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Growth and Development
"Consider the lilies, how they grow"
Luke xii, 27
In our early innocence, when we are at the beginning of the new life, we pray "Lord, increase our faith," and then expect it to arrive all at once, complete and readymade, just as though we had ordered a suit of clothes through the mail. We think then that it is a quality, or power, that can be given us by God, without any work or training on our part. We imagine that all that is necessary for us to do is to pray to the Lord to increase our faith, or to give us a large faith; and then as a result we shall suddenly become men and women of great faith. A larger experience of life dispels this misunderstanding. It is then seen that to pray in this way is equivalent to an office boy asking to be made Managing Director of the firm that employs him. It is possible for an office boy to become head of his firm - indeed, there is nothing to prevent him from doing so if he has the right stuff in him - but he must first become the best office boy that ever was, and the best junior clerk, and the best managing clerk, and many other things, before he is allowed to reach the goal of his ambition. In other words, he has to work his way through and up, learning all the time, aspiring all the time, until at last he is recognized as the most able and best-fitted for the position of managing head. It is the same with the new life of the Spirit: we have to work our way through, patiently, step by step. We have to aspire and experiment. We have to embark upon many a daring adventure, learning the whole while, until at last we reach a stage of freedom and actual knowing.
When we meet a man or woman of large faith, we meet a man or woman of large experience. Their faith has not come to them in a night, like the growth of a mushroom, but it has developed through many ventures in faith, and through many tests and experiences.
The beginner says: " Lord, increase my faith" and is disappointed either because a large ready-made faith is not given to him, or because faith is not produced in him by magical means. He is probably disappointed even more when an experience is given him which reveals the fact that he has very little faith at all. He may say: "I could get on all right in the spiritual life, if it were not for this trying experience, or if I had a larger faith; but as it is, life is too difficult for me." But the experience of which he complains, and which shows up his lack of faith, is the very best thing possible to develop his faith, if he would but meet it in the right way.
We are all aware that it is not only useless, but actually hurtful to pray for an easier life. We know that the wise thing to do is to pray for greater strength. We can have greater strength only to the extent that we exercise a greater faith. We can exercise a greater faith only as we willingly enter greater experiences. If we play for safety, trying always to avoid experiences that test and extend our powers, we may be compelled to meet experiences of a far more painful and irksome nature than those we have refused to accept. Indeed, the experiences which we avoid or refuse, would not prove painful at all if they were met willingly and co-operatively. Life does not want us to suffer, but insists upon our learning certain lessons; and through these to attain to a certain stage of development. What Life desires is to lead us to our highest joy, and so, if we co-operate with life then we find that the path to freedom is a joyous and harmonious one.
Life, itself, provides us with the experiences which are necessary for our highest unfoldment and the development of our faith. We make our lives difficult and painful through a settled habit of trying to avoid the experiences (which are really opportunities to attain to a higher state of faith), which we are privileged to meet. I have said that if we were to pray:
"Lord increase our faith", the result would be, not the appearance of ready-made faith, but an experience through which we could develop and strengthen such faith as we already may possess. This law of life applies to us all, no matter what our circumstances may be. It does not apply merely to men like Muller and others who have created and conducted great philanthropic or religious organization. All who have been the instruments through which such works have been carried on, have found and proved that "when the Lord guides, the Lord provides". God is quite capable, not only of raising up men to start and carryon such works, but also of putting it in the hearts of His people to support them. The law applies, however, not only to such efforts as these, but to all of us, no matter what kind of life it may be that we are called upon to live. No matter how hum-drum our life may be, nor how humble and shut-in our circumstances, the same law applies equally to us all. It is just as possible for a business executive or employee, or a tradesman, or artisan, or a woman whose chief interests are in her home and family, to live a life of faith, as it was for George Muller or Jacob Beilhart, to do so. Whatever we are, wherever we are, and no matter how we may be placed, we are all faced with problems; also we are all given opportunities of choosing either a path that requires faith to tread, or a path of cowardice and safety first. The former path leads upwards, and is difficult: the latter path is one of ease (as far as spiritual effort and aspiration are concerned) and spiritual sloth, and leads downwards to extinction of the spiritual life. The former, although not easy, leads upwards to liberty and freedom, whereas the latter leads down to greater difficulty, serfdom and enslavement. It has been said, cynically, by someone, that the best way to overcome temptation is to give in to it. This means that those who take the High Road are subjected to much opposition and temptation, So long as they persist in pursuing the High Road, they are subjected to opposition and temptation until they overcome and reach a quieter stage on the great journey. Those, however, who give in to the temptation to abandon the Quest, at once are left alone. But this is a false peace, due to the fact that those who give in become captives and imprisoned souls.
The best way to develop faith, so I have discovered through experience, is to set oneself an ideal of attainment and to strive after it. It has been said that getting on in life is simply a state of mind. If we examine this statement we find that it is very true. The man who "gets on" in life always has the thought (backed by determination) of "making good" of rising, of winning and progressing. The average individual when his day's work is finished thinks no more of it, and either idles his time away, or goes pleasure seeking, or indulges in a hobby, or engages in some altruistic service. None of these things advances him in life, materially. The man, however, who has the "getting on" habit of mind has all his mental energies and powers focused on his one objective, viz. rising in life, He never wastes a minute, every thought and action being directed towards the one end that he has in view. If he carries this to excess, he finds out later that he has paid too big a price for his success, and that he has become a slave to the thing that he has created. Nevertheless, his progress and rise in life through industry, application and concentration-involving the sacrifice of ease, pleasure, leisure, and most of the finer and better things of life - prove that "getting on" is simply a state of mind, His state of mind and focusing of mind powers attract to him the opportunities which, when seized and made use of, lead to progress and achievement.
Advancement in the New Life is also due to a state of mind. While the average person's powers are scattered and frittered away uselessly, the one who is filled with a Heavenly ambition focuses all his powers upon the goat of his ambition, and nothing can satisfy him except advancement in knowledge of God, together with an increasing understanding of the Divine mysteries. Such advancement, unlike worldly success, does not enslave or satiate, but leads to ever expanding freedom and liberty, and to increasing powers of appreciation of Heavenly joys.
The two qualities that we have to develop more than any others are love and faith. These are the marks of the Heavenly man: a love that embraces all, desiring only to give and not to receive, and faith that holds on to God and the Invisible, in spite of the sternest tests and trials. Being love itself in all our thoughts and actions leads us to happiness and life. We love for the sake of loving, just as the sun shines upon all, for the sake of giving out its energy and not in order to receive back something in exchange. But, although this is our motive, yet we cannot escape being blessed; for love is life and hate is death "and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God".
And one who cultivates the life of faith is brought into a state of liberty. But he must be willing to be tested and tried. But such tests are only in order to help him into a state of liberty. In learning a trade, or to play a game of skill, one must do difficult things, and keep on doing difficult things until they become easy. Such difficulties help us to become proficient, having reached which we enjoy to the full the satisfaction and benefits that proficiency brings. We must always remember that life is friendly and that all its experiences are endeavours to help us on our journey to higher and better things, and greater joys and felicities. If we think otherwise, then we will meet our experiences in the wrong way, so that we prevent them from leading us to our Highest good. Indeed, we meet them in such a way as to make them into sources of needless suffering. If, however, we meet them in the right way, with friendliness and co-operation, circumstances may be difficult for a time, but if we are faithful and hang on, then "joy cometh in the morning".
The life of faith is not an easy one, yet it leads to liberty. A competitor in a race is tested almost to breaking point. Again and again he feels that he cannot stay the course and that he must retire; yet he still keeps on, although he has passed what he thought was the limit of his endurance many times over, And so, because he will not give in, he wins the race.
It is the same with the cultivation of faith. We are subjected to experiences so trying that we feel that we cannot continue, or that our fortitude must give way. But if we continue to the end, determined to see the thing out, no matter what the cost may be, we enter into liberty and joy such as cannot be described. The would-be man of faith, while being initiated, may be worried and greatly puzzled and troubled; but when he has attained he enjoys a settled peace, such as is entirely unknown by the ordinary individual.
Some readers may think that they do not want to become men and women of faith. They want to have an easy, uneventful life, full of peace and enjoyment, and do not desire any "experiences". If there are any such readers they must be told that such a thing is impossible. They want to reap where they have not sown, and gather where they have not strawed. They want to enjoy Heaven before becoming fit to enter such a state. They shrink from attempting to live a life of faith because they think it is a dreary, unpleasant business. But, actually, it is the only life of joy: it is the only path to peace: it is the only way to a heavenly state: it is the only life worth living. On the other hand, the life of ease so desired is a life only fit for a cow. There is no interest in it, there are no adventures in it, and therefore it is an insipid life fit only for dumb, driven cattle.
Trying to make life easy and safe really increases and perpetuates suffering and care. The life of faith, on the other hand, is the only path to liberation and complete freedom. It is the way of adventure, of joy, of peace, of mastery and overcoming.
There are those who teach that it is not necessary to pass through experiences, but that the Kingdom is a finished Kingdom, and that one can enter it now. They will tell you that it is simply a state of consciousness and that one can therefore enter it now if one is ready to do so, or if one 'demands' the rights of a child of God.
It is quite true that the Kingdom of God is a finished Kingdom, but it is equally true that we have to be prepared and made ready to enter it. It is also quite true that it is a state of consciousness into which we can enter. But this state of consciousness is really a state of actual knowing that is the result of experience. At first we have to walk by faith, but each experience reveals God to us more clearly until we reach a state of such knowing and certainty, that the things which we once believed and held on to by faith, are known to be realities, and the divinely normal state. We may then be known as men and women of great faith, but actually we are those who have passed through the faith stage, to a state of pure knowing, in which there is perfect liberty and freedom.
After each experience we can say: "I now know God better, I know now better than ever before that my life is not restricted in the way that people's lives seem to be restricted, but that I am free to the extent that I rely entirely upon God".
And so we go on, until only God remains.
'Into the glorious liberty of the children of God.'
As a preliminary to writing on any subject it is necessary first of all to define our terms; for, if we do not, the reader may receive an erroneous idea, through attaching a meaning to the terms used different from the meaning attached to them in the mind of the writer.
First of all, then, what is meant by the term "faith"? Paul says; "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,' or, in other words, that faith is the assurance we have concerning the things we hope for; and the inward conviction we possess respecting the things which are unseen and eternal. It is an inward spiritual faculty that is awakened in us through the indwelling of the Spirit of Truth. It is through the use of this faculty that we are able to believe in the reality of things that we cannot see, and to put our trust in a God Whom we also cannot see. Through the exercise of this faculty we not only are able to believe in this which cannot be proved by any external evidence, but we are also enabled to hang on to that which we believe until we see it manifested.
Saints in all ages have been able to trust their soul to God. "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." This text or declaration of belief in a God who can save the soul and bring man into eternal life, is still the foundation of faith of thousands and I have nothing to add to it. We must all admit that the welfare of the soul is of primary importance, 'for what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? or what shall he give in exchange for his soul? But, while this is true, it is not right that we should limit God's power to the next life. God is a God who is available in this life, as well as in the life to come. Also, it is through finding God in the practical affairs and experiences of life that we are regenerated. It is only through regeneration that eternal life becomes possible and as regeneration is worked out in the practical experiences of life, then these of necessity are of first class importance. Life is a practical thing, filled to the brim with practical experience. It is given us to live in a practical way. Life is the great initiator. Through its experiences and discipline we learn to exercise faith, and in so doing become regenerated, or re-born, and re-made from above, and our self-nature changed into god-nature.
Regeneration is of such extreme importance that it would not be worth while spending a moment in writing about living a life of faith if it were not for the fact that to live by faith and thus be victorious is in itself the Path.
By the term 'regeneration' I do not mean conversion. This is but the entrance to the new life. Regeneration is a lengthy process, consisting of several stages, during which we become entirely changed in character and disposition, and concurrently with this change there is built up within us a Celestial body, the possession of which alone makes it possible for us to function in Celestial Spheres. 'Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed."
The work of regeneration proceeds the while we are dealing with the practical affairs of life, bringing God into our daily work, and, in the Power of Omnipotence, rising victorious over our difficulties. Put briefly, faith, or rather the exercise of faith, can be described as " Trusting God instead of judging by appearances." By the term " God," I mean the Creative Fount and Source of all life and manifestation. This Creative Life expresses perfection, i.e., Divine order, to the extent that we trust It and allow It scope to manifest itself in time and space conditions. It cannot manifest imperfection or disorder, but only perfection and order, these being inherent in Itself. THAT which is perfect can only manifest perfection. This is where the man of faith or right thinker (one who thinks from the standpoint of Truth) differs from all other men. When he sees disorder of any kind (disease, poverty, disharmony, misery) he knows that it is not Truth, but is a manifestation of "not-Truth"- a form of disorder due to man's separateness from God and his belief in something other than Truth. The man of faith declares the disorder to be not the Truth, and affirms the Truth as it is in God. He puts his trust in It, relies upon It, and gives It time to manifest. Truth is omnipotent because it is the only reality and the only thing that is true in the Universe.
By the term " appearances," I mean life and circumstances as they appear to be. Disease is an appearance only, it is not Truth; as was proved by the Lord Jesus Who was Truth incarnate and lived in its perfect realization. Jesus did not accept as Truth the blindness of the man who was born blind. He recognized only the Truth about the man - the Truth in the mind of God about the man - and the man received his sight. Error must always flee at the approach of Truth, for the simple reason that Truth is the only thing there is. By 'appearances' then, I mean those states and conditions that are generally accepted by humanity as real, and which are disorderly, i.e., not manifesting the Divine order and perfection. What I wish to draw attention to, therefore, is the use of faith in the practical affairs of life. Somehow, in spite of the cloud of witnesses described so eloquently in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews; and in spite of the example set by George Muller and others in modern times, the majority of those of us who call ourselves Christian, do not live lives of faith as far as this world is concerned. We may believe that Divine Power is available in times of moral temptation; but we do not believe in an available God or Power which can make us victorious in the practical affairs of life. The term 'victoriously', is used advisedly. Living in faith, as I understand it, does not mean retiring from the world, or giving up our work in order that we may live a so-called spiritual life. Some think otherwise, and retire to some monastery or Retreat. If we live truly a life of faith we overcome and become victorious in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. We may be tempted to give up our job or retire from the arena of modern life, but if we examine our motives we find that we wish to do this in order to avoid the difficulties of our life, and to escape from them to something more congenial. We find also that we have been deceiving ourselves by thinking that our motive is a noble one - that it is solely in order that we might live a higher life, one of faith in God, instead of by our own exertions, that we desire to retire from the conflict, This is a subtle temptation, but we can counter it by remembering that we must never run away from any experience. What is required of us is to overcome and be victorious in our present circumstances.
If our life is difficult, then this proves that we have not yet mastered our problem, To master our present problems is to live the life of faith. When this is achieved other avenues of service open up before us without any seeking on our part. The life of faith is a victorious life, lived in the place where we are now, in the circumstances in which we now are. To do this is to maintain the positive attitude which always wins, in the long run, To do otherwise is to adopt the negative attitude which always leads to failure and to added trouble and difficulty.
If we endeavour to overcome in our present circumstances then we find that God is infinite, and His omnipotence is available according to the extent of our faith. But this infinite Power is not available if we do not even believe in it. So long as people believe that there is no available God, they can experience only that which confirms their belief. If they do not believe in an available God it is obvious that they will never find any evidence of His power. Our mind is either closed or expanded by our beliefs. If we believe that God is not available, but that we are bound by natural law, then we are limited by natural law, because our mind is closed to anything higher. Before we can experience anything greater in life than that which comes to the ordinary material man, we have to admit it into our mind. Our life is limited by the boundaries or walls of our mind. The more closely walled our mind, the more limited our life; for the reason that life, as we know it, is a reflection of our mind.
But on the other hand, if we push back the boundaries of our mind, so as to admit larger and less cramped ideas of life and the universe, then greater things become possible. When we admit into our mind an idea of the possibility of the (so called) impossible being accomplished, then it is brought within the bounds of possibility for us. This is why our Lord said: "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." The Power is infinite, but lack of faith makes it non-available.
Faith, then, as the term is used in this article, is the exercising of a spiritual faculty, through which we are able to lay hold of Omnipotence, thus making It available, so that that which is humanly impossible becomes Divinely possible.
Next, what is meant by the term 'freedom'? The meaning that I wish to attach to the term is two-fold. First, a consciousness of freedom that is born of a realization that the Infinite and Omnipotent is our Father and Friend. We become completely carefree when we realize that the Lord is the Source of our life (the life that animates our body), and of the life of experience (through which we are led day by day), and of all that is necessary for our life and expression. We then know what the Psalmist meant when he said: "He brought me forth into a large place." In this "large place" every barrier and limitation falls away, and we stand in the Eternal.
"AIl the Divine forces ministering to our eternal joy."
We enter into freedom from all care, for who can have a care when the Infinite God is our All, our Father and Friend. We enter into freedom from all fear, for who can fear, when Omnipotence is our Friend, and Infinite Love and Infinite Wisdom our parents?
Secondly, we enter into a state of freedom in worldly or practical affairs. Through obeying Heavenly laws instead of the laws of self-interest and Mammon, we come under the laws and protection of Heaven. The forces which hold others in slavery, binding some in the bondage of golden chains, on the one hand, and forcing others into situations of penury and want, on the other, are powerless to affect the one who is established in God, the One Source of the Universe. The blessing of Jehovah rests upon the one whose mind is stayed upon God and who lives a life of faith in God. This is "the blessing which maketh rich, and with which He (Jehovah) added no sorrow." Not rich in worldly possessions, but rich in the knowledge that all our needs are met both now and will be forever, so that we can say with Carpenter, "All is well; today and a million years hence, equally". This is the blessing which makes us rich in the knowledge that Infinite Wisdom and Omniscience are guiding and leading us on to our eternal Good, and to higher and more glorious things.
We are able to stand aside, unhurried and unafraid:
"Content to let the world go by,
To know no gain or loss." Grounded in the Eternal, with our mind stayed upon God, we know that the only effect that circumstances and the experiences of life can have is to provide a blessing for us. All things work together for our good: even angels for "are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" But such freedom, or anything approaching it, does not come of itself. While it is true that all good comes from the Lord (the One Central Source of Life and Its manifestations), yet the state of knowing and certainty which makes freedom possible, or which constitutes freedom, can be arrived at only through the exercise of faith, such exercise of faith also necessitating the passing through of all the experiences which testing God and Life brings. When we live a life which tests God, or Life, then we find that God, or Life, is also testing us. It is through this 'proving' or testing, that our faith is exercised, and developed. Concurrently with this process of growth a state of awareness arises, so that it becomes possible for us to say: 'I know in whom I have believed'. We know beyond any question of doubt or uncertainty at all that an available God, "able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think".
The world is passing through a time of depression and fear. This depression and anxiety should find no place in the life and mind of those who profess to live by faith. Yet on all hands we find the prevailing world state of consciousness, which is the unenlightened material mass consciousness, reflected in those who are professed followers of Truth. How is it that such a state of affairs exists, when no such ideas are to be found in Truth ? How is it that people who ought to be exclaiming with joy: "0, What a glorious thing is Truth, and how wonderful God is!" are saying: "What a terrible state the world is in: what fearful things are happening, and how dreadful it all is ?" Why are they thinking and speaking in this way, when they know all the time that the elementary law of right thinking is to think in terms of Truth, and from the standpoint of Reality, Heaven and Perfection? Why are they saying: "Isn't life dreadful?" instead of "Isn't life wonderful?" Why are they thinking and speaking in terms of human and material limitation, instead of as those who are enjoying "the liberty of the Sons of God?" Why is faith so weak, if not altogether non-existent? The reasons may be many, but one I know, and that is, the soul is not nourished with the bread of Heaven. The soul cannot receive its necessary nourishment if it is fed on clever books merely conveying man's ideas about God, and on newspapers and talks by intellectual but quite spiritually unenlightened people. The soul can be fed only by quiet meditation upon the Divine Word. If a small portion of Scripture is meditated upon each day until a sense of reality comes and one is consciously established in the Eternal, then the mind can live in Truth, and thinking can be maintained in the "Isn't life wonderful" attitude, instead of the "Isn't life dreadful" attitude. One who is established in Truth, and whose soul is nourished by Heavenly food gratefully declares, "My cup runneth over" while the starved soul cries: "What fresh horror is going to happen next?" The man of faith exclaims in the face of world depression and national disasters, "Thou preparest a table before me, in the presence of mine enemies". He forever declares triumphantly the Truth which is unseen - the Truth that has power to demonstrate and vindicate Itself, because it is the Reality.
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