Archive for March, 2010

Wonderful Capacities

The Apostle Paul reminds us that we will forever be in a battle between our desire to do good and our propensity toward evil (Romans 7). But on the other hand, Teresa of Avila reminds us that God has also blessed us with wonderful capacities to overcome temptation. Born in 1515 in Avila, Spain, Teresa entered the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at the age of twenty where she was known to have occasional supernatural experiences, most notably her vision of a castle made of diamond and crystal that was the inspiration for her devotional classic Interior Castle.

What exactly are these “wonderful capacities?” They are reason, faith, memory, will and understanding. Reason tells the soul how mistaken it is to believe the temptation has any value in comparison to what we are seeking. Faith instructs the soul in what we must do to acquire true satisfaction. Memory reminds us how all earthly pleasures come to an end. The will inclines our soul to love God and reminds us that it is he who gives us life and being. Understanding comes forward and makes our soul realize that we could never hope to have more than we have in Christ.

Teresa goes on to remind us that when we sometimes fail not to lose heart and not to cease striving to make progress in our spiritual journey. Our journey is toward the center of this castle where “the King of Glory dwells in the greatest splendor.” Sometimes God allows us to fall in order to reveal to us our sinfulness and the resulting harm that comes as a result of sin. Could our sin have the effect of leading us back to God? Let me know what you think.

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The Usefulness of Temptation

Perhaps the most influential christian writer of the 15th century was Thomas a Kempis. Born in 1380, he became an Augustinian monk at the age of 19. His most lasting achievement came in 1441 when he edited Gerhard Groote’s diary in the form of the classic The Imitation of Christ. Though often intensely somber and seldom less than demanding, its insight into the human condition has no rival short of the Scriptures themselves. His take on temptation is profound.

As long as we live as part of this world we cannot escape temptation. That statement is not in itself all that profound. However, a Kempis goes on to write about what he calls the usefulness of temptation. Usefulness and temptation are not words that I often see associated together. He argues that temptations can be useful to us even though they seem to cause us nothing but pain and agony. To quote him directly “[temptations] are useful because they can make us humble, they can cleanse us, and they can teach us.”

To make practical application to your life consider this: each and every God-follower passed through times of real temptation and used those temptations to make spiritual progress in their lives. Those who did not deal with temptations successfully fell by the wayside. None of us are free from temptation because the source of our temptation comes from within (Romans 7). We are born with sinful desires that seemingly parade one temptation after another before us. As a result, a Kempis says, “We can never win this battle by running away alone.”

So how does a Kempis believe temptation works? First, the thought is allowed to enter our mind. Then our imagination is sparked by the thought. Third, we feel a sense of pleasure as we entertain the thought in our imagination. Fourth and finally, we engage in the evil act by assenting to its urges.

His solution? Keep a close eye on them in the very beginning. Temptations are more readily combated by refusing them entrance into our minds. In his words, “meet them at the door as soon as they knock and do not let them in.” In my experience, not opening the door is more easily said than done. What’s your experience?

A Lenten Act of Will

During this Lenten season I have been encouraging the faith community I lead to begin experimenting with a more complete surrender to God than ever before. The experiment began Sunday with a challenge to do life with God on a moment by moment basis. This experiment was birthed from a profound observation (and subsequent dissatisfaction) that far too often I go through life on autopilot – completely unaware of God or at the very least failing to acknowledge his Presence in any real way.

My dissatisfaction led to a search for someone who embodied this approach. Frank Laubach is that man. Laubach and his wife were missionaries in the Philippines beginning just before the first world war. He founded churches on the island of Mindanau before becoming the dean of Union College in Manila. It is estimated that he is responsible for teaching over forty-five thousand of the Mohammedan Moros people to read and write. From his experience in the Philippines he established a world-wide literacy project – Each One Teach One – that is responsible for the education of millions more throughout the world.

In his collection of journal pages entitled Letters by a Modern Mystic, Laubach wrote this on January 29, 1930: “I feel simply carried along each hour, doing my part in a plan which is far beyond myself. This sense of cooperation with God in the little things is what astonishes me. I seem to have to make sure of only one thing now, and every other thing “takes care of itself,” or I prefer to say what is more true, God takes care of all the rest. My part is to live in this hour in continuous inner conversation with God and in perfect responsiveness to his will…this seems to be all I need to think about.”

Living moment by moment with God is an act of will. It begins when we compel our mind to an openness, an awareness of God. We then wait and listen with determined sensitiveness, fixing our attention on what God is saying to us in that moment. After a while, perhaps, it will become a habit, requiring less effort and becoming something that flows naturally from a deep spiritual river within.