FOR over three years, my wife and I have been trying to sell our farm. We’ve felt this “call” that we should move here, or move there. We’ve prayed about it and surmised that we had many valid reasons and even felt a certain “peace” about it. But still, we’ve never found a buyer (actually the buyers that have come along have been inexplicably blocked time and again) and the door of opportunity has repeatedly closed. At first, we were tempted to say, “God, why aren’t you blessing this?” But recently, we’ve realized that we’ve been asking the wrong question. It shouldn’t be, “God, please bless our discernment,” but rather, “God, what is Your will?” And then, we need to pray, listen, and above all, wait for both clarity and peace. We haven’t waited for both. And as my spiritual director has told me many times over the years, “If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.”
Pride is a subtle and dangerous mist that silently seeps into the presumptuous soul. It readily creates illusions about oneself and what is reality. For the striving Christian, there is a peril that we can begin to assume that God will prosper all our endeavors; that He is the author of all our seemingly good thoughts and inspirations. But when we presume in this way, it is so easy to get ahead of God and suddenly find that we are not only down the wrong path, but at a dead-end. Or, we might be hearing the Lord correctly, but our impatience blocks out that Still Small Voice that whispers: “Yes, My child—but not yet.”
The consequences of getting ahead of God were disastrous for the Israelites, as we see in today’s first Mass reading (liturgical texts here). Thinking that because they had the Ark of the Covenant, they could win any war, they took on the Philistine army… and were devastated. They not only lost tens of thousands of men, but the Ark itself.
When it finally came back into their possession, the prophet Samuel called the people to repent of their idolatry and ambitions and to pray. When the Philistines threatened them again, instead of presuming that because they had the Ark they would win, they pleaded with Samuel:
Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, to save us from the hand of the Philistines. (1 Sam 7:8)
This time, God defeated the Philistines His way, in His time. Samuel named the spot Ebenezer, which means “stone of the Helper”, because “As far as this place the Lord has been our help.” 1 Samuel 7:12 The Israelites could never have foreseen this victory… just as you and I cannot foresee God’s will, nor what is best for us, nor frankly, what is best for Him. Because the Lord isn’t about building our personal empires but about saving souls.
God wants to help you, He wants to father you. He wants to give you “every spiritual blessing in the heavens” Eph 1:3 and even take care of your physical needs.cf. Matt 6:25-34 But in His way, His time. Because He alone sees the future; He sees how blessings can become curses and how curses can become blessings. That’s why He asks us to totally abandon ourselves to Him.
You see, we think we are adults in the Lord. But Jesus was clear that our disposition must always be like a child. How silly would it be for my nine-year old to tell me that he is leaving home to start a business because he likes being a waiter (lately, he’s been strapping on an apron and serving us tea). He may enjoy it; he may think he’s good at it; but he also has to wait because he’s not nearly ready to be on his own. In fact, what he thinks is good now, he might later see is not good at all.
My spiritual director said to me one day, “What is holy is not always holy for you.” In today’s Gospel, the leper ignored the warnings of Jesus to remain tight-lipped on the healing he received. Instead, he went and told everyone he met about Jesus. Sounds like a holy thing, no? Didn’t Jesus come to save the world, and so, shouldn’t the world know? The problem is that it wasn’t time. Other things had to happen before Jesus would establish His spiritual reign—namely, His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. As such, Jesus could no longer enter any towns or villages because of the crowds. How many people who were meant to see and hear Jesus, then, could not and did not?
My dear brothers and sisters, we live in a society that has wired us to be compulsive—from fast food, to instant downloads, to instant communications. How impatient we are now when things literally take a few more seconds than usual! The danger is that we begin to project that God should act in the same way. But He is outside of time, outside the parameters and boxes which we try to fit Him into. Like the Israelites, we need to repent of our pride, presumption, and impatience. We need to return, with all our hearts, to simply picking up The Cross of Loving, and submit all other inspirations to the Father—no matter how holy they may seem—and say like the prophet Samuel, “Here I am. Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” 1 Sam 3:10
And then wait for His answer.
Trust in the Lord and do good that you may dwell in the land and live secure. Find your delight in the Lord who will give you your heart’s desire. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act and make your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like noonday. Be still before the Lord; wait for him. (Psalm 37:3-7)
For I know well the plans I have in mind for you… plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart… (Jeremiah 29:11-13)
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