Mystery and Wonder

My Christian heritage is Pentecostal, meaning that I was trained to understand the world as a place where God, the Holy Spirit, is actively involved, where miracles can happen, where God is not just the Mystery behind the altar, but the Person in my heart! And, I am glad for that.  To be sure, in my lifetime I have witnessed some very strange things done ‘in the Name of God’ by people claiming to be filled with the ecstasy of the Spirit and I am quite sure they really needed to find stability and perhaps some care for mental health issues. I hasten to add that I have also seen God do the miraculous, known His Presence powerfully in ways that touch the deepest parts of my being. My lifetime of service to His Church resulted from a divine encounter in a little Pentecostal church in the Summer of 1971 that has no earthly explanation; as I was ‘called’ to vocational ministry.

I ponder the decline of the American church often, troubled in heart that the majority of this generation has left. There are many reasons we might explore, no single thread that unravels the knot. I am convinced that one of the reasons is the loss of the sense of the Presence of God, that we have tamed God to such an extent that He is no longer worth pursuing, that He does not captivate us with His love.  When we reduce Him to our insurance policy for Heaven, the Savior we hope to meet whenever our eyes close in death, while thinking of His as irrelevant to how we live today, He will disappear from our consciousness, forgotten like a far distant relative.

An excellent essay in Christianity Today addressed the loss of wonder and mystery in the modern mind.  “As children of the Western Enlightenment, we have emptied the cosmos of supernatural life, as surely as industry emptied Cape Cod of cod. Our default now, however subconsciously, is to imagine the cosmos as an empty sea on which we drift alone. It’s not full of enchantment, not teeming with mysteries, and certainly not crawling with angels. … We Christians can be tempted to make our faith less enchanted. We try to prop it up with respectability. But the fact is, we still believe in a lot of weird stuff. If we do not embrace an enchanted cosmos—the weird stuff—we miss the fullness of reality, the fullness of God, and we will never fully embrace the mystery of our own lives. To endure mystery, we must learn to surf the teeming waves of wonder.” Tish Warren Harrison – CT, 12/21

You may be wondering if I am suggesting that we need to become credulous, embracing superstition? Not at all. Ignorance is not godly! Arrogance, however, is deadly!  We do not know as much as we think we do. If there is a lesson in the last two years of pandemic it should be about the relative fragility of human life, about how quickly life can change. The wonder of God begins with humility. James urged us to “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10, NIV)  If we are completely honest with ourselves, it should not be too difficult to bend our knee and say, “My Lord, my God.”  In that admission, we open ourselves to His Spirit.

The rituals and prayers of the Church and the Scripture are key to steady faith, too.

While I am thankful for my heritage as a Pentecostal, I also know the weaknesses of that tradition which tends to discard the ‘old’ preferring the novel and the emotional aspects of faith.  Life cannot be lived in a constant high, can it? Even human love ebbs and flows through the seasons. Marriage cannot be sustained by passion alone. There is commitment to working through the hard times, too.  When I find prayer hard I am glad for the Psalms that become my words. When my heart is stone cold towards my Father, I am thankful for the worship of the Church that carries me along on the current until the warmth returns. When challenged by pain or disappointment, the simple acts of Communion and corporate worship hold me together until healing comes.

When my wife died 6 years ago, I’d like to tell you that I knew God’s Presence in an immediate way, but I’d be lying. My pain was so acute that prayer was all but impossible, worship an effort. But, I allowed myself to be carried by the care of godly people past and present. More nights than I can remember, I found sleep only as the words of the Psalms played in the darkness reminding me that “The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:7-10, NIV)

Indulge me another quote. “Like practices of prayer, the practice of sleep helps us rest in God’s care in moments of utter frailty, when we have no promise of how or when morning will come. This is the ergonomics of salvation, the way we learn to walk in a world of darkness. There is more mystery in our brains and bedrooms than we could ever pin down. And so we lie down and sleep each night knowing we aren’t left alone.”Prayer in the Night,  Tish Harrison Warren. Copyright © 2021 by Tish Harrison Warren.

Open your mind and heart to the wonder. Invite God to truly be God. Let His love find you and learn to lean into Him in faith, even when all around you seems to argue against His care. He is Life! Love Him.

Our word from the Word is familiar to my readers, one I turn to often because it is so rich with meaning. May these words carry you to the Presence, where you find life, health, and peace for this day.

“When I think of the wisdom and scope of God’s plan, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit. And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him.

May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19, NLT)

(Video of this blog at this link)
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How Great Thou Art

O Lord my God
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds
Thy hands have made
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy pow’r thru’out
The universe displayed

Then sings my soul
My Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art
Then sings my soul
My Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
And hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze

And when I think
That God His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die
I scarce can take it in
That on the cross
My burden gladly bearing
He bled and died
To take away my sin

When Christ shall come
With shout of acclamation
And take me home
What joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow
In humble adoration
And there proclaim
My God how great Thou art

Stuart Wesley Keene Hine © Copyright 1949 and 1953 Stuart Hine Trust CIO Stuart K. Hine Trust (Administration: USA All rights by Capitol CMG Publishing, except print rights for USA, North, Central and South America administered by Hope Publishing. All other non USA Americas rights by the Stuart Hine Trust. Rest of World – Integritymusic.com.)

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