Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Syro-Phoenician Woman Meets the Living Word of God

I preface this with the words of Hebrews 4:12: “For the word, the logos, the Word of God is alive, powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing right through to where soul divides from spirit or breath, to where joint divides from marrow, discriminating and discerning the thoughts and intents in the inmost self.” And I remind us that John’s gospel identifies the word, the logos, the Word of God like this: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In him was life, and the life was the light of human beings….And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth” (John 1: 1, 4, 14).  Jesus walked among us, making God visible, and speaking as the embodied Word of God to the other human beings he encountered each day.  As we listen to what he says to these others, we can hear as well what he is saying to us, since Jesus has come today to teach us Himself through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Given this foundation, what do we make of the encounter between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman, told in Mark 7 (and Matthew 15)? Do we see a Jesus who does not understand that he is God-sent to the whole world? Do we see a Jesus who is given to testing the faith of a desperate mother before granting her wish? Do we see a Jesus who is modeling their prejudice in an acted parable for his disciples, teaching them thereby that God heals Gentiles also, that Gentiles also can have faith in the one God sends?

I’ve heard it all three ways, and now I want to add a fourth way that to me solves some of the vexing problems of the above interpretations.

First, I have an a priori objection to thinking that Jesus participated in the ethnocentrism of his countrymen. This may be a flaw in my rational self because I do object to the heresy that Jesus carried all of God’s knowledge around in his human brain and was just pretending to share in the human condition. So if Jesus was limited at all, there is no logical necessity that his limitations weren’t also ethnocentrically Jewish. The preacher I heard positing this interpretation was making the point that Jesus himself grew in understanding his mission, moving from the Jewish messiah to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  But since this is what John the Baptist said at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, it is hard for me to believe that John knew more about what Jesus was called to than Jesus did. Even in Mark’s telling, Jesus had already healed the Gerasene (Syrian) demoniac, who became the first non-Jewish bearer of the good news (Mark 5).

Jesus had the following things to say about his ministry, and only God knows how they fit chronologically with his encounter with this Gentile woman, but Mark puts them prior.

“Prophets are not without honor except in their hometown, among their own kin, and in their own house” (Mark 6:4). This makes clear his understanding that those closest to him were least likely to see his calling and gifts.  “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave shake the dust off of your feet as a testimony against them,” Jesus told his disciples (Mark 6:11). This makes clear his awareness that his own people might well reject the good news of God’s kingdom. Then he said to the most conscientious religious Jews of his day, “You have a way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” and told his disciples, “It isn’t what a person eats that makes the person unclean, but the evil that comes from within” (Mark 7: 9, 17, 21).  This sets aside the dietary laws that were a key way to tell Jews from Gentiles.  So when Jesus comes to Tyre to talk with the Gentile woman, he has already said a number of things that confront the Jews.  He has notified his disciples of the need for “new wineskins” for the fresh “wine” of the good news. He has announced that his true family are all those who do what God wills.  For these reasons and more, it seems to me unlikely that Jesus was expressing his own racism in this moment.

I also have a visceral objection to the “test of faith” interpretation of this encounter.  Jesus did not ask the Gerasene demoniac if he believed or require him to ask in just the right way. Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic and then healed him with no question at all to the man about his faith (Mark 2). He did not require the man with the withered hand to express faith, and the man did not even ask for healing (Mark 3). He stopped the storm on the lake in spite of the disciples’ lack of faith (Mark 4). The two miracles recorded in Mark 5 do include Jesus commending the woman’s faith that moved her through the crowd to touch Jesus’s clothes, and encouraging Jairus to believe rather than fear. These two people and the Gentile woman share the characteristic that all three are desperate and turn to Jesus with hope. So why would Jesus test the one with the least background in Jewish faith more than he does the synagogue leader? It seems unlikely that the one of whom it is prophesied that “a smoking flax he will not quench” would pour cold water on a mother’s desperate hope while encouraging a father’s. Thus I can’t see this as Jesus testing the Gentile woman’s faith.

There is some precedent for seeing that the Gospel writers recorded Jesus’s actions that they found to be rich in metaphoric meaning—and these acted parables are available to us on many levels. However, I cannot think of any other of Jesus’s actions that depends on acting out for the disciples their own prejudices or limitations in a way that treats another human being negatively. He didn’t sucker people into agreeing with something he pretended to believe and then punch them with the opposite truth. Look at his interaction with the Samaritan woman (John 4). Jesus is already talking with her when the disciples return, even though they may well be scandalized by it. He doesn’t pretend first to share their distaste for Samaritans and then try to engage the woman. Additionally, it seems unlikely that Jesus would waste the opportunity to speak into an individual’s heart in order to make a point at that individual’s expense. So if this is an acted parable, its interpretation needs to be something different.

I remember finding out that a short story called “The Overcoat” by the Russian author Gogol is primarily seen by Russian readers as humorous and playful (see for example The Enigma of Gogol by Richard Peace, p. 148: “the author also laughs at his hero…”). As an American, however, I see it as grotesque and tragic. I miss all the puns and verbal hijinks of the Russian text, and my reading experience is linguistically and culturally distant from the reader Gogol wrote for. I read the translated text like an American.

In reading the Bible, I read like an American heir to the Judeo-Christian mindset. I have typically adopted the interpretive stance that sees God’s chosen people as the center of the story and all other peoples as “inferior.”  In fact, I read as if I myself were one of the chosen people, despite not being Jewish. I am, in fact, in the same boat as the disciples. So to them (and to me, ironically) this Gentile woman is by Jewish definition inferior and thus “a dog.”

Then it occurred to me: this encounter takes place on her turf, in Tyre. She is the one with Roman citizenship. She’s the one from a city with paved roads. She is the one who would be so unlikely to turn to an itinerant Jewish carpenter, even one with a reputation for working wonders. She is likely to be carrying in her heart a sense of social superiority, even pride. And if this is the case, I need to rethink her approach to Jesus.  Matthew records that she followed Jesus, shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” What can she possibly be meaning by these titles?  Does she think that they must be flattering, since she has heard that Jesus responds to them? Does she even know who David was? And does she continue shouting because she demands that they listen to her?

I think it is possible that she views herself as a social superior, bending because of her desperate need to ask for help from someone she would be unlikely to speak to under other circumstances.  In fact, she is more like me—a privileged American citizen—and Jesus is more like a recent immigrant, perhaps even a migrant worker with or without a green card. She uses a title of respect that she has heard but that means little to her to get Jesus’s attention so he will grant her desperate request.  To her, Jesus is a means to an end. 

His responses are recorded in different form in Matthew and Mark.  In Matthew, he replies, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Perhaps he even shouts this back to her. He confronts the ethnic and class issues directly. Jesus has a pattern of confronting issues directly. Why do you call me good, he asked a good Jewish man. You know only God is good.  Why do you call me “son of David,” why do you call me “Lord”? These titles mean nothing to you. They are signs to the house of Israel.

But he does stop walking, and she embodies her desperation by bowing before him. The Greek word used for this contains in it the idea of a dog licking the master’s hand.  Perhaps she has caught his hand and is kissing it, perhaps she is crouched over his feet. I dare say she has not often bowed before a Jew before. She is a Roman citizen, in a prosperous and vital center of trade and manufacturing, and he is a provincial manual laborer, not even a citizen.  “Help me,” she says.

The words Jesus says next still confront her. Jesus says this: God sent me first to Israel, a people you feel yourself to be superior to, but a people God has called God’s children. You understand that it is inappropriate, it is not a beautiful thing to take what these children need (whom you care nothing for) and give it to the little dogs under the table, leaving the children hungry.

She finds a loophole in this parable; she’s a smart woman. She tells it again, from the dogs’ point of view. Her willingness to be counted among the little dogs shows that she is willing to accept a humble place in God’s economy. “Yes, Lord, but we both know that children drop food, and the little dogs are welcome to scavenge.  There is enough goodness, enough mercy, to feed my child, my dear dear daughter, to free her from being tormented by evil. Even the little dogs eat the crumbs.”

Why is this speech counted a sign of great faith? Here is a woman driven by desperation to accost a socially insignificant itinerant laborer in public, despite her prejudices and assurance of superiority.  As Jesus often, and perhaps always, does, he pierces to her heart and requires her to come clean. And when they get to the heart, they discover that she does have faith that there is enough goodness, enough mercy, for the arrogant, self-satisfied outsider, that the dogs have a place in God’s economy as well, and that an honest conversation with Jesus is good for everyone. This is true for us today as well. Bring your desperation and hope to Jesus and then hear what He says to you.  When it pierces to your most inner self, you will recognize that you have heard the Word of God.  Listen, accept, and respond to that Word, and then do what Jesus tells you to do.

Peace, Richard. The Enigma of Gogol: An Examination of the Writings of N.V. Gogol and Their Place in the Russian Literary Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981. Google Books.

The last century of Seleucid rule was marked by disorder and dynastic struggles. These ended in 64 B.C., when the Roman general Pompey added Syria and Lebanon to the Roman Empire. Economic and intellectual activities flourished in Lebanon during the Pax Romana. The inhabitants of the principal Phoenician cities of Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre were granted Roman citizenship. These cities were centers of the pottery, glass, and purple dye industries; their harbors also served as warehouses for products imported from Syria, Persia, and India. They exported cedar, perfume, jewelry, wine, and fruit to Rome. Economic prosperity led to a revival in construction and urban development; temples and palaces were built throughout the country, as well as paved roads that linked the cities. (

Monday, July 20, 2015

Faithful and Wise Stewards

Northwest Yearly Meeting Keynote Address 2015
Becky Ankeny, General Superintendent

Luke 12:35-38, 41-44:
“Keep your pants on and your flashlights handy, like servants who wait for their employer to return from his honeymoon trip, so that when he comes and knocks, they will open the door immediately.  Blessed are those servants whom the employer finds prepared and watching when he arrives. This is the truth: he will put on his own apron, make them sit down to the table, and come and serve them dinner himself.  And if he comes in the middle of the night or at dawn and finds them watchful, those servants will be happy.” … Peter asked, “Lord, are you speaking this just to us disciples, or to everyone?” And the Lord said, “Who is the faithful and wise steward whom his employer shall put in charge over his household to feed everyone in the house at the appropriate times?  That steward will be happy if he or she is fulfilling that responsibility when the employer comes back.  This is the truth: the employer will make that steward boss of everything” (paraphrased).

There are so many parables about us and God as servants and master. This relationship helps us understand that we are not the ones who call the shots, not the ones who own the house. We are caretakers, we are stewards, we are trustees, we are servants. God has given us responsibilities, and key in that word is the idea of response. Our work is in response to God as our master. This parable helps us ask what is important to God. As the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends, what have we been trusted with by God?  What have we been given to care for? How do we fit into this parable and the various other parables where God leaves people in charge of some aspect of God’s world? 

It helps us answer these queries to look to the Bible to find what God loves and treasures and takes joy in. From there we can infer our own calling in this world and among the human beings God so obviously loves.

God loves creation and creating.  Genesis tells us of light gathered out of dark (Gen. 1:4), land gathered out of sea (1:9); plants, trees (1:11): sun, moon, stars, universe (1:16); sea monsters, fish, whales, birds (1:21); creepy-crawlies, livestock, wild animals (1:24); procreation itself (1;22); all living creatures, especially including human beings in God’s own image, to whom God entrusted the care of the living earth (1:26). Both male and female human beings, charged with filling and organizing and ruling over the earth (1:27), caring for plants particularly (1:29).  God also gave humans time, marking it off by Sabbaths—time to work, time to rest (Gen. 2:3, Ex. 20:11). And God gave humans choice—the choice to trust and obey God, the possibility of love—both human to human and human to Creator (Gen. 2:16,17; 2:23-25).

We are thus caretakers of God’s creation and creating.  We care for the oceans, the wilderness, the farmland, the gardens, the villages and cities where people live together.  We care for living things—we learn about them and from them, we find their usefulness in God’s grand scheme, we respect their natures and we help life to prosper. We hold the earth in trust for God. This is a human responsibility, not uniquely given to the NWYM Friends, but the widespread concern among us for the earth recognizes a God-given responsibility.

Traditions and Relationship
God loves being in relationship with humans (Ex. 20:6). When God led Israel out of Egypt, using Moses’s gifts and passion as the instrument, God gave the people clear instructions.  Don’t ever forget that I did this for you.  Steward this history, steward the Sabbath rest I require, steward all the feasts I’ve prescribed.  Let everyone see the uniqueness of our relationship.  Embody yourselves the universal pattern I, God, follow: setting slaves free (Ex. 20:2; 21:2; 22:21,22; Lev. 26:13), placing them in a way of life that has a gentle, restorative pace (Ex. 20:11; 23:11-12) and built in moments of festivity and joy (Ex. 23:14-17; Lev. 23), teaching them to remember their source—God—and their deliverer—God—and their shepherd—God—every day.  Treasure this relationship.  It is your inheritance, your heritage.  And remember this also. I have relationships with other peoples as well (Deut. 2; Amos 9:7; John 10:16; 11:52). I am not without a witness throughout the world’s peoples (Acts 17; John 1:9; Romans 1:19; Psalm 19:1-3).

When Jesus came into the world as a Jew, he showed what it means to hold a tradition in trust for God (Matt. 5:17). He reminded everyone continually that the primary purpose of a human being is to enjoy a personal interactive relationship with God (Matt. 6:25-34; 7:11; 10:19-20; 12:50; 18:14; 22:37; 25:40; John 14:23, and so much more). He argued most heatedly with those curators of Judaism who cared most about the tradition—I think he loved the Pharisees so dearly for their commitment—but he saw that they missed the point. They focused on externals (Matt. 23:23-32; Luke 6:6-9). They made slaves to the tradition; they themselves were enslaved (Matt. 23:2-4,13-15). And they curated God instead of living with God in gentle, restorative, festive relationship (Matt. 15:3-6; 22:37-38).

Jesus shocked them—so obviously a teacher, a holy man, a prophet (Luke 7:16)—because he ignored externals and went straight for heart issues, their genuine life before and with God (Luke 7:36-50; Mark 7:1-23)).  He told one curator of tradition, Nicodemus, you’ll never understand unless you are willing to start over, like a newborn infant—without preconceptions of what God wants and instead always a child in relation to God.  God’s spirit, like the wind, goes wherever it pleases, despite your efforts to contain and control it (John 3:1-8).  Don’t make the lethal mistake of attributing the work of God’s free spirit to the devil.  You cannot yourself leave your slavery if you do this (Mark 3:20-29).

Each Other and Our Neighbors
So besides the creation and a relationship with God that our traditions point to, what has God given us to care for as NWYM Friends? God has given us each other and our neighbors (Gen. 4:10; Deut. 15:7-11; 24:14-15, 17-22; Matt. 22:39; 25:34-40; Luke 10:25-37).

We are trustees of our children, holding them in trust for God, trying to keep them alive and making it normal to live honestly and openly before God (Deut. 11:18-19; Matt. 19:13-15; Luke 17:1-3).  We learn about and from the children God has sent us, we help those children find the gifts God has graced them with, we make space for them to take the place God made for them in God’s grand scheme (Luke 2:40-52). We are caretakers of our young people. NWYM Friends established Greenleaf Friends Academy and George Fox University as partial fulfillment of this care for our children. We need to welcome young people onto our YM boards and listen to what God is saying to them.

We care for others by clearing out the debris that prevents them from knowing God personally—knowing God experimentally.  God does not give us the right to control and limit how other people know God (John 4:23-24; 15:16-17; 21:22). God does not ask us to be in charge of who gets to be part of God’s family (John 5:19-30; 6:44-45).  Instead, God asks us to tell everyone everywhere the good news that Jesus is present to teach all of us (John 14:16-17, 26), that we have something in us that yearns toward God and that recognizes good (John 1:4, 12-13), and that God is also yearning toward us and eager to meet us more than halfway (Luke 15).  Friends have traveled the world, beginning in the first generation with the Valiant Sixty, to point people toward God.  NWYM Friends have traveled the whole world to embody and preach the good news—to Alaska, Bolivia, Peru, Palestine, Russia, China. NWYM Friends are also opening their hearts and church buildings to AA, Celebrate Recovery, neighbors from the street, children from around the world.

We are thus caretakers of each other. We listen to and learn from other people, we enrich others’ lives rather than impoverishing them; we make space for others to be in authentic personal relationship with God where God is making them whole and holy, where they can take joy in loving God and other humans. Friends’ heroes such as John Woolman and Elizabeth Gurney Fry, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, Lucretia Mott, Hannah Whitall Smith, Herbert Hoover are excellent examples of living well into this kind of caretaking. 

Sadly, Friends’ record of fulfilling our call to care for each other has not been spotless.  Friends held slaves and trafficked in them for over 100 years before coming to recognize that slavery is inherently wrong.  Friends enforced conformity to external standards of dress and forbade marriage to non-Friends with fundamentalist rigidity. Friends disowned young men who fought for the Union against slavery for violating the testimony of non-violence.  Friends who adopted the practice of paying pastors soon fell away from the testimony of equality in ministry for both men and women. Friends are not immune to the currents and prejudices of their social contexts, not above racism or sexism or other prejudices, nor are they immune to the temptation to prefer economic stability to standing against social ills and the temptation to substitute form for living reality. We must acknowledge the truth that each of us has potential for blindness as well as sight, for evil as well as good, for error as well as truth. We need humility and repentance, and sometimes we need to change our minds, not in pursuit of some superficial relevance, but because sometimes we are wrong. And persisting in blindness, evil, and error alienates people from the Jesus we embody. We need to be born again, to start new in every generation and in every day of our individual and communal lives. We need to be born again to care for each other and our neighbors, all of whom God is trusting to our care.

God has also entrusted us with the good news, the Gospel. And we have this entrusted to us not so we can protect it but so we can share it. The dominance of Christianity in the U.S. is waning; we have seekers next door who need the Good News. NWYM has great opportunity to share our relationship with God with spiritual seekers outside the church, and we need to remember how far back to start. Like Paul among the Gentiles, we need to begin with the basics, namely the Creator God who gave humans freedom, is good, and uses human messengers (Acts 14).  Like Paul, Quakers tend to focus on the good God intends toward us.

The heart of the Gospel is Jesus.  We need to teach the history of the Incarnation.   The essentials are in Peter’s sermon to Cornelius (Acts 10):

1)   God anointed Jesus on earth with the Holy Spirit;
2)   Jesus came to bless, heal, and free human beings.
3)   Jesus was killed in Jerusalem;
4)   God raised Jesus from the dead.
5)   Many saw the risen Jesus, even eating and drinking with him.
6)   Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead;
7)   Whoever places his or her confidence and trust in Jesus will receive the remission of sins, release from slavery to error, dishonor, wrong-doing, disobedience

NWYM’s commitment to this Good News positions us well to speak to people who know little about Christianity.

When we care well for our neighbors, we may find that sometimes they bring alien ways into our congregations, creating tension.

Thus Peter’s sermon to insiders (Acts 11) reminds them that no human is common or unclean; that God shows no partiality, accepting any reverent and obedient person; and that God poured out the Holy Spirit on Gentiles, even before any ritual of baptism.

The story of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) represents the continual conflict between established expectations and new membership.

Believers need to learn to be as welcoming as God and to recognize that God’s gift of the Holy Spirit transcends ritual.  We NWYM Friends understand that Jesus has come to teach us himself and that within each person is the potential to respond to that teaching with obedience. We can invite our neighbors to “live up to the light you have.”

James’s response in the council of Jerusalem shows how an established group can welcome outsiders.  “We should not trouble these who are turning to God with our whole religious history.”  They asked new believers to commit to worshiping only God, to having sexual ethics, and to caring for the convictions of others in the fellowship. The Gospel is good news to all.

So let us consider together that we NWYM Friends hold the creation, our relationship with God, and each other and our neighbors in trust for God.  Let’s consider what the limits of our trusteeship are. Let’s be as simply authentic as we can with God, knowing that God will help us move toward wholeness as individuals and as a small part of the church universal, the bride of Christ whom Christ purifies. And let us care for our neighbors who have not yet heard that they can be in a personal authentic relationship with God by sharing the good news and helping them feel welcome among us. Then when our boss, Jesus, shows up, he will find us doing a good job of caring for the other servants and he will put on his apron, sit us down at the table, and serve us dinner. May it be so.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Being a Seed, Following Jesus

From Summit 2014 (a gathering of young Friends from Evangelical Friends Church-North America)

Today I want to talk with you about how Jesus responded to popularity and success.

Right before the text I’ve chosen to focus on from John 12 comes the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. This was not the only person Jesus brought back from death, but this one got a lot of attention from the chief priests and Pharisees, the religious establishment. These two groups differed from each other theologically, but they joined forces when a truly disruptive force showed up to seek and save the lost.

The crowds were so excited about Jesus that they welcomed him into Jerusalem with shouts and waved palm branches. A small group of Jews from out of the country asked Philip, a disciple, to introduce them to Jesus. Jesus was a celebrity, the man of the moment, probably the Messiah born to set his people free.

Here’s how Jesus responded, at the high point of his popularity.

This moment has arrived
In order that
The Son of Man, the child of humanity,
May have his worth made known.

Truly, it is true
What I point out to you:
If a grain of wheat does not fall down into the ground
And die alone
It survives alone

But if it dies alone,
It produces many grains

If your first concern is for your own life, your soul, your breath
You will destroy it
If your last concern is for your own life, your soul, your breath
You guard it into unending, absolute life

If you want to minister to me,
Join me, accompany me, walk with me
And wherever I am, you, my minister, will be also

If you want to minister to me, the Father will value and honor you.

At this moment, my own life, my soul, my breath
Is troubled, disquieted, perplexed
And what shall I command?
Father, save me out of this moment?

No, this is why I came into this moment.

Father, make your worth known.

Then a voice came from the universe:
I am making my worth known
And I will make it known again.

At the high point of Jesus’s public career, he sees the hollowness of his popularity and success. He sees that working to maintain them is the opposite of doing what the Father wants. He affirms that his central purpose is to make God’s worth and God’s will known. He empties himself and becomes obedient, even to death on the cross, and burial in the earth, and God in response lifts him up, so that everyone will bow to Jesus. Lifted up on the cross or lifted up in the resurrection, Jesus draws all people to himself.

What I want you to hear is that Jesus invites each of us to join him in this way of walking. We do what God tells us and when success comes, we refuse to love it. We love doing what God tells us instead. When we see our success or our hope for success die, we bury it and wait for God. 

Nearly 90 years ago, Frank Laubach, a missionary to the Philippines, left the seminary he had helped to found in Manila. At the age of 45, he went without his family to live among the Maranao Moro Muslims. He wrote:

August 21,1930
I shall be forty-six in two weeks. I no longer have the sense that life is all before me, as I had a few years ago. Some of it is behind - and a miserable poor part it is, so far below what I had dreamed, that I dare not even think of it. Nor dare I think much of the future. This present, if it is full of God, is the only refuge I have from poisonous disappointment and even almost rebellion against God.

January 20, 1930
Although I have been a minister and a missionary for fifteen years, I have not lived the entire day of every day, minute by minute to follow the will of God. Two years ago a profound dissatisfaction led me to begin trying to line up my actions with the will of God about every fifteen minutes or every half hour. … But this year I have started out to live all my waking moments in conscious listening to the inner voice, asking without ceasing, "What, Father, do you desire said? What, Father, do you desire this minute?"
It is clear that this is exactly what Jesus was doing all day every day.

March 15, 1930
This week a new, and to me marvelous experience, has come out of my loneliness. I have been so desperately lonesome that it was unbearable save by talking with God. And so every waking moment of the week I have been looking toward Him, with perhaps the exception of an hour or two.

Last Thursday night I was listening to a phonograph in Lumbatan and allowing my heart to commune when something broke within me, and I longed to lift my own will up and give it completely to God.
How infinitely richer this direct first hand grasping of God Himself is, than the old method which I used and recommended for years, the reading of endless devotional books. Almost It seems to me now that the very Bible cannot be read as a substitute for meeting God soul to soul and face to face. And yet, how was this new closeness achieved? Ah, I know now that it was by cutting the very heart of my heart and by suffering.  Somebody was telling me this week that nobody can  make a violin speak the last depths of human longing until that soul has been made tender by some great anguish. I do not say it is the only way to the heart of God, but I must witness that It has opened an inner shrine for me which I never entered before.

June 1,1930
Last Monday was the most completely successful day of my life to date, so far as giving my day in complete and continuous surrender to God is concerned - though I shall hope for far better days - and I remember how as I looked at people with a love God gave, they looked back and acted as though they wanted to go with me. I felt then that for a day I saw a little of that marvelous pull that Jesus had as He walked along the road day after day "God-Intoxicated" and radiant with the endless communion of His soul with God.

As he worked on this inner discipline, he took note of the conditions of the lives of those around him, the Maranaos.  He earned their trust by asking them to teach him about the Koran.  He created a curriculum to teach them to read.  As they became literate, they could see the benefits to their lives, and they came to love him.  He founded the program “Each one teach one” that enlisted each newly-literate person as a teacher for someone who still did not read. This literacy work changed the lives of millions of people around the world.

Here’s what Frank Laubach would like to teach us:

"All during the day, in the chinks of time between the things we find ourselves obliged to do, there are the moments when our minds ask: 'What next?' In these chinks of time, ask Him: 'Lord, think Thy thoughts in my mind. What is on Thy mind for me to do now?' When we ask Christ, 'What next?' we tune in and give Him a chance to pour His ideas through our enkindled imagination. If we persist, it becomes a habit."

Can we try this experiment for a week?  Whenever you pause in the day, ask God to think God’s thoughts in your mind.  If you’re organized, do this at regular intervals, maybe at every hour.  If you’re like me, do it when you are collecting your thoughts, or have a moment of forgetfulness, or are well into an anxiety.  And then the key will be to take what we hear from God seriously and obey.  We will be able to tell God’s voice from others by comparing what God says to us with what Jesus showed us about God’s will and priorities in his own life on earth. 

Jesus explained to the religious folks of his day: John 5:17, 19, 20, 21, 30 “My Father is still working, and I also am working. . . . very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; . . . I seek not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

If we are seeking to do God’s will by asking, listening, and then obeying, we will be able to say with Jesus in John 4: 34 “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”