Hurricane Lee is prompting hurricane and tropical storm watches for much of coastal New England this morning, with winds from the massive storm expected as early as tomorrow. Six thousand miles away, a massive flash flood in Libya has killed at least 5,100 people; thousands are still missing, and tens of thousands are homeless. In the first eleven days of September, eight devastating flood events unfolded on four continents. The US has already set a record for billion-dollar weather disasters in a year, with four months still to go.
Meanwhile, Apple’s latest product-launch event unveiled even more sophisticated innovations from the world’s most valuable company. But all that the high tech on my desk, in my pocket, and on my wrist can do about the weather is to report the present and attempt to predict the future. Nothing we have invented can deter nature’s unbridled power and ferocity, proving every day the finitude and frailty of humans and our urgent need for power and protection beyond ourselves.
“Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock”
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the death in AD 407 of St. John Chrysostom, considered by some historians to be “the greatest preacher ever heard in a Christian pulpit.” In one of his messages, he reminded his congregation: “The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus.
“What are we to fear? Death? ‘Life to me means Christ, and death is gain.’ Exile? ‘The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord.’ The confiscation of goods? ‘We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it.’”
He therefore told his people, “I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence.”
What is the pathway to such triumphant faith?
“Let the mists of worldly vanities be dispelled”
Yesterday we focused on the biblical priority of spiritual discernment and the urgency of “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Today, let’s step further in this direction by considering Jesus’ maxim: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
My attention was drawn to Jesus’ words by this reflection from St. Leo the Great (c. 400–461): “The blessedness of seeing God is promised to the pure of heart. For the eye that is unclean would not be able to see the brightness of the true light, and what would be happiness to clean minds would be a torment to those that are defiled. Therefore, let the mists of worldly vanities be dispelled, and the inner eye be cleansed of all the filth of wickedness, so that the soul’s gaze may feast serenely upon the great vision of God.”
C. S. Lewis made the same point rather more succinctly: “It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.”
How can we “want to”? Let’s take three simple but empowering biblical steps today.
One: Refuse the lure of secular thinking.
An E. coli boil water notice was issued a few days ago where I live after traces of the bacteria were discovered in a water sample. We could not see the danger, but that made it no less real.
We are wise to view secular reasoning in the same way: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Scripture is clear: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong” (Exodus 23:2 NIV) because “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4).
The Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho observed: “You have two choices: to control your mind or to let your mind control you.” As fallen people, the latter is our default. As redeemed people, we can make the daily decision to choose the former, which leads to our second step.
Two: Focus your mind consistently on Jesus.
John encouraged us, “If we walk in the light, as [the Father] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Jesus assured us: “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
In Life Without Lack, philosopher Dallas Willard writes: “Once you begin to have an impression of who God truly is, everything else fades into insignificance. When the bountiful sufficiency of God himself and the glorious realm of his kingdom are continually brought before the mind, it puts everything else in its proper place and opens us to a life in which we find God more than capable of supplying everything we need.”
As a result, it is transforming to begin your day by spending time alone with Christ. Begin by saying to him, “Speak, Lᴏʀᴅ, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9 NIV). Now read his word, pray, and worship. Then ask him to help you experience his presence through the day. Talk with him as you would with any other friend. Listen to the voice of his Spirit in your mind and heart, which leads to our third step.
Three: Submit daily to the Holy Spirit.
Paul was emphatic: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Oswald Chambers similarly noted: “The tiniest thing we allow in our lives that is not under the control of the Holy Spirit is quite sufficient to account for spiritual muddle, and all the thinking we like to spend on it will never make it clear.” Conversely, “When the natural power of vision is devoted to the Holy Spirit, it becomes the power of perceiving God’s will and the whole life is kept in simplicity.”
Marcus Aurelius observed: “Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought.”
What “shape” will your mind take today?