Saturday, February 12, 2011

Testimony, Part 6 - “God As We Understood Him”

(Note: this posting is another “chapter” in my personal story of relationship with God, continued from last week 2/4/11 and previous postings 8/17/10 through 10/13/10.)

“3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” [Step 3, Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous]

“11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” [Step 11, Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous]

Who’s your “Higher Power?”
As I mentioned last week, I met some interesting people in AA. Tara, for example, was a former socialite in her 30’s or 40’s (hard to tell), who lived like a bag lady at the York Street Club while detoxing from a serious valium addiction. I found out at my part-time job in a rehab center that valium takes a lot longer than alcohol to leave the body; most in-patient treatment centers operate 28-day programs, which is barely long enough for someone like Tara to even start thinking clearly.

Like most of us at York Street, Tara was desperate to stay clean & sober, so she was trying, in her own way, to work the 12 Steps. She, too, had been told she needed to be “willing to believe” in a Power greater than herself, and she was also told it didn’t matter who her God was, as long as she had one. So, if you sat down for coffee or conversation with Tara, she would pull a little clay frog pepper-shaker out of her purse, set it down firmly in the center of the table, and say, smirking, “This is Pepper. He’s my Higher Power.”

Tara was mocking something AA members told us, that even a doorknob or a light bulb could be your Higher Power. While I’m thankful the doors of AA were wide enough to include those of us who didn’t know what to believe at first, ultimately a person needs more than a rabbit’s foot (or a pepper-shaker) for spiritual strength and guidance. For example, a friend who knew former UCLA basketball Coach John Wooden (1910-2010) told me recently that Coach Wooden always carried a small cross in his pocket, and would reach into his pocket to touch or hold that cross during difficult moments. I didn’t know Coach Wooden personally, but everything I’ve heard or read about him suggests that cross was not a “good luck charm” – it was a personal connection to the power of his Lord & Savior, Jesus Christ. Much has been written about how Coach Wooden’s life expressed his faith – his moral integrity and honest, loving behavior (e.g., his harshest curse words under stress were reportedly, “Goodness Gracious, Sakes Alive!”). At some point, we need to know God as He really is, and what He wants for us.

Progress, not perfection
The truth is, we’re all “in process,” and even mature believers are continually growing in their understanding of God – who He is, what He’s like, what He’s doing and what His will is for us. AA promised that those of us who were willing to be honest and work the 12 Steps would have a “spiritual awakening.” The AA program helped me to get started seeking and surrendering my life to God daily, with practical spiritual tools like the “3rd Step Prayer” (from p. 63 of AA’s “Big Book”):

God, I offer myself to Thee- To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!

AA’s primary purpose is sobriety, so they don’t specifically mention Jesus; however, as I prayed that prayer sincerely – submitting my will to His - God led me to the truth about salvation and relationship with God through His Son.

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
[John 14:6 NIV]

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
[Acts 4:12 NIV]
Some people find that too narrow, but the way to God through Jesus Christ is available to all.
This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.
[John 3:16 MSG]

Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.
[John 1:12 NIV]
If we are sincerely seeking God with all of our hearts, the Bible says that we will find Him.

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”
[Jeremiah 29:13 NAS]

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. [Matthew 7:7 NAS]

Knowledge of His Will for us
AA taught me to pray for knowledge of God’s will instead of my own. Things we do in ignorance may be well-intentioned; God knows our hearts, but He also says, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” [Hosea 4:6a] Ignorance is better than malice, but choices and actions outside His will have consequences. God wants to lead us into all truth by His Spirit [John 16:13].

God’s Word is “a light to our feet, and a lamp to our path.” [Psalm 119:105] After I gave my heart and life to Jesus Christ, I still had a lot to learn about God’s truth. For example, I had played around with tarot cards in the year between getting sober and getting saved – as I felt God’s presence, a sense of His existence, and a desire for guidance regarding my life, I saw the symbolic interpretation of those cards as a form of spiritual insight. One day I was walking along York Street with my future husband – a Christian who had backslidden into alcoholic drinking and was trying to get sober, while I was two years sober and only 3 months in Christ – talking about something I’d “seen” in those cards. He answered, simply, “I don’t think those are of God.”

I chattered on a little further, and he spoke one or two more sentences – something about occult practices being forbidden in the Book of Leviticus. I thought he was just being close-minded, but when I got home, God opened my eyes: suddenly, as I laid out those cards, it was very clear to me that they were not a source of God’s guidance at all, but a source of confusion in my life! I was so thankful he told me the Bible truth about those cards. I might have never have known, if someone hadn’t been willing to tell me where God’s scriptural boundaries were. I tore up the cards and threw them away immediately. God’s Word and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit have continued to guide me more and more clearly since that day.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. [Psalm 16:6 NIV]
God loves everyone and His way is open to all, but it is not “anything goes.”

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
[Matthew 7:13-14 NKJ]
Jesus said that He is the gate which leads to eternal life [John 10:7-10] – the only true way to a personal relationship with God [John 14:6]. He also said that He would not turn away anyone who came to Him. [John 6:37]. As mentioned above, I was glad for the “broad doors” of AA at first – they let me know I needed God, and gave me lots of practical support for sobriety – but the world is full of people who talk about “God” in all kinds of ways, just as people wear crosses for all kinds of reasons. Some are sincerely seeking truth, and will eventually find God’s way of salvation and a personal relationship with Him. Others have their own agenda or hindrances, something they want more than God Himself, falling short of God’s will as they insist upon their own. I believe that Jesus is the way to God, yet I also remember how immensely patient He was with me through all my years of rebellion and unbelief, and as I continue to grow in understanding day by day.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
[2 Peter 3:9 NIV]

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
[Romans 5:8 NAS]
Through Jesus Christ I came to know God personally, developing friendship and understanding just as any other personal relationship develops over time through shared experiences and progressive knowledge. I learned the importance of reading His love letters to humanity – the Bible – and following the Spirit of Truth, which always glorifies Jesus. [John 15:26, 16:14]

I think the AA principles of surrender and submission to God’s will, as well as sincerity - rigorous honesty with ourselves and others - are key factors in finding God as He really is. We may pray for parking spots and provision, success and self-fulfillment, but mature Love will ask God what He wants for us, seeking Him “in spirit and in truth.” The boundaries of His Word may sometimes be uncomfortable to our flesh, but they are the only true path to spiritual blessing and fulfillment.

God is so patient with us as we learn to walk with Him – He is merciful and kind, tender as a Father with His children. If we sincerely seek to follow Him in truth, He will show us His way.
"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
[John 16:12-15 NIV, words of Jesus]

Asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the wonderful future He has promised to those He called. I want you to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance He has given to His people.
[Ephesians 1:17-18 NLT]

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