Psalm 37:1-6, 34-40
Rev. Kit Billings
September 12, 2004
Earlier in our service we prayed The Lord's Prayer together. I am struck deeply by the fact that in the opening verses of that prayer how it marvelously suggests that those who choose to be faithful, spiritual people (which our theology reminds us must be at times a challenging, “up and down” process) do more than acknowledge God's existence, which happens when we acknowledge: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” Those who desire to be faithful also do something else in addition to acknowledging the Lord's existence, which comes out in the next couple of phrases in this great prayer.
And so we read: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It is a great and important ideal in the spiritual way of life to want to do God's will above all—to want the Lord's will to flow into and influence my own.
Our Lord Jesus revealed this deep desire to be aligned with the Divine Life (the Divine will of Love) flowing through His soul when He found Himself in those terrible moments in the Garden of Gethsemene feeling the impending doom of his upcoming crucifixion, as He prayed thusly: “Abba Father” he said, “all things are possible for Thee. Take this cup away from me. Yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.” Christ's words also reveal how terribly difficult it can be for our unregenerate, natural will to truly want God's Divine will of Love in my life. Once we have become aware that God is real, that He exists, and that the Lord is much, much greater than we are (or rather, that the Lord's life is actually Love and goodness Itself), then typically an awesome desire comes to life in our minds: “Lord, let Your will be done through me.” And this is a good and holy desire, one that needs to be lifted up and celebrated.
A somewhat recent craze has swept through Christianity that deals with this issue of God's people wanting to be open to the Lord's will and guidance in their lives. Perhaps you've seen that little acronym: “WWJD”, which stands for, “what would Jesus do?” In this endeavor, we twenty-first century Christians are trying to discern in our own minds what might Christ do in my situation if He were with me right now? While this is a rather noble enterprise, I strongly doubt that any of us would be able to consistently know just what the Lord would do.
For example, when it comes to things like going to war, can we say for certain that the Lord would give the okay for our military might to either bomb another county in hopes of preventing future attack? Could we say for certain that Christ would approve of us defending ourselves from an invading force? Those who would be totally certain, think for a moment about the reality that in Christ's day the Israelites were the then occupied country, and in fact were under a easily brutalizing force, the Roman Empire. There was gross manipulation and victimization happening to the Jewish peasants. One might think for certain that the Lord would have both sanctioned and perhaps even produced a protective military force to save the people from such evil, but…He didn't.
Are we so certain of just exactly what Jesus would do? The fact is that the Lord engaged His ministry on earth over 2,000 years ago. Things happening in Palestine were markedly different is certain respects than the world we live in today, while also in other ways they were very much the same. Another example to me of how uncertain we can be in thinking we would know what the Lord would do in every situation is that of slavery back in first century Palestine. The Lord had ample opportunity to denounce it and try to end that barbaric practice, but He did not. Why? Well, it's hard to say. Only God knows on that one.
But back to my main point with you today, what is God's will for and within my life ten minutes from now? What about several hours from now? What about when a person finds herself in a hard and extremely frustrating argument with her husband? What is God's will for both of them during that painful time, especially during those heated moments when we feel those fiery, angry emotions flooding our heart and mind? How certain can we be of our “rationality” that we would be able to discern just what would Jesus do in order to become more open to the Lord's will for my life?
Our New Church teachings have some deep and marvelous wisdom to share with us about this subject this morning, regarding what we can and need to do to become open to God's will for our living. As I suspect you will come to see, there is once again a cooperative process or relationship between us and God. He has His part, and you have yours.
Our two Scripture lessons this morning touch so well upon part of our answer, which comes out in many other places in the Lord's Word. In Psalm 37 we are reminded of some crucial spiritual truth: that those who choose to trust in the Lord and do good will dwell in the land God delights in giving to you. The spiritual or inner meaning tells us that faithful good people are led by the Lord to spiritually dwell in the land known as the Kingdom of Heaven (which is spiritual geography)—or rather, the lands of goodness, mercy and courage. Thus, as the Lord taught us His Kingdom is here with you now, and is open and inviting toward you to seek it and experience it. When we choose to dwell internally in God, which is a mental choice you might say, then God dwells in our heart and mind in a powerful, mystical way, and the Lord conjoins our heart with His. This internal connection of God's will with our spiritual hearts is dependent upon your desire for it to happen. The Lord is always wanting this connection with you, but you must be willing of it too for it to happen. This is part one you might say, which involves your commitment to the Lord's way and your choice to want to trust in Him.
Thus, part one is a mystical issue. It's about your affection and desire for God to inwardly flow into you as you also flow into and become connected with Him by means of both of you intending that this should happen. Christ spoke to this when He spoke about us being branches on Him as the Divine Vine of life. We read in John 15 Jesus saying:
4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Part two has to do with an extremely relevant aspect of our human nature, which is known as our conscience. We learn from both Swedenborg's and Paul's writings that when our minds are filled with the truths and principles contained in God's Word, then we have a conscience that functions and lives in accordance with the Lord's principles and love. And it then is a mighty force indeed. Such a conscience reminds me of those famous words by Shakespeare: “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.” When a human mind is readily filled with the truths and the light from the Holy Word, God then speaks to us through our conscience. As one little child defined a good conscience: “Conscience is Jesus whispering into my ears.” It is that still, small voice that when built up by God's truth and love can sometimes sting the wayward soul worse than a wasp stinging one's hand.
Swedenborg had an enormous amount to say about what the human conscience is and how it is formed. In his work Heavenly Secrets, n. 3 we read: Conscience is the intermediate between the Lord and man. It is the new will and new understanding from the Lord. Conscience is twofold: it is of good and truth, and of what is just and what is fair. Swedenborg continues in another of his works:
Man's conscience is from the doctrine of his church, or from some religious principle, and is according thereto. Conscience is formed with man from those things which are of his religion, and which he believes to be truths. Conscience is an internal bond, by which man is held to thinking, speaking, and doing good; and by which he is withheld from thinking, speaking, and doing evil; and this is not for the sake of self and the world, but for the sake of good, truth, justice, and uprightness. (H.D. 139)
A vital issue impacting a more learned discussion on the conscience is to recognize that like any kind of container, the human mind can be easily filled up with unholy things—false principles and selfish values, which allow for another kind of voice to speak into our thoughts and will influence our affections. As Swedenborg learned, the promptings and whispers of evil spirits are readily waiting to guide us into their values, in order to destroy us.
There was a man who, as a boy, learned that when his desire for something was great enough, it was all right to steal it. One day this young lad was walking along a street and happened to spy a cart full of watermelons. He was very fond of them and snuck up quietly to the cart and snitched one. Then he ran into a nearby alley and sank his teeth into the melon. No sooner had he done this, however, than a strange feeling came over him. Without a moment's hesitation, he made his decision. He walked back to the cart, replaced the melon—and took a ripe one! Clearly, this young lad was experiencing the conscience of the misinformed human mind, open to the selfishness of the dark side, and God's will was nowhere to be heard nor felt.
And so, we are encountering here part two of what it takes to truly experience God's will moving through and informing my own, and that is that we each have a huge responsibility to regularly fish for God's divine truth and principles, which live in the Bible, and which God uses to create a faith in you that develops sound, genuine conscience where the Lord whispers into our thoughts. It is up to us to find the genuine truths of faith in the literal and inner meaning of the Word and feed upon them. Those who fish for God's principles enable the Lord to fill their minds with holy (or heavenly) truth, which God then uses to whisper to us lovingly down in the depths of our minds—and, when needed, to sting us when evil is the direction we are choosing.
The Lord spoke so beautifully about what is really going on in the inner matrix of a good, human conscience. We read His Divine wisdom again in John's fourteenth chapter:
15"If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."
Thus we see how the Lord's will enters very deeply and intimately into your own when you love Him and obey His commandments. And God will surely speak to you, the Divine will show Himself to you in a sense, by whispering things to you in your conscience.
In A.C. 4167 there is further information about the different levels of how God's will can influence us. We read: The more internal base or more internal conscience is the place where good and truth in the genuine sense reside, for good and truth flowing in from the Lord are what activate this conscience. But the more external base is the more external conscience, and this is where that which is just and fair in the proper sense resides; for a sense of what is just and fair in private and public affairs, which also flows in from Him, is what activates that conscience. There is in addition a most external base, which resembles conscience but is not conscience at all, namely the performance of what is just and fair for selfish and worldly reasons, that is, for the sake of one's own position and reputation, and for the sake of worldly wealth and possessions, as well as fear of the law.
And so to recap: part one of seeking out God's will for my life is to want the Lord's will to flow into my own, for me to want God in me and for me to choose to be in God in a warm, trusting, mystical way. This is a serious commitment since it involves committing ourselves to the Lord's ways. Part two involves me choosing to fill my mind with the Lord's spiritual principles contained in His Word, praying that we be led to genuine truths of faith. And lastly, part three is a skill that we each must develop if I am steadfast about wanting the Lord's will in my life, and that is an ability to be able to wait upon God. As Psalm 37:34 reminds us: “wait for the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.” There can be times when God's will may not readily reveal itself, which is a good test for us I believe. For by being able to wait for God to work deeply and gently through the inner loves and spiritual truth alive inside of us reveals in a special way how much we love God and deeply trust Him.
The Psalms reveal that the wicked shall perish. This is never more true than when evil spirits strive hard to attack a good person's conscience, but find it protected by these three forms of spiritual goodness and strength. Those who truly desire God's will in their lives have a sure heavenly path to tread.
May your movement into the Lord's love and wisdom bring you new life, new warmth and rebirth in endless beauty and Light. May the outpouring Holy Spirit of the Lord, the great Counselor, whisper every peace and wisdom you need, now and evermore. Amen.