Words of Wisdom for Daily Life

2. GOOD WORKS AND BROKEN KEYS

An Incident at Niagara

Faith is necessary to salvation, because we are told in Scripture that works cannot save. To tell a very familiar story, and even the poorest may not misunderstand what I say: a minister was one day going to preach. He climbed a hill on his road. Beneath him lay the villages, sleeping in their beauty, with the corn-fields motionless in the sunshine; but he did not look at them, for his attention was arrested by a woman standing at her door, and who, upon seeing him, came up with the greatest anxiety, and said, “O sir, have you any keys about you? I have broken the key of my drawers, and there are some things that I must get directly.” Said he, “I have no keys.” She was disappointed, expecting that everyone would have some keys. “But suppose,” he said, “I had some keys, they might not fit your lock, and therefore you could not get the articles you want. But do not distress yourself, wait till some one else comes up. But,” said he wishing to improve the occasion, “have you ever heard of the key of heaven?” “Ah, yes!” she said, “I have lived long enough, and I have gone to church long enough, to know that if we work hard, and get our bread by the sweat of our brow, and act well towards our neighbours, and behave, as the Catechism says, lowly and reverently to all our betters, and if we do our duty in that station of life in which it has pleased God to place us, and say our prayers regularly, we shall be saved.” “Ah!” said he, “my good woman, that is a broken key, for you have broken the commandments, you have not fulfilled all your duties. It is a good key, but you have broken it.” “Pray, sir,” said she, believing that he understood the matter, and looking frightened, “what have I left out?” “Why,” said he, “the all-important thing, the blood of Jesus Christ. Don’t you know it is said, the key of heaven is at his girdle; he openeth, and no man shutteth; he shutteth, and no man openeth? “And explaining it more fully to her, he said, “It is Christ, and Christ alone, that can open heaven to you, and not your good works.” “What, minister!” said she, “are our good works useless, then?” “No,” said he, “not after faith. If you believe first, you may have as many good works as you please; but if you believe, you will never trust in them, for if you trust in them you have spoilt them, and they are not good works any longer. Have as many good works as you please, still put your trust wholly in the Lord Jesus Christ, for if you do not, your key will never unlock heaven’s gate.”

So then we must have true faith, because the old key of works is so broken by us all, that we never shall enter Paradise by it. If you pretend that you have no sins, to be very plain with you, you deceive yourselves, and the truth is not in you. If you conceive that by your good works you shall enter heaven, never was there a more fell delusion, and you shall find, at the last great day, that your hopes were worthless, and that, like sere leaves from the autumn trees, your noblest doings shall be blown away, or kindled into a flame in which you yourselves must suffer for ever. Take heed of your good works; get them after faith, but remember, the way to be saved is simply to believe in Jesus Christ.

Without faith it is impossible to be saved, and to please God, because without faith there is no union to Christ. Now, union to Christ is indispensable to our salvation. If I come before God’s throne with my prayers, I shall never get them answered, unless I bring Christ with me. The Molossians of old, when they could not get a favour from their king, adopted a singular expedient; they took the king’s only son in their arms, and falling on their knees, cried, “O king, for thy son’s sake, grant our request.” He smiled and said, “I deny nothing to those who plead in my son’s name.” It is so with God. He will deny nothing to the man who comes, having Christ at his elbow; but if he comes alone he must be cast away. Union to Christ is, after all, the great point in salvation.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate this: the stupendous falls of Niagara have been spoken of in every part of the world; but while they are marvellous to hear of, and wonderful as a spectacle, they have been very destructive to human life, when by accident any have been carried down the cataract. Some years ago, two men, a bargeman and a collier, were in a boat, and found themselves unable to manage it, it being carried so swiftly down the current that they must both inevitably be borne down and dashed to pieces. Persons on the shore saw them, but were unable to do much for their rescue. At last, however, one man was saved by floating a rope to him, which he grasped. The same instant that the rope came into his hand a log floated by the other man. The thoughtless and confused bargeman, instead of seizing the rope, laid hold on the log. It was a fatal mistake: they were both in imminent peril, but the one was drawn to shore because he had a connection with the people on the land, whilst the other, clinging to the log, was borne irresistibly along, and never heard of afterwards. Do you not see that here is a practical illustration? Faith is a connection with Christ. Christ is on the shore, so to speak, holding the rope of faith, and if we lay hold of it with the hand of our confidence, he pulls us to shore; but our good works having no connection with Christ, are drifted along down the gulf of fell despair. Grapple them as tightly as we may, even with hooks of steel, they cannot avail us in the least degree.

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THE SECRET OF KNOWING GOD

PRACTICE THE ART OF GOING WITHIN…THIS IS THE SECRET TO KNOWING GOD.

praying, sunset, pray, man

The psalmist said, “Be still and know I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

“Be still”…”and know…”

In the Hebrew language, when two coordinate imperatives or imperative verbal forms appear together, as in “Be still” and “know” the emphasis goes to the second command. In other words, what the psalmist is saying could be translated to mean, “Be still in order to know.”

Ah! So, knowing follows stillness?

So, what does it mean to “be still?”

Jesus gave a hint when he said, “And, when you pray, go into your closet and shut the door.” (Matt. 5:11f).

Closet? Literally? Did he mean this literally? Maybe, he was just speaking symbolically, as in “So when you pray go inside…into your inner world…the world within…and, there, as the psalmist said, “Be still” which probably means, “Be quiet.”

Most Christians think of prayer as the words they say. But the most significant kind of praying is the uninterrupted state of oneness…unity…or connectedness you nurture and feel with God. Isn’t this what Saint Paul was suggesting when he said, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

Is that even possible? For a Benedictine monk maybe. But, how do you and I live in an uninterrupted state of oneness in prayer with God?

The answer is this: Practice the art of going within…this is the secret to knowing God.

Here are five suggestions to make this real:

1. Go daily into this inner world. Develop your own practice but here’s how I do it. I spend thirty minutes to one hour every morning entering into “stillness” or “silence.” I use headphones, quietly playing instrumental music. No singing. I don’t need more words swirling around in my head. Now, until your greatest passion is to know this Presence, you are not ready to embrace this practice. That’s not a judgment, just a fact. When you’re ready, you’ll know it. Some of you are getting there now, otherwise you would not be reading this. Of course, a few of you are reading it because you live to find something to disagree with. One day, you’ll grow up. Until then, you’ll probably find plenty in what I write.

2. Visualize a mental image of entering into your inner “closet” of quietness, solitude, stillness. I’ve been making this my spiritual practice for several years. Each morning, as I take several deep breaths to release any unnecessary stress or negativity, I visualize a flight of stairs, twenty steps upward, and I slowly and methodically climb the stairs. I cannot tell you how difficult this is. To stay mentally focused, I mean. It takes vigilance and patience. But, again, if you’re serious about knowing God, you’ll have both the vigilance and the patience to stay with this practice until you master it. And, my friend, you WILL master the sacred art of knowing God.

3. Use the technique I have provided of the staircase or create one of your own. It really does not matter. What does matter is that it works for you. In the beginning, I struggled many mornings just to reach the top of the stairs. There I was greeted by a closed double door, as in an elevator door. Many mornings I never made it to the top before my mind would become preoccupied with other things…things I had to do that do…places I had to go…something that happened the day before…and so forth. With practice, however, I reached the top more consistently. And, when I did, the next instruction became all the more important.

4. Empty your mind of its incessant stream of thoughts. This will be your greatest challenge. Why? Because from our earliest days, we’ve been taught to speak…to think. As a grandparent, I admittedly thrill at the thought of my grandchildren learning to speak my name, Papaw. Nothing wrong with this. But, when this is your primary conditioning, as it IS for most of us, then we miss a dimension of existence that is rich with meaning. As a consequence, the biggest challenge to your spiritual life is not learning the right doctrines…not learning how to speak…not learning how to think about God. Instead, it is learning how to be still…to be silent…to turn off the mind and so enter the stillness that is God’s Presence.

5. As your mind empties, the door to Presence opens. What do I see with the mind’s eye as I’m looking into Presence? I see nothing at all. And yet, I see everything, too. It is pitch black but full of Presence too. Outer space, without the stars and planets, is the nearest corollary. Space is mostly that – space. Emptiness. Nothingness. How long has it been since you’ve gazed into the heavens and, instead of seeing the stars or trying to name the constellations, just became aware that it is mostly nothing – blackness…spaciousness…Presence. When you cultivate the capacity to see nothing, you have mastered the art of knowing God. Now, there are some mornings, I cannot successfully meditate…enter this blissful state of Presence awareness. But I do not berate myself for this because, as I see it, any meditative practice is better than no practice. What I do know is this: at some point, and I do not remember when, as I have made this my daily practice, the elevator doors into Presence opened one day and have remained open ever since. So, this is the important thing to remember…

6. Remind yourself daily that there is no secret…no effort, and certainly, no magic whatsoever in knowing God. The practice I just described is not so you can arrive at a place of superior spiritual development and so be rewarded with God’s continual Presence. Not at all. You are in God’s Presence already. The practice I have described is only to help release you of the many years of conditioning that have left you with the feeling that what’s important is thinking and speaking. They are, of course. But, what’s more important to your spiritual practice is not that you learn to think but that you learn to stop thinking. To just be silent…observe…be aware…and so live in and walk with the Eternal Presence.

If there is anything I’ve learned it is this: It takes no effort whatsoever to know God. As that nameless but all-encompassing Presence around, beneath, beyond and, most importantly, within you, as you learn to go within you begin to make the greatest spiritual discovery of your life. It is from that place of silence…of emptiness…of no-thing-ness that you meet with the Everything that is. You have found the secret, my friend, the secret that is no secret to knowing God.

God is one with you already. How could you possibly get nearer to You?

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers around the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, “I love all religions; but I’m IN LOVE with my own.” Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Ever.

YOUVERSION

Oswald Chambers: Joy – Strength In The Lord • Devotional

Whether you are wise or foolish, upright or not, a king or tyrannized by a king, successful or a failure, in society or solitary, stubborn or sagacious, all alike ends the same way. All is passing, says Solomon, and we cannot find lasting joy in any element we like to touch. It is disastrous for a man to try and find his true joy in any phrase of truth, or in the fulfillment of ambition, or in physical or intellectual solitariness, or in society; he will find his joy only in a personal relationship to God. Jesus Christ is God manifested in human flesh, and we have to ignore to the point of hatred anything that competes with our relationship to Him.

The true joy of a man’s life is in his relationship to God, and the great point of the Hebrew confidence in God is that it does not unfit a man for his actual life. That is always the test of a false religion.

Reflection Questions: In what places or positions have I tried to find joy? In what ambition, belief, or conviction have I expected to discover joy? In what human relationships have I looked for joy?

Quotations taken from Still Higher for His Highest, © Discovery House Publishers