Sunday, May 21, 2017

Isaiah, Merton, Rob

When we lived in Kobe (Japan), our pastor frequently spoke on the theme of the way we live our lives. A big problem we have, he said, is something he called “My Way.” I was reminded of this recently when he posted a photo of a printed prayer, with the caption “If you pray this sincerely from your heart, you will be given eternal life!” (roughly translated).

I expect that Pastor Rob composed that prayer, which reads in part: “I've gotten so tired of doing things my own way” (roughly translated. Actually all my translations are rough, so this is the last time I'll say that). The prayer goes on to describe an earnest desire to live God's way from now on.

I'll include the entire prayer below, but this contrast between “My Way” vs. “God's way” reminds me of another prophet—the Old Testament prophet Isaiah actually. One of Isaiah's famous quotes is from chapter 53, which you may have heard in Handel's Messiah:

All we like sheep have gone astray.
We have turned every one to his own way.
And the Lord hath laid on Him
the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 53:6 (AV)
Isaiah writes about our ways vs. his ways a fair amount in these chapters. In chapter 55, for example, we read
Let the wicked forsake his way
    and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have marcy on him,
    and to our God, for he will surely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways“
                        declares the Lord.
Isaiah 55:6–8 (NIV 1984)
And what does that look like, to go my own way? Thomas Merton, a 20th century Trappist monk, writes very insightfully that
…I do not find in myself the power to be happy merely by doing what I like. On the contrary, if I do nothing except what pleases my own fancy I will be miserable almost all the time.
No Man Is an Island 3.1 (p. 25)

The prudence of the flesh is opposed to the will of God. The works of the flesh will bury us in hell. If we know and love and act only according to the flesh, that is to say, according to the impulses of our own nature, the things we do will rapidly corrupt and destroy our whole spiritual being.

op. cit., 8.3 (p. 134)
According to Merton, the antidote to “My Way” isn't necessarily to join the military or monastery, where we're no longer free to act as we like. On the contrary, he writes that
…we must remember the importance and the dignity of our own freedom. A man who fears to settle his future by a good act of his own free choice does not understand the love of God. For our freedom is a gift God has given us in order that He may be able to love us more perfectly, and be loved by us more perfectly in return.

Love is perfect in proportion to its freedom. It is free in proportion to its purity. We act most freely when we act purely in response to the love of God. But the purest love of God is not servile, not blind, not limited by fear.

op. cit., 8.1–2 (pp. 132f)
So that's the thing: we act most freely by acting most purely in response to the love of God. This is a supernatural thing; it does not come naturally. Consequently, we need help.

Which brings me back to the prayer, which as I mentioned I believe is due to Pastor Rob.

God of heaven: I need you
Humbly now I call on you.
I've totally gotten so tired of going my own way.
Please help me to live life your way going forward.
I now open the door of my life to you.
Please be my Lord and Savior.
Please send the Holy Spirit to fill the hole that opened up in my heart, and make me a perfect person.
Lord, please help me somehow—to be able to trust you, to make me love you, to live my life for you.
Please help me to understand your grace and compassion and peace.
主よ、感謝します。 アーメン
Thank you Lord. Amen.
Thanks to my friend Shuji for checking my transcription, and for his suggestions on my translation. All remaining errors are mine.
Update Monday morning, May 22: It struck me that this prayer can be a response to Matthew 11:28–30, where Jesus says
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

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