Summary: God exists. I am not God; you are not God.
25th Sunday in Course 2017
God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and God’s ways are not our ways. That’s the original version of a famous saying, popularized by the fictional Father Cavenaugh in Rudy almost a quarter century ago. The movie priest was counseling a depressed Rudy, “in thirty-five years of religious study, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and, I’m not Him.” Despite the grammatical error, this memorable line represents the foundational reality of my existence and of your existence. God exists. I am not God; you are not God.
The original version expands on that idea, and it is very good news, very, very good news. After a long life, I still find that when something goes the way I didn’t expect or plan, my first thoughts and self-talk are not very pious. I react badly to adversity, to kids who fail a quiz for the third time, to rejections of my writing, to politicians who always seem to do exactly what I don’t want them to do. But St. Paul’s writings continue to haunt me, that “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Talk about a guy with altered plans! To the Corinthian church he wrote: “Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea.” It’s like he discovered that when his plans went south, Christ took him to places he wouldn’t have dreamed of. At the end of his last missionary journey, he ended up in Jerusalem, as the rope in a tug of war between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Roman army had to intervene to keep him from being torn apart. He was thrown into prison for his attempt to bring belief in Jesus to his people. But in prison, Jesus Himself appeared to Paul and told him: ““Take courage, for as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome.” And so he did, despite one more shipwreck, and tradition tells us that he converted more than one of his guards and jailers to faith in Our Lord.
I believe that if you turn your life over to God, if you make your constant prayer, “Lord, Thy will be done,” you will have a similar life experience. I am no paradigm of Christian living. My following of Jesus Christ has been by fits and starts, but my testimony is a little like St. Paul’s. When I was in the financial services business, as an assistant manager, I know I was up for a promotion to agency manager on more than one occasion. But every time, despite prayers and signs that I was the best qualified, I was passed over. Ultimately my company was merged into a larger company, and many of the smaller companies managers were out of a job. It was over a decade later that I learned that a senior agency head vowed that I would never be a general agent in that company. Had he not worked hard to keep me from my goal, I might have been stranded with my young family in a strange town a thousand miles from my home town here. We prayed for recognition and success. God said “no” to our prayers, and that was the best thing for us. He succeeded in us in other ways than we could foresee.
So whether your journey is smooth and flawless, or full of storms and pirates and shipwreck, cultivate the habit of taking time to communicate with God. First, put yourself in His presence. He is closer to you and closer to me than any of us is to ourselves. Most of us experience God’s personal communication to us as a silence. Therefore, the most effective preparation for experiencing prayer with God is to be entirely silent–no noise, no words, no distracting movement, no TV, no computer, no text messages. Listen in the silence of an empty room or back yard or chapel. St. Basil taught that silence is absolutely necessary for communion with God.
Then praise God for who He is, and thank Him for what He has done, is doing, and will do, whether you understand it or not. Make certain, also, to repent of your sins and recognize your weaknesses, at least daily before you go to bed. But communicate with God. He may speak to you in silence, or in the Scriptures, or in something you have heard from someone else. Listen, remember, and speak.
How long should you pray when you pray? Well, think about the first time you fell in love, or especially the time you fell in love for good. Did you look forward to hanging up the phone? No, you lost track of time when you communicated with your beloved. Now hear the truth. God is more in love with you than you have ever been with any human being. He would and will spend eternity with you in conversation. Do you feel that way about God? However you feel, spend whatever time it takes to pour out your heart, and listen to God’s heart.