“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” When Mary came to visit her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, the child within her womb leapt for joy when she heard Mary’s greeting. Then full of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth proclaimed a prophetic blessing upon Mary and uttered these very important words.
Elizabeth’s words with obvious application to Mary’s conception of the Messiah are in fact a timeless message for all who hear the word of the Lord and seek to see it through to fulfillment. But what is this “word of the Lord” that Elizabeth is referring to? For Mary it is that she will bring forth the Christ, the Ancient One from her womb, the greatest privilege a human being has had to carry in all of history. And for you and me, it may not be a message quite as lofty or a calling of such grand scale, but it may simply be the voice of God within, the message of your purpose and goal for this life.
From the time of our conception within our mother’s womb, God has implanted within us our true calling, our real vocation for this lifetime. Placed like a seed deep within, many live this life failing to even identify it, and fewer still are those who after identifying it come to realize it in fulfillment. The seed is the revelation of who you really are, your true purpose for your time on earth and perhaps reaching beyond this life as well. Some seem to know it early on, those who become child virtuosos. Others perceive the goal gradually and work to become physicians or teachers. Some realize their purpose as dedicated mothers and housewives. Others hear the call deep inside and know that they have a spiritual vocation and are called to some form of a ministry to serve people.
In all of these callings, the word of the Lord when identified begins as a seed deep in the core of our being. It starts as an ephemeral thought, a budding desire, an idea in latent form. But whether the word of the Lord is an ultimate calling as I have described or a promise that God gives to you later in life, remember that when it has been identified, it is only in a primitive stage, like a seed that has just germinated within the dark earth.
The path of the seed in the physical world is very much the same path as the soul in the spiritual world, and Jesus used this illustration many times to convey this truth to his listeners. What is true of the seed is true of us; for the seed needs to be nurtured if it is to grow into a seedling and then into a sapling and ultimately into a full fledged tree that bears fruit. All of this takes time and is a process often with much opposition and dangers.
In its early stages the seed needs plenty of water and nutrients to start a strong root system. It needs sunlight to offer it encouragement to keep pressing upward past rocks and other obstacles until it breaks through the ground. Then once it sees the light of day, it must contend with insects and weather patterns, fierce winds and storms. If it survives all of these, it will become a sturdy tree which is not easily knocked down and will begin to bear the fruit for which it was programmed.
This seed is you and me and its journey is very much like the path we must take in this life. The Lord taught the parable of the sower to illustrate the way of the seed under various conditions. He described the seed that fell on the path, an indication of those who fall prey to the devil and have the seed stolen from their hearts. He indicated that the seed that fell upon the rocky soil was like those who hear the word and at first receive it with joy, but then because they have no root, the seedling quickly dies in times of adversity and trouble. Then there was the seed that fell among thorns that had its life choked out because of the cares of this world. Finally, he described the seed that makes it to the goal, that which fell upon good soil and produced a crop 100, 60, or 30 times what was sown.
The Lord indicated that the seed is the word and the soil is the human soul. It is our job to cultivate the soil so that the seed can grow and come into its own. Elizabeth said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” What she is telling us is the secret ingredient to make the seed or word of the Lord come to fulfillment, and that is the path of faith.
To believe the word of the Lord through the entire process with all of its ups and downs is the key to seeing it through to fulfillment, and this journey of faith has many facets. It is faith in many forms that nourishes the seed so that it grows and can withstand all adversity and trial.
In one of its more obvious forms, faith is expectation, the constant belief that God will come through as he said, an unwavering trust that what was planted will come to the time of harvest. Expectation is a state of excitement though not without its share of sorrow and trouble. It is a condition of knowing that what was promised will come to pass despite all obstacles. Without expectation we cannot see the dream inside come to fruition for in the time of wavering it can be quickly stolen by the enemy. In the words of James, those who ask anything of the Lord “must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is double-minded and unstable in all he does.”
By contrast, in the Old Testament we see those who exemplify expectant faith in the characters of Joshua and Caleb. At the time when the Israelites had come to the border of Canaan, Moses sent 12 men to spy out the land and bring back a report. Among these 12 were Joshua and Caleb. They spent some time in the country exploring the terrain and vegetation of the land as well as sizing up those who lived there. When they returned to Moses, 10 of the spies were completely negative and discouraged the Israelites from invading. They were intimidated by the giants who lived there which for them overshadowed the bounty of the land. On the other hand, Joshua and Caleb remembered the promise of the Lord to Jacob and his sons that he would surely bring them up out of the land of slavery and return to Canaan where they started from. Despite intimidating circumstances, Caleb boldly declared to the Israelites, “We should go up and take possession of this land, for we can certainly do it.” He demonstrated an unwavering belief in God’s message in the face of great enemies and the discouragement of others around him. Such is the faith that is necessary to carry the seed from germination to bearing fruit. Unfortunately, his words were ignored and the Israelites spent 40 more years in the desert with all of their bodies dropping in the wilderness before they would be afforded another opportunity to come into the inheritance. And of the original fugitives from Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb were permitted to enter in to the Promised Land because they remained faithful.
In the New Testament Jesus extols the power of faith in many throughout the gospels. It was the centurion who believed that the Lord could heal his servant from a distance who was told to return to his house. Jesus said to him, “It will be done just as you believed it would.” When Jesus asked the blind man if he believed that the Lord was able to cure him, he responded that he did, and Jesus told him according to his faith it would be done to him.
Faith then is the key to unlocking the power of God. It is like a tool that can be used to open the gate to a large dam and release a huge reservoir of water. It is the means by which the word of the Lord receives the power within us to come to fulfillment.
Along the journey to becoming a tree, faith must also take the form of obedience if it is to bear much fruit. There are examples both in the positive and the negative in the Bible that we can learn from. One of course was Moses who though he led an exemplary life failed at one critical juncture to follow the way of the Lord. It was at the time that the Israelites were in the desert and in a place where there was no water. The Lord told Moses to speak to a rock so that it would pour forth water, but in his anger and irritation at the rebellious Israelites he struck the rock with his staff instead causing a gusher of water. The Lord was angry with Moses and forbade him to realize the ultimate goal, crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land and all for a moment of passion when he failed to reverence Yahweh in front of the people.
Another tragic example is Saul, a man with great hopes for the people. At a time when the Philistines were gathering forces against Israel, Saul and all his troops were quaking with fear. Samuel the prophet had promised to come after seven days time to offer a sacrifice to the Lord for the battle, a ritual that only he was authorized to do. After the allotted time, Samuel had still not come and Saul took matters into his own hands and offered the sacrifice himself. Shortly thereafter Samuel showed up and chided him for his foolish activity. He was told that if he had obeyed, the Lord would have established his kingdom for all time, but now it would be given to another.
Saul failed to realize the goal through both fear and impatience ultimately resulting in the destruction of his entire line. What the story teaches us is that faith must persevere even when things don’t go as expected. Patience is required even when no milestones are in sight. God does not reveal to us a timetable for the growth of the seed and the unfolding of our lives. It is necessary to be on guard against false expectations and preconceived notions about how things should come to pass. Otherwise the seed may fall upon rough times and perish as it did with Saul.
Along the same lines, we may consider the life of Abraham who acted in faith to see the promise fulfilled but also met a few barbs along the way. It was promised to Abraham that he would become a great nation. Since he was childless at first he presumed that this would happen through his servant Eliezer who would inherit his entire estate. But then the Lord told him that it would be through his own loins that a son would come forth to build this nation. Though he wasn’t commanded to the contrary, Abraham later presumed upon how this might happen when at 90 years old, his wife Sarah gave him her maidservant Hagar to bear the heir. We all know the consequences of that mistake to this very day with the conflict between the Arab and Jewish communities. The lesson to be learned is that along this journey of faith we need to be careful that we not manipulate circumstances in the way that it seems best to us to see the word of the Lord fulfilled. All of the pieces will fit into place in time but if we force them into place it can have disastrous consequences. Remember that it took 25 years for the promise of Isaac to be fulfilled and it came to pass in an unexpected way through conception in 90 year old Sarah. Avoid taking the easy way or the natural way which is often not the way of the Lord.
One last facet of faith to touch on is the idea of perseverance. A very important spiritual quality, the goal can never be reached without it, for it is not those who start who win the crown but those who finish. You can’t expect to cross the finish line if you do not stay in the race. Even if you are very weary and tired, giving up disqualifies from any potential prize. The writer of the Hebrews encourages his readers to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” And the race marked out for each one of us is unique. It is the personal unfoldment, the realization of who we really are deep in the core of our being, the calling that was placed within us even before our birth.
Perhaps in the Old Testament there is no greater hero of perseverance than Joseph, the Christ figure whose calling was to be the ruler of Egypt despite all odds and many discouraging circumstances. The favored son of his father, he was envied by his brothers and sold into slavery in the land of Egypt, an unlikely position to realize a dream. Though he became a commended servant, a cruel twist found him in prison when the wife of his master wrongly accused him of trying to rape her. Perhaps sitting in a cold dark prison for a couple years would lead one to despair, especially as a Hebrew slave with no prospects for the future even if he should be released. In times like this perseverance is required and we need to remember the word of the Lord spoken to us, the word that resides deep in our inner self. For if we trust this voice within it will see us through to our destination, even if a miracle is needed. And such was the twist of fate that happened for Joseph when it became clear that he could interpret dreams and stumbling into Pharaoh’s court he saved all of Egypt by revealing that there would be years of plenty followed by years of famine on the way. For this, Pharaoh elevated him to the highest position in Egypt, in a place as regent, second only to the king himself. And this entire process was not overnight but in all it took 13 years from the time Joseph entered Egypt as a slave to the time he became regent. Remember that all good things take time to develop and God’s timetable is often slower than we would like.
Now I’ve sketched out a path toward personal unfoldment, the blossoming of the self into something that God has planted in the heart, and this is made possible through believing. Faith is the vehicle that brings us there, a strong faith with many properties including among others expectation, obedience, and perseverance. Though at this point in the talk you may be asking how you can acquire such faith to realize the goal. It is nice for me to talk theoretically about how faith takes us there, but if you don’t have this kind of faith what good will it do?
For this reason I am not ending this talk without giving a recipe to acquire faith itself. What I have to offer is the simple building block of faith which is a sure formula for success for everyone. Perhaps Mother Teresa expressed this formula best in one of her famous quotes: “The fruit of silence is prayer; the fruit of prayer is faith; the fruit of faith is love; the fruit of love is service; the fruit of service is peace.” For Teresa, the spiritual goal is a staircase proceeding from one step to another until the ultimate end is realized which is peace, the great Shalom or the Sabbath rest that we read about in the book of Hebrews.
Much can be said about this spiritual chain that she describes, but we are interested in the middle of the formula in which prayer gives birth to faith. From personal experience I can vouch that this recipe works and has been a time tested technique for many throughout the ages. Prayer is the fuel that fans the fire of faith within the soul. It is a spiritual law that is just as certain as gravity is a natural law.
Now we don’t have time to talk about all of the different kinds of prayer which is a big topic in itself, but I can share some ideas and provide some techniques which can be very effective. Especially concerning the process of blossoming as a person, meditative prayer or visual prayer is very powerful. Once you have come to identify God’s purpose for your life and are ready to begin taking steps in that direction, the fuel that will speed that seed along its way is the visualization of what that purpose looks like. It doesn’t have to be a complicated thing, but it may be as simple as seeing yourself doing what God made you to do. If you are called to be a teacher, you may want to spend a few minutes picturing yourself standing in front of a classroom lecturing or writing on the blackboard. If your life’s goal is to be a doctor, you may want to imagine yourself in an operating room performing surgery. If God is calling you to be some kind of a minister, you may want think of yourself standing behind an altar preparing communion or giving a sermon at a podium. In all of these exercises, you will receive confirmation within yourself that your meditation is within the plan of God for your life, because it will be accompanied often by a surge of energy, a mental rush within your mind at the idea of working in whatever role you have pictured yourself. Because this visualization exercise is accompanied by positive energy, it will fuel your faith toward realizing the goal.
Not only is this kind of mental prayer very potent, but vocal prayer can have equally strong effects. And the vocal prayer that is in view here is one that affirms your purpose and calling in this life. Just as the visualization of your vocation energizes you toward that end, speaking out that calling also has a mighty result. Analogous to the examples just mentioned, if you are called to the field of education, you may want to practice saying “I am a teacher” or “I am going to be a teacher.” If you know God is calling you to be a physician, say out loud, “I am going to be a doctor.” If you are called to the ministry, proclaim boldly, “I am going to be a minister or a priest.” You may not only want to say these words in private, but you may want to tell them to others which will further strengthen what you have spoken. All of these exercises of prayer will charge your words with power, and the ideas you have expressed will begin to form in the spiritual world. At the right time, those words or thoughts will become manifest and turn into a reality. For this is a spiritual law.
Along the same lines, vocalization of the scriptures as a prayer has the same kind of effect to fortify you on the journey to where you are going. If you are believing God for healing, you may need to pray Psalm 118 – “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord. The Lord has chastened me sore: but he has not given me over to death.” Likewise if you are weighed down by many burdens and you are having a hard time believing you will see the light of day, pray Psalm 27 – “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the Lord.” There is a scripture for just about every situation you may have, to increase faith when you need it the most.
Now it doesn’t work to practice these kinds of prayer whether mental or vocal only once in a blue moon. Repetition is the key to fueling the fire of faith. Since everyone is different, I can’t say how often is right, but a suggestion would be to try these brief exercises three times per day. Daniel the prophet was known to open his window toward Jerusalem and pray three times a day which perhaps can serve as a model for you and me. Repetition is the key to anything whether in the natural world or the spiritual world. If you want to get good at something you need to practice it often. If you are a weight lifter, you need to do many repetitions to get stronger. If you are learning to play the guitar, you need to break out the instrument many times before you can become proficient. It works the same way with prayer. It is no mystery how it works; it is simply the law.
The idea of repetition is certainly seen in the scriptures particularly in Jesus’ parable about the persistent widow. He taught the disciples the “parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” To recap the story, Jesus said, “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”
Of course God is not like a heathen judge, and the story is not about getting justice against our enemies; the point is that persistence in prayer is the key to getting results, and this persistence will result in the faith you need to achieve your goals. Never give up. Persevere always, even when things look just the opposite of what you expect. That is the faith God requires, the faith that will take you to the place you need to go.