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  • Writer's pictureRichard A. Jones

Life Inspired

At a large church the pastor always began the Sunday morning service by saying to the people, “ The Lord be with you.”  The congregation would then respond, “And with your spirit.”


One Sunday the microphone wasn’t working. The pastor and the sound technician were trying to correct the problem. The pastor kept tapping on the mic, and just as he said, “Is it working now,”  The sound came on in full force.—And all the people responded, “And with your spirit.”


It’s easy to get into a rut isn’t it?  And some of the deepest ruts in life are plowed into the ground of religion. The Bible shows us some people who lived life in a rut. It also shows us some people who lived life inspired.


The Pharisees were obsessed with Bible study, but their way of thinking, their way of living, and their way of knowing God, never changed. They believed that Scripture was inspired, but Scripture never inspired them.


Long before them, a boy king named Josiah found the Scriptures buried under a pile of rubble where they had lain unread for 70 years. When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes ...and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands with all his heart and all his soul.”


Israel’s king Solomon, looked at God’s creation and this is what he saw:  “The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes.... All streams flow into the sea....to the place the streams come from, there they return again.  All things are wearisome....”


But Solomon’s father David, looked at God’s creation and proclaimed:  “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” ......“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the works of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”


In George MacDonald’s novel Castle Warlock we listen in on a conversation between Mr. Burns, a faithful church goer and prominent merchant in town, and Cosmo, a young man of deep conviction.


Mr. Burns “The first principle of business is to buy in the cheapest market and sell in the highest.”


Cosmo “Where does love of your neighbor come in?”


Mr. Burns“That has nothing to do with business...Business would come to an immediate stand-still if such ideas were allowed to have any relation to it. No man would make a fortune that way."


Cosmo“You think, then, that what we are sent here for is to make a fortune."


Mr. Burns “Most people do think so...The world would hardly go on upon any other supposition.”


Cosmo “Then the world would had better stop.  It wasn’t worth the making.”


To Inspire means to infuse or breathe into. Mr. Burns saw no relationship between faith in God and conventional business practices. Cosmo, on the other hand lived inspired. His life had been infused with the economy of God.


Maybe we don’t choose those moments when the opportunity for inspiration comes calling. C.S. Lewis called these brief glimpses of glory,  “pictures sent by God to awaken sweet desire.”


When Josiah got out of bed that morning, he did not know that he would stumble over the ancient and forgotten book of the law.


David had seen the stars before, but when he stepped outside that one night, he saw with new eyes. Solomon must have seen, a thousand times, the same night sky as David.  Why did he see creation only as a boring and monotonous routine? I think that David was prepared when inspiration came—Solomon was not.

                                 

Another of George MacDonald’s characters is a woman named Jane Tuke.

Jane was practical and down to earth. Her life was framed by religious duty and good behavior, driven by ought and should.  She believed what was considered sound doctrine. She was faithful in church attendance and tithing. Jane was a good person, so what’s the problem?—MacDonald tells us: “She had no WINDOW (in her life) to let in the perpendicular light of Heaven.  All the light she had was the horizontal light of duty—invaluable, but always accompanied by its own shadow of failure—giving neither joy, nor hope, nor strength.”                                   


Jane Tuke held theories and doctrines about God in her mind, but she had no truth in her heart. She may have been a good person, but she could never see the difference between good and best. She was practical but she was blind to eternity. She practice the forms of her religion, but she had no fire in her soul. And being void of inspiration, imagination, and passion, she had, for the most part, accepted the way things were. She had stopped imagining the way things could be or should be.


In Isaiah 40, the prophet confronts the uninspired Hebrew people:

Why do you say, Oh Jacob,

and complain, Oh Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord;

my cause is disregarded by my God....”


Complaining, Grumbling, sometimes even blaming God. I don’t know about you, but this sounds a little too familiar. Isaiah has this word for them.  And I can see Isaiah maybe standing outside in the evening with the people gathered; His arm sweeping across the sky as he proclaims with great emphasis:


Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:

Who created all these?.....

.....Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can

fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.


Isaiah tells them, and me, don’t let your problems and the circumstances around you dominate your thoughts and your life. Look up! be inspired! Trust God! Like the Pharisees, I may believe that Scripture is inspired—but has it ever inspired me? I may love to look at a beautiful view of the mountains, and I may love living in a dark sky community, But have I ever seen creation as David did. Have I ever glimpsed glory, and been inspired.  Has creation ever infused into my life, the character of the Creator?


I may admire Jesus. But Jesus did not come to be admired, or to give us some moral principles to live by and some religious duties to perform.


He came to capture our hearts, ignite our imaginations, draw us into his joy, his strength, his purpose, and his hope.  He came to Inspire us and to “breathe” his life into our lives.


If I am to recognize inspiration from God when it comes I must keep a window open in my life to let in, What MacDonald called, “the light of heaven.”


I have had these moments of inspiration, but they have been few in my life. There are years when I don’t: years when no new insight comes, no great work rises up in my path. There is no intense emotion, and there is no obvious response to my praying.


Sometimes It seems as if I am awakened, only to fall asleep again. I stop praying, stop looking for God in any new way. I look down at my own problems, look around at the problems of the world, and plod along in my own self-centeredness.


Inspiration may come in brief glimpses. As Lewis says, “pictures sent by God to awaken sweet desire.”  But how do I stay awake when the moment of Inspiration has passed?


Scottish Pastor and writer, John Knox said it well:  “God has inspired me in the past. One day he may inspire me again. But, inspire me or not, I will hold the ground that God has given.”


In the Bible Peter, James, and John went up the mountain where they saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. What an inspiring moment. It was so inspiring that they wanted to build something permanent and stay there. “Let’s hold on to this.” But Jesus takes them back down the mountain where the work of God waits to be done.


The challenge is to live life inspired when the emotion wanes, and I come back down the mountain to confront daily life. What to I do when the only evidence of God seems to be a thin memory, a fading glimpse, a faint echo of his presence.


That is what is called faith! As the writer of the book of Hebrews says—“Now faith is bring sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (or hear, or feel)


Faith is not about experiencing one epiphany after another. It is not about feeling God’s presence, doing great works, prayers answered, or miracles witnessed. Faith is about making eternity my context for living, decision making, and relationships each day.


As with Josiah, Inspiration may offer insight that will shatter my former assumptions and dismantle what I thought to be true. But, when I am alone will I be changed, or slip back into my familiar “truth,” and my familiar understanding, and my familiar beliefs?


As in the life of David, Inspiration may expand my vision of creation and open the possibility for a fresh, and deeper relationship with God. But, when the sun comes up the next morning, will I step into that new life, or shake it off and forget?


I think glimpses or moments of inspiration can serve as springboards into a new way of seeing and living. They serve to break the blindness and deafness of our lives, so that it may not be said of us—“having eyes they do not see, having ears they do not hear....”


They come to us so that the natural and the holy begin to merge into one. We begin to see the kingdom of God within us, among us, in our midst. Each day becomes infused with eternity. Every place becomes holy ground.


As Elizabeth Barrett Browning has said in her poem, Aurora Leigh:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit around and pick blackberries....


If I am to recognize this truth, that all life is holy ground; If I am to “take off my shoes,” rather than go through life merely grabbing at what I can get for myself, then I must allow Inspiration from God to change me, to re-shape my   perspective, change the way I think, altar the way I view circumstances, the way I treat people, and the way I order my work, my time, my life.   

                        

Intense times of inspiration will come and go, but when the moment of inspiration has passed, it will be faith that will hold the ground that inspiration gives. And Jesus said that faith often looks like very ordinary life: caring for a child, welcoming a stranger, feeding the hungry, or helping someone in need. Faith means dealing fairly in business, caring for God’s creation, and laying down my own rights for a higher good.


I love what Helen Keller said:  “My chief goal in life is to engage in a great and noble work...but my chief responsibility in life is to engage in simple and humble work as if it were great and noble.”


To live life inspired requires two things of me: I must keep the window of my life open to inspiration from God when it comes....And, I must do the work of the kingdom of God in my ordinary days when there are no headlines, no excitement, no fanfare, no applause.


Phillips Brooks 19th century pastor said this—“The great danger facing all of us, is that we may fail to perceive life’s greatest meaning, fall short of its highest good, miss its deepest and most abiding happiness, be unable to render the most needed service, be unconscious of life ablaze with the light of the presence of God—and—be content to have it so—that is the danger...That some day we may wake up and find that always we have been busy with the husks and trappings of life—and have missed life itself.”


Let us be alert. Let the window of our lives remain open—Who knows—this may be a moment that God will inspire us. But inspire us or not, let us hold the ground of faith, taking up the simple and humble work of the kingdom of God that lies in our path this day.


Lord God, Guard us from the Jane Tuke, the Mr. Burns, and the pharisees who lurk within our hearts seeking a voice. A voice which speaks only the language of duty and practicality. A voice that would tell us that love of neighbor must be restricted and narrowly defined. A voice that would call us to religious practice, but never to the light of eternity.


May we always remain open in our lives to be inspired, to let in your light and inspiration. And to live by faith during the ordinary days we are given on this good earth. In the name of Jesus, who longs to breathe new life into us. —Amen—


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