Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sacrament of the Present Moment: Growth through Fulfilling our Obligations

Tettegouche State Park: Lake Superior

God works through the present moment to form his character in us and cause us to grow spiritually. This is the overarching message of Jean Pierre de Caussade’s Sacrament of the Present Moment. This spiritual classic goes on to say that the Lord reveals himself in the present moment primarily in three ways: 1) through our obligations in life, 2) through things we suffer, and 3) through promptings of the Holy Spirit. We will look at the first of these in this blog.

Obligations in our Lives
God reveals himself to us first through our daily—even mundane—obligations. Whatever our life situation may be, the Lord has placed us there and is using the responsibilities before us to work his plan in our lives and to develop Christ’s character in us.

If we want to grow spiritually, then, we must accept the duty placed before us. “For obedience to God’s undefined will depends entirely on our passive surrender to it,” asserts de Caussade. “We put nothing of ourselves into it apart from a general willingness that is prepared to do anything or nothing, like a tool that, though it has no power in itself, when in the hands of the craftsman, can be used by him for any purpose within the range of its capacity and design.” [1]

Such acceptance is precisely what God’s Word calls us to do. Addressing slaves in his day, Paul wrote: “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossian 3:23-24). That “whatever” which slaves were called to do was often dirty and demeaning labor. Yet the Lord summoned them to fulfill their obligations not grudgingly but with their whole heart.

So too we are called to fulfill our responsibilities, joyfully accepting the Lord’s will for us in the obligations set before us. “So we leave God to act in everything,” affirms de Caussade, “reserving for ourselves only love and obedience to the present moment. For this is our eternal duty.” [2]

Not only is God’s will found in the duty set before us, says de Caussade, but also God’s path “can only be found in that vast expanse of the divine will which is eternally present in the shadows of the most ordinary toil and suffering; and it is in these shadows that God hides the hand which upholds and supports us. This is all souls need to know in order to achieve that sublime surrendering of themselves.” [3]

God’s path, God’s supporting hand, and, indeed, God’s divine presence are found in the often mundane obligations of life. If we want to experience the Lord’s love and his work in our lives, we must become attentive to present moment.

Even when we see nothing and feel nothing, God is at work in our lives. In fact, often the deepest growth takes place when everything seems so dry to us. Therefore, we must persist in obedience so matter how things appear to us. When we feel the Lord’s presence and see how he is working in our lives, great! We need to enjoy these times to the fullest and thank our Heavenly Father for them. When they disappear, however, we must walk by faith, trusting that the Lord knows what he is doing in our lives during this season.

Our greatest opportunities to grow as Christians, then, are the situations in which we cultivate faithfulness right where we are. Rather than taking on numerous spiritual disciplines or attempting heroic ministry, we are called first of all to simple obedience. De Caussade asserts, “There remains one single duty. It is to keep one’s gaze fixed on the master one has chosen and to be constantly listening so as to understand and hear and immediately obey his will.” [4]

_____ [1] Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment, trans. Kitty Muggeridge (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989), p. 10.
[2] Ibid., p. 11.
[3] Ibid., p. 20.
[4] Ibid., p. 9.

© 2012 Glenn E. Myers

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sacrament of the Present Moment: Spiritual Formation in Real Time

Lake Superior

God reveals himself to us in the present moment. It is through the challenges and responsibilities of the each passing moment that the Almighty makes his plans known.

This is the message of Jean Pierre de Caussade’s classic, Sacrament of the Present Moment. Therefore, according to de Caussade, spiritual growth comes primarily from accepting the responsibilities that God places in front of us—especially the ones we don’t enjoy that much. Embracing our daily circumstances—especially the challenging ones—is the Lord’s primary way of shaping us into Christ’s image and directing our lives.

The Present Moment
In our day we have so many discipleship programs and seminars and gimmicks, thinking that a given technique is what we need to help us grow. De Caussade points out, however, that when we read the Bible we find no discipleship plans, much less methods and tactic. The fathers and mothers of the faith grew from simple obedience to the Lord in whatever situation they encountered in life. “All they knew was the each moment brought its new task, faithfully to be accomplished,” states de Caussade. “All their attention was focused on the present minute by minute. . . . Constantly prompted by divine impulsion, they found themselves imperceptibly turned toward the next task that God had ready for them at each hour of the day.”[1]

The present moment is sacramental in two ways. First, God is present with us but hidden from view. In our daily circumstances God is very present, but we seldom see it. We simply “know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). Second, the Lord uses the present moment—especially our trials—as means to work in our lives. Such suffering “produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom 5:3-4).

Full Surrender—When We Don’t Understand Why
Therefore, our basic task in spiritual formation is to abandon ourselves to God’s divine providence. He knows what is best for our growth. He provides challenges that will stretch us. He offers opportunities for sacrifice and service. He calls us to unreserved obedience.

Often we do not see what God is up to in our lives. We seldom understand what he is forming inside us. That is okay—we do not need to understand at the moment. Like a young athlete whose coach has told him or her to run sprints–or like a music student told to practice scales—we may not see the value in what we have been assigned. Instead we see a lot of hard work and discomfort. If we follow through in obedience, however, the purpose of the practice becomes clear.

So it is in our lives. Seldom do we understand the import of the moment or the impact of our immediate obedience. Our lives are like a beautiful tapestry that the Lord is creating, says de Caussade. While it is in progress, it doesn’t look like much. As God works in our lives, however, “neither the stitches nor the needle are visible, but, one by one, those stitches make a magnificent pattern that only becomes apparent when the work is completed and the right side exposed to the light of day; although while it is in progress there is no sign of its beauty and wonder.”[2]

My prayer is that more and more I would learn to embrace the sacrament of the present moment. God is good, and whatever he is up to in my life is for my best. Trusting that fact, I can indeed abandon myself in full surrender to whatever the Lord is doing in my life today!

[1] Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment, trans. Kitty Muggeridge (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989), p. 1.
[2] Ibid., pp. 53-54.

© 2012 Glenn E. Myers