

What’s this got to do with Christian generosity? If you don’t have an absolute certainty that God will supply your needs, and that you have been blessed to be a blessing, you will not live generously. We can only live a life of love, justice, forgiveness, and kindness, if we have absolutely certain in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, help me remain spiritually tenacious. Teach me to abide in You, to learn from You, and live in the absolute certainty of what is true, so that it shapes my doing, that is, my living, giving, serving, and loving. Hear my prayer in your mercy and make it so by your grace, I ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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C.S. Lewis: Fairy tales and turning 50

And He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3

“When I was ten I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

C.S. Lewis in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1966) 38.

Happy 50th Birthday to my wife, Jenni. I am thankful that she has childlike faith and loves fairy tales.

More times than I can count people have asked me what my wife is like. Jenni has a radiant beauty and unmatched humility to obey even the most difficult aspects of the Christian faith. She’s godly, loving, thoughtful, caring, and shines for Jesus like no one else I know. She likes time alone when I travel and welcoming me warmly when I get home.

When I saw the bridge (pictured above) while riding a boat between Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake two days ago with the GTP team, I thought of her as she lives her life as a bridge between people and God connecting them together. If you have not already subscribed to her Soulcare Anchoress Spigot, click to do so. It’s the best fortnightly post on the planet.

Why share this mediation today? The only way to exhibit Christian generosity is to have childlike faith. Don’t listen to me in this regard. Listen to Jesus. Put your life completely in His care if you want to show the world that He can be trusted to care for them. Childlike faith is not a weakness as the world might say, it’s a learned strength. Do you have it?

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Hannah Hurnard: Glorious opportunity

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-4

“We feel we would give anything if only we could, in actual experience, live on the High Places of love and victory here on this earth and during this life — able always to react to evil, tribulation, sorrow, pain, and every wrong thing in such a way that they would be overcome and transformed into something to the praise and glory of God forever. As Christians we know, in theory at least, that in the life of a child of God there are no second causes, that even the most unjust and cruel things, as well as all seemingly pointless and undeserved sufferings, have been permitted by God as a glorious opportunity for us to react to them in such a way that our Lord and Savior is able to produce in us, little by little, His own lovely character.”

Hannah Hurnard in Hinds’ Feet on High Places (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 1975) viii.

The GTP team is standing on the high places of love and victory by His grace alone this week. God is generously knitting our hearts together as we spend time in His Word, in strategic discussions, in doing outdoor activities in the mountains of Colorado, and in taking time for solitude.

He’s forming into His image and likeness, preparing us for the road ahead. It will be filled with both good times and tribulation, which we realize are part of His generous plan. He’s reminding us that the pain will not be pointless. It has purpose. Navigating these times transforms us and glorifies God.

What about you?

You too can live on the high places of love and victory not by avoiding challenges but by embracing whatever God has for you — whether it be pleasure or pain — by grace as part of a glorious opportunity to let His love shine through you today and every day by the Holy Spirit.

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