Day 38: True Receptivity
Illustration: Juliana Crownover
I have a friend these forty years past who has been practicing a realization of the presence of God…He says that by unwearying efforts, by constantly recalling his mind to the presence of God, a habit has been formed within him. It is of such a nature that, so soon as he is freed from his ordinary labor, and not seldom even when he is engaged thereon, his soul lifts itself up above all earthly matters without care or forethought on his part, and dwells as it were firmly stayed on God, as in its center and place of rest, faith almost always being his companion at such times. Then his soul’s joy is full – it is what he calls the actual presence…Then it is he feels that only God and he are in the world. With Him, he holds unbroken converse, asking from Him the supply of all his needs and finding in His presence the fullness of Joy.[i]
Brother Lawrence (d. 1691), The Practice of the Presence of God
Heavenly Father grant that we, who are seeking the grace of your protection, might ever be delivered from all evils and faithfully serve you with a quiet mind, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you now and forever. Amen.
Old Testament Lesson
Jeremiah has one of the most difficult jobs recorded in the Bible. His whole ministry is to preach to a stubborn people who are not going to listen to him. He explains in this passage that he has taken no pleasure in warning the people.[ii] Jeremiah is unique in that his prophetic ministry straddles the time before and after the exile. He calls for repentance, but when it is not forthcoming, the people of Judah were eventually scattered abroad because they broke the covenant relationship. The one who promised springs of living water in a parched land (sound familiar?) will judge those who forsake a relationship. So the only thing left to do is to confess and lament, which is what Jeremiah attempts to do on behalf of the people. He foresees the coming calamity of exile, can do little about it and simply begs God for mercy. Note that there is no answer forthcoming from God to Jeremiah’s plea.[iii]
13O LORD, you are the hope of Israel. Let all who forsake you be put to shame. Let those who turn away from you be relegated to the land of Sheol because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water. 14Heal me, O LORD that I might be healed. Save me that I might be saved since you are my hymn of praise. 15Look at what they keep saying about me: “Where is the word of the LORD? Come on, let it come!” 16As for me, I have not pressed you for calamity. I have not longed for the day of devastation. You know what has sprung from my lips. It has come out before you. 17Do not be a terror to me. You are my shelter on the day of trouble. 18Let those who pursue me be put to shame that I might not be ashamed. Let them be dismayed that I might not be disgraced. Bring a day of calamity on them and let them be crushed with a double destruction.
New Testament Lesson
Jesus threatens Caiaphas and his power. So his seemingly off-handed remark that “it’s advantageous for us to have one man to die for the people” is pregnant with meaning. Caiaphas speaks better than he knows. John, together with the early church, saw his statement as an undeniable confirmation of the saving importance of Jesus’ death on the cross.[iv] Remarkably, the scope of Caiaphas’ statement is broader than he realized since it included not only the Jews, but the Gentiles as well. One can see how this would make a very powerful apologetic argument for later Christian claims that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Even Jesus’ enemies, by their own testimony, make the point that Jesus died a substitutionary death. When Caiaphas says that all will be gathered into one, Christians have usually read this as foreseeing the Church, the Body of Christ, which would facilitate the ingathering of the people of God.[v]
47So when the High Priests and the Pharisees gathered together in the Council, they said, “What are we going to do since this man is performing so many signs? 48If we allow this to go on, everyone will believe in Him and the Romans will come and take away our holy place and our nation.” 49Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, said to them, “You don’t know anything. Don’t you realize that it’s advantageous for us to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish?” 51(Now he said this not on his own accord, but being High Priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus was about to die for the nation, 52and not for the nation alone, but so that the children of God who were scattered abroad, might be gathered into one.) 53From that day forward, they planned together how they might kill Him. 54Then Jesus no longer walked openly among the residents of Judea, but He went out to the region near the desert, to a town known as Ephraim. There He remained with His disciples.
Questions for Reflection
- For those who are genuinely growing in the spiritual life, resistance is something that frequently comes. How do you handle it? If you encounter no resistance in your spiritual life, why is that?
- How private is your faith? While we may be uncomfortable with those who constantly wear religion on their sleeves, are you comfortable talking about your faith to those outside our church community? If not, why not?
- Have you ever been in Caiaphas’ shoes? You’re responsible for something important and someone comes along trying to mess everything up. How do you deal with people like Jesus? Do you try to crush them? Work with them? Subvert them? Understand them?
- As John (and his followers) write his Gospel, they already know the end of the story. They’re able to look back on what happened and evaluate it differently. Has that been true in your life? Do you interpret the events of your life differently once you’re able to see how things turned out? What lessons have you been able to draw from that?
Reflection by Kevin Dodge (email)
Both Jeremiah and Jesus are representing the people and encountering all kinds of resistance for doing so. Jeremiah is trying to get the people to repent. He is often referred to as the “weeping prophet” because of the terrible persecutions he endured when the people and political leaders would not listen to his warnings.
Similarly, Jesus has come, preaching a message of peace and repentance. He has authenticated His divine ministry time and again. Yet instead of repenting and humbling themselves, the religious leaders resist Him. In their political calculations, they think they can kill two birds with one stone. By making Jesus into a “scapegoat,” they can both get rid of a subversive element in their midst and satisfy the Roman authorities, thus allowing them to maintain their power. It seems like a perfectly logical set of moves on the political chessboard.
But it very quickly becomes clear that there are forces at work that the religious leaders cannot imagine. Jesus’ mission all along is “to be a ransom for many” (Mark 10.45). As we discussed in previous weeks, Jesus gives his life to pay off our enormous debt that we incurred through sin. In His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, Jesus takes the sin of the whole world onto Himself, thus offsetting our debt. As Jesus had no sin Himself and consequently no debt to pay, He also had no obligation to do this. Yet He was the only one who could bear this burden. So Jesus’ offering of Himself on our behalf becomes one of the greatest examples of love that has ever been recorded. Jesus willingly surrendered to injustice and died in the cruelest way possible so we might be free.
Thus, as Christians, we have been forgiven. We have been freed from our bondage as slaves to sin. So why don’t we act like it? We often act much more like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. We are quick to offer resistance to the work of God, because, like Caiaphas, the work of the Spirit in our lives threatens our stability, our normalcy, even our carefully-cultivated financial stability.
As Abraham Kuyper (d. 1905), a well-known leader in the Dutch Reformed Church and Prime Minister of the Netherlands put it, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”[vi] As creator, there should be no debate about the scope of God’s ownership and sovereignty. He owns it all; we are merely the stewards or the managers whom he has put in place to care for the resources He has given to us.
What would it take for you to decide simply to be satisfied with what God has given to you? The fact is that no amount of notoriety, respect, wealth, power or beauty will ever truly satisfy you. All these things can thrill us for a time but they are ultimately distractions that tempt us to take our focus off the one who made us.
Created things can never fully satisfy. This is not because they’re bad. It’s simply because we weren’t created to be satisfied by them. The only thing that ever will truly satisfy us is God who offers Himself freely to us.
Stop resisting his invitations that are around us all the time and join with Him. See if receptivity rather than resistance doesn’t make all the difference to the spiritual life.
- Receptivity and Quietness
Learn how to become more receptive to the leading of the Spirit by sitting quietly for an extended period and seeing if God prompts you in a certain way. Record what you think God prompted you to do. One of the keys to the spiritual life is learning how to be receptive to the leading of the Spirit in your life, but this almost always requires time and intentionality.
Traditionally, Christians refrain from heavy food and meat on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent. Consider following this practice.
One of the best ways to become more grateful for what you have is to become a regular and generous giver. When we can freely part with resources, it demonstrates that we have become truly free.
[i] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1900), 80.
[ii] J. A. Thompson, A Book of Jeremiah, 2nd ed., New International Commentary of the OT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980), 425.
[iii] William Holladay, Jeremiah, vol. 1, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), 507.
[iv] Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, 442.
[v] Ibid., 443.
[vi] Abraham Kuyper, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 461.