about this time three years ago, i had just returned from quite possibly the best 7 weeks of my life. i had lived and worked those 7 weeks at the internado in Ixiamas, Bolivia. The internado (boarding school…sorta) was operated by SIFAT and their Bolivian counterpart, CENATEC. It had been an amazing 7 weeks of manual labor – digging holes for septic tanks and a lousy attempt of constructing a cement water tank. There were 6 of us from Auburn on the team and we lived with about 50 kids ranging from age 6 – 17 in a big bunkhouse. We slept in hammocks, had a pet monkey, and were surrounded by jungle, with the Andes mountains just to our west. It was the beautiful place I’ve ever been and I’ll never forget it or the people i met there and what they taught me.
one night our group was sharing what was on our hearts. trish madden, now trish jordan, read an excerpt from a book of excerpts by Henri Nouwen. I had never heard of Henri Nouwen before that day but he quickly became a favorite author of mine – really more like a guide. The book was a collection of excerpts from his writings that were all in some way focused on prayer. The book is called The Only Necessary Thing. The title of my post comes from the title of the excerpt trish read. its kind of long so i want quote in its entirety…but if you like it you should just buy the book!
Nurturing the Faith Within by Henri Nouwen
Can we do something to be reborn from above, or is it all so dependent on the initiative of God’s Spirit that we have no choice but to wait until it happens to us? The answer from all of the Gospels is that an active faith in Jesus and the One who sent him is essential in receiving the Holy Spirit. Even though our rebirth is a completely free gift of the Holy Spirit, nevertheless we are ourselves fully a part of this rebirth…Faith is the active trust in God who has promised us the Holy Spirit from above. Is there a way for us to nurture that faith within? The answer is yes: it is the way of poverty, the way that Jesus himself shows us as he moves toward the cross. Jesus consistently refuses the way of power, influence, and celebrity. Always, he chooses the way of weakness, powerlessness, compassion, and obscurity — the way of the poor. And so every time we choose poverty over wealth, powerlessness over power, humble service over popularity, quiet fruitfulness over loud acclaim, we prepare for our rebirth in the Holy Spirit… receiving
thank you trish.
a few things stand out from nouwen’s observation:
- “an active faith is essential for receiving the Holy Spirit.”- our rebirth. choosing the way of poverty is not about earning, or deserving, or sacrificing in order to deserve. it is simply about preparation for receiving. reminds of a sermon i heard not too long ago from jack hinnen on a wesley foundation retreat. he compared us to a bottle being held under a faucet of running water, but since our tops were still on we did not receive the water. it also brings me back to a recent series of sermons by david goolsby at the wesley foundation this past spring. receivingreceivinghe described different postures of openness to God that we might receive from Him, that we might hear His voice. i think both nouwen would agree with both jack and david.
- “every time we choose…“. Every time we choose the way of poverty, we open ourselves to His Spirit. We make ourselves ready to receive. We choose…those words are powerful and many would disagree with me over them. Of course, we choose by the power of the Spirit working in us, because in Christ we have been made new, and have been filled with power and victory over sin and death. Because He is Lord, we choose. We choose to follow Him in his way of downward mobility as Nouwen goes on to describe it. It is a willful, conscience decision for us to make. I was reading a commentary on Ephesians by NT Wright a few night ago and he was commenting on this very subject. That for our minds to be transformed, for our behavior to change, for our everyday lives to line up with the beliefs in our hearts, our minds must choose the way of righteousness. This takes a commitment to really getting to know yourself and your own thoughts, attitudes, and perspectives and holding them up to the all revealing light of the gospel. The choice itself is a gift. Through Christ we have been given the freedom over our sinful minds to no longer be conformed to the ways and patterns of this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. Amen.
I’ll share a passage of scripture in closing. It was actually this passage that started me on these thoughts a few mornings ago. It’s from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31…
26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
The questioned I began to ask myself was, “How does this work? I’m not poor, I’m not from noble birth but I did have a very privileged childhood, I’m not powerful i guess but I’ve been very well educated and compared to billions of others around the world I am fairly powerful, so I guess in a sense I am kind of strong in the world’s perspective…So what does this verse mean for me when it says that God chose the foolish, the weak, and the powerless? Has God not chosen me?”
As I pondered, I remembered what Nouwen had said: that we must choose this way of poverty everday, both spiritually and physically, in all of our relationships. I think God is pouring out His Spirit…but most of the time we’re not ready for Him, we’re not open to Him, we dont see that we really need Him, or we dont think that He will change anything. but He will, and He does, and not just for our sake, but for our neighbors too.