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Harry McMullan, III
The concept of 21 Steps had its basis in the author's appreciation of the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous as a powerful instrument of spiritual growth. The quotations themselves are from The Urantia Book, a work which has made a dramatic impact on the author's life. The Urantia Book itself has no "program," but the immense benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous' step-by-step method caused the author/compiler to reflect on what such a program from The Urantia Book might resemble were it to exist. The narrative introducing each step is by the author, and the arrangement of selections is according to his conception of the book's cardinal spiritual teachings.
Citations at the end of each quotation refer to Paper:Section.Paragraph in The Urantia Book.
We recognized the spiritual emptiness of our lives and admitted our powerlessness, by our own strength, to correct our personal shortcomings.
What we have is not enough; if it were, we would never seek. The soul has an embedded hunger which things cannot sate, and which knows its incompleteness apart from God. The multiform variety and imagined obligations of life offer continual distraction, and often tragedy alone brings us face to face with our souls' deepest needs, impelling us to seek help from beyond.
Philosophies, goods, thrills, ambitions, and vanities crowd our minds, all clamoring to be heard, all saying, "I am what you really need," but whose aftertaste is ashen. Deep within, we know that we need--Who we need--for when the crowd thins, the inner self cries, "Is this all?" and we lie alone at night and ponder. The world's recognition and treasure beckon, but for what? Empty pretension, for the twill respectability of our public selves masks an unplumbed pit of manic fears and half-broke lusts, scarcely hidden beneath the manicured lawns of our colonnaded, facaded mansions.
In grief, misfortune, distress, or tribulation, obvious insufficiency impels us to look beyond ourselves for strength. But why not avoid that suffering by laying up provisions before the winter storms arrive, when ice blocks the harbor and hunting is hard? Why not fill our larders with survival stores, which we need even now?
Who has not been prisoner to his own moods? Who has never felt force-marched, lock-step, down unwelcome paths, driven by dark lusts and fears to ends he hates? The forbidding cavern yawns--the smallest misstep sends us careening down its crumbling walls. But few seek help until convinced they cannot arrive under their ship's own power, feet on the bridge and hands on the helm. Too often we must first shipwreck, clutching cold ice while our ship of dreams sinks beneath the numbing waters.
It is natural to want all our personal hopes and dreams fulfilled, but such cannot be. A navy of a thousand admirals, each with his separate plan, tramples itself and loses the war. It is better there be One in charge who knows our ways better than we our own, and in whose destiny we find our highest good. But as long as personal goals reign supreme, and our own ways seem sufficient, we are not impelled to seek God's will. Life must then teach us those lessons we refused to learn on our own.
The spiritual path begins when we first seek to make sense of life and our place in it. God longs to make himself known to us, but he intrudes not unbidden; we first must tire of emptiness. If circumstances are too comfortable perhaps only tragedy can shake us loose and make us feel unease with things as they are, and help us recognize how little we are able, by ourselves, to make sense of our world.
References from The Urantia Book:
We came to believe in God, and that he indwells us as spiritual Father and loving Friend.
Without God in heaven the earth is meaningless, and all that lives hereon. But where is he, that we might believe? Where were you, Father, all those years of unknowing, when we sought but found you not? Were our hearts too sticky with life's inanities that we failed to seek in earnest? Did you wait until our doubts ebbed, until the turbulence of our self-centered thoughts stilled to reveal the place you'd always been?
We find you in our hearts once we believe in you and your love. You ride above the clouds; you know the way we take and why, and long to talk with us, your children. We feel your presence beside us as we walk along a mountain trail, but know you truly only in the silence of our souls.
Our moment of knowing may have been as sudden as lightning striking a lonely oak on a windswept hill, or it might have grown gradually, like fog burning off a mountain lake. God spoke to Paul through light and blindness, to others as gently as autumn's last leaf drifts down onto new snow. God's presence is in the air we breathe and in every star's reflected rays, but until we find him in our souls, nature's messengers bear scant meaning.
The God of universes lives in unfathomable glory, but his second home is in the humble heart. Until we know him, the Father dwells where darkness covers the unaware, unheard as doves' wings above a forgotten field. But look! His presence--in the shadow of our approach, behind the door, away from life's confusion, available anytime, anywhere, to those who seek. In the stilled, attentive mind we sense his spirit, which ever works by love. His arms comfort us against the terrors of the night, and his lips brush our cheeks with a morning kiss. His love song floats down with the morning's sunlight and cheers us for the approaching day.
Believing in God opens pathways of faith through which universal energy courses down to heal our emotions, rekindle our hopes, and nourish our souls. Power from beyond infuses our lives: lush, overflowing power which before was only dimly suspected. Life's hues register new texture, brilliance, and significance as patterns of eternal purpose reveal themselves in the commonplace. Events which before tumbled forth like random noise and chance now suggest the coordinated intercession of a loving Father's hand. We are learning to act on our spiritual beliefs and enjoy doing what is right, for as we do, truth is revealed and we see the face of God.
Within our hearts grows the conviction that God has work for us to do, important work, a unique role in a universal drama which will uplift every weary heart in the vast creation. We crave to be at this work, to hear and heed the cues of the Supreme Director. We know our bumbling flaws and lethargy all too well, but also, we know Who is all-powerful and whose greatness swallows up all we lack. Creator, make us more responsive to your gracious leadings.
References from The Urantia Book:
We recognized that we cannot produce spiritual reactions to life in the absence of divine power and saw that all spiritual qualities are gifts of God which we cannot earn, but may freely accept.
God's grace might seem a wind that blows whithersoever it wills, but its source is no secret. All good things descend from the Father of mercy, and until we realize that, we struggle against life with shortened sword and battered helmet. We cannot achieve spiritual goals by unaided human power--God alone carries us beyond our limitations into self-realization. We find fulfillment in the relationship, and God finds another child as we accept the divine spirit he has given to indwell our minds.
God's grace is the storehouse of our possibilities, from which awaken gifts and talents that exceed our human capacities. His healing balm overcomes our mental, emotional, and spiritual handicaps; his mountain-moving power hacks out new paths of achievement in the confused jungle of our lives.
Through grace we find the Source of life; through grace we are emboldened to achieve; through grace we learn to love. Grace persuades us that an all-wise and all-powerful Deity has assumed responsibility for our personal well-being, the security of those we love, and the success of work we undertake in faith. God enables our actions in faith to be massive and decisive, undergirded as they are by confidence in his sovereignty. In our human capacities we are weak, hesitant, and fearful, painfully aware how tenuous and defective are our pitiful stores of courage and wisdom, but grace has commissioned us to go forth, agents of a Being with unlimited power to act in and through us. The Father guides our steps, and even if we misunderstand his directions--provided we have done so in faith--he reconfigures those partial errors into experiences which profit all involved.
Our new spiritual leadings are unfailingly consistent with what, deep within, we've always known is true. Living truth, welling up from within, has freed us from slavish conformity to conventional patterns of thought and action. We are bound by God's spirit, not by the outward forms or practices of humanity. Our new life is a gift from God, not bought with human coin or earned through self-sacrifice, self-help, or positive thinking. Commitment, acted upon, becomes faith, down whose channels God pours that inner peace which alone makes life worth living.
Grace supports us in every trial; grace gives us power when we are weak; grace comforts us when we are downcast. Grace issues from the Master Builder whose eternal design encompasses all that we might do or be, every possibility for our future achievement. God has supplied us with life itself, and apart from him we are bereft, abandoned, and useless. God knows our names and the way we tread and leads us by the hand through the soil of human existence.
We thank you, Father, for giving us our lives, for all the varied circumstances which constitute this earthly environment, and for the eternal fitness of its arrangement. Give us courage to act on your grace, that our lives profit both ourselves and our world.
References from The Urantia Book:
We acknowledged and sincerely repented our misdeeds, confessed these wrongs to God and confided in a trusted friend.
Without the opportunity to err, higher loyalties could never grow. "Yes, I will" would be meaningless if one could not have said, "No, I will not." The freedom God has given us to live and act in the world ensures that we will make mistakes, otherwise what appears to be seas of freedom would be desert mirage.
But at the same time these inevitable mistakes of immature choosing neutralize and burden us with guilt and self-doubt, make us prisoners of the past, and accuse us before our Maker. God's design for life in this world makes full allowance for our errors; in this environment of freedom, our immaturity admits of no possibility for any other outcome. Through spiritual attainment, however, the Father provides us certain means to triumph over the shadows of unreality, to grow through the problems borne of our uneven responses to life's challenges, by means of which we gain the strength, conviction, and humility which result from personally experiencing life in all its reality and sometimes harshness.
Sin, never accidental, requires our premeditated decision to violate what we know is right, and apart from such willful thought or action, there is no sin. Our consciences may accuse us before society's mores, but sin requires deliberate disloyalty to what is highest and truest in the human heart and soul, God himself.
Sin separates us from the happy and stabilizing consciousness of God's presence and disrupts our relationships with our fellows. We feel guilty, disappointed with ourselves, cut off from the world, at a loss to know how to make things right, and in doubt about our courage or ability to extract ourselves from the tangled troubles of our own reckless devising.
Once committed, more is required to be shed of our complex webs of deceit than merely wishing them away or, more insidiously, repressing their memories deep into mental crevices, there to fester and noxiously burst forth at some moment of future stress. The solution is simple honesty. Freedom from the tyranny of sin and guilt requires our courage to confront and confess every wrong we have committed: against God, ourselves, or others, by thought, word or deed, without excuse or attenuation. We must lay it all out, once and for all, sins that seem inconsequential as well as major, that we be no longer burdened by the dead weight of their accusing memory.
Those sins we are most uncomfortable acknowledging are precisely the ones posing maximum danger, and partial confession will not produce the end we most desire: freedom from the errors of our pasts and hearts God has made pure. We therefore sorrowfully confess to God our wrongdoings in all their particulars, not that he was unaware of them, but rather to define the issues before the full light of our own consciousness. We tell the Father of our sincere determination never to fall into such traps again, and ask God's forgiveness for every one of these sins, that their debilitating presence be cleansed from every recess of our minds and memories.
Next, we summon the courage to repeat all we have told our Father to a carefully chosen friend or counselor, one who would never betray our trust. At the appointed time, we set forth the story in the light least favorable to ourselves, avoiding any temptation to invalidate the confession of our reprehensible conduct by extenuating excuses.
Our goal is freedom and righteousness, and this can only be won by making a clean sweep of all the missteps of our pasts. Stripped bare of pretense, our pasts have been offered to God, and now we humble ourselves before the world as represented by the friend or counselor to whom we tell our story. We serve up these unfortunate aspects of our pasts without pleasure, like a diligent housekeeper scouring out hidden corners for dirt and clutter.
It is with immense pain that we recite these past sins, but full disclosure eviscerates their dark hegemony. Unearthed and exposed, stripped of their pretense to sovereignty, they dissolve into shadow phantasms of nothingness. Apart from making amends to those our actions have harmed, we must reflect no more on these past sins, for to do so only resurrects their pernicious power, weakening us by calling into question God's mercy and forgiveness. We have confessed our sins and they are forgiven; continued attention to their moldering corpses only taints us with their cloying odor. In the past, concealing these sins doubled their horrid fascination. Exposed to sunlight, their hold over us resolves harmlessly, if only we avoid the temptation to reminisce over those regrettable experiences which caused us and others so much pain.
When we make peace with ourselves, we experience peace with the world. In confession we cast off that false pride which emotionally constricted us, preventing us from forgiving others or accepting ourselves. Confession gave birth to new self-respect based on a reestablished relationship with God. Setting things right with God, we became right with ourselves and the world.
From time to time we will do things which make us unhappy with ourselves, but through it all the Father continues to love us and give us the power to overcome these reminders that we have not ceased to be human. Confession purges these missteps, strips their power, removes every blemish from our souls, and makes us clean, whole, restored, revived, pure in heart, and free to live the lives God has planned for us.
References from The Urantia Book:
With God's help we forgave every person who ever wronged us.
Imagine the bitterness of a world in which no one forgave. In olden times, determination to seek revenge dominated men's lives, and imagined slights led to feuds lasting generations. Ethnic and religious hatreds yet plague our world, leading to senseless wars in which all parties lose. Misguided pride, often blasphemously attributed to religious duty, causes men to act wholly contrary to the spirit of the religion in whose name their atrocities are perpetrated.
Now is our opportunity to break these bitter cycles and free our brothers from their burdens of guilt with the same forgiveness by which God gave us new beginnings. Forgiveness is a contagious power which can instantantly heal long-festered wounds in those with whom we are estranged. When the wrong done us cuts too deep, it may not appear humanly possible to forgive, but even then, God's grace makes all things possible. In such a case, we simply forgive to the extent we are able, and ask the Father to complete the process later.
That we forgive is essential to our own spiritual health. If we wish to know the fullness of God's forgiveness, we must forgive those who have wronged us. The two actions are inseparable, because harbored resentment silts off the channel through which God's forgiveness flows. Heartfelt forgiveness releases divine energy which unshackles our souls from evil moorings. It is rain on a barren hill which makes dormant flowers bloom; it uproots dark thorns and heals devouring cancers in our resentful hearts. Forgiveness breaks the bonds which held us to our adversaries in unwilling embrace, the forged chains which lashed us to those we hated most. Even if our brothers cannot immediately reciprocate, forgiveness frees us from the emotional prison of poisonous feelings toward them, and we can go our way in peace.
To forgive injury takes less than some might imagine; hate and resentment are but attitudes, not blood or bone. Forgiveness is within our easy reach, and only stubbornness or pride can hold us back from enjoying its quick fruits of spiritual attainment. How can we hesitate to forgive our brothers when God has dealt so generously with us, and when all logic tells us we are better off so doing? What morbid pleasure is there in nursing grudges which harm us with their every reference and rob us of the joy which is our birthright?
By love God has forgiven us, and in this new relationship we find power to forgive others. In forgiving, we restore our brothers and become ourselves restored by the surging Source of all restoration.
We know the Father's will, and what we must do. We know revenge by its fruits, and forgiveness as well. We must fully forgive our every brother, that resentments stalk not our dreams this night, that guilt be relieved, friendships restored, and God returned to our relationships. This is the day God has given us to cast off every debilitating cycle of revenge and anger, and as we take the initiative to forgive, his spirit rests gently upon our souls. In forgiveness, the Father reveals his name, which is Love. We release our brothers their burdens, and in so doing release ourselves. We throw off the clammy grip of perverse attitudes and enter our Father's heavenly kingdom, where all worthwhile things reside. The liberty of spirit we experience in forgiving propels us where eye has not seen, nor ear heard, all that our Father has prepared for those who love him and dare follow his gracious bidding.
Heaven and earth are yours, gracious Father. Help us this day to set our affairs in order, that we may be free to pursue yours. Give us the courage to do your will, this very day.
References from The Urantia Book:
"Your Father in heaven makes the sun to shine on the evil as well as upon the good; likewise he sends rain on the just and the unjust. You are the sons of God; even more, you are now the ambassadors of my Father's kingdom. Be merciful, even as God is merciful, and in the eternal future of the kingdom you shall be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Without consideration of the emotional or financial cost involved, we asked forgiveness of all those we have wronged and did our best to make full amends to each of them, except where to have done so might have further injured them.
Only seldom is it enough to admit to a trusted friend or counselor, or even to God himself, that we have harmed someone, and stop there. Almost always, we must approach the person we wronged, acknowledge what we did, tell him how sorry we are, and try to set the situation right--return him to his prior position. Unless we rectify the situation to the extent of our power to do so, we deceive ourselves in imagining our repentance to be genuine.
To ask God's forgiveness and stop there is to ignore the very real consequences of our regrettable actions--the stolen money, the malicious injury to another's reputation, whatever harm we caused. This material world exists in an unbroken continuum with the spiritual world; therefore, our actions must validate the spiritual estate to which we aspire. Our heavenly profession is less than sincere if we neglect or avoid our earthly obligations to the brothers we have harmed.
Expressing our sorrow may become more awkward as the event recedes in time and memory, yet the necessity to do so is undiminished. Asking forgiveness is a humbling act, an acknowledgment that we were weak, fallible, mean-spirited, or thoughtless. Asking forgiveness clears our consciences before God, removes an obstacle to the inner peace we seek, and restores our relationship with the person we wronged.
Whether the individual we harmed will accept our apology is beyond our control. God does not require that we repeatedly plead for our apology to be accepted, only that we sincerely ask forgiveness and attempt to make amends. Beyond that, nothing more can be done.
In making amends we should give every benefit of doubt to the person we harmed. For example, if we deprived someone of money rightfully his, fairness requires its return with interest, and if it is impossible to give the money back right away, we should make regular payments, not based on our convenience, but consisting of all that becomes available, holding back only what is necessary to maintain ourselves in order to complete the repayment.
In some situations, however, apologizing and making amends is likely to only worsen matters. A husband or wife confessing to infidelity might sear his spouse's memory with images which render continuance in the marriage difficult or impossible, and where felonies have been committed, legal counsel may be appropriate. With God's help, however, all such wrongs can be dealt with in a fair and fitting way, one which will produce the greatest good and spiritual freedom, regardless of the earthly consequences which normally follow in the train of unfortunate actions.
The spiritual effort involved in making amends never fails to produce immediate rewards. As we shuck off old fears, exhaustively confront, and finally disown and forget the evils of our pasts, hitherto unknown liberty sweeps down from above. The fetters of past sin lose their hold and we become spiritually and emotionally free from all that has bound us and able to move confidently into the future. Past mistakes cease to threaten us, because they no longer pertain to our real selves, only what we used to be. God transforms us; our pasts are laid to rest as we move boldly into our new lives in the kingdom.
We have shown our dedication to the kingdom by making things right with all those we harmed. The more doing so has cost us money we could ill afford or cracked the brittle veneer of a fictitious reputation, the more we have proven the depth of our commitment to the new life to which God has called us and our determination to let nothing stand between us and the spirit Father. Life in the kingdom cannot be priced with money. The Master asked: "What would a man give in exchange for his soul?" In making amends, we are guided by higher and universal Law, and in the process we experience a deeper relationship with God, who makes all things new.
References from The Urantia Book:
We accepted the fullness of God's forgiveness and his spiritual eradication of all our misdeeds and shortcomings.
Once we have confronted our mistakes and misdeeds, confessed them to God and to a trusted friend, forgiven all who have wronged us, asked forgiveness of those we have wronged, and made our amends, we are entitled to experience the fullness of God's forgiveness and confidently take our places in the Father's universal family. With God's help, we have faced down our fears, disowned false pride by acknowledging before another what we have done, apologized to those we harmed, and to the best of our ability, set right the mistakes of our pasts.
Now comes a crucial act of faith: we must hand over all of these matters to our Father, and allow him to remove even their memory. We have dealt with these past mistakes to the best of our ability and are entitled to be free of their dead weight. We must now cease any further consideration of these errors, leaving them abandoned and forgotten while we move forward into the future God has prepared for us. Bad memories become unreal as nightmares upon awakening as God heals our souls. We have shown mercy to those who have wronged us and should not imagine that our Father will be less merciful towards us. The Father understood us from the beginning, our errors and how we came to make them; he looked upon our frailties with a parent's merciful eye. God forgave our mistakes even before we asked, because his forgiveness was not conditioned on anything we did, but existed naturally as a parent's love. God had already forgiven, even though our experience of that forgiveness was unavailable until we had forgiven, asked forgiveness, and made amends.
Accepting God's forgiveness requires us to turn over to him every aspect of our past mistakes. To wallow further in past errors would only pull us down into a degenerative, self-defeating cycle of guilt and self-accusation. It is over; God has forgiven; the new life beckons beyond the hill.
The forgiveness steps free us from the past's hold; we can move on unencumbered into our new life in the spirit. Our amends were not acts of contrition, as if a stern God required us to go through ritual penance, but were undertaken because they were the right, proper, and responsible response to the situation of our creation. The Father only wanted us to be humbled that we might thereby become free. The mistakes of our pasts, beyond our power to undo, are receding into the dimness of oblivion as forgiveness dilutes and destroys any residual power they yet hold over us in the present.
We are throwing off every chain of destructive behavior and learning more deeply to do the Father's will. We find the Father in the renewed smile of a once-estranged friend and feel the warmth which results from being in tune with the universe--our universe. We are at peace with all that has gone before, even the wrongs, and trust that God will bring good out of every one of these unfortunate episodes. We have experienced the truth and could never turn back to sin. Now we can live our new lives with enthusiasm and power.
References from The Urantia Book:
We resolved to live new lives, abandoning anger, anxiety, impatience, pride, and fear, refusing to cling to or nurture these relics of our pasts. We are promptly admitting our wrongs and refusing to harbor feelings of guilt.
In every heart there is a kingdom which the believer is called to enter. It is a kingdom of peace, joy, love, and unfathomable freedom. This kingdom has always been there, but few have trusted enough to enter, despite the still, small voice whispering from within, telling us of the Father's love. To those who live for his purposes and rejoice in his love, God's kingdom is a river which washes souls clean and makes hearts whole. This river, foretold by the prophets and confirmed by the saints, courses down through the ages and across the universes and is intended to flow through our hearts as well.
The kingdom is not just a state of mind; it is also a real place. What if a sick and homeless man, alone in a strange city on an icy day, the bitter wind ripping through his torn and greasy overcoat, found that he could be transported instantly to the tropical island of his dreams and sit barefoot on the sand beside someone he loved, listening to the surf gently ruffle the shell-strewn beach? In fact, our Father enables us to continually experience even a greater paradise within--the personal peace and happiness we all crave--as we go about our normal business of life.
Think how much more effective we will be when we consistently operate out of this kingdom: our spirits unassailable citadels; our communications with others thoughtful, creative, and encouraging; our minds at peace, no longer troubled by emotional crosscurrents or torn by contradictory goals and purposes; our bodies healthier; our lives simpler and more effective.
In this new life we have found freedom from the curse of guilt because we asked for and experienced forgiveness for every error of our pasts; all that has been turned over to our Father, and we have made peace with our fellows. We live and act with the confidence of men and women who know why they are here, what they are doing, and where they are going. Barriers no longer seem insurmountable, obstacles only interesting features in life's landscape. Our hearts overflow with the love of the Sovereign of the universes who directs our ways.
Self-interest largely motivated our old lives. As our dedication to higher values strengthened, we tried to become better people, but failed because we attempted to improve ourselves using unaided willpower. This effort to change ourselves was frustrating, exhausting, and ultimately unsuccessful, because our egos were no more capable of transforming themselves than water can turn itself to wine. Only by submitting ourselves to a Higher Power can we legitimately expect transformation, for God is pleased to do for us what we ourselves cannot. Faith opens the door to our inner selves, nourishes us with true spiritual forces, and aligns us with the ascending currents of the universe.
This new life is different, not just a variation on what we've known before, but something altogether new. A high-jumper raises his pole clearance by patient training, every slight improvement requiring hard work. The life in the kingdom is not like that, being instead a realm of inner peace, joy, beauty, and productivity which cannot be attained by character building or positive thinking, even if those techniques be otherwise valuable. The kingdom of heaven is where we have always wanted to live, and where, by faith, we can go this very hour. It is the place dreamed of by the prophets and sought after by all who love God. In the kingdom, God's spirit is our daily companion as we live, love, and achieve through the power which flows down from the Source of eternal love on Paradise.
The kingdom of heaven takes us beyond the clinging vines of our pasts which have tied our souls to earth with their accusations of guilt and sin. The past has forever lost its power over us, because we know the Father has forgiven our missteps and mistakes. We have a fresh start, and nothing but our own fearfulness and doubt can hold us back now.
This new life does not deliver us from future shortcomings but reveals a process whereby such mistakes can be abbreviated and transcended. The new life makes righteous living a joy instead of a burden, because we live under God's guidance and share every hour with him. As the Father directs his river of love toward our hearts, the faith it inspires sweeps away every blockage of selfishness and doubt. We live in our Father's world and know ourselves to be his children.
We gain this new life through surrender to God's transforming power and by our commitment to live according to what we know is true, best, and right. We disown every hindrance and move forward with confidence in God's will as he reveals it. We have the power to follow our Father's will, and we will succeed in so doing.
With God's help we are bigger than the things which have held us back, those pet evils that seemed so addictive we doubted our ability to shake free. Their surface attractiveness no longer allures now that we have learned of the better way. In family difficulties, personal dissatisfaction, and emotional anguish, the cost of remaining outside the Father's kingdom is too high. The fetters of fear and doubt which tether us like animals melt away, evaporating before the rays of our Father's love. We no longer doubt the kingdom or weigh the pluses and minuses of its relative costs and benefits. We are wholeheartedly entering that which has always been available, but which only recently became real to us.
We anticipate every arriving hour in the Father's kingdom, knowing not what it will bring, only that the Father will make it good. All things are becoming new.
References from The Urantia Book:
We counted the cost and determined that the only life worth living is one based on truth and dedicated to our loving heavenly Father. We wholeheartedly committed every aspect of our lives to God and to doing his will.
Primitive man's native belligerence, suspicion, and cunning kept him alive in a hostile world, and these instincts of self-preservation still serve us, but complicate spiritual progress because we are programmed down deep not to trust. But to enter the kingdom, that is exactly what we must do.
Life in the spirit is an evolving relationship of willing communication between our souls and their Maker. Attentive to God's spirit, we commit ourselves in advance to do whatever God wants us to do, instantly and exactly, regardless of the cost or apparent consequences. Kingdom progress is a subjective and subtle process, and preset formulas for its achievement may deceive some who misunderstand its inner spirit, possibly even inoculating them against the real thing. Life in the kingdom is a process of liberation which requires that we wholeheartedly and unreservedly enter a narrow and demanding way, certain that on the far shore we will find peace, joy, and eternal life.
Entering the kingdom requires us to lay aside every thing, activity, or relationship which stands between ourselves and the divine life. If our commitment to God is other than unconditional, if we hold back even a little, our spiritual commitment is partial because we remain in charge. If we obey our Father ninety-nine times out of one hundred, we are holding back from unquestioning obedience, because each new situation requires a fresh calculation as to whether or not, this time, we will follow the divine leading.
Outward behavior notwithstanding, there is little spiritual difference between obeying God ninety-nine percent of the time and one percent of the time, the difference being merely of degree. Only in the lives of those who have decided, in advance, to follow his will no matter what the cost or consequences, can the Father express himself fully.
What if we could live that way, even for an hour? If problems which have burdened us for years could suddenly fall away, never to return? If we could see the angels who walk beside us, supporting us in each of life's battles? If we could be absolutely certain that the events of our daily lives were part of a far-reaching plan designed by an all-wise Being?
What sets all this in motion? From the place we now find ourselves, how can we enter this marvelous kingdom? Trying to find God, ascetics have mortified their flesh: have sat in cold water, climbed mountains, and endured the harshest deprivation and suffering in the hope of gaining the favor of a stern, withdrawn God. Attempting to reduce those distractions which are a natural part of the world God created for us to live in, monks have maintained years of strict silence or filled their days reciting set prayers until their tongues move hypnotized by monotonous repetition.
Others vainly seek to control the secrets of the universe and attain the heavenly estate by learning more about the Universal Upholder, seeking to find God by knowledge. But none of these extreme paths, well-meant as they might be, bring souls into the kingdom, rather, lives lived by faith in vigorous contact with the world God has given us. Trying to make ourselves 'better' through subduing our bodies or educating our minds fails as a means of finding God, for both techniques leave the individual in control, and the essence of kingdom life is our submission to God's control. We seek the kingdom not to bend the world to our bidding, but, through faith, to become effective instruments in doing our heavenly Father's will.
If this prize is worth the price, don't hesitate; go off by yourself and talk with the Father. Tell him what you want in life, your longings and hopes, as well as your problems and fears. Summon the courage to tell him that from this time on you want to live his way, no matter what the apparent cost in the things and relationships of this world. Tell the Father that you trust him totally, that your life is his, and that your deepest desire is to obey him in even the smallest matters. Then remain in silence and listen for his response to your soul, his welcome into the spiritual kingdom.
The Father bleaches out the stains which blemish our inner selves, making clean our hearts. As God lives in and through us, we become more effective and less subject to normal human constraints; as agents of him who controls the circumstances of the whirling worlds of space, we accomplish more. In working with God, God works through us. Entering this mysterious kingdom brightens the hues and shades of the world around us; the leaves on every oak seem to vibrate with thankfulness for the gift of life. We sense the limitless adventure God stretches before us, our small part of his never-ending story of mercy and provision.
References from The Urantia Book:
Through prayer, meditation, worship, and spiritual communion we are improving our conscious contact with God and sharing our inner lives with him.
The committing of our lives to God is the spiritual foundation for prayer, the process by which we come to know our heavenly Father.
God, being God, can communicate with us any way he chooses. If he rarely does so audibly, it is due to the importance he attaches to our growth in faith. If seeking spiritual guidance consisted of no more than listening to a voice or consulting handwriting on a chalkboard, what point would there be to living by faith? God's plan requires that we rely on our highest convictions when the way is unclear, for wrestling with the uncertainties of inner guidance exercises our faith. A parent is less concerned with whether his child understands a particular passage than with whether the child is learning to read; similarly, the important thing in God's sight is not whether we perfectly understand a particular answer to prayer, but the process of growth associated with seeking his will. The latter pertains to our relationship with him; the former addresses only details.
The vital thing is that we listen to the Father's still, small voice within our souls, a practice which requires concentration to catch the delicate tones to which our material ears are altogether deaf. The soul has this faculty naturally, but it requires persistence to enable us to separate God's leading from the cacophony of our own randomly arising thoughts, just as it requires practice for an outdoorsman to separate the songs of individual birds from the background noises of the forest. The Father has much to tell us, and our spiritual well being depends on taking the time to listen.
Prayer cannot be learned from books, only by experience. Prayer is communication with one's Maker, not a rhetorical skill whereby our flowery language supposedly impresses him whose mind encompasses the galaxies. The time, place, and form of our prayers are not significant, only their sincerity and our willingness to listen for God's answers. We become friends with our Father in heaven the same way we do with anyone else, by spending time with him--talking, listening, and sharing our lives.
We share with God those daily matters which occupy our minds, for anything we are concerned about, he is as well. But our prayers should not degenerate into a continuous selfish whining over personal problems; we should not neglect others' needs, which usually far surpass our own. Also, our prayers must never devolve into requests that God make our lives easier, or give us preference over others. To place our own difficulties in truer perspective, we must cultivate an attitude of gratefulness and appreciation, remembering to thank the Father for the good things he gives us each day.
Our prayer life connects us with the real spirit world, equipping us to face our challenges and difficulties as they actually exist, not as we might wish them to be in some dream world of unreality. When we have problems, prayer leads us to examine the exact position in which we find ourselves, how it came to be that we are in such a fix, and where we will likely end up absent action to change the dynamics of the situation.
Prayer is a stimulus for action, not a substitute. The Father put us on this world to participate in life and build strong characters through overcoming its inevitable vicissitudes. That purpose would be defeated and indolence rewarded were God to grant our requests for things which are within our human ability to achieve, obtain, or attain. God designed this world so that effort is required to attain goals, and while we always ask the Father for strength to accomplish our goals, we should never expect him to do for us what he has already given us power to accomplish.
For our prayers to be effective, they should be focused and specific. Exactly how do we want the situation to turn out? Usually, just thinking that question through discloses the obvious answer and permits us to redirect our human energies to its realization. Our overall attitude toward life is, "Father, your will be done," but in prayer, generalities dissipate like water poured from a bucket. Having thought the situation through to the best of our ability and arrived at a sincere belief as to the best outcome for all concerned, we unhesitatingly ask the Father to help us bring it about.
Our faith attitude takes for granted that God will solve the problem in the very best way, whether or not it is by means of any alternative we have foreseen. But good prayer results don't come from wishy-washy, vague, or indefinite attitudes, because God desires us forcefully to attack, and creatively to solve, the problems of life. We should pray hard over our difficulties and work equally hard to overcome them. Our prayers are not hesitant, timid or mushy, but rather bold assertions of the triumph of what is right and best.
We come before God as to a good earthly father, set out the exact situation or problem, explain our thought processes in arriving at the outcome or solution we envision as best, and recapitulate what we have done thus far to solve the problem. If there is nothing further we are able to do to improve the situation, we are entitled in complete confidence to ask God to bring about the result we are convinced is best.
If God appears not to have answered our prayers, it is not because he hasn't heard, doesn't care, or is too busy. An apparently unanswered prayer could signify several things: that we have not yet exhausted our human remedies to the problem; that, for reasons we do not understand, it would be harmful for us to receive that which we seek, at least in the way we envision; that answering our prayer would abridge another's free will; that the time is not yet ripe; or even, unbeknownst to us, that the prayer has already been answered. Except for these self-evident exceptions, we should live in the certainty that God answers every one of our prayers.
Prayer, faith, and action are spiritually bound together. Prayer generates faith, faith leads us to pray, and both lead us to act decisively according to our Father's leading. Acting on spiritual guidance in turn gives us more faith and upsteps our prayer life as we experience the satisfactions of a victorious spiritual life.
Prayer is real and should be used to overcome barriers like ancient armies used battering rams to sunder the gates of enemy cities. Prayer, joined by faith and action, collapses intractable problems, surmounts difficulties, and brings the reign of God more fully to our troubled planet.
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We passed through conflict as God empowered us to exchange material for spiritual goals. We are better balancing our human needs with our lives in the spirit.
This step concerns the reconciliation of total inner commitment with the exigencies of daily existence, balancing what is good for us with what is good for others. Is it possible to live in this world and yet, as Jesus said, not be of this world? How can we act spiritually when we are every second hostage to flesh and blood? How can we resist experiencing anger, lust, greed, and selfishness when the survival instincts programmed into us by the Creator compel us to react that very way? Is the Master's selfless way compatible with life's practicalities, to say nothing of achieving success in its undertakings? Our instinctual drives perpetuate the species and keep us alive in an often cruel world, but how do we reconcile these inborn urges with their opposites: Jesus' admonitions to give away our cloaks, walk the second mile, and save our lives by losing them?
In God's eyes we have rights as individuals; he does not intend that our fellows exercise a total claim on our time and energies. The Father created us as we are, and so long as we do not compromise our spiritual loyalties, he supports our desire for human success and fulfillment. God gave us our commonplace physical appetites and desires, and just as there is nothing wrong with water so long as one does not drown in it, nothing is inherently wrong or evil about any of our human urges, even if they must often be restrained out of higher ethical considerations.
The new life is lived on the same world as the old one, and spiritual seekers do not escape making the manifold daily adjustments which life requires. If we ignored our own welfare, without a keeper we would quickly die of starvation or exposure. If we continue to live solely for ourselves as we did in the old life, what difference has our rebirth made? As spiritually newborn sons and daughters we should take neither extreme, but rather be guided by our God-given attributes of common sense and balance. God does not require or expect us to ignore our personal welfare; his desire is that we unselfishly subordinate our interests to the service of others, remembering that he knows our personal needs, and trusting him to supply them.
Our Father is well aware of the difficult transition all must pass through adapting to the new life in the spirit, and he will safely guide every soul committed to his keeping. God can balance the needs of our bodies with the desires of our souls and requires only our cooperation for the transition to be positive and productive.
Once inside the kingdom's gates the critical battle has been won, but only with common sense and balance do we avoid rear-guard actions from the emotional extremes of materialistic self-centeredness and fanatical, immature pseudo-spirituality. We should not be discouraged when the unwelcome guests of vengefulness, anger, lust, or jealousy insinuate their unwanted presences into our minds. Only time can erase some deep-seated mental poisons, but now that God's spirit is enthroned in our hearts, we can be patient while he transforms us into his likeness. Delivery from emotional distress may or may not come quickly, but anxiety regarding the state of our souls only irritates the scab on the healing wound.
The spiritual world is real and important, and this physical world is real and important, offering as it does learning experiences we will never again encounter in our upward ascent through the many mansions of the Father's universe. The body's need for food, shelter, and clothing is no less real than the soul's need for faith, hope, and love. We live out our ideals on the stage of this physical world which contains the intermeshed and often incongruously associated circumstances of people and things in which we find ourselves. The insistent demands of this physical world provide an ongoing check of our spiritual intentions, preventing them from becoming mere abstractions or fantasies. In this world we must compromise, balance, and reconcile the multiform competing forces and interests as best we can, and rarely will our triaged responses to these complex problems afford the satisfaction of a perfect solution. Perfection is our goal, but it is not attainable in this world. The Father takes all this into account, and we should not hinder his work in us by self-recrimination or thoughts of failure. Our ship has been launched onto the uncharted waters of an eternal career, and the Power which set the universe in motion can and will do for us what humanly would be impossible.
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We are persisting in our search and trusting in God's schedule for our spiritual enlightenment. We are seeking the wisdom to know and the patience to wait on God's will in all things.
Ecclesiastes tells us that for every thing there is a season. Apples do not ripen after the first frost because we want them to, but because their time has come. Where others are concerned, what we want only rarely happens according to the schedule we desire, if at all. The consequences of our actions mock our control, affected as they are by unknowable factors beyond our horizon, and short-term failures and reversals allow us to grow in faith while we await the final outcome of events. Visible results may be long delayed or may never attend our actions, presenting us with situations in which the exercise of patience teaches us to do what is good and right for its own sake. If immediate recompense attended helping another, such service might become no more than selfish calculation, unacceptable to God, who requires that we serve others out of love, with no desire for, or expectation of, personal reward.
God has a perfect schedule for our spiritual enlightenment, and knowing all things, somehow weaves all of life's seemingly fortuitous circumstances, attitudes, and actions into personal tapestries of rich yet uniquely individual symmetries. The Father controls the interassociations of all circumstance and engenders our growth when the time is right. We might intensely desire an event to transpire, but our wishes have little or no bearing on whether it is divinely possible for the circumstances and personalities involved to conform themselves to our vision. The timing of events eludes our fragile control; opportunities dart like trout from behind river boulders and never reappear, no matter how patiently we cast our line.
We should never expect to get everything we want right now, knowing that life simply doesn't work that way and that the fruit of impatience is frustration and bitterness. Daily living proves how often it is necessary to bear with disagreeable situations, even for extended periods. Faith teaches us likewise, but in addition, helps us understand the appropriateness of forbearance. Before, what patience we could summon arose out of the absence of a viable alternative; now, we see the greater good in waiting on God's schedule. The Father has given us new insight into the working of his universe, and we agree with its rightness.
Persistence is especially important in our prayers. Most of the problems about which we pray admit of no easy solution, but we must keep heart. We will receive answers, delayed, perhaps, because a better answer than any we had contemplated is in prospect. No matter what, we must hang on and never give up, maintaining unshakable confidence in our Father's good will and mercy and in his intention to give us the righteous desires of our hearts.
Patience serves us well in every aspect of our lives. We wait on God's word, recognizing that he is in charge, not us. Understanding that our lives and careers are secure in our Father's loving and all-powerful hands, we find emotional contentment and inner peace. We have abandoned the futile and frustrating exercise of trying to force events through the preconceived filter of our personal expectations or trying to make others conform to our personal vision for their lives. Whatever the situation is, it simply is. Our duty is to work hard according to our sense of God's leading, accepting the world as it is and disowning every counterproductive temptation to project our favored outcomes onto the inexorable procession of effects following causes or the free-will actions of others.
Patience is a noble but passive trait. True persistence encompasses patience but further demands that we forcefully assert ourselves toward accomplishing what we believe God would have us do, ignoring any possible resistance, never giving in. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can stop a soul wholly dedicated to the Father's will. We brush aside discouragement, continuing on, totally confident in the ultimate victory of righteousness in ourselves and in the world.
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We are coming to appreciate the inevitabilities and compensations of life as we begin our endless exploration of God's creation.
From the human perspective, much in life seems unfair or tragic. An automobile accident, an unexpected letter--the slightest twist of the kaleidoscope and all is changed. Spiritual perspective is the broadened horizon which recognizes God's absolute control over the invisible world which underlies and supports physical creation. God's ways seem mysterious only because the limitations of our perspective prevent us from understanding the true nature of events. The day-to-day events of our lives are easier to accept once we understand that God's hand either causes, or permits, all that happens. Such a perspective gives us comfort in the crush of sorrow when we come to understand that our Father can turn even heart-wrenching pain into actual good. God gives us what is good, while what is hard he permits only when his plans require the removal of a thing, situation, or relationship which stands in the way of our soul's expansion, or when such events will help build in us the tempered steel of real character. Our Father does not rescue us from pain, but endures it with us in loving companionship.
God never wants any of his children to be hurt, but he permits painful things to happen when they are necessary for us to learn the lessons of life, and even then he transforms the pain we experience into education which enriches our souls. With our cooperation, he transmutes even our regrettable experiences into ultimate good by infusing them with spiritual value, weaving our errors and neglect into his all-encompassing plan for the evolution of the universes.
Some of life's tragedies are caused by physical circumstances inseparable from life on a planet governed by dependable physical laws, such as when an avalanche crushes an unprepared mountain climber. The rocks tumbled down because gravity, a physical law of God's ordaining, always pulls down unbalanced and unsupported objects. The climber's death is a tragedy to him and those who loved or depended on him, but it would be a far greater tragedy were gravity to become some whimsical force which could not be depended upon to work consistently. From another perspective, free will requires that the mountaineer not be prevented from climbing the dangerous route of his choosing, because God's plan for our education and advancement requires us to be in uncushioned contact with reality and exercise relatively complete freedom of action if we are to grow.
Other tragedies are caused by the malice or neglect of people towards others. God permits such harm because his respect for our free will applies to the evil as well as to the good, and authentic free will must embrace the freedom to act wrongly. Our Father wishes his sons and daughters to love and serve others voluntarily, from heartfelt desire, and this requires the liberty to do otherwise. But when harm touches those whose lives are dedicated to him, whether caused by physical forces or the agency of others, the Father reconfigures the outcome of such painful events or evil actions into ultimate good for all concerned.
Who can fathom the Creator's majesty or second-guess his foreknowledge or wisdom? Who could have more perfectly designed his own life? Who believes his judgment more trustworthy or responsible, or his motivation higher? Whose intelligence better comprehends the consequences of events spanning galaxies and ages? The Father of lights lives astride creation in the timeless present, upholding and sustaining the existence of every thing and being through the unsearchable wisdom of his infinite mind. To see life as the Father does is to see it in truer perspective, wherein we detect his purposes through the variegated chatter of daily life and gain strength living as if seeing him who is invisible.
Sitting on a rocky cliff, we overlook the city as the sun sets behind us. Street lamps gradually alight in random stripes, and we watch bunched cars thread their ways home from work. We ponder the disparate lives and problems represented by all those headlights--the jobs they are leaving and the families, friends, or loneliness to which they return. How the Father is able to personally relate to each of them surpasses human understanding, we only know that he does. God lives transcendent on Paradise, but also in every heart. His love-call echoes down lonely corridors, and his arms bear up the wounded. His majesty shakes mighty mountains, and his eyes miss nothing. He reaches across the ages to find us where and as we are, and invites us to take our intended place in the endless expansion of the universes of his making. As our spiritual walk continues, we learn more of God's eternal purposes, a little here, a little there, and increasingly we accrue a sustaining cosmic perspective. We experience our Father's love and become ever more certain that he is with us always.
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We are gaining faith that God's plan for us is incomparably better than any of our own devising, and that our highest happiness consists in doing his will. We are experiencing the spiritual liberty of accepting our Father's responsibility for the outcome of events we undertake in faith.
Faith is an expression of universal law based on wholehearted reliance on the Sovereign of the universes and his ability to accomplish his will on earth and in our lives without limit or hindrance. But how can we know our Father's will as life's paths and opportunities appear and move on before us? How can we know more certainly whether we are doing his will as we attempt to respond to the divine leadings within our souls?
On this world there are few things of which anyone can be truly sure; the fork in the road is often upon us before we are ready to choose our path, and to delay may jeopardize the opportunity. In such a case we must simply act, trusting in our Father's guidance. If we have prayed for a knowledge of God's will in a particular situation, once decision time arrives, to avoid action paralyzed by fear that we might err makes erring a virtual certainty.
When we are doing our best to live the Father's will, we are entitled to act decisively on faith even when the issue is clouded and we are confused. Hesitation, timidity, and half-measures poison faith and doom to failure even an otherwise correct choice. When decision time arrives we should be able to say, "Father, this is the course I believe you wish me to take, and unless you tell me otherwise, I'm going to move forward in that direction."
Nations build navies so that, in times of war, they may engage the enemy, not sit safely in port. Likewise, God placed us on earth to participate in life, and therefore grieves to see us cravenly moored for fear of what the high seas of life may hold in store, afraid to experience that for which he placed us here. He desires that we launch forth, confident that he can and will shape our courses along the paths charted by infinite wisdom.
Faith-actions must be undertaken in total confidence, otherwise, where is the faith? In such a situation, even if we err, God will make our choice right and bring about a good outcome in spite of our mistakes. When our course comports with the highest truth, goodness, and love, and we carry it out in accordance with God's leading to the best of our ability, he makes that course right, even if the decision itself might have been to some extent defective. The Father knows the limitations of our minds and natures, accepts us as we are, and adjusts his plans of perfection to fit the circumstances of his children here on earth, thus allowing us to be partners with him in the achievement of our eternal destiny.
The acts of faith are always consistent with truth, beauty, goodness, and love, and when we are confused as to the Father's leading, those values will suggest his will, for it is inconceivable that God would ever lead us to do anything untrue, ugly, or unloving. Most day-to-day problems lack an obvious spiritual dimension, however, and we must make our choices based on ordinary common sense supported by the sound advice of friends. Even in those situations we must not neglect a sense of God's leading, for, like any good parent, he is concerned about the details of our daily existence, that we live happy and productive lives, but especially that our souls prosper.
Faith injects the power of God into the affairs of our workaday world, infusing them with divine purpose. Faith is not simply the conviction that God exists, but that he is active and powerful in helping us win the battles of life. Faith unleashes energy from within to break down every barrier, win over every enemy, vanquish every addiction, conquer every disability, and still every fear. Faith plants our feet on the eternal highway, the end of which is Paradise and God himself. Faith links our hearts to the Sovereign of the universes and discloses goals, purposes, and visions which empower us to run the final stretch after all things earthly crash.
The Father of lights walks beside the chariot of our dreams, clearing the way before the pure in heart. God grants inner peace to those whose faith is anchored to the rock of his sovereignty, to those who understand that he does all things well. Whether life is long or short, faith sustains great human achievement and propels our souls into life eternal where even greater accomplishments beckon the sons and daughters of God.
Faith is the process by which we come to know our Maker. Faith solves mysteries, opens prison doors, explores cavernous depths, and saves souls trapped in hopelessness or depravity. Faith tutors the young student of the spirit; its net brings all good things to us when we cast it out boldly. Faith opens eyes theretofore blinded by the distractions of a materialistic age, but never shows us quite all we would see, for the infinite Creator on whom our faith is focused resides in unfathomable mystery. By means of our faith, the Father stills our distracted thoughts, comforts our souls, and illumines the pathways of righteous living into the spirit kingdom where God has prepared our eternal home.
Faith comforts the troubled soul of modern man and stills his mind amid the tensions and stresses of outward existence. Faith opens our souls to God, whose love envelops us, disclosing that which is most worthwhile in human existence.
God gathers the crumbs of our faith and multiplies them into basketfuls. He takes us as confused children and gives back mature saints. God tends the garden of our faith with sharpened tools, a watchful eye, and a lover's touch. He turns the world that sunshine may nourish our leaves and pushes clouds to do us service. He searches out the shallow-rooted, vulnerable saplings of our faith, chops away the choking weeds, and trims our errant branches, that we might in time become mature trees.
Farther along our journey, that which once was only believed becomes known. But faith's object moves ever higher, from that which our minds possess in fullness to that which is still unfocused: the hill across the range, still hazy to the trekking pilgrim, a challenge to his strengthening feet. The source of faith is God alone, who is as well the homeward destination toward which we travel, and whom we see ever clearer as Father.
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We better appreciate God's ceaseless fostering of our spiritual growth. We are becoming more fully assured of our Father's unconditional love and have begun to experience that inner peace which passes understanding.
The depletion of our inner resources shows through, and our shoulders slump as if bearing hods of mud. When fear or guilt burdens our minds we cannot act effectively or decisively, but when our inner state is in harmony with the universe, little stops us: roads straighten beneath our feet, invisible armies support us in battle, big problems shrink, small problems disappear, inner phantoms flee, and our minds clear for effective action.
God's love is unconditional, and his assurance of that love has always been available. Like a farmer casting seed corn onto indifferent ground, the Father continually offers spiritual seeds of faith and love to our unreceptive minds, hoping at least some will take root. He knows our times and seasons, when to water and when to fertilize, always making the most of what we give him. The comfort and assurance we increasingly experience show that at least a few of these seeds have begun to grow. We know this spiritual peace when we have it, but even more vividly, feel bereft and deprived when it seems temporarily beyond our reach.
There is a rhythm in human life and affairs; deep abiding peace is not always attainable. Emotions born of circumstance crest and ebb, and we feel as if we go in and out of synchrony with our Maker. Nevertheless, God doesn't want us to withdraw into seclusion to avoid the disturbance and confusion inseparable from an active life, but rather he desires that we carry his assurance with us, a shimmering curtain of sanity to wrap around the problems of this strife-torn world, that we see them anew in peace and perspective.
Our work's outcome is uncertain, but our goals are not. We perceive our world through a glass, darkly, but peace permeates and suffuses our souls with confidence. We know not where leads the road, only that God's love rests upon us, giving us the reward of the ages; we are grime-smeared from daily living, but clean within.
All seems well when suddenly the day grows dark and approaching thunder shakes the earth like an artillery barrage. Lightning dances amongst boiling black clouds, searing the sky. A shower of hailstones announces the edge of the front, and then the whole power of the storm is upon us--trees split, exploding as fiery bolts seek the earth; shards of fractured glass from blown-out windows explode onto our huddled family; winds assault the house's eaves, its frame groans; siding and shingles rip away and bounce like tumbleweed across the field. We hold our frightened children tightly and pray that God will protect them, but for ourselves fret not injury or even death, for we have committed the consequences of events beyond our control to God's hands and rest secure in his love and power.
When a vicious rabble storms our city's gates; when the teeth of a thousand gears grind our plans into failure; when storm waves swamp our shallow gunnels; when kin disown, friends abandon, and enemies gloat; when bills pour in beyond our bankrupt means; when the phone brings naught but news we hate and all things earthly teeter--there is yet a place where we are safe; there is One who comforts our souls in darkest night.
Father, we love you for who you are and all you do for us. We need your help when we hurt, and know that you respond before we even ask. You give us our lives and the grace to endure. We crave to know more fully your spirit's presence. You answer our souls' prayers and tell us the secrets of the spheres before words, and after sounds. Others shout, but you whisper, bathing our souls in light eternal. You speak the language of our hearts, extending the edges of the unfathomable beyond human knowledge. You taught the seagull to fly, fashioned the aspen and the willow, and created every weed and crystal. Above all and before all, we worship you, Source of life.
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We are sharing our spiritual lives more fully with each other and growing more unified in friendship. We increasingly appreciate, respect, trust, and rely on each other.
For human friendships to flourish, trust must grow, which only comes through increasing disclosure of our inner selves. Until we become willing to open ourselves to our friends, they cannot learn who we are and what we truly care about. Some guard their inner selves like rivet-studded vaults, airtight and impregnable, lest others see the isolation and fears that dwell therein. Bats fly in search of an exit, and finding none, return to brood in darkness.
Secrecy cultures the fungus of pretense, but the sunshine of a friend's counsel returns us to healthy reality as we laugh into perspective our recurring foibles and failings. When we hide aspects of our lives from those we love most, living a lie of who we are not, we rob ourselves of health, sanity, and happiness. Confiding in friends helps us resolve unbearable contradictions which have rent our personalities almost to disruption, provided we do not shrink from sharing with them our most intimate thoughts. Their understanding words end our isolation, turn embarrassment into relief, and give us the courage no more to pretend.
Their unconditional love gives such friends license to be altogether blunt in their advice, since we know they have no motive but our own welfare, and nothing we might do could lessen their affection. Shall we leave such a friend outside the circle of our confidence and face alone the terrors of the night, when baring our souls, embarrassment ignored, will reap the harvest of life's promises? Shall shame over past treacheries deprive us of that which alone will cure their curse? Our friend, held aloof, sees the locked chest of our experience and wonders what within its rusty hasps and bands of beaten iron there lies. What we hate most about ourselves, our darkest secrets, when shared in confidence, open new worlds in which to dwell. Perhaps the odd rock from our stream will complete our friend's garden path, or his silt may make our flowers bloom.
Friends sustain us when we know not the way and our sky is leaden with the ashes of broken dreams. When the evening comes too late and the morrow too soon, when sparrows desert their young to the eagle's claw, a friend's presence settles fear like rain a dusty road. Our friends stay with us in trouble, save us from loneliness, surround us with love, share our joys, and strengthen us to fight life's battles. We are safer and stronger when they are near, for if the enemy breaks through the walls, we fight together, side by side.
Isolation is painful, no matter how close our relationship with God. Fleeing loneliness in shallow relationships, it becomes more real. Without friends, even in a crowded room we are hopeless, helpless, and miserable. The Father's kingdom is one in which we serve together; it is never a solitary experience. We derive strength from knowing that our friends care for us and would never betray our trust. We share life's roads and work together to achieve life's ends.
Careening boulders fill the narrow gorges of our minds, shaken loose by tremors from the deep; dust billows, and the sky darkens with impending death. A crevice in the rock--a way of escape? The passage leads deep within. Terrors stack high, no way back, we feel our way into the unknown darkness. Shins bruised, we grope blindly through the cave toward the sound of falling water, which, ever louder, greets us with its spray. Chest deep in the pool, a faint current pushes us toward a weak refracted glow.
Content to live or die together, one last breath and we go under, fast now, pulled towards the light, banging through the chute, bunched fetus-like, no air left when--salvation--the stream breaks out and falls into a hidden mountain lake. A stone path leads through fields of columbines up the verdant valley. We know not the way, but keep going, until finally, sunlit fields, a protective moat, crystal ramparts before the city of our dreams, home at last. The drawbridge lowers on glistening chains, and we enter, home, safe from fright.
The Master sent his followers forth two and two, that they not become discouraged by loneliness. The best friendships are among those who love God, who are dedicated to purposes beyond the skies, who are willing to be wave-tossed in pursuit of dreams. Two and two we are stronger by the square, shirts starched against life's acid vapors. Two and two we do God's will and find his house past the far field's brambles. We need each other to know the Father, for he lives not only in our hearts, but in our brother's glance. Earthly friendship reveals both God and life on the heavenly worlds.
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We are working together with greater initiative and enthusiasm to serve our fellows in lasting ways, recognizing that we thus serve and honor our Father in heaven.
Faith is the foundation of our spiritual lives, but service to others is its expression. Through God's leading, every day can open hearts, inspire minds, and leave others better by our presence.
That we live in God's peace never numbs us to everyday responsibilities or makes us indifferent to need or suffering. We hurt with the wounded sparrow as it flops across the yard, every wing-beat an agony. We feel the wind-driven sleet against the lobsterman's chapped cheeks and hear the snow crunch with every step of the soldier's blood-stained boots. Our skin peels with the leper, and our hearts ache with the high plains farmer as his wheat withers from wind and drought. That we can help so few of these brothers and sisters does not discourage us, however, because we see their needs as part of a limitless landscape of eternal significance in which God, who knows all, is ultimately responsible for all. We take not all of struggling humanity's burdens upon ourselves, for we could not, but we know there is One whose wisdom and power are sufficient for any problem and by whose grace we are saved. That we are not personally accountable for others' welfare does not lead us to indifference or resignation over their plight, it rather frees our minds from futile worry and we work all the harder, sustained by faith in the God of surging seas and circumstance, who lets even souls like ourselves work to build his kingdom.
For whom should we live, if not for others? Is life's purpose but to lay up redundant treasures for profligate heirs to squander? Only what we do for others lasts, the rest is dust and ashes, temples to be ravaged by looters or buried in desert sand. The bridge we build--for what purpose if no one crosses? Our only lasting possessions, our treasures in heaven, are those things we do for others.
To those without curtain ropes to pull, pages to turn, or lines to speak, life's stage is without purpose. With never a part, we cloy as spectators, for giving of ourselves is what makes us whole. The time to work is nigh: no longer should we sit and wonder when might come the call, for the Father will speak to each of us and tell how best to serve his kingdom. Earth's billions languish in weary distress, waiting for someone to quench their discontent, salve their wounds, and be a brother. The needs of the stricken touch the tenderhearted, who answer their cry with wise and lasting help which gives them strength to rise and help themselves, and such service endures to cheer thousands through its outspreading ripples.
We can only truly serve by love, for without love our gestures are empty, paisley rags cast by the stream side. To find our service we must ask the Father to show us our part in his plans, for he has designed each of us to fulfill a particular work which he may disclose in an intuition of deep calling or perhaps in the unfolding of opportunities. Until opened, the door to our service may look like many others, but the Father's hand will guide us to that which we may make our own and to that which can become our destiny.
Service is faith's expression, and faith is service's fuel. The stronger our faith, the greater our desire to carry out this service in effective and lasting ways.
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We more willingly accept our obligation and privilege to help share the good news and are striving to carry this knowledge of God's love to our fellows.
Now that we know who we are, we must help others know the same. We who know live on a promontory of grace above a choppy sea from which we can rescue the shipwrecked and the asleep. But shouted-down directions are not enough: a thrown rope they will seldom accept, for those drowning resist deliverance from familiar waters. First we must tell them of their worth to the Father, for most lack not a vision of God but of themselves as his beloved sons and daughters.
Those resisting have laid down tightly-fitted stones across the pathways to their souls which shed the water of life like sidewalks do rain. The willing soul beneath senses but is shut off from the life above. Beaten, the stones only seat more firmly, but one with the patience to observe can usually find some loose cobble through which the spirit may channel life to the parched soul beneath. The Father's love rains down from above, and with but the slightest access to the deserts of the soul, God reveals himself directly and sets onto the eternal adventure a reborn son or daughter.
It's not possible to completely shut out God's spirit, whose radiating glow warms the bleakest wall. Neither hurt nor hate can entirely negate the action of the indwelling spirit, for its powerful currents move on levels far deeper than the emotional surfaces which occupy our everyday attention. But how do we help those who only know to live as they always have, unaware of God's purposes? What key opens the gate house to the mansion of their destiny? Can we be master carvers and lure out the secret figure trapped within the gnarly bough? Not knowing how flowed the sap to form its tortured bole, can we free each gesture and swirl of hair when we carve in twilight and our knife is dull? Who will guide our hands that we sculpt not where wood should rest? A voice deep within knows the times and seasons of our brothers' moods, when and when not to speak. Our spirit speaks with his, and if we share in love, his weary eyes may unmask in remembered echo that place of which we speak.
The language of our sharing is less in words than in our daily walk with God. Love is most clearly seen in the unspoken actions of daily life, proving that of which tongues only speak. Words alone are unconvincing, for we show our love in what we do; true affection surges forth in the way we live.
The season will pass in which we can share with our brother what we have learned. Our earthly times are short and are quickly over, so we must act while we can, for each day is one less remaining. We cannot speak with each brother who passes by, but when the inner spirit leads, we must not hesitate. Then God can nurse the tender spark of passing interest into a blaze fatal to the life of self, opening vistas of the heavenly worlds.
Our Father, we thank you that we may share in your work and pass along what you have given us. We know but little of you, heavenly Father, but we know that you are first in love, and that all good things are done by your spirit. We know that you love all your children and long to commune with each of them as you do with us. Guide us in helping bring your kingdom here to earth. Lead us to serve our brothers in effective and lasting ways, that we fail you not. Open up pathways of spirit, that what we say may be honest, loving, and helpful. We love you, righteous Father. Be with us as we share you with those who know you less.
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We increasingly value others as beloved sons and daughters of God and strive to love each of them as does our Father in heaven.
Our hearts long to love our fellows, and this yearning cannot be quenched, for the soul of hungry man was made to love and is satisfied with nothing less. The roads of love often loop and sometimes fail, but the urge is irrepressible, unstoppable even by vilest hate or cruelest circumstance. Unexplainable, unconcerned with place, position, status, or merit, love looks upward, existing in a state of becoming.
How to love is the ages' question, the grail of prophets' search: how to love as parents love their children, how to love others as our Father loves us. How do we begin to love, and how can we make love last? It begins in mystery, from an unknown place deep within, for unknown reasons. We understand not why we love, only that we do, for love's ether resists analysis by itself or others. True love calculates no cost, effort, or reward, but simply exists in a spirit of defenseless kindness. How can we capture such a spirit in the larger world, toward the unlovely, the unkempt, the cruel, and the unfaithful? Can we look at our brothers and sisters through our Father's eyes and see what he sees, without judging?
We are known by who and what we love. Some love houses and goods, some appearances, and some even love deceit as a way of life, delighting to prove themselves more clever than the gullible. Some love money, power, or fame; others love humbler things, and it is to them our Master promised the kingdom. Our loves leave a path behind us, contrails in the sky or muddy tracks across the floor.
The garments of love are made from the Father's cloth. We draw the stuff of love from his storehouse and fashion it to clothe the naked. Acting out love precipitates true love; we love by loving. Acting as if we love ignites love itself, for the more loving we are toward others, the more that love reflects back, amplified in the mutual experience, creating in its object the compulsion to reciprocate.
The universes were born in love, not by fire alone. Love is the inner urge of life, and when we love, that mighty force resonates with universal power from on high, promising new life and a renewed self. By its light we see. The cloud of unknowing parts, and golden rays bathe the giver and receiver of love as the Lord of the universe reveals himself and finds expression. The absence of love is indifference or hate, and apart from love, all relationships are meaningless, futile, and deceptive. But in the Father's love we are complete, our powers are restored, ancient swamps are drained, shrouds are lifted, and we see into the heart of God at the moment of creation.
Those who doubt the power of love know not the joy of life. Those who place things above love are prisoners of illusion, for no possession or position is worth the loss of love, which endures when the heaps of things we gather rust or go to others. Love outlasts things and is sweeter. Love seines out the good in experience, enduring when all else fails. Love soothes our fevered foreheads and stays the executioner's hand. Love alone makes our lives worthwhile and God more real, not solitary prayers by cloister walls. Love bridges the chasm between what we are and what we can become; it gives us all we have and are, and without it we are empty, trapped in a debtor's prison of negativity and despair.
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We are coming to know and love Jesus, and friendship with him is giving enthusiasm and purpose to our lives.
They say two thousand years ago was born a child, announced by angels, to modest Jews who made their home in Nazareth. They say his father died while he was yet a youth, and with his hands he worked to support his father's family along the hills and shores of Galilee. Then he traveled for a time, learning of the Roman world while sharing the love of God, spreading good cheer to hundreds in his path. They say he was tested in all the ways of life and in partnership with God overcame life's temptations, difficulties, and crises with faith and steadfast devotion. Unsheltered from life's agonies, he was faithful to the greater vision of God's purpose he had known before the worlds began.
When his time had come, they say he chose apostles who left their homes and families to share his life, to walk the dusty roads of Palestine and call their people to God's service. They say that when he looked upon a man, he saw into his very soul, and that person thought he glimpsed the heart of God. They say he was a man among men; rugged Galilean fishermen called him Master. They say he healed the sick, made the blind to see, forgave sin, and raised the dead; that he offered abundant springs of living water, strength for the weak, comfort for the brokenhearted, encouragement for the downcast, understanding for babes, something for all who knew they lacked. The healing rays of God's love he focused on every secret place in the hearts of men and made whole those whose lives were torn. They say the common people heard him gladly and craved his presence--friends lowered a paralytic through a roof just to be near him, and a prostitute washed his feet with her tears.
He said there was none good but God, and told those healed their faith had made them whole. He taught simple friendship with God and service of man, about the heavenly kingdom, righteousness, the peace of God, and eternal life. The high priests saw of course the dangers in his self-forgetful teaching, that man could relate directly with God in heaven; if so, what need for all their priests and ritual? Failing to still his fearless voice, they forced the weakling Roman governor to slay one who, having saved others, refused to save himself.
They say that on the third day the great stone wheel which blocked his sepulcher rolled open and he arose and for forty days appeared to those who shared his love. On Pentecost they say he rose to heaven, but sent his spirit to be with those who loved the truth; it filled their souls with power and made all things new. His followers could not be cowed and spread the story of his life throughout the Roman world, honored to die for the one they called the Christ.
This man, about whom more books have been written than any other, existed before the worlds began in unimaginable majesty and came to earth to reveal his Father's love. His life became the mystery of man in God and God in man, one forever. Once we truly know him our lives change, for in him reposes what we can be if we will but live the life of faith. The secret of our spiritual lives, he is our faith's fulcrum, embodying all of God we can know. Beyond him, anything we think we know is mere abstraction. We are branches of his true vine and accomplish nothing apart from him. He knows the ways we take and why. He gives us his own life, entering our minds to make them clean and strong.
Help us to love you, gracious Lord. Help us to understand your words of goodness and life. Live anew in us, for we know that every good thing comes through you, and without you we are powerless. When our lives are convoluted and we have no idea for what to pray, translate our heartfelt desires and bring your peace and wisdom to our confused minds. We depend on you to make our lives worthwhile, a credit to your name. Root out every shadow of evil and darkness; break us, if need be, to bring us fully into your kingdom's service. We crave your daily companionship and approval; we crave to bask in the brightness of your smile. You promised to prepare a place above for those who love to do your will; prepare one here as well, that your presence overflow in our hearts and lives.
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We are growing in our knowledge, love, and worship of the heavenly Father, the source of that infinite love which created and sustains us.
Mankind roils as a choppy sea, delighting in its frailties; the earth groans beneath baroque invention, distressed by abuse. Fissures yawn to swallow us up, thieves eye hungrily our meager treasure, and when we think of life's approaching end, we quiver. But heavenly Father, you know our names and all our ways. Take us fully into your kingdom and give us the peace our hearts crave. Help us dip our battered spoons into the ocean of your love, to disappear into your infinity, that we emerge reconstructed. We love you, Father, and long to love you more. You are the beginning and the end; you control the comings and goings of all things. Give us your peace, heavenly Father, that we may feel secure as we strive to do your will in the turmoil of life. Help us follow you in happy times as we know we must in the blast of the storm. Help us thank you in joy with no less conviction than we plead to you in despair. Our souls' desires are concealed in you; clarify our weak and disorderly minds. Come in power to the children of your spirit quest! The heavens reveal your sovereign power, and your spirit descends to inspire all who seek.
With eyes of spirit we perceive beauty in the ordinary, flecks of gold in river silt. We see the excellence of your plan and the wisdom of your calling. Your peace rests upon us, and we are learning your will. The bands which held us back are melting; the sun rises to warm the mountain face. That which trapped us has lost its power, and we stand free to live the destiny you have laid out for us. We could not choose another way, dear Father, because you have shown us truth in all of its beauty and eternal goodness. We joy in the commonplace, knowing it was fashioned by your hands; we see beyond disharmony and disease to meadows of rest and fulfillment. We see you in the shadows, behind the door, and ride with your love upon the wind. We will follow you forever and beyond, until evil and sin collapse into nothingness. You comfort our hearts, share our joys, and fight with us in every forward struggle. You are the only true God; you know us well and keep us safe.
Loving the Creator is the beginning of life itself. In loving God we come to know him, and ourselves as his sons and daughters. Worshipping our Maker lifts us from earth's tribulations to the shores of Paradise--in spirit, now; in reality, later. In worshipping God we join our hungry hearts to the infinite Source of all things, and in that communion both find fulfillment.
Our Father is gracious and majestic, infinitely wise, powerful, and all-knowing. He sees behind the curtain and knows the end from the beginning. What we see of life is the merest prelude, a glimpsed preview of our eternal careers, which, as experiences accumulate, fill in from seeming randomness to a crystal's matrix precision. God's eternal plan includes a specific place for each of us, and we find our highest usefulness and joy in fulfilling the purposes for us set out before the world began. In the fullness of time, the joint witness of all who survive these initial lives on the whirling spheres of space will express the Supreme whole of God's evolutionary plan.
We love God not only because of his nature, but because he cared enough to create and sustain us. He answers our prayers, looks after us in hardship, and provides us worlds on which to live after our time on earth is over. God reassures our doubting human hearts as the currents of his love nourish our spirits. He shelters us from the terrors of the night and encourages us when our shoulders droop. He knows our ways and names and is the perfect Father. His divine plan provides for our every present need as well as every possibility for the future, for in him we live, move, and have our being.
The Lord of lights is a moving force, a divine flame who sweeps before him all who stand stiff-legged, but who gathers up the meek and the humble. We sleep cradled in his love, and imbued with power from on high go forth to do his gracious bidding. His image inspires our minds as we taste the purpose of all our striving. Reborn, by day we see the face of God in every flower, and at night we rest in the knowledge of his affection. When all else earthly fails, we follow his path across the trackless desert dunes. His house is near, and we have the key. The Eternal's name is written on our hearts, lifted by a thought, and powerful to save.
Help us hear your words and follow your spirit, our Father. Show us the mysteries of life that we may fathom the depths of your love. Give us more of your very own self, and carry us along when the way is dark. We worship you past the barriers of time and space, and in your presence taste Paradise while yet on earth. We praise you for saving us from all that has held us back. You are the Source of life and laughter, of all things good, beautiful and true, and we will serve you to the end, and beyond.
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