Monday, April 5, 2010

Ancient Text, Present Context (Part 2)

I might have seemed to get a little off point in my initial post but I think it was important to set a background for you before I addressed head on the idea of walking in the Spirit. If walking in the Spirit is a sole function of hearing from God and obeying His command, then it is impossible for flawed and fallible humans to do this 100% of the time. Proof? Have you ever done something that you believed was God’s leading and then later realized that you were wrong? If you answer in the affirmative then you haven’t walked in the Spirit 100% of the time. I contend that walking in the Spirit does not automatically relegate the value of using your brain to the sidelines of life. I don’t accept that one is mutually exclusive of the other, and this may be the major point of departure between Christianity in Nigeria and Christianity in the West.

As a young Christian in Nigeria, I was taught to think that God fixed anything and everything if I prayed hard enough. If it didn’t work then I was saddled with the unwanted burden of feeling inadequate and unspiritual. I can’t comment on how many people were left feeling that their illness or misfortune was somehow their fault because if they were truly spiritual enough they would have prayed and God would have responded. Unwittingly we reduced God to the functions of an ATM machine: His sole purpose being to “spit” out the necessary “currency” in response to our prayer “card” slotted into the heavenly machine. Rather than breed an authentic and honest approach to a relationship with Christ, this system merely fed the humanistic tendency towards a feeling of superiority over those who didn’t seem to be doing as well as you. It also fed the old maxim, “Fake it till you make it.” Now while many people may not have said that, that is exactly how they unwittingly lived, and called it FAITH!

Our teachers conveniently disregarded the fact that, “Faith calls those things that are not as though they are.” Instead they began to model the idea that, “Faith calls those things that are as though they are not.” While this may seem like a semantic difference, it is far deeper than that. You see, if you believe the Scriptures, then faith suggests that while your circumstance may seem dire at the moment, by faith you know that God’s faithfulness will prevail and you will overcome the circumstance one way or another. No where does the Bible suggest that if you deny the presence or existence of your difficult circumstance, then faith will make it go away! Ultimately I believe that the happy medium for the Christian lies somewhere between being pragmatic and being pedantic. While I don’t believe that prayer alone is what we depend on to get us through life, I can certainly understand the wariness displayed towards a completely cerebral approach to our relationship with God.

We must trust that the Scriptures are speaking truth when they tell us that God loves us and is at work on our behalf to do His good pleasure in our lives. This belief must form the basis of every prayer whether the results turn out as we expected or not. Having said that, it would be disingenuous to turn in a shoddy performance on your job, show up late and leave early, don’t study to improve your knowledge and skill at what you do, and yet somehow pray to God that you’ll be made the CEO of the company some day. That is not likely to happen as it won’t be in either yours or the company’s best interest. Similarly, as much as Shaquille O’Neal might pray to become an F-16 pilot, the likelihood of that happening is literally 0% since F-16 cockpits are not built to accommodate 7-foot giants. In other words, there are practical (pragmatic) considerations alongside of prayer that make life work.

If God chooses to bye pass the laws of nature and make the impossible possible, then that is His single prerogative and that is what the Scriptures refer to as a miracle. There is no formula or guaranteed recipe for how to make that happen. Prayer may or may not be the catalyst for such a miracle, but if indeed a miracle will happen, it will happen simply because God ordains it to be so. Miracles are God’s sovereign choice, but making wise decisions are ours. That’s why the book of Proverbs is replete with counsel on exercising wisdom in making our daily decisions. If prayer alone was all that was necessary to make life work, then the book of Proverbs would be redundant. I'll conclude my thoughts tomorrow, meanwhile please add yours.


Ronke said...

Dunno Rev. Its like saying since I cant rely on God to step in with a miracle each time I need one, I am better off never hoping for one. Just because I'm not walking in the Spirit 100% of the time, should I give up on striving to do so?
Faith goes hand in hand with hope and expectation. Walking in the Spirit is an exercise of faith. God is the same in Africa as He is in America. If we tend to walk more in the Spirit here, even if many of us do not necessarily do so by choice, well I dare say it’s because God makes it possible to do so - as much in America as you say is the case in Africa. I say we do not all choose to walk in the Spirit because the human instinct (default setting, if you like) is to depend on sense, skill and knowledge. Of course, these are gifts from the Father so presumably He gave them so we could use them. However, here in Africa life is a tad... less predictable than it is in the west. So sense, skill and knowledge oftentimes appear frustratingly insufficient for a variety of reasons. If you live in a place where electricity comes on whenever you flick a switch or have a power generator as a back-up, there’s no point praying that you will have power so you can study all night in order to pass the exams that you need to get that promotion. Where you live Joseph, all you need to do is flick the switch on! MANY Christians from here will tell you that when they are on vacation in the west or otherwise find themselves living there, it is much easier and logical to walk in your understanding. Who needs God when you can sort it out yourself? Its commonsense, or is it?
I cant hold brief for all of Christiandom but I can speak for myself: I have delivered presentations that I barely needed to prepare for and done stunningly well at them. I could do them ‘standing on my head, blindfold and with one arm tied behind my back’ like my Oxford alumni Boss used to tell me. And I would. However, get this: those times when I was less sure and because I was less confident I prayed, I delivered outstanding presentations with insights that I marveled at myself. Fluke? It has happened enough times for me to recognize a trend. Does the Holy Spirit know about marketing strategies? Can God give insight into marketing forecasts? Or is God honored when we invite Him into situations that we could very well have managed on our own? Does He delight to step in at time when He knows we could have jolly well gone ahead without Him and in doing so, makes our best effort stellar?
I have had choices to make and laying them before God in prayer, I have heard Him say to me: ‘Choose and I will bless your choice’. There have also been times when I have heard Him say: ’Hold on, this is not it. In the fullness of time, I will reveal my will’. Does God still speak? Can His Spirit lead us in every and all situations?
I have changed jobs twice under the leading of the Holy Spirit at times when it made no sense to anyone least of all me. A short time afterwards, an unpredictable, globally determined event took place in each one of those organizations which meant that affected those jobs which had seemed pretty secure at the time that I had moved on, puzzled and bewildered but obeying nonetheless. Colleagues called and asked me: ‘How did you know this was going to happen?’ My answer: ‘I didn’t’. Coincidence?

Ronke said...

I wish I tell you that on account of these astounding experiences, I now walk in the Spirit all the time. Have I been wrong sometimes? Absolutely. However I can tell you this: as time passes, those times are fewer and farther between. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I don’t jump at everything I consider to be the leading of God as I used to do when I was younger. Now I am slower, more discerning, testing every spirit. I have learnt that God does not strike us with lightning when we question His will or leading. So I pray until I have peace, then I step out in faith. Now, if only I could do that EVERYDAY and EVERY MOMENT, I might be able to tell you emphatically that it is possible for carnal man to be led of a Spirit God all of the time because I have done it. All I can tell you is this: His Spirit has led me at times when I needed to make life and death choices, as much as He has led me when I was making banal decisions. So by that experience I know 1) there are no situations too trivial to invite God’s leading. If we need it, He will give it. For instance, only a person with chronic digestive tract problems in a part of the world where treatment is unavailable or unaffordable would understand why anyone would ask for God’s help when they go in the rest room. 2) He is as present as we ask Him to be.
So I tell you this: It is possible for carnal man to be led by the Spirit of a loving Father God all of the time because we believe it. That’s calling those things which are not as though they were simply because we have hope that they can be.