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“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
I have spent most of my earthly journey asking for God to lead me, seeking God’s purposes for my life, and knocking on doors of opportunity in anticipation that they might be the entrance to a new stretch of my journey that God had ordained. Which, in turn, leads me back to asking God to lead me. It’s been such a core motivation along the way that I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to think how much it has shaped and informed the entire journey itself.
There are so many plans I can make in my creative and never-tiring Type Four imagination. You’d laugh if you heard some of the crazy thoughts and colorful ideas I can come up with and the lives I imagine leading. The monk, the vagabond backpacker, the professor, the professional actor, the stranger, the road warrior, the recluse, the secret millionaire philanthropist, the ex-patriot, the lone biker of the apocalypse, the Dude… I could go on, but you get the point. My brain can constantly make up potential roles for myself of what I imagine would be really cool for my life journey to look like.
Then, there is the asking, seeking, and knocking that spiritually keeps my feet grounded on the actual journey I’m trekking (with all of its own cool peaks and painful, dramatic, valleys) that has led me to this place at this time. And, though I never planned to be here, like the proverb I have no doubt that I am right where God has purposed for me to be even though I don’t always see it all clearly. Life could look like a lot of things. I could even chase after any number of those crazy paths (To Wendy: Don’t worry, Luv. I’m just waxing hypothetical!), but my heart’s desire is for this life to accomplish God’s purposes. When my wayward, creative hearts starts spinning tempting fantasies, my spirit keeps my feet contentedly grounded.
In the quiet this morning, I’m enjoying laughing at all of the silly plans I could conceive and spin for myself. I also find my heart feeling so grateful for my life. My realization this morning, as I mull it all over, is that I continue to receive, I continue to find, and I continue to have new doors open even as I never cease asking, seeking, and knocking.
Time to seek what this day has for me, my friend. Thank you for reading.
<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!
About This Post
These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.
Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” Luke 21:5-6 (NIV)
When I was a child, I attended a small neighborhood church that was liturgical in practice. This meant that the sanctuary was laid out in a very specific way that catered to the ancient liturgy. There was a lectern on one side that was “lower” and served common uses such as announcements and a non-clergy member reading scripture or a responsive reading. Then there was a taller lectern on the other side which was only for the reverend to preach his sermon. There was an altar where communion was served which most people in the church believed sacred space. Children were taught to stay away and be careful of offending God by going where we weren’t allowed or treating the space disrespectfully.
As a young man, I attended a giant church that had no such liturgical trappings. In this church, everything was functional. It was all about the audience’s experience. Great lighting and great sound that allowed for a great product. The pastor of this church was rabid about building bigger and better buildings for the weekly show and attracting bigger names to perform in the area.
Along my spiritual journey I’ve had to come to terms with the “edifice complex” I was taught, have witnessed, and in which I confess I have participated. There is definitely something to be said for a nice, functional space for a local gathering to meet, organize, worship, teach, learn, pray, meditate, and serve one another and the community. More about that in a moment.
There is also the spiritual reality that Jesus exemplified and taught. It was a paradigm shift massive as to be difficult for people to believe and embrace 2000 years later. It is simply this: God does not dwell in buildings.
God is omnipresent (that is, everywhere) because Jesus is the force of creation holding the universe together: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Jesus said that after his death, resurrection and ascension, He was sending Holy Spirit to dwell in us: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). Therefore, God’s “Temple” is no longer a place in Jerusalem or a bricks-and-mortar edifice down the street. God’s Temple is the bodies, hearts, minds, lives of those who believe and follow: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
For the first few centuries after Jesus’ ascension, local gatherings of believers met in one another’s homes where they shared meals, worshipped, prayed together and supported one another. Some scholars estimate that over a million followers of Jesus were meeting regularly in tens of thousands of homes around the known world.
In 312 A.D. the Roman Emporer Constantine became a Christian and Christianity quickly became the state religion of Rome. The Jesus Movement, almost overnight, became the Holy Roman Empire.
[cue: Star Wars: Vader’s Theme]
Empires are concerned with controlling masses. Controlling masses requires authority that people will respect, follow, serve, and obey. One way to control the masses is to control their religious beliefs and routines. Therefore:
Only “priests” or “ordained clergy” can preach, teach, marry, bury, and absolve you of your sins. (You are a “common” person with no access to God except through the Empirical structures)
Only individuals appointed by the supreme authority and his minions (Caesar, Pope, Cardinal, Bishop) are allowed to be priests or ordained clergy. (You have little hope of becoming clergy unless you jump through many difficult and expensive academic and religious hoops set up by the Empire’s institutions. Probably not unless you know someone or a have a lot of money to bribe, oops, I mean, “donate” to the Empirical authorities – which is how we will wind up with wealthy children and corrupt individuals becoming the Pope)
The words used for teaching and the worship of God will now only be sung, written, read and spoken in Latin, which the uneducated masses will not understand. (This makes it easier for the Empirical religious authorities to control said masses of uneducated followers as they become dependent on the Empirical authorities for everything including knowledge, forgiveness, salvation, the salvation of loved ones prayed out of purgatory, and et cetera [<– that’s Latin, btw])
Worship must now be centered within an opulent, massive, awe-inspiring structure that stands out in the middle of the squalid little local shacks and structures people live in and use for daily business. (The Empirical institution thus reminds people wordlessly, day and night, that both God and the Empirical institution are higher, better, and different than you are in your poor little common life. It is both something for you to ever reach for and something to which you will never reach without the Empirical institution itself making a way for you)
And, that was the beginning of the edifice complex for followers of Jesus. I find it a fascinating contrast to today’s chapter. Jesus is in Jerusalem. It is the last week of His earthly journey. Jesus has spent most of His three-year ministry speaking to crowds on hillsides, fields, and from a boat to throngs of people sitting on the shore. He also spoke in small-town synagogues. His followers of backwater fishermen and men from small towns in Galilee were awed by the massive Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus, however, shrugged it off with the foreknowledge of what would become of it:
“As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
A couple of thoughts this morning as I ponder these things along side of almost 40 years regularly journeying through God’s Message:
I believe a functional, central location for followers of Jesus to gather is a good thing.
I believe that making meeting spaces beautiful, inviting, welcoming, clean, and efficient are good things, even God-honoring things, for everyone who gathers there.
I believe that architecture is both a highly specialized craft and a creative art form that can powerfully embody and express many things with breathtaking beauty.
I believe that the churches and cathedrals built throughout history are works of art that have much to offer in both history lessons and inspiring us creatively and spiritually.
I also believe that a building can become an object of worship rather than a setting for it.
I don’t believe that a church building, it’s rooms, altars, stained-glass, podiums, and decorations are sacred in any way (though they can be special in many different ways and on many different levels).
I believe that it is the individual human beings of simple and sincere faith who gather within a church building and it is their corporate and collective worship, prayer, and fellowship that are sacred.
I believe that a church building and an institution’s emphasis can subtly convince individuals that they attend the church rather than being the church as Jesus intended.
I have observed very sincere individuals who believe the following, perhaps without giving it much thought: God resides in the church building. I visit God an hour every Sunday to pay respect and spiritually make the minimum premium on my eternal fire insurance policy which, I hope and trust, will get me into heaven and avoid hell. I leave God there at church to go about the other 167/168ths of my week.
This morning I imagine Jesus shrugging as he looks up at the Temple. “It’ll be a rubble heap in about 40 years,” He says to His disciples.
“Then what is sacred? What lasts? What remains?” Simon the Zealot asks.
“You are sacred, as is every person in whom my Spirit dwells,” Jesus replies. “What remains? The faith, hope, and love that is in you and flows out of you, Simon. And all fruit your faith, hope, and love produce in those whom you love. You are my church, Simon. You are God’s temple. And, you are more beautiful than this temple or any building a human being could construct.”
What Jesus actually taught was that when individuals believe and follow, they become living, breathing, active temples of worship in which God’s Spirit dwells. What is sacred and/or profane is what we put in, what flows out and how we relate to God and others from the inside out.
If you bow low in God’s awesome presence, he will eventually exalt you as you leave the timing in his hands. 1 Peter 5:6 (TPT)
Along my life journey, I have come to experience what many others have described as “the flow.” Artists and creatives experience the flow as a spiritual, level four energy that empowers their creativity. As U2’s Bono discovered, “the songs are already written.” Athletes call it being “the zone” when the flow takes over and the ball slows down, they know what will happen before it happens, and their game elevates to an unprecedented level. Teachers and prophets experience the flow in both preparation and presentation. Rob Bell describes the flow when he experiences having a thought, a story, a metaphor, or an idea that “wants to be part of something” but he doesn’t know what it is. He records it, hangs on to it, and waits for the right time (which could be years later).
I remember experiencing the flow early in 2004. I just knew that I was supposed to do this thing, but exactly what it was and what it looked like was undefined. It was only a general notion, but I knew it at the core of my spirit. I even remember reaching after it but getting nowhere. Over time this thing I was supposed to do continued to reveal itself like little bread crumbs. Something would happen and I would think, “This is it! It’s falling into place.” But then, it wouldn’t.
That’s the frustrating thing about walking this earthly journey through finite time (as opposed to timeless eternity). We often find ourselves waiting, seeking, and longing for the right time or the right season for things. Wendy can tell you that I’m not always the most patient person when it comes to waiting. As an Enneagram Type Four, I tend to get pessimistic and overly dramatize my impatience and frustration. That’s when my Type Eight wife has no problem telling me directly what I know is true: the time just isn’t right.
In a bit of synchronicity that I honestly didn’t plan, the chapter today was the same text that I talked about in last week’s podcast, and the same text I taught on this past Sunday morning. That’s another thing that I have discovered along life’s journey. When the same thing keeps coming up in random ways, then there’s something God’s Spirit is trying to teach me in the flow. I should pay attention, meditate on it, and wait for it to be revealed.
The thing I was supposed to do eventually did reveal itself after about ten years. When it finally did fall into place it was at just the right time in a myriad of ways I won’t take the time to explain.
The ancient words for God’s “Spirit” in both the Hebrew and Greek languages are translated into English as “wind,” or “breath,” or you might say “flow.” I believe that sensing and experiencing the flow is simply tapping into God’s eternal Spirit who lives outside of time, but breathes into me bread crumbs and seeds which eventually lead to things in their due season and time.
What Peter wrote to the exiled followers of Jesus was that the waiting calls for humility. This past Sunday I defined humility as “the willing, conscious, intentional crucifixion of my own ego,” whose time frame is an impatient NOW, and who tends to demand that revelation and fulfillment happen in my time frame, not God’s.
If you want to know what tragically happens when we try to make the flow happen in our own way and our own timeline, see Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Macbeth and his lady are quintessential examples.
Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me. Ezra 7:28b (NIV)
I caught a trailer for the movie Birth of the Cool the other day. Musicians talked of the recording session of one of the most iconic albums of all time: Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. The musicians were surprised when Miles had no score for them. He simply had “sketches” handwritten.
“We’re just going to play,” Miles told his band.
What happened in that studio, what flowed through those musicians as they “just played” changed the history of music.
I’m not fluent in the language of music, but I believe there is a parallel when it comes to other things in life. I have experienced “it” a couple of times on stage, and it is almost impossible to describe. The scene I’m playing becomes a separate reality. At that moment there is no audience. The present slips away. There is a sense of otherworldliness to it. I slip into another dimension. When it’s over, it feels like waking from a dream.
There is a similar experience I’ve had writing. Time stopped. The words flowed. They were not my words. They were flowing through me. The words were leaves falling from the “tree of tales,” as Tolkien described it. I just happen to be the conduit. I sat down at the keyboard to write. Suddenly I was on the lawn with two men sitting there in their lawn chairs. I was eavesdropping on their conversation; transcribing what they were saying. I have no idea how long I typed. I just wrote what I was hearing. When it was over I had thirty-five pages of dialogue.
I’ve never been much of an athlete, but I have heard those who are speak of “being in the zone.” Time changes. The ball slows down. You see things before they happen. Everything just flows.
In today’s chapter, Ezra mentions three times a similar flow in his life circumstances:
The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.
…he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him.
Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me.
Favor. Zone. Flow. There is something mystical and mysterious to it, but I’ve experienced it. It is the Hand. It is favor. It is tangible grace. Things just happen and I am doing nothing to create it, cause it, or make it happen. I’m just the conduit.
In the quiet this morning I find myself reminded that we are made in the image of the Creator. When we ask, seek, and knock at the door of our birthright, we occasionally find the gracious, favorable flow.