It’s All About ME!

2021-03-20 Self MagazineSelf-help, self-improvement, self-actualization, self-worth, Self Magazine, self-love.  There is even a Self-Help Credit Union and books about self-massage.  And don’t even get started on seminars and classes one can take for any of these endeavors.  Oprah, Deepak, Covey, Maxwell, Robbins, Dr. Phil and a plethora of others make a fortune every year from our need to “find ourselves” . . . as if you cannot look in a mirror and say, “Oh, there I am.”

2021-03-20 Rain is WetThe first thing to recognize about the “self” phenomenon that began in the 1970s is this foolish idea that we need “to learn to love ourselves.”  That’s as absurd as “trying to figure out if I am a man or woman.”  Hey, follow the “science” and look in your pants.  This is like trying to figure out if the sun is bright or if rain is wet.  The sun IS bright by its nature; by the way it was created and what it was created to be.  The rain IS wet because it is made of water, and by definition you cannot use water in “dry-cleaning;” otherwise the cleaning would be wet-cleaning.

Just as the sun is bright and rain is wet, we love ourselves.  This first principle is in Ephesians 5:29.  You can no more hate yourself than the rain can be dry.  So how do we understand negative thoughts and self-deprecation we often encounter?  We are always of two minds, and the “self-love” gurus never seem to understand this.

If the Bible is correct, and I would (and do) stake my life on it, we need to reorient our thinking to correctly assess what we understand to be self-hate.  I love myself, but sometimes I do things that I know are not good for me or others.  (See Romans 7:15-20.)  And the more I love myself AND understand that the thing I do is not good for me, the more I will hate what I do.  Too much of our pop psychology from the 1960s on to the present time misreads this spite for what I do as spite for my self, demonstrating a lack of critical analysis skills.  It also shows a significant misconstruction of the human mind.  Many professional psychiatrists and psychologists now have been fed lies about self-hate and graduated with this misunderstanding.

2021-03-20 Me Me MeThe social and cultural revolution that occurred in the 1960s carried over into the 70s with what Tom Wolfe called the “Me Generation” that was focused on examining our own belly buttons to the point that we lost sight of what it was to be a person.  And it has not become any better for newer generations.  Stare at the sun long enough and you will not see it anymore.  Stare at your own reflection in a mirror and you will lose sight of what really matters . . . for yourself and for others.

The saddest part of this is that some of the “self-help” stuff is right.  If you read some blogs or scan the web about self-love, there are some excellent guidelines for caring for others or living at peace, eating better food or disavowing racism.  Do these things and, yes, you will find yourself happier, more fulfilled and living healthier and better than ever.  But the question comes, is being happy the ultimate goal of my life?  “People who are entirely wrapped up in themselves make pretty small packages.” (Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1942)

The key consideration is motive.  Why do we do the things we do?  The Son of Man did not come to do His own will, but the will of His Father who had sent Him. (John 6:38)  God does not look on outward appearances as we do (1 Samuel 16:7), but looks at our motives.  When I indulge in self-help because it is good for ME, my motive is sinful, even if the action is good.  Even action that is self-sacrificial or self-deprecating is nothing more than banging a gong if the motive is only for me. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)  Even writing a brilliant blog (🙄) is of no value to the Kingdom of God if all I want is more followers and accolades of readers.

Separating our “selves” from what we do is almost impossible for us.  The concept is easy enough to understand: consider when you look at a beautiful painting or the Grand Canyon; when you smell a delicious New England Boiled Dinner about ready to be served; when you feel the warmth of a loving embrace; when you hear a philharmonic orchestra play a Beethoven symphony perfectly.  In all of these occasions we are somehow transported “out of ourselves” to a point of delight without focus on us.  Ideally, this is how we should live!  Not as a Buddhist in “absorption into the infinite” nor in a state of impersonal nirvana, and certainly not with a focus on how much “I enjoy” this.

Rather, there is a position of satisfaction in savoring something without “self-consciousness.”  It is not a place of hating oneself or of putting oneself down; nor is it a place of exalting oneself, of loving and caring for yourself over concern for others.  It is simply NOT thinking about yourself.

There is also a place of discomfort where we are concerned for someone else, worried for another’s well-being, hopeful for something for someone besides ourselves.  This is also a field of UN-self-consiousness. 

So where does that leave us?  Always coming before the Creator with humility and repentance for being less than He created us to be.  C.S. Lewis commented somewhere that we are either repenting of a sin, contemplating a sin, or committing a sin, this being our constant habit.  It would seem rather dismal except that whenever we are in that place of repentance, God lifts us out of our “selves” and gives us joy for the moments that we are UN-self-conscious.  And this comes because of His grace to us, His unmerited favor that the Holy God of the universe lavishes on us who are so unholy.

2021-03-20 RainingSo give up reading on “how to be happy,” forget about “finding yourself,” or “realizing your potential.”  No need to “Run The World.”  Most of all, lose any misconception about a need to love yourself more or more perfectly.  You can no more improve on your love for yourself than you can make rain any wetter.

Instead focus on Him, on His Presence, on His purposes.  Learn to know Him, not as an abstract idea or philosophy, but know Him as a person.  Granted, an infinite and undefinable person, but He is here and He is not silent.  It is NOT all about me . . . or you.

Practicing the Presence (Reprise)

You may recall on August 20, 2016 and August 28, 2016 I blogged on the Practice of the Presence; this is a way of recognizing that The God Who Is There is really here, at all times, in every situation, in all places.  As David prayed in Psalm 139:7-12,
“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
    even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’
    even the darkness is not dark to you;
        the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”

In Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Peter Scazzero notes there are different approaches to God based on our emotional maturity.  We begin by “talking at God.”  This he describes as copying our parents prayers, such as mimicking a prayer over a meal.  As we become more comfortable with prayer, we ‘grow’ into using our own words, “talking to God,” rather than simple recitals of memorized prayers, but these prayers are still very self-centered; requests for blessing, provision, answers that we want.  And this, sadly, is where many of us get stuck, never growing up any more, and always coming to Him with our begging and whining, “gimme, gimme, gimme.”  Like little children we have no goals nor ideas beyond our immediate needs for love, provision and comfort.

But there are other levels of communication with God.  The next Scazzero addresses is “listening to God.”  This is where we begin to recognize that prayer is a two-way communication.  Yes, God speaks to us primarily through the Bible, and you can be certain nothing He “says” to you in prayer will contradict that.  For example, if the Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:23), He will not tell you in prayer to dump her or walk out on a marriage.  But there are many details of life not addressed in the Bible where His particular guidance can be helpful and is available if we learn to listen (see October 2, 2016).

Finally Scazzero takes us to “being with God,” a place of emotional maturity which is not dependent on activity or disciplines of the Spirit-led life.  This is a place of simply enjoying being together, the way lovers behave when they do not need to talk, but simply rest in each others’ arms.  Make no mistake, the devotional practices of the disciplines of the Spirit-led life get us centered on who God is, how He interacts with us, and what His personality is like, so these lead us to a deeper understanding of what it is like to be in His presence, but it is the “being” there that matters.

Like a marriage, if a person thinks he or she can do anything they want and maintain a good relationship, theirs will be headed for serious problems.  But when a man and woman are engaged in learning about how to please each other and how to provide for each others’ needs, theirs can become the most satisfying relationship apart from the inner practice of the Presence of Him whose love we are imitating.

In the same way, the relationship with Father requires attention to Him, time spent with Him and sharing of one’s life with Him.  The life lived outside of that relationship becomes empty, pointless, and in the end deadly, with a deadness that must be understood in terms of spiritual death like Adam’s and Eve’s (see December 6, 2015 ).  While they appeared to be “living” they had become “dead in [their] transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), separated from the Source of Life.  And when we have wandered into the wrong road, one that takes us further into death and away from Life, the fastest way back into that relationship that will ultimately satisfy us as no other, is to turn around and head back the way we have come.  It is possible to get too far down that road that leads to death to recover much of what is lost, and it is even possible to get so far down that road that return of any sort becomes impossible.

But if one does return, like lovers separated as teenagers reunited in old age, who may be able to rekindle their love and find some satisfaction in “the remains of the day,” they must wonder at what has passed.  How much time was lost, how many moments of love were missed, how much influence on others was destroyed, that can never be recovered because the time has passed them by?   God can bring life to dead bones, but how much of life was missed by those one day resurrected, if they had continued in life all along? (See Ezekiel 37:1-14)

So do not wait for too long to find His presence in your life.  He is always here, but where are we?  Walking with Him or in a valley of dry bones?  Do we Practice His Presence?

Practicing the Practice of the Presence

Practicing the Presence of God presents us with a couple of problems.

First of all, by nature we tend to trust our senses and not our faith.  We easily forget what we cannot see or feel or hear.  We even have a saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Secondly, we face multiple distractions.  These can be good things, like a wonderful poem, a marvelous piece of music, a brilliant blog emo wink, or just the busy-ness of doing our job or caring for our family.  These distractions can also be bad things, temptations to do what we know to be wrong, but what looks like a short-cut to what will please us or make us more comfortable.

Thirdly, we are so small in our thinking, it is hard for us to get our minds around the existence of God as He really is, and we must make substitutions in our thinking to accommodate our limited understanding.

Keep in mind Whose Presence we are practicing.  The God Who Is There is more than our tiny brains can process.  His nature is clearly presented in the Bible as being Three-In-One, what we call a “triune being”, a term we invented because we cannot understand how one being can exist in three persons.  Yet one would have to ask, “If I can understand all there is to know of the nature of God, is this really God?”  You see, He has revealed to us enough of what we can understand to show us that we cannot ever fully grasp His complete nature.

He was and is eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the One true God and Creator of all things.  Jesus did not become the Son of God when Mary gave birth to the infant boy, but rather the eternal Son of God simply took on human form, personality and limitations in order to fully identify with His creation.  Think of a painter being able to go into his painting to fully experience what he has painted, and though a poor and limited illustration, this may help us grasp the idea of God becoming man.  Also, we should note here that God is a spirit, not a physical being.  So the idea that God had sexual relations with Mary in order to impregnate her is absurd.  Rather with the same creative ability He had when He formed man, He created in Mary a body for the Son using her DNA and His spirit, just as He used the dust and His breath to make the first Adam.

So how do we get around these problems in Practicing The Presence of God?  The following ideas are not set in stone, but rather suggestions for you if you are having difficulty seeing that God is always with you.

First is to use a holy imagination.  As I mentioned last week, just because we are using imagination does not mean He is not really there.  But this is an exercise of our faith.  However, there is a caution here: our imaginations can imagine things that are not of God.  A holy imagination is one informed by the Bible as to the nature, character and behavior of The God Who Is There.  You may be able to imagine God is telling you to rob a bank to pay your bills, but that will be only your imagination, and not God at all!

After exploring some of the Bible’s teaching about what God is like, then, imagine Him leaning in close to your ear and whispering into your life how you should behave, what your response to the things around you should be.  Pretend you are in the company of a King (you are!!) and behave as you would with Him at your elbow.  Some have found adding an empty chair at dinner reminds them of His presence at the meal.  Remind yourself by any creative way you desire of His presence all day long.  He IS there, even though you may not realize it.

Second is to get past the distractions of life.  As noted last week, I do not advocate that we all become monks in monasteries.  Rather, incorporate our unseen Guest in our activities.  When you select a television program, consider asking Him to watch it with you (He will anyway!)  It is necessary to give attention to tasks we must perform, but whenever possible, simply include Him in the task.  Consider if a Royal was beside you, how would you approach this task?  Would you be so quick to get angry at that other driver?  Would you take that next scoop of ice cream?  Would you ask for His opinion on your plans?   Would you do them differently if He was there?  The fact is, HE IS!   As Steve Elliott said, “Act as if He is really there, and you will find He IS!” 

Third is the issue of what we imagine Him to be.  As noted, we cannot grasp everything about God that He has revealed about Himself, and He understands our limitations.  So there may be times you need to see a God who hangs stars in the universe, but at other times you may need to see a Brother who lovingly feeds a hungry baby.  You may need to see a God who can move mountains, a Mighty Warrior who can defend against an evil enemy, or you may need a gentle Spirit able to see through walls or into the cells of a body that needs healing.  Because our little brains cannot imagine all these things about God at once does not mean He is less than He is.  He is all of these and much more, but we can only imagine part of His divine majesty at any one time.

Enjoy His company.  He came a long way to enjoy yours.  He gave Himself to unspeakable torture and death on a cross so that He could be part of your life.   “For God so loved the world that He gave His only and unique Son, so that everyone who trusts in Him may have eternal life, instead of being utterly destroyed.”   (John 3:16, CJB)

Now, if you do not already, start Practicing the Practice of The Presence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice the Presence

Any way to treat a king.JPGSuppose a royal came to my house for a visit and I spent the entire time in front of my television set, barely acknowledging the visitor.  Then I prepared my meal of steak and potatoes and green bean casserole, but shared only a piece of dry bread with my guest.  I laid down in my comfortable queen size bed with warm blankets and gave him a small sheet to lay on the floor of the living room.  In the morning I woke and went out the door without even noting that he was in the house, and that he had hoped to go to work with me.

Sadly this is how many Christians treat their King.  He has come a long way to reach us, but we are too busy with other things to share with Him what we are doing.  Now, don’t get me wrong:  I do not advocate a monastic life or suggest we do nothing but spend hours in “devotions” or Bible study and prayer meetings.  In fact, there are times “acts of devotion” become just that: an act, and not a real part of our lives.

In Practicing the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence noted: “I do not say we must put any violent constraint upon ourselves. No, we must serve God in a holy freedom. We must work faithfully without trouble or disquiet, recalling our mind to God mildly and with tranquility as often as we find it wandering from Him. It is, however, necessary to put our whole trust in God. We must lay aside all other cares and even some forms of devotion, though very good in themselves, yet such as one often engages in routinely. Those devotions are only means to attain to the end. Once we have established a habit of the practice of the presence of God, we are then with Him who is our end. We have no need to return to the means.”

You see, Jesus was quite serious when He said, surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)  When you have accepted Jesus as your savior, He gives this assurance that you will never be alone . . . even when you would prefer to be!  A friend recently noted that in order to sin, one has to divorce himself from the presence of God.  This is not entirely true, as in its purest form, sin is simply “falling short of the glory of God,” and I find that even when I am trying my best to be obedient to God and walk with Him, I continually come up less than what I expect He would want me to be, or to what He created me to be.

However, to intentionally sin, which is to decide to do something that I know is against God’s will, my friend is correct.  The only way I can do that is to get a divorce from God, so that I am not with Him.  And if I go through my day pretending that God is not a part of my life, that He is not “visiting my house,” I easily fall into traps the enemy of human souls sets.  I can sin without thinking about His presence, as though He is asleep on the living room floor when I go to work alone.

But that is not the way He wants it!  He wants to be a Present Participant in everything we do.  He wants us to be aware of Him when we watch television.  He wants us to talk with Him about what we are watching, what we are cooking, when we are driving, when we are working.  He wants us to recognize He is always at our elbow . . . even when we wish He was not!  And if we realize He IS there, we will be more inclined to please Him rather than ourselves when choices need to be made.

The Practice of the Presence of God is not natural for us.  It requires a holy imagination, but do not think that just because we are using our imagination, He is not really there!  This is the exercise of our faith.  The fact is He IS present.  Our ignorance of Him bending over our shoulder when we are reading a magazine or newspaper does not mean He is not there.  He is there when we brag about what we have accomplished, when we sit in our chairs and do nothing, when we fill out our taxes, when we envy someone else’s auto or jewelry, when we choose whether to get another doughnut, when we log onto the internet or walk by a swimming pool, when we blow up at a coworker or drive in our cars.  He is always there!  (For more insight into this list, see .)

When one begins to practice the presence of God it will seem unnatural, but by His grace, you will find He really is there, and there with grace.  The first place you will see His grace active in your mind is in helping you to practice!   And you will find Brother Lawrence’s “holy freedom,” a relaxing of rules and regulations, and a friendly communion with One who loves you more than your own mother!

Practice the Presence2When you practice the presence of God, you will find Him whispering in your ear much more that you realized before you started paying attention.  And He is merciful and loving, so when you discover weaknesses and faults in your life, your practice of His presence that reveals these and troubles your mind, will put you at ease with His mercy.  And you will find Him purifying you, first from belligerent sins, and then from some weaknesses that hurt others.

Do not become discouraged as you find more faults than you realized you had!  When you bring a rough diamond under the jeweler’s lamp to work on it, you will see more faults than you saw before.  His light may seem uncomfortable at first, but His grace will help you endure.  And give Thanx for His view, that He that began the good work in you will be faithful to complete it. (Philippians 1:6)  Next week, August 28, 2016, we will look at some practical tips for Practicing The Presence.

Practice the Presence1