Finding Freedom

In all our own “freedom,” we actually seek one thing: to be able to live without responsibility.

― Søren Kierkegaard

Scripture: Ps 119.134

Redeem me from man’s oppression, that I may keep your precepts.

Reflection: Finding Freedom
By Søren Kierkegaard

People want to eliminate injunctions and constraints in order to play the game of being independent. But to eliminate every constraint, to loosen every bond, meant at best to make it as free and as convenient as possible for everyone to have no conscience while imagining that he had one.

All this talk about eliminating constraint comes either from the coddled or from those who perhaps once felt the power to fight but are now exhausted and find it nicer to have all constraints taken away.

In staring fixedly at freedom of choice instead of choosing, we lose both freedom and freedom of choice. The most tremendous thing given to a human being is choice—freedom. If you want to rescue and keep it, there is only one way–in the very same second unconditionally in full attachment give it back to God and yourself along with it.

If the sight of what is given to you tempts you, if you surrender to the temptation and look with selfish craving at freedom of choice, then you lose your freedom. And your punishment then is to go around in a kind of confusion and brag about having freedom of choice.

Woe to you, this is the judgment upon you. You have free­dom of choice, you say, and yet you have not chosen God. Then you become ill; freedom of choice becomes your fixed idea. Fi­nally you become like the rich man morbidly imagining that he has become impoverished and will die of want. You sigh that you have lost the freedom of choice, and the mistake is merely that you do not sorrow deeply enough so that you get it back again.

Who does not want to be free? Wishing to be free is an easy mat­ter, but wishing is the most paltry and unfree of all performances.

Prayer: The Greeting

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not stray from your commandments. —Psalm 119.10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 32 (Listen – 7:10)
Psalm 119:121-144 (Listen – 15:14)

 

The Greatest Things

To rejoice in temporal comforts is dangerous, to rejoice in self is foolish, to rejoice in sin is fatal, but to rejoice in God is heavenly.

―Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Scripture: Psalm 119.103

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Reflection: The Greatest Things
By Steven Dilla

Near the peak of a late-night ratings battle a few years ago The Tonight Show hosted Jerry Seinfeld. Just prior to the comedy legend’s five minute set, the show had announced that everyone in the audience would receive a television as a prize for attending the taping.

Seinfeld began his set laughing that the audience was so happy about receiving a TV—it is likely everyone already owned a TV, and absolute that every TV would, one day, end up in the trash. “All things on earth only exist in different stages of becoming garbage,” Seinfeld quipped.

He then challenged the audience to think about the journey nearly every object we buy takes. Most things start in a visible place then move to a closet or drawer, and before becoming trash many things make a stop in our garage or storage unit. He joked, “That’s why we have those, so we don’t have to see the huge mistakes that we’ve made.”

If we stop and think about the areas we’ve succeeded—whether money, possessions, accomplishment, or accolade—they almost always let us down. There is a “this is it?” moment when we realize that which we set our hearts upon is really just dust.

“David had a great deal of gold and silver, far more than any of us have; but yet he thought very little of it in comparison with God’s law,” Charles Spurgeon notes in his commentary Psalm 119.

Many people despise gold and silver because they have not got any. The fox said the grapes were sour because they were beyond his reach. But here is a case, in which a man had as much gold and silver as he could ever want.

Success and riches are lovely things—how wonderful is it that God created us to experience them? But David also knew they were insufficient for the greater things God created our hearts to know.

Seinfeld, in jest, suggests our solution is to become a “thrower-outer.” Adding, “I wish there was a store where I could buy something, pivot and just throw it down the incinerator.”

The Psalmist solution, in earnest, is that we love God more than our prize possessions and accomplishments. For, as Spurgeon concludes, “Riches often take to themselves wings, and fly away; even great wealth may soon be spent and gone; but God’s law never leaves those who love it, nor lets them lose it.”

Prayer: The Request for Presence

O Lord, my God, my Savior, by day and night I cry to you. Let my prayer enter into your presence. —Psalm 88.1-2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 31 (Listen – 4:57)
Psalm 119:97-120 (Listen – 15:14)

 

Economics and Faith

No one is really working for peace unless he is working primarily for the restoration of wisdom.

―E.F. Schumacher

Scripture: Psalm 119.25

My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!

Reflection: Economics and Faith
By Steven Dilla

In his book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, British economist E.F. Schumacher observes that the modern Western economist “is used to measuring the ‘standard of living’ by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is ‘better off’ than a man who consumes less.”

Schumacher’s work, published during the 1973 oil crisis, reads like a manifesto against industrialism’s “bigger is better” mantra. “Since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption.”

The hero of the book is Buddhist economics—a term Schumacher coined after studying village-based economies. Schumacher explains:

The ownership and the consumption of goods is a means to an end, and Buddhist economics is the systematic study of how to attain given ends with the minimum means.

[Western] economics considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of all economic activity, taking the factors of production—land, labor, and capital—as the means. The former, in short, tries to maximize human satisfactions by the optimal pattern of consumption, while the latter tries to maximize consumption by the optimal pattern of productive effort.

Much of what Schumacher offers as a critique of western economics is engaging, if not refreshing. His solution of Buddhist economics is intriguing as well, but he places near-utopian hope in humankind (assuming we can figure out economics):

People who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on worldwide systems of trade.

The idea of Christians thoughtfully engaging faith in economics is a deeply biblical response to our call to cultivate. That image comes with the assumption that everything in creation, as significant and beautiful as it may be, is dust. Trying to solve humankind’s problems through dust is a smokescreen to hide our true actions of substituting God with ourselves.

One of the privileges of the Christian life is responding to the glory of God’s word while we drive it deep into our hearts through prayer. This posture reorients our understanding and deepens our calling to engage thoughtfully with economic theory and practice while we simultaneously set our eyes on Christ as the greatest hope of the world.

Prayer

Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. —Psalm 85.10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 28:20-68 (Listen – 10:11)
Psalm 119:25-48 (Listen – 15:14)

This Weekend’s Readings
Deuteronomy 29 (Listen – 4:14) Psalm 119:49-72 (Listen – 15:14)
Deuteronomy 30 (Listen – 3:12) Psalm 119:73-96 (Listen – 15:14)

 

Finding Words to Pray

The edifices are growing. Yet prayer is decaying.

—Abraham Joshua Heschel

Scripture: Psalm 119.14-15

In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.

Reflection: Finding Words to Pray
By Steven Dilla

“The true source of prayer is not an emotion but an insight,” observes Abraham Joshua Heschel in Man’s Quest for God. Yet our sources for insight often prove inconsistent or even unreliable. Cultures wax and wane, emotions churn, even our personal perspectives evolve. Nothing can eviscerate a prayer life more quickly than locating our sole source for insight inside ourselves.

“It is the insight into the mystery of reality, the sense of the ineffable, that enables us to pray,” says Heschel. So too, the psalmist who composed the longest chapter in scripture, Psalm 119. The overtone of the psalm is the confession of God’s word as the source of vitality, joy, and meaning in life. The undertone is the way meaningful prayer is sparked and fueled by insights found in his transcendent word.

The remedy for spiritual dryness is prayer saturated with scripture. When we pray the words of scripture they enliven our prayers by allowing God’s word to blossom inside our heart, mind, and soul. In An Exposition on Prayer in the Bible Jim Rosscup identified the psalmist’s record of this experience, verse-by-verse, in Psalm 119.

In regards to our daily experience, God’s words in prayer are, “purifying (verse 9), a treasure (11, 72), joy-inspiring (14), delighting (16), replete with wonderful things (18), counselors (24), enlivening (25), strengthening (28). They are freeing (45, 133), comforting (52), stimulating for melody (54), perfecting (80), life-encompassing (96), sweet dessert (103), light (105), an inheritance (111), and worth waiting for (114). Not only these, but they are protecting (117), provocative of hate toward evil (128), truthful (142), righteous (144), everlasting (160), awe-inspiring (161), peace-promoting (165), and love-kindling (167).”

To experience this first-hand, Rosscup suggest taking one eight-verse section of Psalm 119 and praying through it each day. “God saturates all the psalmist’s thoughts as he prays, and rekindles one’s passion for God just to pray the very verses as one’s own thoughts.”

The Call to Prayer

Let us bless the Lord, from this time forth for evermore. Hallelujah! —adapted from Psalm 115.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 27-28:19 (Listen – 13:27)
Psalm 119:1-24 (Listen – 15:14)

 

Beyond Admiration

Christ consistently used the expression “follower.” He never asks for admirers, worshippers, or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life.

— Søren Kierkegaard

Scripture: Psalm 118.26

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Reflection: Beyond Admiration
By Søren Kierkegaard

Is it not true that the more strongly someone makes assurances, while his life still remains unchanged, the more he is only making a fool of himself?

Now suppose that there is no longer any particular danger—as it no doubt is in so many of our Christian countries—bound up with publicly confessing Christ. Suppose there is no longer need to journey in the night. The difference between following and admiring—between being, or at least striving to be—still remains.

Forget about this danger connected with confessing Christ and think rather of the real danger which is inescapably bound up with being a Christian. Does not the Way—Christ’s requirement to die to the world, to forgo the worldly, and his requirement of self-denial—does this not contain enough danger? If Christ’s commandments were to be obeyed, would they not constitute a danger? Would they not be sufficient to manifest the difference between an admirer and a follower?

The difference between an admirer and a follower still remains, no matter where you are. The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in words, phrases, songs, he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct his life, will not be what he admires, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires.

Not so for the follower. No, no. The follower aspires with all his strength, with all his will to be what he admires. And then, remarkably enough, even though he is living amongst a “Christian people,” the same danger results for him as was once the case when it was dangerous to openly confess Christ.

And because of the follower’s life, it will become evident who the admirers are, for the admirers will become agitated with him. Even that these words are presented as they are here will disturb many—but then they must likewise belong to the admirers.

The Call to Prayer

Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. —Psalm 31.23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 26 (Listen – 3:13)
Psalm 117-118 (Listen – 2:52)

 

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