Saturday, September 10, 2005

Unless it is Given from Heaven

When I had my ordination cards printed about 14 years ago, I included this text: "No one can receive anything unless it is given from heaven..." (John 3:27). In its original context, this is St John the Baptizer deferring to Christ, whose ministry was eclipsing his own. John's disciples, not yet knowing who Jesus was, were a bit miffed that their master was being upstaged, but John had to reassure them that he was in the limelight only as long as his God-given ministry required. Now it was time for him to decrease while Jesus increased.

For me, not only did I realize (at least a little, anyway) that the priesthood meant the increase of Christ and the decrease of me, but also I was aware (at least a little, anyway) that the priesthood was a gift of such magnitude as to be something that can only be given from heaven (see Hebrews 5:1-4).

This is the same for all that God in his mercy and love does for us. Unless anything is given by God (I'm talking mainly about things of enduring value), we will only frustrate ourselves trying to grasp or produce it on our own. Not that we aren't required to work for our livelihood or to practice personal self-discipline. It just has to be done with, for, and in reliance upon God. "If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor" (Psalm 126/127:1). For this reason we must be committed and surrendered to the Lord's will if we expect to bear fruit in our lives for sanctification and salvation.

There are certain things that are good in themselves, e.g., love, happiness, material goods, etc, but which also need to be "given from heaven," that is, given in the manner, measure, and time that the Lord knows is best for us. It may be, in the case of love, that the time is not ripe (or the circumstances, or the person), or that we have to learn some necessary lessons through the experience of sorrow before we can appreciate happiness to the full, or that we need to discover the spiritual blessings of poverty before (or instead of) the material blessings of prosperity. All this we commit to the providence of the Lord. One of the priest's prayers in the Byzantine Liturgy begins, "We place before you our whole life and hope, O Master and Lover of Mankind..." This means that all we are and all we anticipate or aspire to is placed at the Lord's disposal in loving trust.

Does that mean that we have to accept lives of suffering and deprivation while we wait for heaven to get around to giving us something? Reflect on this text and see what you think: "He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him?" (Romans 8:32). Or this one: "All is yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's" (1Cor. 3:22-23). Once we start to live like we believe God is our Father, we will see heaven opened and we'll discover blessings everywhere.

No one can receive anything unless it is given from heaven. Wouldn't have it any other way.