After Theology and Beliefs

Theology is the “study of religious faith, practice and experience; especially the study of God and of God’s relation to the world.”[1] Our first step into Christianity begins with understanding the Biblical teachings and where I, where we, fit into God’s relationship to His creation. We need to understand how our particular church or group believes in God. If you grew up in a church you learned the basic beliefs in Sunday School and church. Or many churches have a class for aspiring members to teach them their theology. This is an important first step—to learn what your denomination teaches about God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus and our role in the relationship with them. And to believe in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The second step is to immerse oneself in the Bible itself, Old and New Testaments, to know at least the major passages, to seek their wisdom and what they imply for us.  In the New Testament that would mean knowing the Gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount, the parables of Jesus and the teachings of Paul through his letters to various communities as he helped to spread this new religion. And in the Old Testament the creation of the world and the very early history of mankind, the history of God’s relationship with His people, the Israelites, the beauty of the Psalms which express every possible human emotion to God, the Prophets who call the people back to God and more.

The third step, not necessarily in order, is to give our lives over to God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, to be born again. We do this in answer to a call from God. When we surrender our lives to God, that is the beginning step in a life-long journey into the arms of God. We will go from slavery to the world’s ways to the kingdom of God as long as we keep saying “Yes!” to God.

Once we have these basics down the next big step is to listen to and to heed/obey the Indwelling Spirit of God, the “still, small voice”[2] within us, through various spiritual practices which would still the very loud and insistent voices of our minds so that we can hear that “gentle whisper.”[3] Basically various meditative practices like Centering Prayer help us to get a hold on our habitual thinking and help us step back from it. And when we become an observer of our thoughts and begin to identify the sources which are often way back in our childhood, then we can just observe them and not get emotionally involved in them. Their clamor then begins to die down and we can begin to hear that quiet voice of God’s. Then, of course, we do whatever it suggests to us, be it to speak to this particular person or do this next or read this book or look at this attitude of ours. My experience of following God’s lead is that He often surprises me with something that is just beyond what I think I can do, but that when I do it, it always works to affirm my soul(not the ego). It’s in this way that I have really gotten to know who I am.

In addition to a meditative practice, and once we are familiar with the Biblical teachings, then it is important to find out on a daily basis what God is saying to us through the Bible. Through a practice called lectio divina we take a few short verses of the Bible and read them through slowly three times looking for the word or phrase that has a particular resonance for us. Then we are to meditate on that word or phrase, seeking to understand what God is trying to tell us.

As we enter into this “school” of God’s for us, with daily practices of, say, Centering Prayer and Bible study, we will begin to see and sense changes in how we are and who we are. God is revealing the person that He created us to be. It is in the direct and deep relationship with Him that we really come into our own, beginning to serve Him as He calls us and, mainly, entering into the healing and transforming process that has us owning all that we are. For we are called to love God with all of ourselves—heart, mind, soul and strength.[4] We cannot do this if we are holding anything back. And who are we hiding our pain and suffering from? Not God, He already knows everything. We are only protecting ourselves.

Once we can acknowledge and own all that we have done and said that was sinful, when we can own what someone else did to us, then we have torn down the walls inside us and can step into a much deeper relationship with God. After that the final step is to forgive ourselves and anyone who hurt us. Then the walls are gone. God does not violate our free will on any issue until we tell Him we are ready to deal with it. When we say “Yes!” to Him, that we are willing to look at our defensiveness or greed or other issue, He will heal and transform it for us.

I have found it most useful to set intentions around each issue that God has highlighted in me. An intention is a focused prayer, utilizing our whole self to declare that I am free of this particular issue. At the suggestion of my first spiritual director I set an intention around being so scattered. A few months later I noticed a brand-new feeling—I felt integrated! As I thought about it, I traced it back to setting an intention. From then on I would set an intention for any issue big or small that the Lord called me to examine. [See Spiritual Practices] At any one time I might have a few intentions set and in process. Setting my intention—an invitation to God to work on this issue in me—was all I had to do. The Holy Spirit did all the healing and transforming.

Now we are following Jesus as He called us to do. Doubts that arise in us are just invitations to expand our thinking about something. Prayer is our main vehicle for the ever-deepening relationship with God.  And there are so many methods of prayer: the Lord’s Prayer, petitions, just sitting in the presence of God like in meditation or Centering Prayer and carrying on an ongoing dialogue with Him.[See Spiritual Practices] The goal is to spend not just a dedicated time of prayer, say every morning, but to rest in God’s presence throughout your day, whether you are working, talking to your spouse or child, enjoying leisure activities, consulting Him, listening to Him, praising Him and much more.

There are many ways to approach focusing on God throughout our days. If like, Frank C. Lauback, a missionary to the Philippines in the early 20th century[5] you are determined to think of God in every minute of the day then you would focus on making that a reality. To get even close to this requires God’s help, because I just don’t think we are capable of it on our own. We have to start with a stillness of mind. Then there are a number of ways to raise our level of awareness of what God is blessing and gracing us with during our days and of what He is whispering to us. Keeping a daily gratitude journal can help us focus during our days for God’s presence, blessings and more. Or a daily examen in the evening which looks back to where we might have missed Him, blessings or presence, during our day. [See Spiritual Practices] As we begin to notice more and more of God throughout our days, we also grow in praise and gratitude within ourselves.

By this time you are in God’s arms and He is directing your every step. You are no longer outer- or world-referenced. I don’t think we’re actually done with the healing process for the human side of our being until the day we die, but now there is just the richness of living in God’s presence and doing what He gives us to do. There are no worries about the future, no burdens from that past that we still carry. There is just this moment and what we are called to do. God carries all the burdens and we have the true freedom to be just what we were created and called to be.

Perhaps you can see the progression from living in the world totally to living in God’s presence totally, from beliefs to living a life in God. Maybe you have a feel for how much change there will be in each individual as s/he gives his or her life over to God. Possibly your beliefs have expanded and grown since you first joined a church. Often most of what we give up to God is our own personal narrow point so that we can see more like God sees. The beliefs become much less important than the relationship, the true partnership with God. The theology, the beliefs in God and Jesus Christ are still the foundation of our lives, but they are no long our guide: our guide is Christ Himself.

[1] www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theology

[2] 1 Kings 19:12 KJV

[3] 1 Kings 19:12 NIV

[4] Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28

[5] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Laubach

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