Living in Faith (4)

The remarkable little book He Leadeth Me, by Walter Ciszek, shows childlike faith exercised in the most demanding of circumstances.

(I’m looking forward to reading my copy when I have have finished Steve Addison’s, What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement, Changing the World.)

Ciszek, raised a devout Catholic in Pennsylvania, joined a Jesuit mission and volunteered for service in Soviet Russia at the height of its militant atheism. To Ciszek’s consternation, his superior assigned him instead to a mission in Poland. A few years later, war broke out and Hitler’s army invaded Poland. In the horde of Polish refugees fleeing toward Russia, Ciszek saw a providential opportunity. Disguising himself as a worker, he joined the refugees and sneaked into Russia, where he had always wanted to serve. His prayers had been answered so he believed.

Not long afterwards, though, the Soviet secret police arrested Ciszek. The next five years, he was kept in Moscow’s notorious Lubianka Prison, undergoing constant harassment and interrogation. In solitude throughout his time in Lubianka, Ciszek spent day and night questioning God. Where had he gone wrong? He had felt called as a priest, but how could he serve in solitary confinement? What use was all his training? Why was he being punished? Finally, he caved in to KGB demands and signed a written confession of spying activities. When he refused to cooperate further, he received a sentence of fifteen years hard labour in Siberia.

In the Gulag’s much harsher conditions of fierce cold and fourteen hour work days, Ciszek got at last the chance to serve as a priest, after gradually winning the confidence of Ukrainian Catholics. He took risks, endured punishment, and pursued God. One by one, all remnants of childish faith fell away. In their place grew a mature yet childlike faith, along the lines Frederick Buechner suggests.

(Childlike faith acts contrary to ‘common’ understanding, the centurion who approached Jesus about healing his servant, the paralytic who talked his four friends into lowering him through the roof, and Peter who stepped out of the boat onto the lake. Secondly, childlike faith knows how to accept gifts, ordinary gifts each day without thinking them ordinary, and allows us to open my hands to Gods’ mercy and grace. Thirdly, children know how to trust. We place our hand in God’s making a conscious decision to trust him regardless of what lay before us. Kathleen Norris came to understand that to have a relationship with God, like any relationship, she must plunge into it without knowing where it might take her. She began to trust, and from there a mature faith developed. Unrealistic expectations, legalism and unhealthy dependence changed to open-minded faith, grace and childlike trust.)

First, Ciszek had to adjust to new realities. In the years of training for priesthood, not once had he envisioned the kind of career path that lay before him in Russia. First in Poland, then Lubianka, then a Siberian labour camp, and finally exile working in a peasant village, he faced conditions he never would have chosen for himself. He had no theological or inspirational books to study, and scant Christian fellowship. He had to smuggle in wine and bread for the Eucharist. Authorities forbade all proselytism or evangelism. For a time, Ciszek felt a sense of betrayal because his calling to the priesthood had not worked out as he had expected.

Ciszek learned to accept God’s will”not as we might wish it, or as we thought in our poor human wisdom it ought to be,” but rather as “the twenty-four hours of each day: the people, the places, the circumstances he set before us in that time.” He realised he had approached life with an expectation of what God’s will should be, and assumed God would help him fulfill that. Instead, he had to learn to accept as God’s will the actual situations he faced each day, most of which lay outside of his control. Ciszek’s vision narrowed to a twenty-four hour time frame.

Second, Ciszek discovered new gifts coming to him from God. As he prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread,” he began to accept those gifts presented before him:

Each day to me should be more than an obstacle to be gotten over, a span of time to be endured, a sequence of hours to be survived. For me, each day came forth from the hand of God newly created and alive with opportunities to do his will…We for our part can accept and offer back to God every prayer, work, and suffering of the day, no matter how insignificant or unspectacular they may seem to us…Between God and the individual soul, however, there are no insignificant moments; this is the mystery of divine providence.

Finally, and above all, Ciszek learned to trust. His book records the agony involved in overcoming doubt and trusting God when everything in his life seemed to argue against it. He learned how by watching the old-fashioned peasant faith of his convict-parishioners. “To them, God was as real as their own father, or brother, or best friend.” Probably they could not have articulated their beliefs, but at the core of their beings they believed in God’s faithfulness. They trusted in God, turned to him in hard times, gave thanks in the few joyful times, stood ready to lose everything in the world rather than offend God, and fully expected to be with God for eternity.

Ciszek learned and important truth:

By faith we know that God is present everywhere and is always present to us if we but turn to him. So it is we who must put ourselves in God’s presence, we who must turn to him in faith, we who must leap beyond an image to the belief – indeed the realisation – that we are in the presence of a loving Father who stands always ready to listen to our childish stories and to answer to our childlike trust.


Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God

Living in Faith (3)

If we live to please God alone, we set ourselves free from the cares and worries that press in on us. So many of my own cares trace back to concern over other people:whether I measure up to their expectations, whether they fine me desirable. Living for God alone involves radical reorientation, a stripping away of anything that might lure me from the primary goal of pleasing God, far more than pleasing me.

I know a hand surgeon who specialises in reattaching fingers that have been partially or totally severed in accidents…Once my friend got an emergency call at three o’clock in the morning and could hardly face the prospect of beginning such an arduous procedure. In order to add incentive and focus, he decided to dedicate the surgery to his father who had recently died. For the next few hours, he imagined his father standing beside him, his hand on his shoulder offering encouragement.

The technique worked so well that he began dedicating his surgeries to people he knew. He would call them, often awakening them, and say, “I have a very demanding procedure ahead of me, and I’d like to dedicate the surgery to you. If I think about you while I’m performing it, that will help me get through.”…then it dawned on him: should not he offer his life to God in the same way? The details of what he did each day-answering phone calls, hiring staff, reading medical journals, meeting with patients, scheduling surgeries-changed little, yet somehow the awareness of living for God gradually coloured each of these mundane tasks. He found himself treating nurses with more care and respect, spending more time with patients, worrying less about finances.

Philip Yancey, Searching for the Invisible God

Living in Faith (2)

Today I visited a welfare agency store that sells recycled goods to the public. Low and behold I bumped into another ex-student, Martin, who works there. We chatted and Martin explained with a smile that after a long time he now had access to his two children and was appreciating their company.

I asked Martin, “If God can do a miracle in your life today, what would it be?” Then I asked, “Can I pray for you?” He looked at me and said, “Not here.” We were standing at the front of the store near the service desk.

So we moved to the rear of the store and Martin invited me into his “office,” a second-hand sofa surrounded by other second-hand furniture. Martin didn’t hesitate, he asked that he would express positive and encouraging words toward his children and avoid putting them down.

So sitting on the second-hand sofa, and with heads bowed, I prayed for Martin that he would indeed have the right words to say to his children.

Davy

Leo Tolstoy, who did not disdain adding a moral lesson to his stories, ended his short story “Three Questions” this way: “Remember then: there is only one time that is important-Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.

A record of God’s faithfulness in the past combines with hope in a better future for one end: to equip us for the present. As Tolstoy said, we have control over no other time. The past is unchangeable, the future unpredictable. I can only live the the life directly before me. Faithful Christians pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and then proceed to enact God’s will-love, justice, peace, mercy, forgiveness-in the present on earth.;

Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God

Passing through the checkout at a large department store I came face to face with Davy. Davy is a former student of mine from over forty years ago. Every now and then I bump into Danny who loves a chat. We moved over to the shopping trolleys that Davyy collects from the car-park and chatted. Life has been difficult for Davy and this time I decided to ask, “If God can do a miracle in you life today, what would it be? Davy thought and while he couldn’t come up with anything specific he began to mention the aches and pains that were coming with age. I asked, “Can I pray for you?” So there and then, beside the trolleys at the entrance to the department store we bowed our heads and I prayed for Davy and his aches and pains.

I’m looking forward to bumping into Danny again soon.

The Disciplines of the Christian Life

I started following the daily readings in Eric Liddell’s book, The Disciples of the Christian Life, on Tuesday 11 October 2011 finally finishing the year-long reading plan on Wednesday 13 March 2013.

Awareness of Eric Liddell and his accomplishments in the Olympic arena became more widespread with the screening of  award-winning film, Chariots of Fire.

Lesser known is Eric’s work as a missionary to China. Following the occupation of China by the Japanese Eric was placed in an internment camp where he died of a brain tumour on the 21 February 1945 aged forty-three.

A manuscript of Eric’s, A Manual of Christian Discipleship, that was known to be circulating in the internment camp was finally published in 1985 under the title, The Disciplines of the Christian Life.

Following Jesus, Fishing for People

Over lunch Steve and Michelle Addison from Movements, , introduced forty people from one2one Gillies Street Church of Christ to the Following Jesus, Fishing for People training that Steve will be conducting at the church starting Saturday 20 April.

Copies of Steve’s book, Movements that Change the World, and his more recent book, What Jesus Started, were made available.

More information on Movements and Steve’s books can be found at http://www.movements.net/. There are other useful resources on the website that are available to download.

As a result of Steve’s arrival and training program across April, May and June In the Deep End is in recess. However, this will be reviewed in the light of Steve’s training and may be reinvented to further compliment the training.