Essential or Non-Essential
I don't know about tomorrow
I just live for day to day
I don't borrow from the sunshine
For its skies may turn to gray
I don't worry o'er the future
For I know what Jesus said
And today I'll walk beside Him
For He knows what lies ahead (1)
We seem to read or sing these verses in a different light now, don't we? Like each of us over the last few weeks and months, I have been reassessing many of my plans.
Essential and non-essential are words that have been going through many of our minds, and every time we think of them, they seem to get redefined as well. What should we do now and what should we postpone?
Other categories like urgent and important are also being re-established even as I write this: what should we buy, what will we eat and drink, which clothes will we need? Is now the time to buy a car or can this wait, too? We are realizing that we can get by with much less; trifles are not even mentioned anymore, let alone placed in the shopping cart. The car you drive, the brand of the watch on your wrist, the clothes we are wearing matter no more.
This may be hard for some to see quite yet but there will also be effects of innovation that rise from this time, generated by the need to live our lives differently. Online schooling in Romania, for instance, an idea the government only paraded before us during election years, is slowly becoming a reality, and teachers seem to be adapting quite well, without any expensive training programs burdening our budget. There was no need to equip the schools, teachers, or students with over-priced training or equipment. Our state-owned TV company is broadcasting essential courses for students in middle-school and high-school. Some of us are also figuring out the many meetings we have gone through that could have been simple e-mails but also the e-mails that should have actually been meetings. We are re-evaluating the importance of interpersonal relationships, but also the efficiency of our work. All of this, we are figuring out as we go along, but discovering together that it can be done.
Craig Hawkins, Supervention No. 9, acrylic with monotype on paper, 2012.Faith, too, is being refined right now. It is during times of panic and crisis that we can discern whether churches and individuals are practicing what they preach. And we can also better notice what they preach. Helping those in need is another way to discern the heart of the church.
This is not the first time in history that believers and humanity as a whole have gone through trials. It will not be the last. But it is our turn to determine whether we will live through faith or not. While many of us were taking everything for granted a few days ago, today we are praying for “our daily bread” in a very different tone. Prayer has a new and revitalized focus.
This is not the first time the church and its stewards are experiencing illness and need. And while empires and countries have disappeared off the face of the earth as a result of crises, the church is still standing!
This is also not the first time that the world looks to the church, waiting for a message of hope delivered not just with words, but mostly with deeds. What is truly essential?
This is not the first time that humanity has gone through something like this. The question is: how do we wade through what's next? What I can say for sure is that this seems to be the right time to listen very closely. Because, as C.S. Lewis once said, God whispers to us in our pleasures and speaks to us in our conscience. But God shouts to us in our pain.
Vlad Criznic is a member of the speaking team and director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Romania.
(1) Ira Forest Stanphill, I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.
(2) C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperCollins, 1940/1996), 91.
In the quiet and holy hour of prayer we should also be still and permit ourselves to be examined by the Physician of our souls. We should submit to scrutiny under the holy and penetrating light of God and be thoroughly examined, spiritually fluoroscoped oscoped and X-rayed, in order to ascertain just where our trouble lies...The ailment which afflicts human souls cannot be cured except by light-ray treatment. The light of heaven must enter into our souls, and every affected part must be exposed to its rays.
Ole Hallesby. Prayer: Expanded Edition (Kindle Locations 931-935). Kindle Edition
Jesus has power also over my restless thoughts. He can rebuke the storm in my soul and still its raging waters. There is a profound and beautiful passage bearing on this in Philippians 4:7, "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus." The only way in which we can gather and keep collected our distracted minds and our roaming thoughts is to center them about Jesus Christ. By that I mean that we should let Christ lay hold of, attract, captivate and gather about Himself self all our interests. Then our sessions of prayer will become real meetings with God.
Ole Hallesby. Prayer: Expanded Edition (Kindle Locations 894-898). Kindle Edition.
Creation Is Groaning
For years, I never used the word “sovereign” as a noun. I knew it could be used in this way—”Like a sovereign,” writes Shakespeare “he radiates worth, his eyes lending a double majesty”—I just never did. But trial and tragedy have a way of waking us to words and realities overlooked. Creation is always groaning, at times loud enough to wake us. There was a season when any time I closed my eyes to pray I was leveled by an image of a throne, and it was empty. It was somewhere in the midst of this recurrent vision that I realized my neglect of the noun. Was God indeed the Sovereign who spoke and listened? I had often used the word as an adjective. But adjectives, like good moods, seem to come and go.
The prophet Jeremiah depicts a Sovereign who cannot come and go, simply because He is. God’s sovereignty is not a coat that can be taken off when all is going well or when all is going poorly on a global scale. God does not cease to be the Sovereign though the world refuses to see it or “distant” seems a better adjective. God’s words are not stripped of their sovereignty when no one is listening or no one responds. The Sovereign of all creation is always sovereign, working, and near. We may be inconsistent, but God is making all things new.
Nicholas Roerich, The Last King. Empty throne., 1922, private collection.
Jeremiah chapter 6 begins with an image of the Sovereign speaking to a people uninterested in hearing, an honorable Judge whose words are dishonored. “To whom shall I speak?” the LORD inquires. The question is a lonely one, reflecting both the prophet who speaks and the Sovereign whose words are ignored. The inquiry also has the force of sarcasm: Why bother speaking to a people who won’t hear? But the words are not a commentary on God’s behavior; God is not throwing his hands up and suggesting the route of silence. Rather, it is a commentary on God’s words themselves, which are weighted with the compulsion to be heard. Though our ears dismiss or ignore, the Sovereign speaks and his words go forth with creative hope. “God is always coming,” says Carlo Carretto. “God is always coming because God is life, and life has the unbridled force of creation. God comes because God is light and light cannot remain hidden.”(1) God’s creative work from the throne restores and reshapes the world. There is a person enthroned in every word, bidding the world’s response to every call and every sound, inviting participation in the signs of new creation.
It is not a blind and stiff obedience God seeks, but a response appropriate for the Sovereign embodied in God’s words and concern for all creation. The people of Israel were responding with formality in sacrifice while acting shamefully in other areas. Today we might respond the same, making nods to religion in public or private, but missing the gift of following after the Most High, and hence, settling for something less than real humanity. For in their failure to listen, the Israelites were losing their ability to perceive altogether. “They acted shamefully…yet they were not ashamed; they did not know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15). Missing the invitation to kneel before the Sovereign of all creation and participate in the kingdom God longs for us to see, we lose something of what it means to be human itself.
I don’t know why the throne was empty every time I closed my eyes some years ago. Perhaps I had removed God from the throne long before sorrow hit like a roaring sea and seemed to remove everything in its wake. Perhaps God was ruling from the rooms where we needed God most. I don’t know. But the emptiness of the throne forced me to reexamine the one who inhabits sovereignty itself. Carretto’s words once again hit the gist of such examining: “The true problem is this: Is God an autonomous presence before you, like you before your friend, the bridegroom before the bride, the Son before the Father? […] Can you meet God as a person on your road and prostrate yourself before Him as did Moses before the burning bush? […] Can you experience his presence in the dark intimacy of the temple as did the prophets? In short, is God the God of transcendence, and thus the God of prayer, the God of what lies beyond things, or is God only the God of immanence, revealing Himself in the fruition of matter, in the dynamics of history, in the promise to free humanity?”(2) Is God the Sovereign you will trust at the center of all creation, even a creation that is presently and collectively groaning? Upon a throne high and lofty, God calls us to look closer, to strain toward the signs of one who is working to make all things new, to lean into the gifts of claiming a God who is also a Sovereign, and in so doing to find rest for our souls.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Carlo Carretto, The God Who Comes (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1974), 3.
(2) Ibid., Intro.
Nicholas Roerich, The Last King. Empty throne., 1922, private collection.