We are born of God, in His image, into this world, into this country, where we are raised in its cultural standards and goals. Even if we are raised in the church, we are very much indoctrinated into the norms and standards of our culture through our parents, our friends, our schools. Here in the United States, we absorb the materialism, the independence of the individual, the “raise-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps stories.” Whether we are aware of it or not, we are living in two worlds, the American culture and God’s kingdom, caught between two different priorities, standards and ways of being. This week’s picture captures that sense of being captured, but not realizing all that we have to do is to roll over and stand up and, at least metaphorically, to get out of the captive box we’re in.
We can live our lives totally unaware of God’s priorities and rules for us and adhere to the culture’s standards. Even in our church’s we can be bombarded with the cultural interpretations of the Bible, the emphasis on some parts of the Bible more than others. For example, I remember reading that the Rev. Dr. Rick Warren, an evangelical preacher, realized with amazement that he hadn’t until recently known that there were 2,000 verses in the Bible that taught about helping the poor and needy. 2,000 verses! Belief in God was primary and maybe, for him, the only thing, until that realization came to him. But our actions and our inner attitudes are just as important as our belief in God.
Being so steeped in our culture, we may not realize how much we have been shaped by it. Our personal goals, our professional goals, our leisure goals, our family goals will certainly have been shaped by the culture’s priorities, whether or not we are aware of its influence on us or not. Jesus taught so clearly about this in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Do not to store up treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” [Matthew 6:19-24]
He understood the hold that any culture has on a person or family. If we are to love God with all of ourselves, then we must give up in prayer all our worldly attachments and let God heal us of those tendencies to fall back on the culture’s ways. Then, gradually, we will be freed of our dependence on this way of thinking and being and doing. Then, we will be free to love God with all of ourselves and to act out of His love in the world.
Without God’s help we cannot accomplish this healing on our own. We are too close to ourselves to see ourselves with any objectivity or any idea of where we as a total human being need to go next. That is what God provides us. It’s like a curriculum in how to attain our deepest, fullest selves. All it takes on our part is an ability to distinguish the voice of the Indwelling Spirit of God from all the egoic voices within us and the willingness to go where God would take us, to follow His lead in our lives.
Step by step we begin to feel freer and freer, healed of our pain and suffering, capable of forgiveness for those who harmed us, with the ability forming in us to love our fellow men and women and ourselves. In fact the Golden rule pretty much sums up what love is: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” [Matthew 7:12] With God’s help we can treat others well, we can love them. There’s no more anger in us, no more fear, no more judgment, no more envy, no more pride, just love coming straight from God through us and out to everyone we meet.
Meanwhile we can experience what God’s presence in our lives really means. The healing, the embrace of others, the beauty, joy and peace that we acquire along with a huge sense of gratitude for all that He is doing in our lives. And so, we can relax into who we were created to be, since we are leaving the priorities and goals of the culture behind.
It’s such a part of human nature to be self-centered. I had hoped that all that ego stuff would fade out of my life, but I’m not sure it is possible while we’re still in this human body. What does happen is that we will have stepped way back from any influence these thoughts and emotions have on our state of being and on our actions. I know they are still occurring in me. But I choose not to act out of those very human traits—the egocentricity and all; I just lift every thought and emotion that goes along with them to the Lord. And sometimes I just laugh at them anyway, knowing how long they have sought my attention—basically since my childhood. I daily reaffirm my desire and intention to put God first in everything.
And then, no matter that we live in two worlds at the same time, only God has our time and attention and love: the kingdom of heaven here on earth. And living there, we experience the gifts of the Spirit arising in us: “peace, joy, love, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” [Galatians 5:22-3] Self-control in the KJV Bible is translated meekness.
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I caught in the “real” world, our culture? How could I begin to reach for the kingdom of God? What is it about the world that has my attention? Am I happy, fulfilled here? Or do I long for much more? Would I, can I trust God in all that I do? What is the first step for me? and then…?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who are on our way out from under the culture’s, the world’s influence. May be truly love God with all of ourselves. May we follow Him wherever He would lead us.
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Check out my other website, deepeningyourfaith.com, for information about spiritual practices and more writings about the spiritual life. New posts 2x a month. 7.13.20s is entitled, “Weathering the Storm.”
An invitation to contribute to my book on the Beatitudes: If you would be willing to share some of the obstacles you have encountered in your life that have come between you and God, I would love to hear them. I’ll be writing about the Beatitudes and will identify some of the challenges we face at each step, particularly, anything that you’ve been taught to be true, but later find out doesn’t work for you, or something in your self-image that keeps you where you are instead of responding to what God may ask of you, cultural norms that get in your way—anything like that. I would only use your initials if I quote you. I am so grateful for any experiences you might contribute. You may message them to me on FB or send them to my email, firstname.lastname@example.org.