Exodus 13:17-22 #372 “Morning Has Broken”
John 16:12-15 #241 “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”
#183 “Come, Thou My Light”
Rev. Kit Billings
June 1, 2003
This past Thursday was “Ascension Day” when Christians celebrate the fortieth day after the Lord rose from His grave on Easter and ascended into heaven above, so to speak. And what an amazing moment that would have been, to watch the divinely glorified Lord of Love and Truth rising higher and higher before the disciples, blessing them as He rose! I'm very glad we can remember and celebrate it together once a year, since that was the last “event” of Christ's 33 years of ministry on earth, you might say.
But that was an historical event or happening some 2003 years ago. The Lord's Ascension Day for us today is now meant to symbolize something extremely important for anyone desiring to be a Christian—it's meant to symbolize that precious growth and spiritual maturation period inside of us when Jesus the Prophet, when Jesus the carpenter from Nazareth, rises to divine heights of Godhood! That is, when Jesus the man changes within you to become the God-Man of heaven and earth, the Divine-Human presence of God within your heart and your mind…very real, very noticeable, and quite easily felt at times too. For when inside of your heart and your mind Jesus becomes the total Christ in your consciousness He then takes on the power of Divine and Infinite Love and Wisdom! Now, to be sure, our faith informs us that in reality Jesus has enjoyed “all power in heaven and on earth” ever since He ascended to heaven. But for the person whose Christian spirituality matures to the point of deeply recognizing Christ's divinity, at that point does the Lord begin to release a brand new kind of ministry—one within her heartland and reasoning power, inside of her will and understanding.
And this, you see, ever since Jesus rose or ascended to heaven and took on His complete Divine presence in the spiritual and natural universes, is where the Lord's daily ministry is centered—in YOUR HEART….IN YOUR MIND, and therefore in your outward life! The Infinite God of Joy…..the Infinite God of Light and Love…..is present with us always in Divine-Humanity, but your faith, your personal perception of this truth is CRITICAL. If you don't perceive this, then the Lord is quite limited in how much He can guide you through life.
Do you ever wonder if the Lord is guiding you…helping you through tough times? Helping you to find a better path…or any path for that matter…that will lead you back to find peace, a sense that you're in tune with God in life?
The spiritual issue of God's guidance is now what I want to focus on with you today—just how does God guide us through life? Will he help us especially when we're at a deep crossroads in life? What methods does He use to guide, and what can we do to open ourselves more deeply to the Lord's leading?
Sometimes we find ourselves at a crossroads in life, a time when we're just deeply needing the Lord to show us the way. I'm sure you've been there at some time in life. Perhaps you're on a crossroads now. Allow me to read to you now the timeless poem called “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, who was raised in the San Francisco Swedenborgian Church:
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Yes, there are times in life when we face major decisions. Also, there are times when it's not an issue of this way or that way, but simply “God, help me find my way in a dark or difficult time!”
To be sure, the Bible has a great deal to say about this whole issue. The Lord addresses this deeply spiritual and important theme in two basic ways: 1) through telling a story about God guiding His children, especially the Israelites, through life. 2) by direct verbiage that simply teaches that indeed God is guiding us. And not just on Tuesday afternoon at 9:30am either, but ALWAYS…CONSTANTLY.
We find God's first method of teaching us about His Divine guidance revealed in the story of the Exodus, when a fearful and immature and selfish band of Israelites were being led miraculously out of bondage in Egypt out into the desert! Now that's quite a thing in and of itself, don't you think? The Hebrews were clearly at a crossroads time of their lives and in their faith development with God. They were told by the Lord that He was delivering them out of slavery and toward a fruitful Promised Land! But it would be through very dry and hot circumstances, and deep faith and trust were required.
Yet given the spiritual issues and struggles of the Hebrews, as well as for generations to come to have a teaching story about God's guidance through life, the Divine gave them a special miracle each and every day—the Lord's presence with them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night! Each pillar-like presence of God never left them during their 40-year stint in the wilderness. Moses and the people always knew which way to turn and where to go.
The Lord was always with them……..and, He's ALWAYS WITH YOU TOO. Yet we need to look carefully at this story and let is reveal its deeper mysteries. First, at the context in which it occurred. The Hebrews were in a desert journey and it lasted for 40 years. Their desert journey corresponds to or symbolizes spiritual temptation periods in life that we may go through—times when we thirst for spiritual truth deeply and may feel uncomfortable as our human will struggles to want it's way more than God's way.
Our church teachings help us to understand that the number “40” represents a temptation experience that is full and complete. It's one that we haven't cut short but have allowed to move and happen as it's needed to. New Church theology also helps us grasp that the Lord makes tremendous use of our spiritual wilderness journeys, our “temptation struggles and battles.” And in fact the Lord guides us very deeply all along the way (just as God led the Hebrews every day through the hot, arid Middle eastern weather and terrain so long ago).
As we take an ever-deeper look here at the spiritual sense of God's holy Word, it reveals to us something even more fascinating. The story says that during the day God led them by means of a pillar of smoke and at night by a pillar of fire. A spiritual daylight period is when we're seeing life pretty well, in part seeing the things within our culture that try to entrap us in false values and beliefs. What do I mean by that, that our American culture contains anti-Christian values and principles in it? Well, such as that consumerism is THE way to heavenly happiness, or that an intensive competitive strife to always be #1 from the time we're kindergarteners (the very best at all that I do and always better than anyone else, which produces much higher risk of heart attacks according to modern socio-psychology studies) is what life is all about. Or, that a person's external appearance (how young and beautiful we look) deserves our utmost concern and importance above what kind of person we are or are becoming and the quality and substance of our love and wisdom in life.
Also, in spiritual daylight times we're probably seeing the purpose of life on earth very clearly, and the reality that death in this world simply means the start of something great and new in the life beyond. Also, that the purpose of this life is to prepare us for life in heaven—indeed, the very reason we're born is to one day enjoy citizenship in God's Kingdom of love and wisdom. BUT!, and here's the really serious part of this now, it was during the daylight time in the desert when the Lord obscured Himself with the Hebrews. His fiery and awesome presence as a pillar of fire at night was covered keeping His dazzling appearance hidden. This was a choice by the Lord, an overt choice, and it reminds us that God will do things within us, at times, to increase the degree and depth of our felt experience of spiritual freedom.
The truth is that the Lord never leaves us, but in order that we must make many choices in a very heightened sense of “me, myself and I” kind of thing God veils Himself before us. It's important that we understand this, because to misunderstand this reality can falsely lead us to think that God has abandoned us.
There's another important issue involving the Lord's way of guiding and leading us that I must mention to you, which deals seriously with God's holy Word—which functions a lot in our lives as a spiritual COMPASS. The Lord can help us find our way when we expose our minds and our thoughts to the great truths and enlightenment found in the Word. God's Light of truth shines powerfully and overtly in its literal sense; there is an overt truth in the Bible, a stark and guiding Light, which can lead us marvelously in spiritual nighttimes as a pillar of fire. One example of this is what we read about in John 8 if we're struggling to believe in Christ's guiding power: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." And again in John 16:12-13 regarding God's devotion to guiding us every day: “…when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”
Also, the Lord uses a more subtle form of guidance, a very deep and subtle form of Light, what we may call a non-overt form of truth and light, what some call “enlightenment,” and it is vivified and nourished by a rather simple thing—that is, whenever a person reads God's Word with faith and trust believing that the Lord lives deeply and powerfully within the words and pages and will touch and speak to us in His still, small voice every time we go there. But also what is required of you is this: your own, personal and heartfelt devotion to what is GOOD in life. If guidance is what you seek, then be sure you're focused on the Lord and what is good, and He'll steer you through every time.
Our risen, glorified and marvelously “ascended” Lord never sleeps nor slumbers, and is always guiding our way. He will guide you by means of your temptation struggles; He will guide you at night within you in a pillar of fiery love; He will guide even when He needs to obscure Himself from your eyesight in a pillar of cloud; He may even use someone near you through simple conversation; and He will lead you most assuredly in the Light of His Holy Word. The Lord is constantly helping you to see a path of what is good in life.
May the “road less traveled by” be your road—a road of love, goodness, and truth centered in the Holy One, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.