Thursday, July 14, 2011

Indulge Me?

Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life."
Matthew 19:27-29

(Random thoughts for the Contemplative Service)

However much I don't want it to be, I must confess that Peter's question is often my question. 'What's in it for me? What do I get?'  When I do something good I start looking to God for my reward and when something bad happens I start looking back through my life trying to work out what I did wrong to cause the event to happen.

I reduce my spiritual life to My Action and God's Response. I perform action A (or avoid performing it) and then I wait for God to respond with B.

Actions like:

I have had a quiet time every day.
I avoided _________________
I gave money to the poor
I took Disciple Bible Study
I taught Disciple Bible Study
I went on a mission trip
I went on a silent retreat
I visited auntie Ethel even though she drives me crazy
I went to church while on vacation
I gave up meat for Lent
I work full time for You
I moved to another country for You
I made a pilgrimage to _______

All the things I've listed are good - prayer, fasting, study, pilgrimage, teaching, self discipline etc, but the danger is I think that I can manipulate God into blessing me by the way I live. I keep my end of the bargain then God must keep his.

I am also aware that I promote books, studies, retreats, worship services etc to other people in a similar way. If you read this book then God will bless you. If you go on this retreat you will grow spiritually. If you fast for Lent then you will encounter God in a new way.

I saw a number of cathedrals in Spain recently. At one of them we saw incredible gold and silver items for use in worship services. I overheard someone saying that they could see where all the money from the church selling Indulgences ended up. Johann Tetzel, a Dominican Preacher in the Middle Ages is reputed to have said 'As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs.' If you give to the church your deceased friends will get relief from Purgatory.

I don't like this comparison. I can sit in judgement of Tetzel whilst being guilty of the same thing.

My Action. God's Response.

I decide what I want God to do in my life and then try and figure out how to manipulate God into doing it. I judge whether I should perform an action by what I will get out of it. Even my selfless actions have a level of selfishness in them. It's easy for me to get caught up in a spiral of despair around this. I question my motives for everything and end up doing nothing.

I'm glad Thomas Merton is there to help. He wrote in his book Thoughts in Solitude:

I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

What do you want? What is your desire? How can you please God today?

No comments: