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    Entries in Elijah (2)

    Sunday
    Jul102016

    Throwing Your Cloak

    In 1 Kings 19 we find the story of Elijah the Prophet placing his mantle, or cloak, upon the shoulders of Elisha son of Shaphat. We examined this narrative today in worship.

    In the Bible, prophets often donned a particular kind of garb. Imagine the ancient Israelite equivalent of the high school lunch room. You might find warriors, farmers, scribes, all congregating with those of like station. They are all within dress code. And then there is the Prophet table. Shirts of camel hair, rope belts. One or two are engaged in performance art. "Word of the Lord," is one oft-heard phrase. Prophets are found either compelling, repulsive, or contemptible. Few outsiders try to infiltrate their circle. Some draw a crowd, others are dismissed. More than one were killed because of their message. It isn't widely considered a promising career track, much like ministry today.

    In his day, Elijah the Tishbite of Tishbe in Gilead (a great designation) was the most notable among the prophets. As 1 Kings 19 opens, Elijah has experienced what might be considered the pinnacle of his prophetic career. At God's command, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal and God prevailed. But Jezebel, the Queen of Israel, issued a death warrant for Elijah. Elijah fled to Mount Horeb, where God met his needs, reassured him that God had preserved for himself a faithful people in Israel, and gave him a task. He sent him forth to anoint a successor, both for King Ahab of Israel, but also for himself.

    When Elisha son of Shaphat appears on the scene he is plowing a field. Elijah approaches and throws his cloak over him. Elijah doesn't stop. He is on the move. But Elisha leaves his oxen behind and runs after Elijah. Elisha knows that from this moment forth, everything would change. The cloak signals a transference, a weight of responsibility, a trust, and a new start. The mantle of Elijah would be passed to Elisha. Elijah's way of being with God would become Elisha's. Elisha becomes a student, and Elijah is the teacher. But it is the Lord who leads them both.

    Elijah brought a word from God. Elisha was ready to hear it. The first attribute of the student, if they are to excel, is that they must be teachable. And in what might be considered both a "burn the boats" kind of moment as well as a profound expression of praise, Elisha slaughters his oxen, makes a bonfire with his plowing equipment, celebrates a feast with his friends, and sets out to become the servant of Elijah.

    One of the topics visited most often in conversations with my dad is every Christian's responsibility to serve as a witness to Jesus, to share the gospel and to live according to the mandate given in Matthew 28:18-20: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, until the very end of the age."

    Elijah had been given a specific instruction: to seek Elisha son of Shaphat and anoint him as a successor.

    Like the first disciples, we too have been given a specific instruction: to announce the good news that in Jesus salvation has come, God reigns, and kingdom-schooling can commence. In this task, we are never alone. It is God who works in and through us.

    The call to make disciples is, in a sense, a call to throw your cloak, to pass the mantle, to raise up another, to invite others to join you on the way of following Jesus. And it isn't a call to one person here or there, but to all people everywhere.

    Throw your cloak.

    Monday
    Oct172011

    Book Review :: Sanctuary of the Soul by Richard J. Foster

    In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah flees from Queen Jezebel, who has commanded that Elijah be killed to avenge the humiliation of the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel.  Elijah fears for his life, but is met by God and equipped for a journey to Mount Horeb, where God will reaffirm Elijah's prophetic calling, provide him with hope, and teach him to listen.

    After arriving at the mountain, you will recall that Elijah witnesses a great wind, a mighty earthquake, and a consuming fire, but the Lord is not found in these displays.  It is not until Elijah hears the sound of sheer silence that he comes to a knowledge of God's presence.  Only then is he prepared to listen.

    Richard Foster, in Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, encourages his readers to enter the silence, to quiet the soul, and to assume a posture of attentiveness.  Foster's writings have consistently named our greatest spiritual problem as distraction, and through this small book, he shares wisdom with his readers and helps them to learn the fine art of listening to and abiding with God.

    Foster's work is structured according to three primary themes: foundational concerns, the practice of meditative prayer, and assistance in resolving everyday problems.  Prayer is challenging for many people, and the notion that we might enter in to an extended period of solitude, silence, or attentive listening as an act of prayer may seem foreign.  Oftentimes, we are accustomed to tailoring our prayers according to our wants and needs, rather than engaging with God as a willing recipient of grace, wisdom, and guidance.

    First, Foster begins with foundational matters.  The book opens with a simple affirmation:

    Jesus Christ is alive and here to teach his people himself.  His voice is not hard to hear; his vocabulary is not difficult to understand.  But learning to listen well and to hear correctly is no small task.

    Christians believe this to be true.  Many Christians, however, express reservations concerning our ability to hear a direct word from God.  We find it hard to fathom that God may speak to us directly beyond what we find in the pages of Scripture.  We go beyond Foster's claim that learning to listen well and hear correctly is "no small task," and instead regard it as impossible.  But it is not impossible.  God has issued the invitation, desiring to commune with you.  Such communion requires stepping beyond the Bible as God's revealed Word toward the Word Jesus Christ.  This in no way demeans the Bible.  Rather, it illuminates its true purpose.  According to Foster the Bible is a dynamic text that instructs and leads us into a dynamic relationship with Jesus himself.  Within the context of that relationship, Foster persuades the reader to develop "a familiar friendship with Jesus," a phrase helpfully borrowed from Thomas A'Kempis.

    This friendship requires a transformation of the heart, first through a recognition that such transformation will be the result of a Presence outside of ourselves.  For the Christian, the Reformer of Hearts is none other than the Lord God.  Our re-making is an act of sheer grace and divine power.  Foster acknowledges that it is the condition of the human heart that God must address, eradicating that which is false, and establishing that which is true, rooting out wickedness and renewing us in righteousness.  God must recast our character according to the image of the Son.  In order to accomplish the task of renewed character, Foster helpfully describes a movement of descent from mind to heart.  It is not only our intellect that must be reformed, but our affections as well.

    Next, Foster identifies three postures for entering meditative prayer: being present, beholding the Lord, and cultivating an inward attentiveness.  Each of these postures is the subject of a short chapter, and it is here that I believe many of the true gems of this book are found.  Modern people often live as though God does not exist, even if they are actively involved in a church, and these chapters help to counteract this supposition, helping the practitioner--the ordinary, everyday person--to realize a continual awareness of God's voice and leading.

    Lastly, Foster addresses practical concerns.  First, he gently encourages those of us who suffer from a wandering mind, giving pastoral wisdom and strategies for how we might become more focused.  Secondly, Foster provides biblical instruction on the reality of our adversary, the devil, who seeks to lead us astray and prevent us from communing with God.  Lastly, Foster addresses common questions that have arisen through his years of teaching about contemplative prayer.

    Sanctuary of the Soul is a practical and clear guide to a life of prayer.  Foster is focused on the individual--he uses personal illustrations and experience to provide life-on-life instruction for those seeking to enjoy God's presence and attune themselves to God's voice.  He does not provide instruction on how this might in turn affect a body of people, such as a church or small group who engage in the practice of contemplative prayer.  This does not mean that the book is without benefit.  Though it is individually focused, the degree to which this book can affect change at the personal level could make an impact on others.  Churches and other groups of Christians are in deep need of those who have learned to listen carefully to God.  They in turn help us to hear God as well.

    This small book, a quick and very useful read, is one I would recommend.

    For more a video introduction to the book from Richard Foster, click here