Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Signs

"Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights." (Isa 7:11)
One of the things I appreciate when driving to my destination is the visibility of signs. It gives me a sense of direction that I am traveling closer to my desired address. It provides a sense of comfort that I am on the right track. It gives me some relief that I am not lost. In the Old Testament, signs can be a reminder of a covenant made (Gen 9); an omen (Jer 44:29); a warning (Exodus 4); or a monument for the next generation (Joshua 4). In the Isaiah passage, the sign is used as an assurance to trust God. At that time, Assyria was a looming threat not only to Judah but to its neighbors. The neighboring nations (including Northern Israel), were trying to pressure Judah to join the alliance against Assyria. The dilemma for King Ahaz is: Trust the alliance? or trust the LORD? If only he had taken heed from his spiritual director, the prophet Isaiah.

We need spiritual directors to help us read signs. Signs provide a sense of direction for our Christian growth. Typical advice that says: "All we need is God," can appear fluffy. Lots of 'correct' words but little sense of what it means for us. In Soulguide, Bruce Demarest points out two aspects of Christian growth. The first is a REDEMPTIVE aspect which I call 'growing inside.' This includes our personal individual walk with God, our spiritual disciplines and our awareness that we are saved by grace. This is something we all aim at. However, if we only focus on the redemptive aspect, we risk becoming self-absorbed. We need a second aspect, which is the MISSION-ORIENTED aspect. I call this 'growing outside.' This includes the expression of faith via service (to all). Likewise, if one only practices the second aspect without regard to the first, one becomes like an empty vessel, pretty on the outside, but hollow on the inside. One without the other is like walking only with one leg. Thus, authentic Christian growth can only come when there is adequate growing both inside as well as outside. Authentic spiritual growth means walking on both legs, obeying the signs for Internal and External growth.

LAMENTING THE LACK OF SPIRITUAL DIRECTION
In Isa 7, Ahaz was requested to ask for a sign. This is a gracious call extended to him. God asked Ahaz to call upon him anytime. Whether one feels deep down in dire straits, or experiencing ecstatic highs, the LORD is ready to show the way. All he needs is to ask. Unfortunately, Ahaz refused to ask the LORD for a sign, much to Isaiah's frustration. He didn't appreciate the presence of such a prominent spiritual director.

Such an attitude continues to run rampage in the modern church. Dallas Willard, laments the lack of desire to seek spiritual direction in the church:
"Spiritual Direction was understood by Jesus, taught by Paul, obeyed by the early church, followed with excesses in the medieval church, narrowed by the Reformers, recaptured by the Puritans, and virtually lost in the modern church." (Dallas Willard, Satisfy Your Soul)
Henri Nouwen adds:
"Many ministers today are excellent preachers, competent counselors, and good program administrators, but few feel comfortable giving spiritual direction to people who are searching for God's presence in their lives." (Henri Nouwen, The Living Reminder)
Christian. Do not despair. A lack of spiritual direction does not mean 'no' direction. There will always be a sign for the one who has a willing heart. God will supply signs and guides for us as we walk our Christian path. We need to discern the moving of the Spirit, who gives us signs to walk our journey of faith. We need spiritual directors to help us read spiritual signs.

THREE SUGGESTIONS FOR SPIRITUAL DIRECTION
Signs are essential for spiritual direction. May I humbly suggest three ways toward reading and obeying the signs.

1) Pray and Read the Word regularly; (Inner growth signs)
2) Practice the Word regularly; (External growth signs)
3) Seek out spiritual director(s) (to help put both inner and outer aspects together).

In 1985, Henri Nouwen was at the end of his illustrious teaching career in a prestigious University at Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was seeking for signs on what is next for him. In seeking inner growth signs, he prayed. He wrote journals, expressing his fears, desires and deepest desires to obeying God's call. He asked for a sign. As he prayed to discern inside his heart, as he continues to be faithful through external acts of service (external growth signs), he found a community to help tie it altogether. It was a scary next step. His next opportunity has "no money to offer, no attractive living quarters, no prestige." Nouwen consulted many (spiritual directors), to read the signs that clearly pointed him toward a commitment to the L'Arche community (handicapped people) in Canada. Like Abraham when he was called, Nouwen had no idea what God had in store for him. All he knew was to obey the signs. Perhaps, there is another consideration as far as signs are concerned. Maybe, a lack of spiritual direction is linked to a lack of willingness to obey the signs......

Thought: Signs are key pointers in spiritual direction. Reading the Signs is one thing. Obeying the signs is another. It is no use learning to read signs, without a corresponding willingness to trust God and obey his calling. Could it be that we fail to see signs, because of our inner UNWILLINGNESS to obey?
"God's commands are designed to guide you to life's very best. You will not obey Him, if you do not believe Him and trust Him. You cannot believe Him if you do not love Him. You cannot love Him unless you know Him." (Henry Blackaby)
sabbathwalk

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