Category Archives: The Spiritual Journey, Temptation

When You Have Eaten and Are Full

By Rev. Dr. Reuben P. Bell

“When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. “Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today. [Deuteronomy 8:10,11]

This, as always, is good advice coming from Moses. He had been giving good advice to the children of Israel for forty long years–as they had wandered the desert in preparation for their entrance into the Promised Land, and the settled life they would find there. It had been a long and difficult forty years. And now, the wandering just about to end, we find Moses rehearsing and expounding the laws the Lord had given them along the way. His job was just about finished. So for one last time, he assembled the people, and reminded them to remember the Lord their God.

He knew how it worked when the going got tough: great attention to the Lord in times of great temptation; and the desert had been one great temptation after another. The children of Israel knew how this worked too. They were veterans of this unsettled life. But Moses was more afraid of what they did not know: prosperity and plenty, eating to the full, abundance and power and wealth.. Dangers as lethal as the scorpions and fiery serpents of their desert life. How would they handle these new dangers?

So, as always, we have good advice coming from Moses. And, as always in the Word, good advice is directed to us as well. This is our narrative–our regeneration story–as much as it is theirs. Let’s see what kind of advice the Lord had Moses give.

First of all, Moses knew that paying attention to the Lord is easy, when terrible things are happening all around–when there is the present threat of death and destruction. He knew, just as we do, that “there are no atheists in foxholes;” he knew that repentance comes best and easiest on the death-bed. But he also knew that when the threat had passed, and the fear had subsided, and things got quiet again, promises would be forgotten. He could see the future because he was a keen observer of the past. Human nature was his business. So he was telling them again. Let’s listen in:

“The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; “a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; “a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper.”

Can you imagine how this would have sounded to those tired, poor nomads who had been living hand-to-mouth in the desert for forty years? I think it is safe to say that he had their attention, for this last big speech.

So first he reminded them of what the Lord had done. He had led them into the desert to test them (prepare them) for their new life. The Promised Land was a long way from Egypt–it required a different kind of person: obedient, faithful, courageous, and strong. It took hard training to forge these “chosen people,” and Moses reminded them of the Lord’s guiding hand in this ordeal:

“So you should know in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord God disciplines you. Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and fear Him.”

Simple: He did it for you, now don’t forget to return the favor. Sounds easy.. But it’s not. It is the hardest thing they or we could ever do. What did the Lord tell the young man, in our other lesson today? It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for us to remember the Lord when we are in a land of plenty. We’ll return to that story: it holds the key to this whole problem. But first, let’s see what the internal sense of this ancient narrative has to tell us about our lives.

We are told in the Writings that the Promised Land–all its individual characteristics and geographical features–represents the things of the church (AE 30459). The wilderness represents those who are in temptations prior to becoming a church–or those who are becoming this church in least form–you know, you and me. That’s our wilderness. We wander in it every day. And that’s our Promised land. And those temptations are ours too, because it is victory in these necessary battles that make us the church we want to be (AE 73032; AR 546). Why the forty years? Because forty signifies a complete state–in this case “the duration of vastation and temptation (AC 7304).” If you want to get out of the desert, it’s going to take you forty spiritual years: you have to finish the job; keep at it till you get it right.

And one more very important lesson, from the internal sense: who do you suppose led those children of Israel out into that desert? The Lord, that’s who. Now what are we to think about that? Didn’t we just ask Him (about 20 minutes ago) not to lead us into temptation? What can this mean?

“And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”

The Children of Israel were led into the wilderness in order that they might undergo temptations and that they might also represent them, we are told in the Arcana Coelestia (AC 8089). The wording here is very precise. The Lord leads us into the desert–but not into temptation. Our temptations are our own–tailored especially to the specific affections and evil loves we choose to remove at any particular time. No two people are alike in this regard. The Lord leads us into the arena where this great work can happen. He leads us by His truths, and our battles are defined by which of these we choose to wrestle with. Where did the Lord have to go to find His temptation? The desert.

So let’s say we make it through the desert, into the Promised Land; from reformation into the process of regeneration . The children of Israel did, and they certainly weren’t perfect when they entered there. They had plenty of spiritual work yet to do, when they crossed the Jordan River. Let’s say we become a church, to some degree. It’s certainly not impossible. That’s what this narrative is all about: regeneration. So what next? What comes next is perhaps the greatest challenge of them all: the “as of self;” the “good life;” the “eye of the needle.”

How did that story go? The rich young man came to the Lord and asked what he might do, to assure his eternal life. The Lord said, predictably, to follow the commandments. And in all humility, the young man said that he always had: “All these things I have kept from my youth,” he said. “What do I still lack? ” He had crossed his desert; he was in the Promised Land, by nature of the life he had lived. He was a good guy. So what was next, for him?

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

What is the spiritual message for this young man, and for us? Are we to follow the literal sense here, and throw ourselves into poverty? Is the Lord telling us to join the homeless in order to find salvation? I don’t think so.

Our lesson from The Apocalypse Explained holds the key to this very understandable quandary:

“To sell all that he had” signifies that he should relinquish the things of his religion, which were traditions, for he was a Jew, and also should relinquish the things that were his own (or of the proprium), which were loving self and the world more than God, and thus leading himself; and “to follow the Lord” signifies to acknowledge Him only and to be led by Him.

The Lord is telling us, in Matthew 19 and in the Writings for His New Church, that these “riches” represent the things we love most dearly–luxurious things of the self and the world–and if we cannot “sell them,” or get rid of them–put them last in order of importance–then despite our lives of external order and confessions of faith, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. We have to complete the process–put those loves in Divine spiritual order, by “following the Lord:” let Him lead us to the desert, let Him lead us to the Promised Land, but mainly just let Him lead .

What is the problem here? Great attention to the Lord in times of great temptation . And complacence and apathy when we’re not. Moses knew this. The Promised Land is the land of plenty, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing.. and in this land the urgency of the desert is gone.

Here we find the increasing presence of the natural life–the senses find delight in “a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills.” What a beautiful land it is! Is there anything wrong with this beautiful land–the delights of the natural world? Of course not. It’s a theater representative of the Lord’s kingdom! Are these riches somehow bad? It doesn’t say so in either lesson. Riches, like all the other things in this natural world, are neutral (not to mention relative)–in and of themselves they matter not at all, if they are in their proper place. The young man didn’t understand. Material wealth is not the danger Moses saw coming for the children of Israel and for us as well. It was the easy life that abundance allows. He knew that in trouble, we look to the Lord. In the land of plenty, we must exercise the self-discipline to continue that practice. And that’s not easy. Moses knew. He warned us.

So what can we do? What’s the cure for spiritual malaise? For spiritual atrophy? Athletes know. “Use it or lose it,” they say, because from their experience with muscles and tendons, and ligaments, this is all too true. And in direct correspondence to this natural model of spiritual development, we find the answer to our question. You stay connected to the Lord by staying connected to the Lord. And staying connected is up to you.

In times of plenty, it is natural to lose our focus on tomorrow, and on the necessity for connection to the Lord, our strength and our Sustainer. But like any wise manager, who budgets his resources, be they time, money, or materials, we have only to plan ahead and practice daily maintenance of the most precious commodity we have: spiritual life from the Lord. How? It’s not all that hard–it just takes practice until practice makes a habit, and finally the habit is automatic, and there you are. What are these things we must practice?

Regular worship–with the proper elements of humility, instruction and praise–will keep the lines open for spiritual life–nourishment–to flow in. Regular active study, of the Word in its literal and internal senses, and of the Writings for the New Church: a constant infusion of Divine truth, accommodated to our understanding. Individually and in groups, Word and doctrinal study is pure conjunction, for when we read and meditate on the Word, we are told, we are in the presence of whole societies of angels. What else? Regular prayer is essential to our connection with the Lord. Prayer doesn’t have to be a complicated thing; it is simply conversation with the Lord–Savior and Friend. Learn how to pray, and make it a habit. The Lord would love to hear from you.

Worship, study, and prayer. Three elements of conjunction, that can keep us rooted in the spiritual life, despite the distractions of the land of plenty. Those riches of that land–they are not evil. But they are powerful loves, and they must be kept in order, behind love to the Lord and behind love to the neighbor. In their place they can be the proper delights of life. The rich young man “went away sorrowful,” we read today, “for he had great possessions.” What are the possessions that are holding you back from the promised land? Think about it.. Identify them, confront their hold on you (because in truth these possessions own you ), and put them in their place. Then live life to the fullest.

And when you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today.


They Lie In Wait For My Life

By Rev. Donald L. Rose

“All their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather together, they hide, they mark my steps, when they lie in wait for my life” (Psalm 56:6).

There was a shepherd boy, strong and handsome. The meaning of his name is “beloved.” The name is David. The shepherd boy was destined to become king, destined to live a life of great adventure.

It was a life repeatedly attended with mortal danger. There were dangers that he was aware of. They were clear enough: danger from a lion and a bear; danger from a giant named Goliath; danger from hosts of Philistines with swords and spears.

But there were other dangers, more subtle but very real. And if he had not been told about those dangers, his life would have been short indeed. What we see happening in the story of David is his being warned of such dangers, particularly being warned about the intentions of King Saul. Saul was his king, his protector, his benefactor, and beneath it all his deadly enemy. Jonathan, David’s dear friend, saved his life by warning him. And David’s wife Michal warned David one night when the house was surrounded, saying, “If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed” (I Sam. 19:11).

Two of the psalms were composed at a time when David had learned that his life was in peril. Psalm 59 was composed that night when Michal revealed Saul’s plot and when David knew that he was in a house surrounded by those ready to kill him. The psalm begins as follows: “Deliver me from my enemies, O my God. Defend me from those who rise up against me … For look, they lie in wait for life … Not for my transgression nor for my sin, O Lord.”

Another psalm was written when David had sought refuge in Gath but there found that people were talking about him and planning to kill him. “Now David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath” (I Sam. 21:12). Because he knew of the danger he was in, he was able to pretend madness and make his escape. The fear he felt before he made that escape is evident in the psalm which he then composed. But infinitely more is contained in the psalm, for it is the Word of God. In it David says, “All day they twist my words; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather, they hide, they mark my steps when they lie in wait for my life” (Psalm 56:5, 6).

The psalms sometimes portray man as under siege. He is in a predicament, surrounded by dangers and anxieties and fears. The psalms continually speak of “enemies.” Man is portrayed as being the object of threat and hatred. What is the reality? The Writings say that an incredible “intense hatred” prevails in the spiritual world against things relating to love and faith in the Lord. In fact they say that unless the Lord defended a person every moment he would perish as a result of this hatred (see AC 59). Jesus warned His disciples, “You shall be hated” (Matt. 10:27, Mark 13:13).

In our lesson from Divine Providence 211, we read that Divine Providence is like a person “in company with an enemy who intends to kill him which at the time he does not know, and a friend leads him away by unknown paths, and afterward discloses his enemy’s intention.”

When we say that a person is his own worst enemy, we are usually talking about a person who does not know is not aware of his problem. If only the person realized how much he or she is sabotaging his or her own happiness. It is not easy for another person to get the message across. To do it takes patience and tact and real caring. In the Divine Providence in time we learn about the things in our lives which we thought were our friends, which are our enemies. We walk through life with some loves which do a lot for us, just as Saul did a lot for David. There are many examples, such as a pride that has us taking credit and basking in the warmth of self-merit, even thinking that taking credit and bragging can be a source of happiness. If we think that, we have a lot to learn, and we may learn it very slowly through many experiences.

The Lord said, “A man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matt. 10:36). Our own evils, as dear to us as the inhabitants of our house, can be the foes of which the Word warns us.

But there is another sense in which we are in danger. The danger is from outside the house; it surrounds the house. We mean those forces from hell which intend us harm. The evil spirits who associate with us can stir up the evils within us.

There is a chapter in the book Heaven and Hell that is entitled “The Malice and Nefarious Arts of Infernal Spirits” (HH 576). In it we learn that evil spirits are subtle and devious, and we learn that they have a malice, that is, that they intend harm. “All their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather, they hide, they mark my steps, when they lie in wait for my life” (Ps. 56:5, 6). The teaching is that “so far as anyone is innocent they burn to do him harm; therefore they cannot bear to see little children, and as soon as they see them they are inflamed with a cruel desire to do them harm” (HH 283).

What are some of the things they endeavor to do? They are in a constant endeavor to dissolve marriages (see HH 382). They endeavor to stir up enmities. They lead a person into thoughts about himself (see HH 558a). Indeed, by leading a person into thoughts about himself, they can stir up those enmities. We read, “There is a certain kind of spirits, who … stir up enmities, hatreds, and fights among others. I have seen the consequent fights and wondered at them. I inquired who they were, and was told that they were that kind of spirits who excite such passions because they are bent on being sole rulers, according to the maxim, Divide and rule” (AC 5718). “Wondered” at them. Do you ever wonder at the fights you observe, or have you ever stood back far enough from the fights in which you have been involved to wonder at them?

We will return to that word “divide” in a moment, because the effort of evil spirits is to tear asunder, to dissolve, and to divide so that they can rule.

The effort of evil spirits is to destroy happiness. One way they do this is to accuse. They stir up memories of anything that one has done wrong, and they even take innocent memories and turn them into subjects of accusation. “They call up all the wrong things that from his infancy a man has either done or even thought … and condemn him” (AC 741). “They call forth from a person’s memory whatever he has thought and done from his infancy. Evil spirits do this with a skill and malignity so great as to be indescribable … This a person perceives “only by the recalling of such things to mind and a certain anxiety there from” (AC 751).

The word in the New Testament that is related to worry or anxiety is the word merimnao. Its root connotation is dividing. The root word to “divide” is merizo. It is used in the saying, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25, Matt. 12:25, Luke 11:17).

The Writings mention an old maxim, “Divide and rule” (see AC 5718, SD 1793, TCR 133e). There are spheres that can affect us inwardly that can divide things in our minds. We read of spheres which pose blocks in our minds between faith and charity. We read in TCR: “I have felt this sphere, and at such times, when I thought of the conjunction of faith and charity, it interposed itself between them and violently endeavored to separate them” (TCR 619:6).

An experience described in the Arcana Coelestia seems a little closer to what we experience.

“The effect of this sphere was to take from me the power of close application, and to make it so irksome for me to act and to think in serious matters, true and good, that at last I scarcely knew what to do. When such as these come among spirits, they induce on them a similar torpor” (AC 1509).

Does this relate to times when we just can’t make decisions of what to do or to times when we simply procrastinate and seem somehow unable to do the thing that most needs doing? Here is the same passage in more recent translation: “Their sphere was such that it took away from me my whole concentration and made it so extremely troublesome for me to carry out and to think about serious things, true and good, that at length I hardly knew what to do. When such individuals as these come among spirits, they bring upon them a similar listlessness” (AC 1509). There is a word used particularly in psychiatry which describes an inability to get started doing something or to decide what to do. The word is “abulia.”

If the core of happiness is in useful activity, then we are not surprised if the enemies of our happiness in various ways cripple our application to use. If they endeavor to harm innocence, to dissolve marriages, and to stir up fights among friends, they will undermine our love of use. Idleness is said to be “the devil’s pillow” (Charity 168). For, “In idleness the mind is spread out to various evils and falsities, but in work it is held to one thing” (SD 6088:4).

In the book Conjugial Love there is a chapter on causes of cold in marriage. One of the causes given is a lack of devotion to any useful pursuit or business. Here we read,

“While a man is in some pursuit and business, that is, in some use, his mind is bounded and circumscribed as by a circle, within which it is successively integrated into a form truly human. From this as from a house he sees the various lusts as outside of himself, and from sanity of reason within, banishes them” (CL 249).

Any focus we have on what is useful is like a house, a house in which we can find comfort and from which we can view life with good perspective. If you know that your purpose in life is to promote the happiness of others, you look out upon the world with a sane perspective and with some taste of heaven’s delight.

The text from the psalms seems to picture one looking out from a house threatened with dangers. “They hide, they mark my steps, when they lie in wait for my life.” Does the knowledge that there are dangers make us feel less secure? Do we get a paranoid attitude, a persecution complex, from the knowledge that evil spirits would divide our house, would dissolve our marriages and interfere with our delight in use?

Well, the context of statements about this is not a fearful one, but rather one that has a special sense of security. We are reminded of the Lord’s saying, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The Lord said, “Blessed are you when men hate you” (Luke 6:22). “Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you, and say all kind of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:11).

Let us conclude with one example from the Writings and one from the Psalms. In the Arcana Coelestia we read:

“I have sometimes been surrounded by thousands to whom it was permitted to spit forth their venom, and infest me by all possible methods, yet without their being able to hurt a single hair of my head, so secure was I under the Lord’s protection” (AC 59).

And in the Psalms it is said, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (Ps. 3:6).

There are indeed dangers and threats that surround us. Let the knowledge of this make us value all the more what we have. And let us, if we know there is a danger, always know at the same time that we have a Divine Protector. This is the reality of our lives. The passages about our enemies shows them turned backward, confounded, defeated and subjugated.

We have a shield, a rock, a fortress, a shepherd who prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies, the Lord Jesus Christ who says,

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you … If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:19, 20).

“In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).


The Way THE LORD Strengthens and Refreshes Us When We Discover We Are In a Desert Place

By Rev. Ian Arnold

In the internal sense sustainment is nothing else than the influx of goodness and truth from the Lord by way of heaven. This is how the angels are sustained, and it is how a persons soul, that is his internal man, is sustained.

This sustainment is what the sustaining of the external man by means of food and drink corresponds to; and for this reason good is meant by food and truth by drink. The nature of this correspondence is also such that when a person is eating food, the angels present with him think of goodness and truth; and, what is amazing, their ideas vary according to the different kinds of food that he eats.

When, therefore, in the Holy Supper a person receives bread and wine, the angels present with him think about the good of love and the good of faith, for the reason that bread corresponds to the good of love and wine to the good of faith. And because they correspond to them, they also carry the same meanings in the Word.

The fact that a persons soul, that is, his internal man, is sustained by spiritual food and drink, which are goodness and truth, is clear from the Lords words in Moses: Man does not live by bread only, but man lives by every utterance of the mouth of Jehovah. [Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4]

(Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 5915)

I would like you, friends, to focus on these words from Mark’s gospel, chapter 6:

When the day was now far spent, [Jesus] disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.” But He answered them and said to them, “You give them something to eat.”

As I pondered and reflected on those words during the week, it came to me more and more how shocked and how taken aback the disciples would have been to have the Lord swing the situation back onto them as He did do. It was totally unexpected, because immediately beforehand they were saying to Him, “Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat”, and I assume that they expected Him to do exactly that. But no, He answers and says to them, “You give them something to eat.”; and I guess they thought to themselves, “Is he joking? Did we hear Him correctly? What is He going on about here?”

And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy 200 denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?”

Thats their response you see, and they are incredulous. “What do you mean? What are you getting at here?”

But He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”

So He’s not going to cave in. Instead there is something that is enormously important highlighted here, and which I want to spend a moment or two with you talking about.

The Lord typically, and this is not out of character, put the responsibility back onto the disciples. He wasn’t going to be some sort of rescuer. He wasn’t going to provide the answers. He wasn’t jumping up with a solution like they expected Him to do. He fairly and squarely put the responsibility onto them:

“Send them away, [the disciples are saying] that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.” But [Jesus] answered them and said to them, “You give them something to eat.”

Difficult, like I say, but by no means out of character. The Lord never takes responsibility away from us when the responsibility should be ours.

On another occasion, the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked Him, “Are you the Christ, or do we look for another?” By this time, John the Baptist was in prison and he wanted to check Jesus out. And Jesus does not give them a straightforward answer; He does not give them the ready solution they were looking for:

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: the blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

You see what He’s doing here? He’s not taking responsibility onto Himself, He’s leaving people to work through issues and come to their own conclusions.

And this has immense practical, pastoral and emotional implications for us. It is not the Lord’s way to be a rescuer in the way we would sometimes like Him to be. He doesn’t do for us that which we can do for ourselves. The Lord doesn’t just provide the answers, saving us the trouble of working through to those answers ourselves. The Lord sometimes allows us to hang out there for our own good. We wonder, we anguish; we yearn for Him to give us a sign or to step in, as we often would like Him to do so. We may complain that He does not do these things, but that is not His way. The Lord does not take the responsibility onto Himself when that responsibility should be, and needs to be, ours.

Now having said that, what we need to bear in mind so as to balance that particular point, is this: whilst it is the case that He does not step in as a deliverer in that immediate and obvious way, He nevertheless provides the resources for us to deal with the situations that arise. This is incredibly important also.

I’ve been in touch for several years, as some of you know, with a young Christian pastor in Pakistan; he’d email three times a day if I let him! But just now, this very week just gone past, he’s raised with me his expectation, that he shares with a whole group of Christians, of the Lord intervening in human affairs. Things have got out of hand! The problems are too big! Hurricanes and all these other things that are happening! (Goodness, doesn’t our heart ache to hear about Bali again and what has happened there overnight?) And so he’s saying to me, “Look, I believe that the situation is ripe for the Lord to intervene.” How coincidental (but theres no such thing as a coincidence) is it that I should be working on a sermon about this? My reply had to be, “No, I’m not comfortable with what you’re saying because the Lord never has, and never will, step in to rescue the situation.” This is what they expected Him to do in His first coming. The words of the disciples walking to Emmaus on the evening of the resurrection, along the mines of: “We thought he was going to come and rescue us,” best describe what they thought He meant. But He doesn’t do it! He does however give us the resources to deal with the problems and the challenges and the needs that arise along the way.

So friends, dont buy into the doomsday talk that the problems that we grapple with in our day and age are insolvable. They will be solved, with the Lord’s help working in us and through us. He will resource us to see through all these challenges and difficulties and needs that arise. And that’s why I read from 1 Kings, chapter 19. What does Elijah the prophet do? Remember, at that time he is wanting to throw the towel in: “Take me out of this, Lord; rescue me!” And the Lord doesn’t oblige. But what the Lord did do was make sure that he was sustained for the journey. And so the human race will be sustained for the journey, but not rescued, because we would be the poorer if we were. If it weren’t for that attempt, if it weren’t for people giving attention and thought and study, and accepting the challenges to the human situation in any given day and age, we would be the weaker for it. What sort of people would we be, if we were constantly being rescued out of situations that, and I stress with the Lord’s help working in us and through us, are solvable?

Another thing I reflected on, so far as this passage is concerned, is the way that the disciples underestimated the Lord. In fact, I was quite astonished that they had been with Him now for months: seeing miracles (of which there are many recorded up to this point), hearing Him teach they must have known something of what He was capable of; and yet it doesn’t seem to have dawned on them that He could handle or manage this situation that had arisen:

When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.”

Not a hint, not a suggestion that He might do something amazing in this set of circumstances.

But then it occurred to me: would we be any different when it comes to underestimating the Lord? When we are faced with challenges and needs, hungry and unsatisfied within, with the sense that our life is a dry place, even a wilderness, we too underestimate the Lord’s ability to respond to our need. We too think that we will find relief in places where, in fact, it will not be found. We forget so easily our experiences of the Lord working within us and we cannot believe it, any more than the disciples believed, that the Lord will come from within us and strengthen us in our present time of need.

When we look out on the world, friends, there are indeed a multitude of needs and challenges: huge needs and huge challenges, almost unending. And one of the lessons we can take from this particular miracle is this: whilst we look out on these challenges, as the disciples looked out on the multitudes, those same needs and problems and difficulties and challenges that are too big for us are not too big for the Lord, they are not too big for the Lord.

As it is with the world around us, so it is with the world inside us. “The multitudes”, so far as this world inside us is concerned, is the multitudes of needs and challenges, the times of doubt and uncertainty, decision-making occasions which come upon us. They are too big for us on own, but never too big for the Lord working with us, in us, and through us. I wish the message here in the Word could be proclaimed amongst people who face despair, discouragement and depression: what looks so big for them is not too big as far as the Lord is concerned.

The Lord sustains us. And here’s how He does it:

But He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they found out they said, “Five. And two fish.”

Five loaves and two fishes are all about the basics. If the Lord is going to be able to sustain us and see us through, then we need to identify the basics of what He asks of us. The basics, the five loaves and two fishes; the basics. Its not so much about quantity; its more about quality. Many is the time when we are faced with decisions regarding other people: how to respond to them, “What should I do?”, “Should I or shouldn’t I?”, “What does this situation require of me?”; and we can thrash around and we can ask the Lord, “how should I react to this situation?” And the Lord says, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”

What are the basics? The basic thing in most situations is the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So, if for the sixteen-hundredth time, someone rings you in the middle of your dinner asking you to sign up with a new telephone company, put yourself in their shoes and tell yourself, “Do unto them as I would have them do unto me”. Dont abuse them, or shout down the phone at them. Put yourself in their situation. “How many loaves have you?” I’ve got the Golden Rule. Another one comes to mind, another basic more specific to this church: the doctrine of use. Shall I buy a car? Shall we change our home? Should we get the floors polished? “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” Well, there is the doctrine of uses: is this useful? Will it enhance my ability to live a life of service to my family, to my neighbour, to my God?

Five loaves and two fishes: they are the basics that the Lord challenges us to identify. And once we have identified them, then amazingly He causes those basics to become such that we see all sorts of implications and applications in them, such as to fill twelve basketfuls. Never-ending are the implications and the insights that we can see once we have identified what those basics are.

Friends, I never preach a sermon unless I have preached it to myself first. I believe it is as true of you as it is of me, that we have our times when we are in a desert place, a wilderness: we have needs that we feel are unfulfilled and unsupported. We feel as if our strength is draining from us and we are becoming weak in certain areas. Who doesn’t know times and occasions like that? And yet here is this amazing, wonderful miracle, the feeding of the 5000, in which the Lord is assuring us, affirming and teaching us, promising us that however desperate and unpromising a particular set of circumstances may be, He can with our cooperation work in partnership with us to turn it around.


The Spiritual Benefit of Hypocrisy

By Rev. David A Moffat

Divine Providence, paragraph 145


It was shown in what has gone before that man has an internal and an external of thought; that these are distinct like what is prior and what is posterior or like what is higher and what is lower; and that, because they are so distinct, they can act separately and also conjointly. They act separately when from the external of his thought a man speaks and acts otherwise than as he thinks and wills interiorly; and they act conjointly when he speaks and acts as he interiorly thinks and wills. The latter is generally the case with the sincere, but the former with the insincere. Now since the internal and the external of the mind are in this way distinct, the internal can even fight with the external and by combat force it to compliance. Combat takes place when a man thinks that evils are sins and therefore resolves to desist from them; for when he desists a door is opened, and when it is opened the lusts of evil which occupied the internal of his thought are cast out by the Lord and affections of good are implanted in their place. This is done in the internal of thought. But as the delights of the lusts of evil which invest the external of thought cannot be cast out at the same time, a combat takes place between the internal and the external of thought. The internal wishes to cast out these delights because they are delights of evil and not in accord with the affections of good in which the internal now is; and instead of the delights of evil it wishes to introduce delights of good that are in accord. The delights of good are what are called goods of charity. From this opposition arises a combat, and if it increases in severity it is called temptation.

Now since a man is a man by virtue of the internal of his thought, this being the spirit of man itself, it is evident that a man compels himself when he forces the external of his thought to compliance, that is, to receive the delights of his affections, which are the goods of charity. It is evident that this is not contrary to rationality and liberty but is in accordance with them; for rationality causes the combat and liberty carries it on. Liberty itself with rationality also has its seat in the internal man and from that in the external. When, therefore, the internal conquers, as happens when the internal has reduced the external to obedient compliance, then liberty itself and rationality itself are given to man by the Lord; for man is then withdrawn by the Lord from infernal freedom, which in itself is slavery, and is brought into heavenly freedom, which in itself is freedom itself, and he is granted association with angels. That those are slaves who are in sins, and that the Lord makes those free who receive truth from Him through the Word, He teaches in John 8:31-36.

A recent edition of New Church Life (Vol. CXXIV, No. 9, September 2004) published a sermon by the Rev Michael Gladish entitled, “The Dangers of Prayer.” It certainly made me stop and think, “What’s he talking about?!” I offer the title of today’s address in the same spirit.

What is hypocrisy? We may think of it as, thinking one thing and doing another, or teaching what is good and failing to apply it ourselves. If I had read more of chapter 23 of Matthew’s gospel, you would have heard that this was very much in the forefront of Jesus’ mind as he criticised the Pharisees. Searching the teachings of the church, I found these three definitions:

… evil appearing outwardly as good, but within is filthy from false and profane things. (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 3812.10)

… to do truths without willing them is hypocrisy, because it is before men and not before the Lord (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 10645.3)

a hypocrite wants to speak otherwise than he thinks; from which there comes an opposition in the mouth (Divine Providence, paragraph 231.4)

To be double minded, or to be hypocritical is universally recognised as a bad thing. I suppose one of the criticisms we’ve become used to hearing of the church is that it is “full of hypocrites”. In the reading from Divine Providence, Swedenborg talks about the ability of the internal and external mind within a person to work together or against each other. He comments:

“[The internal and external of thought] act separately when from the external of his thought a man speaks and acts otherwise than as he thinks and wills interiorly; and they act conjointly when he speaks and acts as he interiorly thinks and wills. The latter is GENERALLY the case with the sincere, but the former with the insincere.” (Divine Providence, paragraph 145, emphasis mine)

Notice the word, “generally”. It may be easy to skip over quickly but it is an important one. There are instances when this doublemindedness is of spiritual value to us. One such situation is temptation, or spiritual battle against the falsities and evils which emerge in all our lives from time to time. Let’s see how.

Exodus chapter 17 illustrates for us the processes of temptation and spiritual growth. “The people thirsted for water” (verse 3). Like the children of Israel, I begin with spiritual dissatisfaction. I sense that I am not happy with my present life. I recognise a lack of something, although I may not know what, and my thirst drives me to cry out to the Lord. I may blame Him or wonder why I ever wanted to improve myself. I might even begin to think that spiritual happiness is a pipe dream. But even though my attitude is founded upon self-interest, the Lord is merciful enough to supply what I ask for. New truth is given, or some new insight emerges from the things already present in my mind, things I assumed to be barren and lifeless (verse 6).

This new insight satisfies and fascinates me for a time. But as the reality of it sinks in, and it begins to demands that I change my life, I realise that I don’t actually want to change. So, while my mind affirms and cherishes my discovery, the old attitudes and habits emerge and seek to destroy the insight I have been given. This is represented by the attack of the Amalekites (verse 8). They are the evils present in our lives which would rather have us stay exactly where we are. This is what temptation is – it comes about when a new truth challenges my status quo, and the status quo fights back!

What should I do now? Well, I have a choice. I can return to my old ways, or I can decide that I do really want to follow the Lord’s leading. So, I send Joshua into battle (verse 9) – in reality I engage in battle myself. Despite feeling the desire to run away defeated, with my tail between my legs, I decide that some things are worth pursuing, even when I don’t feel like it. I compel myself to obey the Lord.

The other part of the equation in the story is Moses (verse 12), standing in prayer to the Lord while the battle takes place. So we must also look to the Lord constantly throughout this battle of wills. When we keep our eyes upon Him as our salvation we find that we are able to make headway, but when we lower our eyes (to the challenges facing us on a natural level, all the difficulties and obstacles in our path), we become overwhelmed and the battle turns against us. The apostle Peter felt the same way walking on the water – although invited by the Lord, he sank when he took his eyes off Jesus, and looked instead at the wind and the waves (Matthew 14:30).

But if we persist, the Lord assures us victory (verses 13-16). And we know that we have it when our old ways no longer hold the attraction they once did. When I can look back on my old life and realise that I no longer want to be like that, even that my old behaviours repulse me, then I know that the evils which once beset me and held me captive have been destroyed. I no longer have to convince myself that I’m better off than I used to be, because I feel it in my heart.

What we have to realise in this process is that we begin our part of the battle before we feel like it. The Lord brings about our victory, but only so far as we are prepared to invest our own time, energy and effort. In True Christian Religion, paragraph 535, Swedenborg proposes what he calls an easier form of repentance:

When anyone is turning over in his mind some evil deed, and intending to do it, he should say to himself: ‘I am thinking about this and I intend to do it, but I shall not because it is a sin.’ This has the effect of blunting the thrust of hell’s tempting and preventing it from advancing any further.

I am surprised by the strength of the phrase, “I am thinking about this and I intend to do it, but I shall not because it is a sin.” It proposes that in order to fight for the Lord and to grow spiritually, we must work against our own motivation. Swedenborg tells us that if we are growing spiritually, we have an old will and a new on. Our new will strives to obey spiritual principles but the old will seeks to crush that obedience. At these times it is the old will we tend to feel most forcefully, and so we find ourselves performing actions which our hearts are not in. This really is a spiritual battle: the Lord and the heavens fight for our growth (which will ultimately lead to our eternal happiness), and the hells fight to keep us where we are. We are the battleground.

I want to emphasise further the importance of our own efforts in this process. Several times Swedenborg warns us against idle prayer in temptation. Sometimes we think his teaching is against prayer of any kind. This is not the case. He is saying that we cannot expect the Lord to do it all:

… when people are in the throes of temptation they usually stay their hands and resort solely to prayers, which they pour forth feverishly, unaware that such prayers achieve nothing, but that they should battle against the falsities and evils which the hells introduce. (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 8179)

We must certainly look to the Lord in temptation because He will bring us victory, but only if we are prepared to do our part in the battle. To resort only to prayer without an accompanying resolve to apply the principles we know to be right is tantamount to something we are all prone to – procrastination. “I’ll start my diet tomorrow.” “One more beer can’t hurt.” It’s like standing at the doors of the gym and telling myself I’ll go in and begin my new exercise regime when I feel stronger. It is utter nonsense. The reality is that I won’t feel stronger until I begin exercising. Spiritual strength is no different from our physical strength in this regard. Until we put in the effort we will not begin to grow. “The use of temptation is that good from the Lord can not only flow in, but can also dispose the vessels [of a person’s mind] to obedience, and thus conjoin itself with them” (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 3318, subsection 4). Unless we take the first steps, we will get nowhere – and that is exactly where our old will (and the hells behind it) wants us to be.

Swedenborg presents a three stage model of spiritual growth – Repentance, Reformation and Regeneration. These stages only ever take place in that order. He describes repentance as a person’s responsibility – to recognise our sins and begin a new life. Only then does the Lord take over, giving us a new understanding of reality (reformation), and a new will or desire for the goodness and truth we have been given (regeneration). Regeneration represents the end of the process, its culmination. So, we are foolish to expect Him to grant us this new desire before we have even put in the effort of repentance, which is its beginning.

Now, it is our doublemindedness which allows this to take place. It is our ability to act against what we feel, to do what our heart does not desire which allows us to grow. Without this ability we would be incapable of growth – because it is only by this process that our internal mind can defeat and cast out the evils of our external mind. It is also the expression of freedom (although it probably won’t feel like it at the time!) “for rationality causes the combat and liberty carries it on” (Divine Providence, paragraph 145).

The onlooker may not see the difference between these two forms of doublemindedness. We may find ourselves being accused of hypocrisy when we are actually seeking to follow the Lord’s commands. We may even worry about taking our first steps because they feel hypocritical – surely it is not helpful to “pretend” to be good! The real difference between this “self compulsion”, as Swedenborg calls it, and hypocrisy is our attitude and purpose. To return to one of the definitions we began with, “… to do truths without willing them is hypocrisy, because it is before men and not before the Lord.” (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 10645.3) In hypocrisy my intention is to pull wool over the eyes, to appear holy or good before other people. Self compulsion looks to God, not man. It doesn’t seek to cover up the evil found in my heart but expose and defeat it. It is driven by my need of change – to follow the Lord more nearly, to become better than I feel myself to be.


The Secret of Life

By Rev. Brian W. Keith

Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone wants to feel the satisfaction that comes from the sense of success and usefulness. And some people seem to achieve it! Some people, in spite of a few difficulties here and there, seem to have found happiness. So how is it done? How have some people discovered how to be happy? Is there some secret that has not been revealed to the masses yet?

The Lord told a story that points to such a secret. He spoke of a person who after journeying for a time arrived at midnight. But the place where he was lacked food. The owner of that house then went to a friend whom he knew to have plenty of bread. Not surprisingly, at this point in the night he was already in bed with his family. and he showed tremendous reluctance to disturb them, as it probably would involve his crawling over them to unbolt the door and find the bread to give to the person. Yet, although he was reluctant, he eventually did give him as much bread as he needed. Why? Because of the man’s persistence! Because he kept asking, kept pounding on the door, kept making such a nuisance of himself that it was easier to give him the bread than to ignore him.

So that’s the secret–the squeaky wheel gets the oil! Or, if you make yourself irritating enough to someone, you’ll usually get what you want!

No, that is not the secret, although it is related to it. The secret is persistence–keeping at it, working for what is good and true even though there may not be many rewards at first.

Not a very attractive secret, is it? Not particularly glamorous, flashy, or inspiring. The fact of the matter is that, except for a few individuals who seem to have things going their way, at least for a length of time, all success, happiness, and good is achieved through persistent effort.

On the surface, the parable teaches this, but it is even more evident in looking at the deeper spiritual level of the story. For the man going on a journey is symbolic of the journeys that we make in our lives. Our minds are constantly thinking, exploring–they are traveling on a journey of understanding of the world around us, of people, and of the Lord’s truth.

But there are points during our journey when we arrive at midnight and find no food to nourish us. Midnight — a very dark and, in the plateaus of Palestine where the Lord was speaking, a very chilly time. So it described a kind of obscurity and absence of warmth in our life. This is reinforced by the absence of bread. The spiritual food we require is the satisfaction of being useful, the warmth of being in the sphere of love. When it is missing, all the understanding in the world will not comfort or inspire us.

What is being described is an occasion when we recognize how little good we actually have. Perhaps we’ve read the latest “positive self-image” books or gained an insight into the progression in regeneration, but our jobs have become tasteless to us and we feel in a rut. Or perhaps we know the value of marriage and family, but we are so caught up in the maintenance of the house and care of the children that our sense of joy in the family is far less than we know it should be.

What can we do when we sense this kind of emptiness? We turn to a friend who we know has spiritual food — the Lord, of course. As this man went to a friend’s house, so we turn to the Lord and ask Him for a greater sense of happiness, energy, and peace in our lives.

And what happens? His door is shut! He will only call out from within! And He shows no desire to give aid!

Does the Lord really keep us away? Of course not! The Lord’s apparent indifference in this and in several other instances in the New Testament is not because He doesn’t care or because He is unwilling to help. It comes from His inability to give what is not truly desired.

How can this be? It is seen in the request for three loaves of bread — not just one or two, which should be sufficient to satisfy any traveler. but three. This number is symbolic of fullness, and so indicates the desire we have to possess all good — natural, moral, and spiritual — immediately! When we find a void in our lives, all too often we think it must be filled at once. When we recognize we are not the ideal person we would like to be, we then imagine how we should be and how we want to be, and then demand to be that way, now! So we want tranquility in our natural lives, people being extremely friendly to us and everything going smoothly — a kind of natural good. We also want to have easy moral choices, and then have others recognize our wisdom and applaud our decisions. And we want spiritual good, an inner sense of the Lord’s presence and surety that He is guiding all of our steps.

These are good things to have, which the Lord wants for us. But none of us is ready to receive them all immediately. So it seems that the Lord ignores our requests or is too busy to help — He is in His house and will not give us any bread. The truth of the matter is that those and many more goods do not become real in our life until we persist in our efforts to obtain them.

The Lord said, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). He did not say, ” Blessed are they who are bloated.” For it is only when we sense the absence of good in our lives and sincerely yearn for it that th3e Lord can provide.

It is our persistent efforts through which the Lord can achieve much, for it is a Divine quality. It describes the Lord’s continual endeavor to reach out to us. As the Heavenly Doctrines note, “The Lord draws all people to Himself; but as angels and people are finite, they can follow the current of the attraction only according to their measure, although the force of attraction persists to infinity” (TCR 350, emphasis added). Persistence is built into the very nature of the Lord because His love cannot be anything but that. The Lord stands at the door and knocks, constantly, incessantly. There is never a time when the Lord stops His efforts to reach us to lead us, for His love desires to make us happy in all things. The only issue is to what extent we receive that love. It is when we mirror Him by being persistent, by sticking to His ways even when it is not terribly easy or delightful, the doors are opened and we receive as much good as we want.

Nowhere is this more important or obvious than in our spiritual struggles, our temptations. We all face spiritual difficulties in our life, be they minor confusions or strong pulls toward what we know to be hellish. From doubts to lusts and apparently overwhelmingly powerful selfish feelings, we all at times struggle. What’s the secret to survive when we are in these states of anguish or listlessness? Well, there are certainly some things which are more productive to do than others. After all, if we are tempted to steal and we go ahead and do it, we have ended the temptation in the worst possible way! But the only real key, the secret, is our persistence in hanging on to what is good (see AC 2343:2).

There are not some people who are stronger than others, so better suited to overcome their personal hells in temptation. While in it, it may be hard for us to believe in the midst of our spiritual struggles, the Lord insures that we have sufficient strength to overcome whatever we face. The issue is not of innate ability or a skillful method that will work in all situations. Rather it is the continual endeavor to keep going even when it seems as if we have no strength left to do so. That’s how the Lord overcomes evils in our lives — we keep working at it. It may not happen as quickly as we would like, for in each temptation we are tested to the limit of our endurance. Nor may it be as easy as we would like, for our strength is always limited. But if we keep going, slugging through the mud and muck of life, we do eventually make it through, with the Lord lifting us up throughout.

In marriage we see much the same dynamic. Marriages begin from incredible heights of affection and passion. The closeness felt during the stage of betrothal and in the early phases of marriage is impossible to describe. But what most married couples find is that as the years go by, that passion or excitement seems to fade away as they are caught in all the typical concerns of life. Be it business, recreational, or family responsibilities, what takes up the most time in their life often ranks third or fourth in importance, while the love between them seems to be set on the back burner. So some of the luster comes off the marriage, and frequently there is a sense of a lack of good within the marriage. As the man taking the journey found no food where he was, sometimes marriages will have dry spells where it seems the early promises of happiness are unfulfilled.

So the love is gone? Actually, no. Those early peaks of passion were only indicative of what a heavenly marriage can be. When we lapse back into our more pre-regenerate states, as most do regularly, it is no wonder happiness in marriage is hidden!

What does it take then to rekindle those fires, to make the marriage 8exciting and happy again? While there are many good suggestions, from weekends away to giving small gifts to one’s spouse, none of them will work unless there is the desire, the drive, to love that other person. This means not approaching the spouse with demands, such as, “I could love you better if you lost some weight/didn’t work as hard/or remembered our anniversary more accurately.” It is a willingness to love the good of the other person and set aside foibles and faults. It is as the Writings say, “… if, from his soul or inmost being, the lover constantly persisted in his love for that one, he would attain those eternal blessings which he promised himself before the consent, and promises himself when consent has been given” (CL 333:2).

So how does one’s partner become more attractive and the marriage happier? By the lover’s constantly persisting in his love. However, there is a challenge here because our selfishness wants to convince us that the problem is never with us but always with the other person. Yet such selfish and destructive tendencies can be overcome if we keep working at it — if we persist in our love for the other person.

So this the great secret of life: be persistent in good. Though we experience a lack of good in our lives from time to time, it does not mean all is hopeless. Though we may desperately want everything to run smoothly in our lives, want the happiness that we see promised in the Lord’s Word, the three loaves of bread, it will not suddenly be handed to us. But if we persist, if we continue to do what we know we should, if we continue to walk along the Lord’s way, then eventually the door is opened and we are given as much good as we want. It is as the Lord said to Joshua when commanding him to lead the people, “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).


The Hope of Help

By Rev. Kurt H. Asplundh

“What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is” (Genesis 21:17).

It is hard to imagine a more piteous scene: a woman and her son abandoned in the parched wilderness of Beersheba. The lad, faint with thirst, lies in the scant shade of a desert shrub, crying out for water. The mother, tortured by his cries and the sight of his anguish, has turned her back on the lad and gone from him the distance of a bowshot so as not to see his death. Here she weeps, not for her own plight, which is equally grievous, but as a true mother, out of love for her son. He is perishing.

Hagar wept for the lad, and in that moment of desolation and deep despair the angel of God called to her out of heaven with words of consolation and the hope of help to come: “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad … Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation” (Gen. 21:17f).

As Hagar looked up in wonder and wiped away her tears of despair, God opened her eyes to see a well of water. Here she filled the bottle and gave her son life-giving drink so that he did not perish, but lived, and grew, and fathered a nation. God saved Ishmael even though Isaac was to be preferred. Ishmael too was precious in the Lord’s eyes.

How fortunate for us that the Lord’s concern extends this far, that Ishmael too was preserved. Ishmael represents a spiritual heritage that is also ours. We are Ishmael-like, and deserve to be banished from the house of the Lord.

Ishmael represents the man who is spiritually flawed at birth, driven by self-interest and arrogance. Ishmael represents the man whose only hope for salvation is in the Lord Jesus Christ who came into the world for our welfare. The Heavenly Doctrine reminds us that “the Lord did not come into the world to save the celestial but the spiritual” (AC 2661), that is, the man of the fallen church. In the words of the Gospels: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick … ” The Lord said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matt. 9:12,13).

The Lord spoke of His sheep who followed Him and knew His voice, “and other sheep I have which are not of this fold,” He said. “Them also I must bring … and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16). Ishmael represents those other sheep, those sheep that have gone astray that must be brought back to the fold.

The comforting message of the account of Hagar and Ishmael is that there is the hope of help. The promise is clear: there is no one who wants spiritual help who cannot receive it. Such is the purpose and reason for the Lord’s coming. In this way He could reach out the Divine hand to touch, to mercifully gather all those who wished His aid.

The promise of the Lord’s help is prophesied throughout the Psalms and Prophets. How true are these words, and how comforting to know they are true: “I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill” (Psalm 3:4). “The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer” (Psalm 6:8,9). “The Lord is my strength and my shield: my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him” (Psalm 28:7). The beauty of these words, and so many others like them which can be found in the Word, is not only in their poetry but in their truth and in their promise of help from the Lord.

It is characteristic of the fallen spiritual man to believe he is self-sufficient in spiritual things. This is illustrated in the way we often approach life in this world. How often do we admit that we need another’s help? Yet we are constantly dependent upon others. So often we are afraid to admit our shortcomings or needs. We don’t want others to see our weaknesses or imperfections, or give them any opportunity to look down on us for a fault. So we maintain a bold and arrogant front that everything is all right, and that we are fully capable of succeeding in all our responsibilities and activities. As a result, we may rarely ask for the help we need.

How much more important it is for us to recognize that we need help on the spiritual plane of our life even more urgently than on the natural plane. One of the fatal errors of spiritual life is refusing to seek and accept help from the Lord. If we are too proud to do so, too self-assured, and if we rely on ourselves to attain to a heavenly state, we are doomed to fall.

Ishmael, Hagar’s son, pictures this state of mind in us. His desolation in the wilderness shows the result of such an attitude. So it is that the Lord allows us to come into spiritual states of desolation and despair. It is not that the Lord wills in this way to teach us our lesson through hard experience. We bring it on ourselves. Our desolation and despair is simply the result of our own choices and decisions. And when the state has run its course the Lord is there, offering the help we have always needed but were unwilling to accept before. This is what the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael is all about when understood as to its inner spiritual meaning.

Both Hagar and Ishmael picture faults which signify the faulty states of our own spiritual life. Hagar was contemptuous of Sarah, and fled from her mistress in a state of fierce pride when she dealt harshly with her. Ishmael displayed an arrogant self-confidence in mocking Sarah’s infant son.

Such can be our attitude toward what is Divine. Our reason and reasoning powers, based on natural experience, contend with genuine truths from the Lord. We doubt, even mock, the Lord’s truths. Who can believe that man does not live of himself but only appears to live so? Who can believe that man has no intelligence or wisdom of his own and that his having anything of his own is a mere fallacy? Our Ishmael states reject these truths. In these states we base all thought and conclusion about Divine and spiritual things on the testimony of the senses and reasonings from sense experience. We challenge spiritual truths with the conceit of a self-assurance and tacit confidence in our own insights.

If we are to make spiritual progress, this state and attitude must be changed. This is demonstrated in the account of Hagar and Ishmael, and the Writings reveal the inner significance of the story.

Abraham gave Hagar a little bread and water before sending her away with Ishmael. We may wonder why Abraham offered such meager rations for his servant and son. In fact, there was little given because a little is all that was spiritually acceptable. The bread and water signify the good and truth which the Lord wills to give us. At first we take a little but accept no more. In our early states of reformation we suppose we do what is good and think the truth from ourselves. We know from doctrinal teachings that this is not so, but that all good and truth are from the Lord. We do not deny this truth, nor yet do we really acknowledge it. It is something we just do not feel or interiorly perceive to be so. “As all who are being reformed are in such a state at first, they are therefore left by the Lord in what is their own; nevertheless,” the Writings state, “they are led by means of this without knowing it” (AC 2678).

While it appears that Abraham expelled Hagar and Ishmael, the real case is that we withdraw ourselves from the presence of the Lord and lead ourselves into a spiritual wilderness. Of such it is said in the Writings: “They are carried away into various wanderings; for it is given them by the Lord to think much about eternal life, and thus much about the truths of faith; but because from what is their own, … they cannot do otherwise than wander hither and thither, both in doctrine and in life, seizing as truth that which has been inseminated from their infancy, or is impressed upon them by others, or is thought out by themselves besides their being led away by various affections of which they are not conscious” (AC 2679). This is what is meant, we are told, by the wanderings of Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness.

Such is our typical state. We are led “here and there” in our life. Reflect on what it is that motivates or prompts us to act in one way or another. Is it not often a principle impressed on us by parents in childhood; might it be the influence or beliefs of our friends? How often, too, do subconscious affections or emotions drive our actions? When we think about it, we can see that much of our life is not directed by the Lord and His truth but by a variety of influences. Thus our life is wandering, inconsistent, lacking in spiritual purpose.

Are we content to wander through life aimlessly? At times, yes. Perhaps we are unaware that this is so. But with those who seek reformation and spiritual life, the day of crisis comes. The day comes, as it did for Hagar and Ishmael, when the bread is gone and the water is drained out of the bottle when the little truth we have received from the Lord fails.

Suddenly we come to recognize the weakness of our own rational thought. It is insufficient for us. We see the things of our life dying. We enter a state of despair. This state is pictured in the despair of Hagar who thrusts her son under a shrub and withdraws so as not to see his death. The Writings reveal that this is a state of those who are being reformed, “which is that they are reduced to ignorance till they know nothing of truth, and this even to despair” (AC 2682).

The Lord allows despair although He does not will that we suffer. It is for the sake of our benefit and is therefore permitted. Our self-satisfaction or feeling of self-sufficiency in spiritual things must be challenged and broken. So long as we live in our illusion of self-life, we cannot be saved. During this state we are gripped by what the Writings call “persuasive” light a light of falsity that darkens all light of truth. Such persuasive light is described in the Writings. “In the other life,” we read, “that which is persuasive appears like the light of winter, but at the approach of the light of heaven, instead of that light there comes darkness, in which there is ignorance of all truth. With those who are being reformed this state is called the state of desolation of truth … ” (AC 2682:2), and it is pictured by the despair of Hagar.

When despair has reached its depths and man finds himself truly ignorant of all truth and acknowledges his own ignorance the Lord brings consolation and the hope of help. For Hagar, hope came with the appearance of an angel of God. The angel consoled her: “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the child where he is” (Gen. 21:17). For us the Lord sends consolation through the Word. Its truths still our fears and bring about a sense of hope and peace.

While few in the world may experience the desolation and anxiety described in the account of Hagar and Ishmael, those who do may find hope in it.

How beautiful is the reassurance to Hagar! “Fear not … Arise, lift up the lad … for I will make him a great nation” (Gen. 21:17,18).

And then she saw the well of water. It was there all the time but she had not looked for it. The well signifies the Word from which truths may be taken. The Word is always with us. It is there to refresh us and we often fail to see it.

To fill the bottle and give drink to Ishmael signifies a state of instruction. When we reach a point of turning to the Lord, we are eager for His instruction. The Writings teach that “with those who come into a state of enlightenment or of heavenly light they are then in the affection of knowing and learning truths; and when they are in this affection, they are easily and as it were spontaneously imbued with truths: those who are on earth, from the Lord’s Word or from doctrine, but those who are in heaven from angels” (AC 2704).

This is the message of hope in the story of Hagar and Ishmael. It is addressed to us all whenever we sincerely seek the Lord’s help. For as Ishmael was precious in the sight of Abraham, so we are precious in the Lord’s sight.

Notice that the angel said that the Lord had heard the voice of Ishmael “where he is.” So with every man: no matter what his state of life may be, his voice is heard “where he is.” Wherever we are, wherever we may be, whether in a state of desolation of truth or in the deepest of torments, the Lord hears our cry for help.

Through the power of the Divine Human, which He put on by life in the world, He reaches out to us at any level of life. He is there to guide us to his “well of water springing up into eternal life.” This is the truth of the Psalm where we read: “If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:8-10).

Wherever we are, in whatever state of life, we are not beyond the reach of the Lord’s holy arm. Let us seek His help. He comes with healing in His wings; He brings not condemnation but forgiveness, not anger but mercy, not punishment but peace. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).


Swords Into Plowshares; Spears Into Pruning Hooks

By Rev. Michael Gladish

One of the most inspiring prophecies of the Old Testament, and one that is repeated almost verbatim in Isaiah and in Micah, tells about a time “in the latter days” when after a period of punishment and desolation Israel would be restored to her former glory. Then, as we read, people of many nations would gather together in recognition of the Lord to hear His Word and to walk in His paths in peace and prosperity.

“For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is. 2:3-4 & Micah 4:2-3).

The words of the prophecy are poetic, and very beautiful. As such the metaphor is well known throughout the civilized world: swords and spears represent war while plowshares and pruning hooks represent peace. When the instruments of war are no longer needed they will be converted into farm implements and people will be able to live contentedly in their own places, minding their own business. The Lord will judge right and wrong, taking away the sphere of oppression, and there will be no conflict.

“But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. For all people (shall) walk each in the name of his god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever” (Micah 4:4-5).

What a wonderful vision! What a happy state! In fact, this is another prophecy of the Lord’s coming into the world, when,

“‘In that day,’ says the Lord, ‘I will assemble the lame, I will gather the outcast and those whom I have afflicted; I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcast a strong nation; so the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever'” (Micah 4:6-7).

Sometimes in our hardships and pain it is difficult to “get” this vision, and even more difficult to imagine how it might apply to us, unless maybe it’s some sort of reward that we’ll be able to enjoy in heaven, at the end of our long battle with temptations in the world. After all, when the Lord did come into the world He plainly said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword!” (Matt. 10:34). But in the spiritual sense we know that the “plowshares prophecy,” like all prophecies, doesn’t only tell us about the future in time, it tells us about the potential in our lives now – spiritually – as we learn to endure the consequences of our foolish decisions and receive the Lord (as He is ALWAYS coming to us) in the love and wisdom of His Word.

Incidentally, consistent with the Lord’s words in Matthew there is another prophecy in Joel, who may well have written even before Micah or Isaiah (certainly before the captivity in Babylon), in which the Lord says,

“Proclaim this among the nations: ‘Prepare for war! Wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near, let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears!'” (Joel 3:9-10).

So the Lord does not deny the place or need for battle in the work of regeneration, but He does promise that after the battle, after the conflict with the falsities and evils in ourselves, if we accept the Lord’s judgments, there will be peace.

So now let’s look at the message about the swords and plowshares more carefully. In our recitation this morning (John 15:4-7) we were reminded of the Lord’s analogy of the vine and the branches. He is the vine, we are the branches, and as such we are in Him as He is in the Father: forms of love or wisdom that can bear fruit in useful life. But remember how that 15th chapter of John begins:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

This pruning should be a reminder of the “pruning hooks” of the Old Testament prophets. What actually happens when you prune a tree or vine is that you cut shoots or branches out of it; but you do it with a couple of things in mind: first you may be trying to shape the thing so that it lets sufficient light and air get into all the branches that remain, and so that the fruit is not too difficult to harvest. But most importantly you will be directing its energy so that it is not dissipated in the production of leaves rather than fruit. You will be concentrating the sap into those branches that can produce more or possibly better quality fruit than others.

All this is of course symbolic. In the Word the branches of a tree correspond to the truths or “branches of knowledge” that support the production of the fruit that is good works or the life of charity. “Pruning” keeps us from getting carried away with knowledge for its own sake, and helps us direct our energy into the good and useful things of life. Remember the fig tree that the Lord condemned? It was all leaves and no fruit. So we should beware of the condemnation, or at any rate the uselessness of faith alone. Knowing what to do is important, but knowing without doing is like saving money for its own sake, without using it.

Now think about the act of pruning. The overall image of a man in his vineyard, peacefully working his way down the trellises, evokes a peaceful feeling. But remember, the job involves cutting, and the cutting involves a separation and removal of part of each vine. So in our lives the job of pruning corresponds to the recognition of those aspects of our own character that are not worthy to remain with us – either because they are unproductive or because they interfere in some way with other aspects that need or deserve more attention. It involves the decision to cut those things out, and, in the end, to throw them away so that the better, stronger qualities in us can flourish and bear more excellent or more plentiful fruit.

So – back to our pastoral vineyard scene – as we watch the man working among the trellises we find that the picture includes small piles of young shoots and branches neatly stacked along the rows, waiting to be gathered up and – most likely – thrown in a fire. It is still a peaceful, pleasant picture, but now we can see that an important part of it is what the Lord teaches us about self-examination, or if you will, self-analysis, and genuine repentance: carefully discerning and cutting away and casting off those undesirable qualities within ourselves that would prevent the Lord from realizing His potential with us if they were left to grow.

In the prophecies of Micah and Isaiah we are reminded that when the Lord comes to us, that is, when we truly receive Him into our hearts, this pruning of our own trees or vines will replace the activities represented by spears, which are designed to hurt and kill others. In fact, spears, like arrows in the Word, correspond to the truths of doctrine we need to fight against what is wrong or false. But when that battle is over then we can turn to the more subtle task of refining and strengthening the truths that remain so that they will produce good fruit. This is the self-evaluation, self-judgment, and self-improvement that constitute the life of genuine charity once the intellectual arguments are over. This is the more interior work of directing the truth into what is good in our spiritual world so that “everyone may sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.” The vine specifically corresponds to our understanding and the fig tree to our will, especially the will as expressed in a charitable outward life.

As for swords being turned into plowshares, this is another fascinating image involving a similar idea. Of course the sword is designed to cut and chop other people. It can be an instrument of self-defense or a tool of hostile aggression, but the point is that the sword is used for battle. In contrast a plow – or as the Writings translate it, a HOE, is used for cultivating one’s own land, one’s own field or vineyard. Here again we have the simple distinction between ware and peace, but we also have a lot more: for in this image the Lord is showing us the difference between cutting and chopping at things (or people) outside of ourselves, and being critical of ourselves. He is showing us the difference between judgment of others on the one hand and the cultivation of our own affections on the other. For the ground or soil in any story of the Word really corresponds to the human mind, especially as to the will or affections that are there. And to cultivate is to dig up and turn that soil over so that it will be aerated and kept free of weeds.

Going deeper, the sword corresponds to truth which is used to distinguish between right and wrong, and if necessary to cut down or destroy opposing falsity. But notice that the plow, or hoe, is also a cutting instrument. It is used to dig, to chop, to lift the soil and to turn it over. So it is another image of the truth, but this time working in the field of our affections, digging up things that may interfere with the growth and development of a good and true and useful life. Who knows what rocks and seeds and mold and fungus may lie just beneath the surface of our conscious attitude or feelings? Who knows until we dig and plow and so get into those affections, turning them inside out so that the deeper layers may be exposed to the light and air of wisdom?

This is a challenging process! And just the same as it is with pruning, the picture we get in our mind’s eye generally is of a very peaceful scene. But on closer examination there’s a lot of work involved. Digging around in the soil of our feelings, poking, chopping, analyzing, exposing things within ourselves that may not be very pleasant is a strenuous and often time consuming exercise. On one hand it may not involve intellectual conflict, for the intellect is represented by the hoe, and it is digging in the will, but anyone who has done any work with a hoe – or for that matter with an old-fashioned plow – can understand the sort of resistance that may be involved in the task.

Our will is the ground of our being. It is the basis of our individuality, our sense of identity, our proprium or “that which is our own.” What we feel is who we are. And this does not like to be disturbed. But it has to be disturbed; it has to be examined; it has to be exposed by means of the hard-edged and pointed tools the Lord gives us in the teachings of His Word. Unless we dig and open up and see what is beneath the surface of our lives we will never be able to change or grow much of anything except what is sown by the forces of nature – wild things, weak things, weeds and seeds of worldly ambition. But what is equally important about plowing and cultivating our affections is that when we do it as a regular thing it gets a little easier every time. Gradually, season by season, we clear the major obstacles – the roots and stumps and most obnoxious weeds, and we keep the soil soft and loose so that when we go over it we meet less and less resistance.

Soil that has never been plowed can become very hard. Soil that is plowed regularly will respond to the blade with neat furrows ready to receive the seeds of wisdom that the Lord can sow according to His will and providence for us as He prepares us for the fulfillment of a heavenly life.

Finally, and you may have wondered how in the world this was going to tie in, let’s remember the lesson of the second reading this morning in which the Samaritans rejected Jesus. James and John saw this and challenged Him, saying, “Lord, Do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But the Lord said, no, “For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” Then a discussion arose as they walked along the road and they talked about following the Lord. And one of them said he would follow Him but that he wanted to go bury his father first. Another said the same but that he wanted to go and bid farewell to those at his house. Then the Lord answered, “No one having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

Surely one of the lessons here is that once we understand the need to break and turn the soil of our own minds, cultivating our affections according to the teachings of the Word, there is no turning back. Once we recognize that the kingdom of heaven is within and that the cultivation of the ground for reception of that kingdom is up to us, and most of all once we start that process, we must realize that looking back to our old ways, looking back to our old patterns, falling back into our old habits is only going to result in crooked furrows, broken tools and a lot of frustration.

At this point there is no hope or fulfillment in a merely worldly life, and there is no long term benefit in giving up the spiritual work. We simply must go forward. We must look to the Lord, cut straight furrows, watch for the rocks and stumps and weeds that get in the way, and bring up whatever comes up to be addressed from within ourselves. Remember, we are going to plow our own field, not someone else’s. We are going to prune our own trees or vines, not someone else’s. We are going to cultivate our own thoughts and affections by removing whatever stands in the way of reception of the Lord’s eternal love and wisdom so He may grow His kingdom in us and we may indeed be called “trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Is. 61:3). In this way His kingdom will come, and we will find enduring peace.


Streams In the Desert

By Rev. Dr. Reuben P. Bell

“For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water.” Isaiah 35:6-7

Our Scripture lessons today are not much alike. You may have noticed, and wondered where the connection might be. Isaiah tells us that the desert will blossom, and that water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. Remember this: we will work our way back to this beautiful image. Matthew tells us of what must have been a terrible ordeal for Jesus – and the setting of this story is also the desert.

The Word is a marvelous narrative which teaches its lessons primarily with stories, and so often, the images within these stories are of the desert; the wilderness. The image of the desert appears and reappears in the Word. We saw it today, in Isaiah’s book of despair and hope for the nation of Israel. And finally, the desert beyond the Jordan River.. the testing ground for Jesus, about to begin his great temptation.

So why the desert? The Writings tell us that the significance of the desert (or wilderness) is found in its correspondence to states of temptation. We read about it this morning in AC 6828. Here’s a little more of that passage:

The truth which flows in [during temptation] does not appear to [the person] to have sufficient life to disperse the falsities and evils. Moreover evil spirits are then present, who inject grief, and despair of salvation. That a “wilderness” signifies such a state, is evident from the very many passages in the Word.

You see, this marvelous narrative of the Word, which is the story of Man’s creation, fall, long struggle, and final triumph in the New Jerusalem, is mostly the story of a struggle. And this struggle is often described for what it is – a time in the desert, the wilderness – “when falsity and evil come out and darken and almost take away the influx of truth and good from the Lord;” when evil spirits are present.. to test the strength of our convictions.

So our theme this morning is the desert.. the testing ground.. for Israel forty years of it, and for Jesus, who was about to stand the world on its head forevermore. We shall see that this desert is a familiar place for us humans, but we shall also see that this desert, for all its desolation, despair, and danger, is the doorway to our salvation. For without anxiety and despair, there can be no regeneration, and without regeneration there can be no New Jerusalem.

Let’s get on to the story. It is another of those deceptive little ten verse sleepers buried all over the Gospels. What a fascinating habit of those writers, telling the biggest news in the smallest space! It appears in Matthew, which we read today, is virtually the same in Luke, but in Mark, the whole episode is summarized in an amazing two verses!

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”

Wild animals. Mark is the only one to mention this. We will return to these wild animals, when we talk about correspondences.

The story is simple. First, it is linked with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Second, Jesus didn’t just happen to wander out into the desert – he was sent, by the “Spirit of God” which had only recently descended on Him at His baptism – he was sent by the Spirit to be tempted. Third, there were three great temptations he had to face: (1) “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (2) “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” (3) “All this will I give you, if you will bow down and worship me.” Lastly, it says that “the Devil left him, until an opportune time. Who was this Devil? We shall see..

And that’s the story. But putting it into perspective, we are also told that he abided there forty days. There’s the number forty. It tells us of the importance of this narrative – puts it in the spiritual big leagues, so to speak, because forty signifies “the duration of temptations,” [AC 730] and reminds us to look at this story (despite its brevity) very carefully.

Christ’s temptation in the desert must be considered linked with his baptism. The reason is not complicated: The teachings of our church have a lot to say about temptation. Far from the simplistic idea of enticement or seduction by evil alone, we are told that temptation is a grand spiritual process, or exercise, by which our regeneration proceeds. Now we know that regeneration is the process by which we are born again, step-by-step into a new person, free from the evil and falsity we are born into. And it is by temptation that we take these steps.

As we read this morning, [AC 1787]

Every temptation is attended with some kind of despair (otherwise it is not a temptation), and consolation follows. He who is tempted is brought into anxieties, which induce a state of despair as to what the end is to be.

So temptation is defined as the continuous, ongoing struggle of our eternal lifetimes against evil, toward conjunction with the Divine. And it must begin with the illumination of our minds that there is good and that there is evil, and that we truly wish to be regenerated. This is reformation – the ordering of our thoughts toward good and the preparation to fight the battles (temptations) of regeneration.

This is our baptism – a sign and a memorial that our work has begun. And so did Jesus, coming out of nowhere, so to speak, step up to John and ask to be baptized. His destiny upon Him, he felt an urgency to focus his energies for the great work ahead.

There can be no regeneration without great temptation, and there can be no temptation without a first spiritual step – for Jesus, the baptism to “fulfill all righteousness;” for you and me, the decision to follow the Lord.

Having made this leap into His prophetic destiny, it remained for Jesus to find out what He was made of; who He really was. Something very strange had just happened to Him: the power of the universe had just been placed in His hands for the battles ahead. God-on-Earth He was, but let’s not forget that this Jesus was a man, nonetheless, and up to this time a man much like you and me. It is not hard to imagine the great anguish which must have followed His baptism, as this new power over men and nature began to manifest itself within Him. For along with this great power must have come an awareness of the days ahead.. and the cross at the end of those days.

So the Spirit led him (where else?) to the desert – to sort it all out. And who he met out there, we really do not know. The Word calls him the Tempter. What form he took is left up to our own imaginations. Christian tradition would tell us he met a person; a being; a “dark god,” of sorts, who would match wits with this new and powerful force on earth. But our church does not worship such a “dark god.” Evil for us is more authentic and closer-to-home than that. It flows in from within us, and is our own.. if we claim it. Mark, in his brief narrative, gives us the clue we need to visualize this experience. He said “He was with the wild animals,” in that desert, remember? Beasts, we are told, correspond to things of a person’s will or loves, to evil affections, cupidities and pleasures; to things which spring from the love of self and the pleasures of the world – the things we humans by nature hold so dear and have such trouble giving up. He met the Tempter all right; the same Tempter you and I meet every day. He met His Satan in the desert, just the same way.. And the fight was on.

And what a fight it was. The tempter knew just where to hit Him; just how to probe his soul for the weak spots – the human in this man who was trying so very hard to put his human away and assume the mantle of the Divine. There were three temptations in all: they were well chosen and they covered all the bases. We shall see that they are the three elements central to all temptations, his, yours, and mine.

In fact, if we recognize this, there are tools in this story to use in our own worst hours – for the beauty of Jesus is the example he left for us – he has done the work – shown us not only that it can be done, but how. Let’s examine these three assaults on the Lord, out there in that desert – analyze them a little, and find in them a lesson we can use when we find ourselves out there – alone, with the wild animals and the hunger and the danger of standing up close to the Tempter, who would destroy our souls.

“The Tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.'” Jesus’ answer was simple and direct: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'” Note that this (and all his answers) come from Scripture – the Word, in this case the law of Moses. He did not need to form some new argument to counter the challenge. This man used the Word in his defense because, as John tells us, he was the Word, who “became flesh and dwelt among us.” And what was the meaning of this challenge – to turn the stones to bread? The Writings tell us that in the Word, a stone represents natural truths, or truths known to us through our senses and our intellect. Bread, however, corresponds to things celestial, which are spiritual and heavenly truths revealed. What the Tempter really said was this: “If you are the Son of God, take these truths which you are to teach to these thick-headed humans, and rather than waiting for them to find their own way to salvation with them, open their eyes and make them see the spiritual truths contained in them. Get it over with. You can do it – you have the power of heaven and earth in your hands.”

What a great temptation. He knew what was ahead – hardship, scorn, torture, the unspeakable horror of the cross. Why not? Why not make the people see, and then they would surely all be saved. And the man in him must have cried out to be spared the cross. But it was not to be. We must have stones, and our salvation comes only as we, in complete freedom, turn these stones to bread by victory in our own temptations.

Next the Devil took Jesus to the top of the great temple in Jerusalem – built on a cliff, with a drop of several hundred feet. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” Now there was an ancient belief of the Jews that in fulfillment of that prophecy, the Messiah would announce Himself by doing just what the Tempter was suggesting – he would leap off the highest point of the Temple and land unharmed. Easy work for the Son of God. And the easy way out for Jesus – to force people to believe what can only be believed by free and rational choice. And once again, the reward: no hardship, no betrayal, no cross. What a great temptation it must have been for this young man who was new at this Messiah business, and who must have been very unsettled and frightened about the whole thing. What a great temptation. Always, the easy way out. Jesus’ answer, again from Moses, “It is also written: ‘Do shall not tempt the Lord your God.'” Plain and simple: no free lunch; no blind faith for the human race any longer. Those days were over, and there was, in Him, a new covenant breaking through, that required it no more.

And last, the greatest temptation of all. The Tempter hit him with everything he had. What thing would a person find the hardest to give away? What promise would likely appeal the most to the human in this fledgling redeemer? “Again, the devil took him up on a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “All this will I give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” What a great temptation. (I am glad no one has ever made me that offer.) All the kingdoms of the world and all their splendor. Imagine yourself in that situation. You have the power. It has been given to you “like a dove, descending from heaven,” and lighting on you. You know you have the power. You know what you are supposed to do.. and it is going to hurt. The human in you says “Yes..” But the dove says no.

Gathering up all his courage and strength and newly acquired righteousness, Jesus said to this Tempter, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only you shall serve.'” Then the Devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

It is easy to read this story and miss its great significance. As Christ, the Divine Human, “the Word who was made flesh, to dwell among us,” our tendency is to see Him as some sort of superman, with super powers, simply going through the motions of suffering and temptation, for the sake of fulfilling the Scriptures and making it all come out right. We must get beyond this. Jesus was a man. He was born just like you and me. He lived in this world just like you do. But at some point the Divine began stirring within this man, and his process toward Glorification began. Only at the cross was this process completed. At all other times in the Gospels, we are observing a man in transition. We must never forget this. It is this fact which brings life to the life of Christ.

In this story of Christ’s temptation – forty days in the desert – we must recognize the anguish, the desolation, and the loneliness He must have felt, because he was just beginning. He was like you.. and like me.. and he overcame the hells (as we like to say) to show us that we can do likewise.

So we have learned that there are three elements to great temptation. If we generalize those in this story to all our times of torment, anxiety, and pain, they can serve as rules to get us through. We have Jesus to thank for these rules. He suffered His forty days to help get us through ours. When we are in great anxiety we have only to look to Christ for the peace which comes from knowing He was there before us. And then we look to our church for the peace which comes from understanding what this process of temptation is all about. In times of great anxiety we must first remember:

“Every temptation is attended with some kind of despair.. and consolation follows. After the obscurity and anxiety of temptations, brightness and gladness appear.”

The pain is our signal that we are being tested. If it is a real temptation, we should look ahead for its three faces – the three elements we found in our story of the Lord’s temptation. By knowing that these will be present in some form, we can look for them, find them, and defeat them.

First, in any confrontation between good and evil, our first and strongest impulse will be to take the easy way out – to turn the stones to bread. This is the most basic of our human traits. Knowing this, and knowing that our regeneration depends on our doing what is right, not what is easy, we are encouraged to overcome.

Second, knowing that all of Providence works to the good, and knowing of the promises in the Word of our salvation by a loving God, do you just take yourself up to the top of the temple and throw yourself over? For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands.” Many people do. They accept their fate, and let the Lord do the rest. Blind faith. Faith without works. No good. Temptation is a battle: Join it. Do your work. Keep plugging away, working with the Lord, but working nonetheless. Who ever said our regeneration would be easy?

Third, remember that the love of self, and love of the things of this world are strong loves.

They are strong enough to destroy us. In all temptations we are fighting to displace these with love of the Lord and the neighbor, and the love of what is good and true. It is war to overcome these ruling loves, and there is great pain in it. But remember: consolation and great peace will follow. These loves, out of their proper order, are at the root of most great temptations. If we look for them we will find them. And we can defeat them, just as Jesus did.

This simple story of the forty days in the desert is ours to use. There are tools in it. There is hope in it, and there is a great victory in its message. The victory can be ours, because Jesus, through no small effort, overcame the same temptations which confront us all – the basic human conflict between choosing the evil of self-direction, or the eternal life of following the Lord. We have learned that to follow the Lord is not the easy way. It does not involve mindless blind faith. It requires much work and can produce great pain at times. But it can be done, and there is eternal happiness in it if we do.

In closing, let’s turn our minds once more to the image of the desert: barren, bleak, and desolate. This is the landscape of our great temptations. Never, we are told, will the lord seem farther away than when we are in this desert, paralyzed by the anxiety of the spiritual battles we must undergo. But knowing that the Lord is in fact never closer, and that he leads us every step of the way, this desert need not appear so forbidding. Let’s return to that beautiful image from Isaiah:

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.. it will burst into bloom.. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Amen. [AC 730, 6828]

Spiritual Success

By Rev. Grant R. Schnarr

If we look up the word ‘success’ in a dictionary, it will say that being successful is “Achieving one’s goals.” Let’s face it, in the world today, what are many of the goals? What do many people consider success?

One of the first things, of course, would be having money. Anyone who has made a great deal of money is usually considered successful today. Think of things that money can do. It gives us such freedom, freedom not to worry about paying our bills, freedom to go places we’d like to go, to do the things we’d like to do. As it says in the commercial for City Bank Mastercard, “Master the possibilities.” The things that you can do with money. And we can see it all over television, newspapers, and magazines, that success and money go hand in hand.

Beyond that, what else do we think of as success? Fame, popularity? Not too long ago there were several articles in the papers of Los Angeles about all the people who had flocked to Hollywood as actors and actresses trying to make the big time, and how many of them today are busboys, waitresses, parking lot attendants, etc., because it is so hard to make it. And yet they still flock there by the hundreds each year for that hope.

But it’s not just fame that people look for, it’s also popularity. The successful person is well liked and looked up to. He or she doesn’t have to be well known. But everyone who does know then has great admiration, love and respect for the successful person and the things he or she stands for.

Beyond that, another factor in being successful is power. You don’t have to have money to have power. You can have an important position at work, have a great deal of authority over many people, be able to move things and people to get things done. That’s looked upon as part of success.

The Writings of the New Church do not say that these type of goals are evil. In fact, you can actually try to move up in your business for good reasons–because you care about your company, you want to have more control in it so that you can run it the way that you really believe will work the best. Or an artist, for example, who promotes his or her artwork may not be in a love of fame. He or she may love a piece of artwork so much that they want to share it with other people, and fame and popularity are a means of bringing that about. Money, power, fame, the teachings of the New Church tell us, are neutral. They can either be used for good or evil. They can be sought after from good intentions or bad intentions, but in themselves they are neutral.

And yet, we can look at these things see that if these earthy treasures are our only goals, how empty life would be. The Writings of the New Church give an example of that. You can imagine, they say, a king sitting at a table, feasting with all the delicacies of the world, drinking the best imported wine, perhaps having the best entertainment, and yet look into his eyes and find the look of misery because inside he may have nothing. On the other hand, you could look at a pauper who is sitting in his grubby little hut with his grubby little clothes on, eating some moldy cheese, and maybe drinking some homemade brew, has nothing. And yet, you could look into his face and see a real joy, a real happiness there, a real contentment.

We can all see what is being taught in this illustration from the Writings, that it really doesn’t matter externally what we have if we are a mess within. We can have the whole world and lose our own soul because these things don’t necessarily lead to happiness. They are neutral. The Lord said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you,” All the delights that He wants us to have, all of the joy in life, all of what it really means to be fulfilled within oneself comes from trying to be spiritually successful, from taking the Lord’s goals, making them our own goals in our life, and becoming a success within. And the beauty of that is when we obtain those spiritual goals it doesn’t matter whether we work down in the Loop for one of the big corporations there, or whether we are a busboy, or work on an assembly line. Whatever we do, we can be a success. We can be genuinely happy. And that’s the Lord’s promise to us.

What does it mean to be a spiritual success? Perhaps to look at that we should look at what it means to be a spiritual failure first.

To not pay attention to a higher realities of life, to make the mundane, earthly world the only reality, to make goals based on our hereditary inclinations to do evil instead of listening to the more noble parts within us and following the teachings of the Lords Word Lord’s Word–these are the things which lead to spiritual failure.

Spiritual failure is the kind of person who works his way right up to the top in his company, but when he gets there he doesn’t have any friends because he’s used them to get to the top. The person who is a spiritual failure has made the goal to have as many lovers as as possible, thinking that will be macho or successful. And they may have so many lovers, but they never knew love, only emptiness and pain.

The person who is a spiritual failure is somebody who has taken these beautiful talents that the Lord has given each one of us, and instead of using them, has laid them aside to lead an idle life or a life of self-gratification. Or, even worse, the spiritual failure has taken these talents which the Lord has given each one of us to use for good, and instead of using them for good, he or she uses them for gain, to take, take, take, instead of give; to tear down instead of to build up in other people’s lives. That’s spiritually failing.

The spiritual failure is the kind of person who, when they feel the inclinations to do evil, the destructive inclinations come up within them, instead of spurning them or shunning them as a sin against the Lord, they play with those feelings, they toy with them and let them come out into life. And the more they come out into life, the more those feelings from within take over, and they find themselves going off the path to heaven into a path that leads to selfishness, human desolation, misery and want. They are caught up and smothered by their own disease.

What the Writings point out is that the reason the Lord has told us to follow His way is because that is the way to happiness. It is not that God simply wants us to obey Him for the sake of obedience. He tells us that His way is the right way because His way leads to happiness. His way leads to fulfillment. His way leads to the sort of success in our lives which is genuine, real and lasting. Not the other way.

Yet so often in our lives we see falsity painting this picture of evil, as if it is so beautiful, that it is actually good, that it is right for us. And yet, when we follow that path the picture changes so quickly, and what we may have thought we would achieve in the world of evil, namely happiness, disappears. It disappears because evil cannot bring such a thing.

The effects of seeking after success through selfishness are devastating. Everything happens to the person that they didn’t want to happen. They become filled with bewilderment and anxiety. They don’t trust anyone anymore, including the Lord. They only trust in themselves. And that trust is a trust in something blind. In fact, they keep running into the wall and they can’t figure out why they are getting hurt. They keep hitting that wall, and something inside them tells them to do it again. “Maybe it will work this time.” But it doesn’t work the next time. They keep putting their hand into the fire, and they feel the pain, and they blame other people for that pain, or they blame God, not realizing they are burning themselves. And they keep on burning themselves. That’s what hell is. Hell isn’t a place where God punishes us. Hell is a human condition. Hell is something that we create within ourselves. Hell is frustration and dissatisfaction because evil is frustrating and dissatisfying. And that hell continues on after death for those who have made it their life. Thus the ultimate spiritual failure is the spirit in hell.

A person who is moving toward spiritual success has seen that false picture of happiness which hell has painted and he or she knows that it is a lie, it isn’t going to lead to happiness. They hear the Lord speaking to them, telling them that it is not the right way. They see the truths which lead to heaven and obey those truths, or at least try. Sometimes he or she falls down, but they get up, brush themselves off, and try again. And each day they move a little closer on the path to heaven. Each day the fire of love burns a little warmer, the light of wisdom burns a little brighter, and their happiness becomes more and more a living reality in their lives.

What they have done is taken the Lord’s goals for the human race, and have made them their goals: the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, love to the neighbor, a life in order in life. By applying these goals to their lives a change begins to take place within them, a certain peace comes over them, a certain wisdom, a wisdom that they know the right path to follow.

The person in spiritual success believes in themselves, but it’s not a belief solely in themselves, it’s a belief that the Lord has put them here for a purpose, that the Lord loves them, that the Lord cares for them, and that they’ve got a job that they can do here. It may not be some grand job to save the world, but maybe to help out the people who are around them, to give them a little more comfort in their life, to give them a little bit more truth, to give them a little peace of goodness in their lives. And that satisfies them. Two examples of this. When we were down at Myrtle Beach, there’s a girl that I know, and she’s the most pleasant girl, just has a great character and has many friends, does many good things, is really nice. We were talking, and she doesn’t belong to the church or anything. In fact, she said, “I’ve had a lot of problems in my life.” Her mother was an alcoholic, and she had a little daughter. Her mother accidentally set the house on fire with her daughter in there, and left the house with her daughter in there, and her daughter was burned up in that fire. There were several other things that happened to her as well, having to do with her father, having to do with some of her boyfriends, and yet she said to me, “I don’t know about this Swedenborgian religion. It’s pretty intellectual to me. I know if I just follow the Lord and His teachings, He’ll take care of me.”

I could see it in her eyes that she really meant that in her life, deep within. And there was a peace even though all those things had happened to her, a real peace and a real trust in the Lord. And no matter what happened, she still had that success within, that feeling of happiness within, that the Lord was leading her through the stream of Providence.

How many of us have had a life of terrible things happening to us. Not many of us, that bad. And yet, if the Lord can make someone like that happy, can’t he make us happy and successful? It doesn’t matter what happens to us, we can still have that success.

There’s another friend that I knew in elementary school who I used to pal around with. (I do have a lot of normal friends, but they are not interesting enough to talk about.) This guy was really into drugs and alcohol back even in elementary school–really, really hard. He went off into this, he quit school, he got married when he was 17, divorced when he was 19, and then at 19 he did something really stupid. He robbed a gas station. He went to jail for two years. He was the kind of person in the small town that we were in–and it was a small town–the kind of person everybody says, “Stay away from him.” It was like, “I don’t want you to grow up and be like this guy,” your parents would tell you. About a year and a half ago I found out that this person had finally woken up, something inside, and he went to get help, help for his alcoholism, help for his drug addiction, and that now he was back into college and helping out in the community, and he had dedicated his life to helping out people, or kids, so that they don’t end up the same way he did and have to go through the same things he did.

I went and I talked to him, and I knew him in elementary school, and he was a different person, completely different. Any kid that would go to him, they couldn’t say to him, “You don’t know what it is like.”

He would say, “You bet I do. I’ve been there. I’ve been all the way down to the pit of hell, and I climbed out.” That guy today, I don’t know what will happen tomorrow–and I’m sure he’d say the same thing–but that guy today is a prince. He’s a prince. He’s climbed out of the pits of hell, and he’s there helping people. He doesn’t have a whole lot of money. He doesn’t have a great deal of popularity. He doesn’t have any power. And yet he’s successful.

Success is more than the life of the body. Success is more than the treasures of the world. Real success comes from within, and that’s what the Lord is pointing out to us here.

Briefly, what are the steps to the sort of success like this? It’s already been said. One is–and it’s given in all the 12 steps, and the 12 steps were taken from Emanuel Swedenborg’s works–acknowledging a power greater than ourselves that can help us in our lives. And that power is the Lord Jesus Christ. To recognize that there’s a loving God up there that wants to help us in our lives, that is willing to share with us all His power to lead us away from the evil and falsity within us. To recognize that there is a higher spiritual reality. To recognize the Lord’s goals that He’s given us in His Word and to make those goals our goals. That’s the first step.

The second step is, take those teachings and look at them and then look at ourselves. See where we line up with those teachings. All the different commandments, “Here I really fell down. Here I’m doing OK. Oops, here, that’s another battle in my life.” Look at those things and be honest with ourselves. Don’t get full of guilt. That’s not going to do any good. Where do I line up with these teachings?

Once we see that and take an honest look at ourselves, the next step is to shun these things one by one, because they are hurtful, hurtful to society, hurtful to God so to speak, and hurtful to our own selves. Not to take on our whole personality and tackle that at once, not to take on all the evils that come up in our life; pick one or two the Writings say, and work on them for a while. “Well, I’ve really got a problem with my love life, but I also gossip so I’ll work on gossip for a while, leave the love life go.” Then you work on your love life a little bit later. “I’ve really got a problem with the way I have been dealing with people at work. I can work on that for a while. Try not to do that any more because it’s wrong, because the Lord has said not to because I want to make His goals my goals.”

And what the Lord promises is, even if we take one little thing and we work on that He can come into our lives and begin to change and mold us, and we can be reborn. Rebirth isn’t something that takes place overnight. It’s a process that we’re going to go through our whole lives. But it’s like that grain of mustard seed, the Lord says. If we begin to try to change our lives, that mustard seed will grow into the greatest of herbs. That goodness within us will grow within us. And that’s what it means to be spiritually successful, because with that goodness, with that truth in our lives, with following the order that the Lord has set up for us, for each one of us comes happiness. Happiness and goodness are synonymous. The Lord is love itself, wisdom itself. He wants us to have those things within us because the Lord is also happiness itself and joy. And when we follow that path, when we follow His teachings, the happiness and joy become part of our lives too, and we’ll be with the Lord and the Lord is with us.

When we think about what we want to be in our lives, sure we can seek after money, fame, riches, that’s fine, but let’s not put our hearts in them completely. Let’s also take a look at the Lord’s goals for the human race, make them our goals, start working on those, and then real success will come into our lives, something that the Lord wants each one of us to have; to seek first the kingdom of the God and His righteousness, and we are promised that all of these things, all of these blessings will be added unto us.


Settle In Your Hearts

By Rev. Donald L. Rose

“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21:14,15).

The Lord said these things to followers who were later persecuted and brought before councils. Their accusers thought by confronting them they could weaken the cause of Christianity. But it turned out differently. Those confrontations became opportunities for the strengthening and growth of Christianity.

The boldness and eloquence of the disciples, although they were just fishermen, was nothing short of astonishing. Of one outspoken disciple it is said, “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke” (Acts 6: 10). In the 4th chapter of Acts we read of two disciples who were confronted: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled” (Acts 4:13). (King James Version says “unlearned and ignorant men.”) They had a boldness and assurance, and their answers were powerful.

They were somehow triumphant even when they were beaten and imprisoned, and in some cases put to death (see Luke 21:16). We will mention one example of that in a moment.

The text applies of course to us and, we might say, in a much less dramatic fashion. We will not likely be brought before courts and kings nor openly challenged and assailed by enemies.

But we do stand to be attacked by the enemies of our spiritual life. And the more we learn about the assaults of evil spirits on followers of the Lord, the more do we see that it too is dramatic and momentous. Falsities from hell itself assail the person who is being tempted, and the Writings say that to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine.

What we experience in temptation is anxiety, discouragement even to despair. We do not know that evil spirits from hell are fighting against us, nor do we know that the Lord is fighting for us, and the answers from the Divine to the false accusations and undermining thoughts do not come clearly to our consciousness. Here is what the Writings say: “As regards temptations.. the hells fight against man, and the Lord for man; to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine …. The answer from the Divine flows into the internal or spiritual man.. and in such a manner that it scarcely comes to the perception otherwise than as hope and consequent consolation, in which there are nevertheless innumerable things of which the man is ignorant” (AC 8159:3). (In that answer which we feel only as hope and comfort there are countless blessings that the person has no knowledge of”–new translation.)

Here is the context of the words of the text: “…they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.. [N]ot a hair of your head shall be lost. In your patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:12-19).

The very first Christian to die for his beliefs found that the confrontation was indeed an occasion for testimony. He was falsely accused and brought before a council to answer. His eloquent speech takes up the whole of the 7th chapter of the book of Acts. It is said, “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.. [T]hey cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord and they cast them out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:54,57).

That speech which so affected them had begun thus: “…brethren…listen: the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham” and he told the story through Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Solomon, and when he was finished he gazed up into heaven and saw the glory of God. And as they rained stones on him he said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’ and ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this he fell asleep” (Acts 7:2,59,60). It is said that those who looked at him “saw his face as the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

A radiant peace surrounded him. The Lord had promised that nothing would harm them. They were at peace even in death.

“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer.” Think deliberately about the future, and think of how not to think of the future. In one of the Lord’s parables a man is called foolish because he did not think ahead intelligently. “Foolish one, tonight your soul will be required of you, and then whose will those things be which you have provided?”

Oh, he had thought and meditated within himself about the future. But what was the level of his thinking? To quote the Gospel: “And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do? … I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater.. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years …” (Luke 12:17-21).

He could look down the road years ahead. He could figure out what he was going to do, and what he was going to say, and God called him a fool. How does our future look to us? How much strength and endurance do you have for what lies in store for you? Can you handle what is yet to come? Do you have the wit? Will you have the wit to respond to what may come to pass?

We live in the illusion that our strength, our intelligence, our very life is from ourselves. How big is our reservoir of energy or endurance or prudence? Since it seems that life is our own, we think in terms of calling on our reserves. Once the disciples set off in a boat on a journey with the Lord. And it had slipped their mind that they should have stored some provision. To quote from the Gospel of Mark, “Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat” (8:14). That was what was on their mind, and the Lord said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? …do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up? How is it that you do not understand?”

He got them to answer the question, and He could ask them on a much later occasion, “When I sent you without money bag, sack and sandals, did you lack anything? So they answered, Nothing” (Luke 22:35). Think of the uncertain times of youth that you have passed through. You made it through your teens. Has the Lord kept you safe thus far? Has He provided?

It is too bad that some people have concluded that it is virtuous not to make provision for the future. It’s understandable. The Lord has given us the message that He will provide. Seek the kingdom of God, and these things will be added to you. But the Writings say this does not mean we should not provide ourselves with food, clothing, “and even resources for the time to come; for it is not contrary to order for anyone to be provident for himself and his own.” The new translation speaks of “resources for the future; for it is not contrary to order to make provision for oneself and one’s dependents” (J. Elliott’s translation).

But there is the matter of putting trust in the Divine. Notice the verb tribuo, something you do. It is translated to “attribute” or to “ascribe.” See how it is used in this teaching about charity in a person engaged in business. “He thinks of the morrow, and yet does not think of it. He thinks of what should be done on the morrow, and how it should be done; and yet does not think of the morrow, because he ascribes the future to the Divine Providence and not to his own prudence.” And then it adds, “Even his prudence he ascribes to the Divine Providence” (Charity 167).

Does that fortunate person who ascribes the future to the Divine just do this at one point in life? Or is it not something to be done deliberately through the progressing stages of life?

Settle it in your hearts. Deliberately ascribe the future to the Lord’s Providence, and do so, if you can, until you can feel a sense of relief as if someone had removed a false burden from you.

Do not think of this merely as “either/or,” as if to say, either you trust in Divine Providence or you do not. It can be a quantitative thing. Some attribute a little bit to the Divine Providence and a lot to themselves (see AC 2694:2). The Writings use the phrase “the more”: the more they ascribe, the stronger or wiser they are (see AC 4932). In our lives we gradually come to ascribe more to the Lord and less to ourselves (see TCR 610 and 105).

The disciples were to learn that peace, the wonderful prize of peace, is to be found in the Lord Himself. He said, “These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” (Luke 16e). En to cosmo thlipsin exete alla tharsete–In the world you will have affliction, trouble, but take heart. Have courage. I have defeated. I have conquered. I have overcome the world.

Our picture of the future can become less a matter of speculation and worry and more and more a picture of the Lord as one in whom to confide and one who grants peace. Peace has in it confidence in the Lord that He will provide, and that He leads to a good end. “When someone is in this faith, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing and no solicitude about future things disquiets him” (AC 8455).

We sometimes say that the future looks dark. And the unknown is a kind of darkness. But when we ascribe the future to the Lord, we may say at any time in history or at any stage of our life, that the future has light in it, being in the hands of Him who is the light of the world.

Settle it in your hearts anew today. Ascribe the future to the Lord. And He will give you what to think and do, and He will give you peace.