If you really, really like one of my posts, chances are that another one will not be your ‘cup of tea’. I told you that I have many and diverse interests (see the post, “The Wonder of It All – 2”). In recent years, I have done more public speaking than writing. When I preach or teach or just have a conversation, I receive ques from others about their response to my words. If someone seems engaged, I might double-down on that thought or say more about it. If someone’s eyes are glazing over, I might change directions or try a different angle to make a theme interesting. What I say is also shaped by what I know of someone’s experiences, interests, personality, knowledge, character and so much more. We all do this to some extent if we are basically mentally and emotionally healthy. In conversation, we shape one another as we all are “reading” each other.
When I have an up-coming appointment with one of my counselors, I find myself, during the next week, rehearsing what I will say to him based on what I know about him and how I think he will respond to me. Sometimes, by the time the meeting happens, I have already counseled myself to some answers, just from my knowledge of what my counselor is likely to say based on what I know of his character.
In my earlier post, “What We Are”, we saw that we become like who or what we worship. Now I want to suggest that, over time, we are shaped, for good or ill, by our conversation partners. Among the many ways that we influence one another, we also shape one another to reality, including the present and future reality of the Kingdom of God, or we tempt one another to beleive lies.
God’s people have long known how important our conversations are, living as we do, in this strangely beautiful and dangerous world. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17, ESV) The literal Hebrew is “sharpens the face of another”. I like that. I think of an artist making a statue, chiseling rock to bring out her vision as the extraneous is discarded. Or, if you wiill permit, we help bring out God’s vision, our destiny, in each other. Christian faith and life is not meant to be simply a private affair, me alone in my room. Certainly there is also a place for solitude before God and our personal worship of God each day. But as Eugene Petersen has it, our daily worship and service of God is to grow out of our Lord’s Day worship together. Our worship is also joined to the multitudes worshiping God and the Lamb right now in heaven. The phrase or idea of “one another” appears 323 times in the New Testament (if I remember correctly). We need one another to fulfill all the ‘one anothers’ like: “love one another”, “forgive one another”, “encourage one another”, “carry one another’s burdens”, “sing to one another”, “rejoice with those who rejoice”, “weep with those who weep”, etc.
This dynamic is also in our relationship with God. Sometimes I say that prayer is bringing all that we know of ourselves to all that we know of God (I don’t remember who I got that from many years ago). This statement has two parts. First, I am to pray who I am, not who I am not. God knows all about me anyway. I might as well speak the candid truth. There is nothing I can say that God cannot take. The Psalms, the prayer book of Israel, is two thirds laments, complaints. There are also revenge passages and apparent self-righteous passages. You might think of the Psalms as a record of prayers successfully launched at the Almighty without the launcher getting hit by a bolt of lightning. Really, there cannot be an ultimate disaster for you as long as you continue to candidly talk with God.
The second part is that I am to pray to the One I am coming to know through his story in the Bible, especially the story of Jesus, and my continuing walk before God in God’s world. As I am in conversation with God over time, my character increasingly becomes like his character: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, sel-conntrol” (Gal. 5:22b-23a). And of course his desires become my desires. His vision for me, my destiny, is increasingly realized. The Psalmist counseled, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4, ESV) Sounds like a promise to me. And yet we have all seen prayers that are selfish or naive or unworthy of who we are created to be, and therefore, are unlikely to be answered. As Janis Joplin sang, “O Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz, My friends all drive Porches, I must make amends”. How can God trust us with this promise? Well, if we delight ouselves in the LORD, his desires will become our desires, and therefore, desires that God delights to give us! We are being shaped profoundly by our day by day delighful conversation with God.
Until we can get together face to face over a cup of java and have a nuanced conversation that supports our destinies, this inadequate blog will have to do.