Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Detaching from our Anxious Approach to Word

How often we approach our daily work with anxiety and stress. We blame our lack of time with God on our busy schedule, and we accuse our responsibilities for hindering our spiritual maturity.

However, “it is not your work that hinders you” from spiritual growth, asserts Johannes Tauler, “but rather the disordered way in which you work that hinders you. You fail to keep God clearly in your love, in your longing and in your heart. Thus you are scattered and distorted within, and God is not completely intrinsic to you. Truly, what hinders you is not your work or anything other than yourself." [1]

We assume that it all depends on us, and that we need to work harder and longer to get everything done. However, Scripture tells that the fruitfulness of our labor depends on the Lord and that he gives us peace and rest:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late,
toiling for the food you eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves. (Ps 127:1-2)

Let us cast our cares on the Lord all day long as we approach our work and responsibilities, and let us truly enter God’s rest!

1. Johannes Tauler Predigten: Vollständige Ausgabe, edited by Georg Hofmann (Freiburg: Herder, 1961), sermon 17, p. 122. The translation is my own.
© 2011 Glenn E. Myers

Friday, May 20, 2011

Clinging: What We Must Let Go (and reflections by Johannes Tauler)

We cling to all kinds of things! We cling to material possessions and a multiplicity of comforts and pleasures in life. Some of us cling to other people. Others grasp for success in their career, along with power, promotion and prestige. Still others obsess over their looks and workout endless to improve their body image.

Of course we hate to admit that we are actually clinging. As Christians we know we shouldn’t cling. So, we deny that we have a problem (“I am simply trying to be a good steward of my body,” we assert). Or we excuse it as not being important (“A little innocent indulgence never hurt anyone,” we tell ourselves.) Sometimes we compare ourselves with others who have much bigger issues than ours, and that makes us feel good about ourselves!

The problem is that when we are clinging—even to harmless things—we cannot be clinging to Jesus. If my hands are clutching possessions, they cannot be holding on to the Lord. If my mind is filled with anxious thoughts about climbing the ladder, it is not focused on God’s faithfulness that provides for me.

Clinging can also be compared to eating junk food. If I nibble on junk food all afternoon, amazingly I won’t be hungry for healthy food at dinner time. Likewise, if I am filling my thoughts and my heart with material possessions or people or success, I curb my inner longing for God. Like junk food, these things do not give me lasting satisfaction—they are not what I am truly hungry for. However, like junk food, they numb my true appetite for the Lord so that I do not hungrily seek the Lord in prayer, Scripture, worship and fellowship!

“Do not love the world or anything in the world,” states 1 John 2:15-16. “If anyone love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

If we want to grow spiritually, we need to stop the intake of junk food. We must cease clinging to all our little comforts, bad habits and things that keep us engrossed in worldly pleasures. We have to detach.

“We must arise from everything that is not God—from self and all created things,” says Johannes Tauler. “Such rising sets off deep within us a fierce longing to be stripped free and liberated from everything that separates us from God. The more we lay aside all these things, the more such longing grows within us!” [1]

Who is On the Throne?
Ultimately the question is: Who is on the throne in my heart? When I’m clinging to something, I give it center place in my heart. When I place anything on the throne, the Lord moves off the throne. He will not share his throne with any idol!

Serious believers who move forward in God are “noble people who truly arise and thereby shine forth (Isa 61:1). They allow God to prepare their inner depths,” continues Tauler, “and abandon themselves completely to God. They empty themselves of ‘self’ in all things and do not cling to anything.” [2]

Spiritual growth is so much more than “praying the prayer” or “getting saved.” It is more than knowing our Bible—the Pharisees were experts at that! Rather, spiritual formation is about detaching from all the false loves in the world in order for that “fierce longing” for the Lord to arise in us—and out of that longing for us to pursue Jesus with all our strength!

1. Johannes Tauler Predigten: Vollständige Ausgabe, edited by Georg Hofmann (Freiburg: Herder, 1961), sermon 3, pp. 35-36. The translation is my own.
2. Ibid., p. 37.
© 2011 Glenn E. Myers

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

God uses Suffering to Shape our Lives: Reflections by Johannes Tauler

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sister, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” -James 1:2-4 (TNIV)

Every day has its trials—big ones, little ones, petty and irritating ones! And every day I need to remind myself to embrace the circumstances that come my way. Indeed, I must remember to consider these things as pure joy!

The preacher who has affected my life more than any other has much to say on this topic. His name is Johannes Tauler, and he lived 700 years ago. In one of his powerful sermons he states:

“Oh, whoever indeed lovingly embraces in the depths of their hearts the bitter circumstances that God gives them, what glorious life blossoms in such people! What joy, what peace, what a noble thing that would be! Yes, the smallest as well as the greatest suffering that God ever sends you, he gives you out of the depths of his inexpressibly great love, as the highest and best gift that he even could, or ever has given you. If only you embrace it, it would be so helpful to you!”

“Yes, all suffering—the smallest hair that falls from your head and you don’t even notice, about which our Lord said that not even a hair will go unnumbered—all suffering that comes upon you, as small as it may be, God has seen from eternity and loved it and had it in mind in order to send it to you.”

Tauler continues, “So it is with the loss of joy or possession or honor or comfort or whatever God sends you—such losses form you and serve to guide you to true peace, if only you can embrace them. . . . All the suffering that God gives us to taste is justified, for through suffering he will lead us to great things. Thus he has set everything as hardship for us. Had he wanted, he easily could have made loaves of bread grow in the field like grain.

Nothing that happens to us is by accident. In God’s sovereign knowledge and absolute love, he allows everything that comes our way—and has a plan how he will use it! Tauler concludes:

“Just as the artist foresees in his mind how he will make each stroke of the brush on the canvas—how short or long or wide,—and there is no other way if the painting is to become a masterpiece—where he should use red or blue—so God does the same, and a thousand times more, in our lives with through much suffering and many strokes of color. He does so in order to achieve in us the masterpiece that pleases him the most, so long as we truly embrace these gifts—these bitter circumstances—from him.”[1]

God specifically chooses the circumstances that I need in my life to transform me. Just like an artist skillfully selects each dab of paint to make a masterpiece, God is making a masterpiece out of your life and mine. When I truly see this, I can indeed count it all joy when circumstances go awry, knowing that God is going to use it to make me mature and complete—his work of art!

1. Johannes Tauler Predigten: Vollständige Ausgabe, edited by Georg Hofmann (Freiburg: Herder, 1961), sermon 3, pp. 30-31. The translation is my own.

© 2011 Glenn E. Myers