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Nov 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 13, 2016 – Jeremiah 1:11-14

(I want to thank Nancy “Joy” for her personal use of these notes and how doing so sent me back to them. I am editing and updating them because I had left so many typos, which doesn’t concern me when speaking from them, but are a problem when making them public.)

What Do You See?

The word of the LORD came to me saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “I see a rod of an almond tree.” Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it.”
The word of the LORD came to me a second time saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north the evil will break forth on all the inhabitants of the land.”
 Jeremiah 1:11-14

Intro: To me it’s a privilege to observe Jeremiah’s apprenticeship

Our verses record his first training exercises, which appear simple
– the prophets’ work was not complicated
• they received a message from God that they delivered to his people
◦ the critical factors were to hear the message, get it right, and tell it straight
• so, Jeremiah’s training began with a question, “What do you see?”
– the spiritual vision of the prophet gave rise to a possibility
• a human person could have eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to perceive
◦ they could have a vision that penetrated to the heart of things
◦ they could see the glory of God
• there were two classic expressions of this possibility
◦ Moses’ request, I pray You, show me Your glory (Ex. 33:18)
◦ Isaiah’s vision:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said,
Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts,
The whole earth is full of his glory. 
(Isa. 6:1-3)

There is an intriguing irony in the message Isaiah received
– Isaiah was given a awe-inspiring vision of God
• he heard angels praising the God whose glory filled the earth
• yet it was Isaiah’s job to prevent God’s people from seeing or hearing

Go and tell this people:
Keep on listening, but do not perceive;

Keep on looking, but do not understand.
Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed. (Isa. 6:9-10)

– Their spiritual dullness was a divine discipline
• otherwise, we would expect everyone to be able to discern God’s glory (cf. Psa. 19:1-3)
• and that brings us to our theme . . .

Prayerful Awareness is seeing what God wants to show us

Jesus wanted his disciples to see his–and his Father’s–glory (e.g., Jn.  17:17:1-5, 24)
– I’m using “see” as a metaphor for all of our perceptions and ways we perceive
• including: notice, observe, explore, discover, and respond
– our eyes need training to see God’s glory
• the ultimate vision of God’s glory is seen in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6)
• but our normal vision of God’s glory is discerned in ordinary objects and routine actions
◦ for example, a dandelion’s parachute seeds or a train’s whistle in the night
◦ it is to see all of Christian theology in a slender ray of light

How did Jesus enlighten his followers to the kingdom of God?
– “Watch the farmer planting seed,” he said
• “Follow the life-cycle of a mustard seed”
• “Spend time in the kitchen watching grandma make bread”
– when he told us to seek first God’s kingdom,
• how did Jesus tell them to escape the distraction of anxiety?
◦ “Look at the birds of the the air” and “Observe how wild lilies grow in the field”
• he turned our attention to the sights and sounds of our everyday world

My favorite prayer in the gospels is that of blind Bartimaeus
– when Jesus asked what he wanted, he said, “Lord, that I might see”
• I have made that my prayer–alongside Moses’ prayer, “Show me Your glory”
– before Jesus took his leave of the disciples, he gave them an invaluable gift:

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (24:45)

• so the goal we have for our time with God in prayer is this:
to see and be transformed by what we see

What makes this seeing and hearing so difficult?

  1. We aren’t looking (the biblical word is seek – we’re not searching) or listening
    – one time you turned your head at the right moment and saw something unique
    • the zigzag branches of a lightning bolt or a whale spouting
    • you have also turned your head just in time to miss something extraordinary
    – we want to sit in prayer, holding our gaze steady so we do not miss God’s glory
  2. We tend to lose sight of what is always in front of us
    – I notice the gate needs painting, but walking past it ever day I no longer see it
    • eventually it fades into the background
  3. We do not watch patiently – like an astronomer or a bird-watcher
    For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
    It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
    Though it tarries, wait for it;
    For it will certainly come, it will not delay. (Hab. 2:3)
  4. We do not see clearly, but through frosted glass as it were
    – our mental habit is to connect perceptions with words
    • with labels, prejudices, judgments, opinions
    ◦ “It’s just a tree” or “Just a crow”
    • we also connect perceptions with feelings and emotions
    ◦ “I don’t like that color,” “This music scares me”
    – we do not know how to enjoy the pure experience of what is before us
  5. Sometimes God shows us something we do not want to see
  6. We do not ponder or reflect or move in for a closer look
    – we are like a mother humoring her child, “Oh yes dear, that’s lovely. Now let’s get moving”
    • I wonder how much of my life I’ve lost by not allowing a child to lead me
  7. We are not look for God’s grace specifically — or his glory, specifically
    – too many times, I don’t look past my problems
    • tears are not the only way that emotions can distort our vision

What can we do about these difficulties?

These are all fixable, but the solutions require training

Prepare your whole self for sitting silently in God’s presence
– set up your environment – make it pleasant
• we want to look forward to this time each day
• light a candle, play music, think of the “aroma” of prayer
◦ try stretching, or first brewing a cup of tea
– because of my ADD, I read awhile before I try to pray
• I use books to warm up my mind, then I turn to the Bible
◦ but DO NOT go to your email first, social media or phone messages
◦ if you do, you will never get to prayer
• one pitfall I’ve learned about books:
◦ I read to learn how to get through the wall of our four dimensional world
◦ but books are part of the wall

Learning to walk, our parents did not teach us biomechanics, how to coordinate the movement of our limbs, or how to shift our weight to maintain our balance. Our bodies felt their way into walking. Along the way, our brains learned to do the math (and physics) to judge distances, determine the safe length of each step, and get us where we wanted to go. Ultimately, we do not learn prayer from books, but by praying and feeling our way into God’s presence.

Breathe, relax and hear God ask you, “What do you see?”
– then look, listen, feel around you and inside you
• what God is showing you may be within or around
– God wanted simple and plain answers from his prophets
• when he asked what they saw, he did not want to hear their opinions
◦ we tend to add way too much interpretation and explanation to what we’re shown
◦ for example, “I see an almond tree. That must mean I’m supposed to grow almonds and make organic almond butter, and use the proceeds of sales to create shelters for the homeless, and . . . .”
– all you have to do is notice your experience in the present moment
• it may be a thought – a story – an idea – a feeling – a reaction — and so on

For awhile, hold on to what you see
– you have your eyes fixed on God’s horizon,
• you notice a ship as it enters your visual field
◦ you watch it passing and then disappearing from your visual field
◦ but you do not board the ship, you only observe
• this is how we observe our thoughts and feelings as they rise and dissipate
– the important thing is that we keep our eyes on the horizon

Bring to this moment faith, hope and love
– allow your heart to believe Jesus is here, now
– allow your soul to hope that you will see God’s glory
– allow yourself to be loved – and to become a conduit of love

Gerald May provides a beautiful piece of counsel for how to wrap up our prayer:

“When it is time to move on, refrain from thinking of ending the practice and starting something else. Do not draw a line of separation between this moment and the next. Instead, let your willingness, openness, and trust flow gently into whatever comes next. Your activity and setting may change, but your desire and the interior attitude of your heart can continue for awhile. In the way painters ‘feather out’ their brush strokes so there is no distinct line between where one ends and the next begins, feather out your presence.”

Conc: What can we expect when we wait and watch?

The unexpected – it’s never what I had assumed

David Steindl-Rast wrote, “This is how I show my faith … in the Father: not by asking to get what I need, but by trusting that I need what I get.”

If we’re watching and waiting, there’s always something to notice
– with patience and attention, we may be blessed to look with the eyes of our hearts
• then we will perceive not only the thing, person, thought or event as it is in itself
• but we will also begin to see through all these things to the goodness, beauty or truth that transcends them
◦ perhaps we will see the flower swing on its hinges and open into eternity

We can expect God to meet us where we are in that moment
– no matter what successes or failures we may bring with us
• however, we can also expect him to not leave us there

“What if all I experience is emptiness?”
– the present moment is not empty of God
• as a rule, it is our own emptiness we experience
– it may be the emptiness of moving through a transition
• God empties us in preparation for filling us with something new
• maybe we are being emptied of our ego — if so, surrender it
◦ perhaps our concepts of God are being emptied so we can know God himself

As you rest your spirit in God’s Spirit
open, receptive and responsive to all he has for you,
let his question play over and over in your mind:
“What do you see?”

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