Monday, 29 February 2016

Obedience in faith

God gives everyone freedom to learn and grow in the way that is best for them in life, including the life of prayer. St Augustine said 'Love God, and then do what you will'. The more genuine our love for God, the more we want to act according to his will, and find pleasure and joy in this. Yet, there are times when it is in our own best interests to surrender our freedom willingly and submit to the guidance of others. 

This is the case when we need training in skills which are difficult to learn unaided. A person who has to recover mobility after an accident, a stroke, or after an operation, needs to accept the guidance of a physiotherapist willingly, in order to re-learn what has been lost. So too, in learning how prayer can be a blessing, it may be necessary to seek direction to find the right path. Discerning who will be the right person to be our guide, finding the community where we feel most at home in prayer may be not easy, perhaps even a struggle to learn things about ourselves before needed opportunities come to meet us. The story of Namaan the Syrian (2 Kings 5:1-15) illustrates.

From a slave girl in his household, Namaan a successful warrior, learns about the possibility of a cure for his leprosy from the prophet Elisha, and arranges to visit him. He is told to bathe seven times in the river Jordan to be cured. Namaan is angry, having expected the prophet to come to him in person to work this wonder, and questions the need to bathe in Jordan water, rather than in rivers flowing through Damascus, which in his mind have greater status. 

His servants have to persuade him simply to do what he's been told. Once he submits to the prophet's command, he is cured. Elijah's word is effective. The prophet speaks on behalf of One who saves and heals. Namaan acknowledges the sovereignty of Israel's God, but only after he has learned humility, the commander following the advice of servants who have his welfare in mind, and appeal to him to heed good news. 

Nobody need be left without guidance, to their own devices. St Paul writes;

'Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.' (2 Cor 5:11)

' “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? How can they hear without someone preaching to them? How can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all ... accepted the good news. Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.' (Romans 10:13-17)

The word 'hear' and the word 'obey' in the original Greek come from the same root word.

'Oh that today you would hear his voice, harden not your hearts ...' (Psalm 95:7b)

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