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Friday, November 12, 2010

Weekly Snippet: The Working of His Mighty Strength

Last time, I talked about believing and trusting in God when we cannot see Him; this time I want to talk about seeing God through "spiritual eyes."  Sometimes, when we're up against a wall, all we see is the wall.  Could it be, in those situations, that what we need is some spiritual contact lenses?

The Holy Spirit Makes the Invisible, Visible

Earlier today, at a suggestion from a friend, I read Ephesians chapter 1.  The second half of that chapter especially drew my attention, verses 15-23.  It's about seeing the world through spiritual eyes, that is, seeing with understanding given to us through the power of God and the Holy Spirit.

In this passage, Paul says he is praying for his congregation in Ephesus that they would be given "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that they may know [God] better" ( Ephesians 1: 17 NIV).  He understood, and pointed out to them, that the Holy Spirit is the one who gives us wisdom and understanding about God.

We can be highly learned, disciplined, and well-trained, but if our knowledge of God is purely from human sources and our own capacity to understand, our relationship with God will be stunted, at best.  Frankly, we cannot know God just by our own power.  We serve a God who to our own eyes may seem invisible and distant from our problems, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, we begin to see His involvement, and His signature, on everything around us.  It isn't that the Holy Spirit makes us hallucinate; rather, He points out to us what was already there, and visible, even though we were missing it.

The Benefits of the Revelation of the Holy Spirit

To summarize the second thing that Paul prayed for, he was asking that the Ephesians, empowered by the Holy Spirit, would go beyond seeing the hand of God to knowing and reaping the spiritual benefits of that knowledge.  He specifically wrote, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe," (Ephesians 1: 18-19a NIV).

So there are several benefits of this spiritual sight, given to Christians through the Holy Spirit.  One is "the hope to which [God] has called you," that is, the hope of the Resurrection, that we can confidently look forward to the day when God will save us from eternal death. Without a knowledge of God and who He is and what He did for us through His Son, Jesus Christ, we have no such hope.  With this knowledge, we can be secure about our future, but without it, we will always be slaves to the law, trying to earn our ticket to Heaven.

The second benefit Paul wanted the Ephesians to see was "the riches of [God's] glorious inheritance in his holy people,"  which is the promise of adoption.  Without this spiritual understanding, even Christians who believe in God cannot truly enjoy a relationship with God that is as secure, and as privileged, as a child has with a parent.  If we see this, we can approach God boldly with our requests, and never fear that He will treat us as second-class children in His household (see Hebrews 4: 16 and Galatians 4: 4-7).  The Holy Spirit gives us the understanding, and the confidence, to know that we can approach the God of the universe with our requests--and He fills us with certainty that God wants to hear from us and is friendly to us.  What a fabulous benefit!

The third and last benefit Paul prayed for was "that you may know...his incomparably great power for us who believe."  In other words, he prayed that the Ephesians would see that God has the power to intercede for us, even in miraculous ways.  So often, when we are looking at the barriers in our lives, we forget about God's power to overcome them.  When the Holy Spirit enables us to really "see" our lives through "spiritual eyes,"  He shows us, not that the obstacles do not exist, but rather, that they cannot stand in God's way.  The Holy Spirit shows us that we don't have to move them, but that God can, and often will, on our behalf (see Matthew 19: 26 and Job 9: 4-6).  When we understand God's power, our faith is strengthened because God shows us that our trust in Him is merited.

Returning to the Topic of Enlightenment...

I cannot fully flesh out the tenets of Hinduism and Buddhism, but I must take a moment to contrast some basic ideas with what Paul is teaching here in Ephesians chapter 1.  Hindus and Buddhists believe they can come to know their god (the spirit of the universe), by freeing their mind from thoughts of the physical world.  This is not looking for God's hand, working behind the scenes, but rather, their "enlightenment" ideal is seeing that the universe, and every obstacle in it, is nothing, and that they are in fact nothing.  They don't have an eternal hope of salvation; rather, death to them is really a gateway to nothingness, where they are not remembered and loved any longer.  They don't see the universal spirit as benevolent, but rather, it is fatalistic or stand-offish; it doesn't help people, and human suffering is something we must simply accept without question.  In this way, their "spiritual sight" bears no resemblance to the warmth and richness that the Holy Spirit brings to believers.  There is no hope, there is no love, there is no confidence, and there is no power, when we try to imagine a universe without God.

I must return to my point at the beginning about how the Holy Spirit reveals to us things about God that we cannot find out on our own.  In contrast to this teaching, the Hindu and Buddhist faiths both have many "paths" and methods of discerning this "universal spirit," in other words, paths that are supposed to open "spiritual eyes."  Through the control of the mind and body, and the pursuit of good works and scholarly learning are all valued, none of them have brought these people to a knowledge of the truth.  In fact, they believe they have found some sort of hidden truth that even people like myself are "too stunted" to see--a "truth" that is fatalistic, bleak, and disappointing in its revelation.

On my own, I might have believed that it was right to seek God the same way they do, through my own efforts.  I needed the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Who has been revealing things about God to mankind through the centuries, in order to fully come to know God as a Person, not an entity without form or feeling.  The Holy Spirit even went so far as to direct people to write down clearly, in the Bible, deep things about the nature of God, so that others might read them.  There is a clearer "path," one that leads to hope, love, confidence, and power through dependence on a God who cares enough to get involved.  The problem is not that this "path," revealed by the Holy Spirit, is not good; rather, the problem is that it requires obedience and humility.  It is not that God doesn't exist or that He isn't moving; rather, He is just being overlooked.

I am praying, like Paul, not only for myself but also for others, that we come to know God better through the work of the Holy Spirit, and that we will be given "eyes" to see Him!

As always, comments are welcome!  Until next time, this is me reminding you to stay savvy!