girl whispering into ear of another girl who has covered he mouth

Gossip Turned Upside Down / Spiritual Meditations

Avoiding gossip is one of those parental teachings that has stuck with me.  My father would say “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” (sound familiar?). Prompted by a friend, I decided to see what the Bible says about this. 

Shocker #1

I found that there are surprisingly few occurrences of the word “gossip” in the Bible, but they all indicate a bad characteristic.  A search of the NIV resulted in only 8 instances!  Checking out a few other versions, I found the WEB has only 4 instances!

So now I’m wondering: Why this lifelong emphasis on the evils of gossip? and How did the WEB translation of the Hebrew/Greek result in only half the references?

A big clue to the difference:

29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; (Rom 1:29-30 NIV)
29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, malice; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil habits, secret slanderers30 backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, (Rom 1:29-30 WEB)

Now I understand the emphasis on the dark side of gossip.  But if it can be translated as “slander”, a very serious accusation, gossip seems kind of minor.

Shocker #2

The academic definition of gossip is simply that

“you’re talking about someone who isn’t present”.

 What?!  I do this all the time!  I thought gossip was supposed to be really bad!

Gossip Started with Our Ancient Ancestors

Social Psychologists tell us that when disparaging gossip, we overlook the fact that it’s an essential part of what makes the social world tick; the nasty side of gossip overshadows the more benign ways in which it functions.

In fact, gossip can actually be thought of not as a character flaw, but as a highly evolved social skill.

Evolutionary psychologists believe that our preoccupation with the lives of others is a byproduct of a prehistoric brain.  According to scientists, because our prehistoric ancestors lived in relatively small groups, they knew one another intimately. In order to ward off enemies and survive in their harsh natural environment, our ancestors needed to cooperate with in-group members. But they also recognized that these same in-group members were their main competitors for mates and limited resources.

Living under such conditions, they faced several adaptive social problems: Who’s reliable and trustworthy? Who’s a cheater? Who would make the best mate? How can friendships, alliances, and family obligations be balanced?  In this sort of environment, an intense interest in the private dealings of other people would have certainly been handy – and strongly favored by natural selection.

Recent Studies of Gossip

Only 15% of Gossip is Negative

New research published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science analyzed thousands of daily conversations to better understand the true nature of gossip. Contrary to conventional wisdom, gossip may not be as negative as we tend to think.

To arrive at their conclusion, researchers at the University of California Riverside analyzed daily conversations of 467 people over a multi-day period using an Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR, for short). EAR is a portable device that continuously samples sound from a wearer’s immediate environment. Participants were encouraged to wear the device all day during the test period. This allowed researchers to unobtrusively listen in on, and analyze, the contents of participants’ daily conversations.

Here’s what they found. First, the researchers reported that females gossiped significantly more than males (which is consistent with past research as well as general beliefs on gossip). They also found that extraverts and agreeable people tended to gossip more than others.

But it gets more interesting. The researchers separated gossip into three distinct categories:

  • positive/flattering gossip,
  • neutral gossip (i.e., observations about people that aren’t necessarily positive or negative),
  • and negative/malicious gossip.

Examining these three categories separately, they found that younger people tended to gossip more negatively than older people. They also found that people with higher incomes tended to gossip more neutrally than people with lower incomes.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is what the researchers didn’t find. For one, when it came to evaluative gossiping, (positive/flattering and negative/malicious gossip), they found no evidence of a gender difference. They write,

“Despite popular notions, the most reliable evidence for women gossiping more than men was for neutral, rather than evaluative, gossip.  The study revealed less consistent evidence for evaluative gossip and therefore did not support the notion that women evaluatively gossip more than men.” 

Women are no more “catty” than men.

They also dispelled another common misconception—that poorer, less educated people engage in gossip more than the affluent. If anything, the results suggest the opposite.

The researchers were also interested in understanding how people gossip. In other words, what are the common topics, times of day, and conversation characteristics that define gossip? To start, they report that just about everyone gossips. (Only 34 individuals out of the 467 did not gossip at all.) Specifically, they estimate that the average person spends 52 minutes per day gossiping.

However, they note that most gossip (75%, to be exact) is non-evaluative, or neutral, in nature. Fifteen percent of gossip is negative while the remaining 10% is positive or flattering. They also note that gossip tends to be about acquaintances more than celebrities, and typically involves an exchange of social information rather than thoughts about one’s physical appearance or achievements.

Gossip Creates Relationships

In studies reviewed by Ellwardt, Steglich & Wittech, harmless gossiping in the workplace was found to build group cohesiveness and boost morale among colleagues.

Gossip also helps to socialize newcomers into groups by making them privy to group norms and values. In other words, listening to the judgments that people make about the behavior of others helps the newbie figure out what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

What’s more, gossip also fosters trust and closeness among friends, and can provide moral guidelines for behavior. Those who can’t do it well often have difficulty maintaining relationships, and can find themselves on the outside looking in.

Among a group of friends or coworkers, the threat of becoming the target of gossip can be a positive force; it can deter “free-loaders” and cheaters who might be tempted to slack off or take advantage of others.

I Just Couldn’t Help Myself

 A 1993 observational study found that male participants spent 55% of conversation time and female participants spent 67% conversation time on “the discussion of socially relevant topics”.

They also found a physiological distinction to be drawn between active and passive participation in gossip. Matthew Feinberg, an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at the University of Toronto’s and his colleagues explored this in a 2012 study.

When subjects heard about another person’s anti-social behavior or an injustice, their heart rates increased. When they were able to actively gossip about the person or the situation it soothed them and brought their heart rates down. The act of gossiping, Feinberg explains, “helps calm the body.”

So, it could be a struggle to stop gossiping, but if you wish to do so, Sarah DiGiulio has some suggestions.

Criteria for Useful Gossip

A good gossiper is someone who people trust with information and someone who uses that information in a responsible way. If you find out your friend has a crush on someone with a bad reputation for cheating, you let your friend know, not to hurt your friend, but as a warning. You may find out someone in your company is not a team player and you let other coworkers know so that they can try to avoid working with that colleague.

A bad gossiper, on the other hand, is someone who shares confidential information about others in order to get ahead, get an advantage for themselves or is just reckless. Negative gossip is frequently a means of making perpetrators feel better about themselves by putting another person down. People don’t tend to trust “bad” gossipers with private information. “If someone is speaking negatively about my friends to me, they are likely to be doing the same thing to me behind my back.”

Research has indeed shown that a lot of gossip has both positive effects and moral motivations, explains Robb Willer, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Polarization and Social Change Laboratory at Stanford University, who studies the social forces that bring us together and drive us against one another, including gossip.

Studies from his group have shown that the more generous and moral among us are most likely to pass along rumors about untrustworthy people, and they report doing so because they are concerned about helping others. They call this type of gossip “prosocial gossip” because it serves to warn others — which has the effect of lowering overall exploitation in groups, Willer says. “A lot of gossip is driven by concern for others and has positive, social effects.”

Here’s how to make sure you’re gossiping in a responsible, trustworthy way:

1. Think Twice Before You Do It

Whether you’re gossiping in a responsible way or not is all a matter of when you’re doing it and with whom you’re sharing the information.  Are you stabbing someone in the back by telling that story? Is that news going to stop something bad from happening?

2. Don’t Gossip for Personal Gain

If you’re doing it for your own personal gain, don’t; it’s probably not doing anyone any favors. “The form of gossip we’ve found beneficial is negative gossip about people who have behaved in an antisocial way,” Willer says.

3. Don’t Distort Information

Tell it like it is. Leave the exaggeration at the door, Willer says. “People often exaggerate what they pass on to make a better or more coherent story — or to justify why they are speaking about someone.”  That’s not a responsible way of sharing information. Gossip doesn’t do a lot of good if its informational content is unreliable.

Conclusion

Despite multiple studies that reveal an upside to gossip, negative opinions about gossip are resistant to change.

Whether it’s workplace chatter, the sharing of family news or group texts between friends, it’s inevitable that everyone who talks, talks about other people. And that’s OK if we first ask ourselves: Is it true? Is it good? Is it useful?

You may not be able to always answer “yes” to all 3 questions, but always do your best.  Some days are better than others.

To sum it up gossip is light talk about a person that may or may not be true but is often public knowledge, most often about family, friends and coworkers. Slander, on the other hand, are outright lies about a person’s actions or character and can seriously harm their reputation. It is good to remember that even though gossip is not illegal it can hurt a person’s feelings and reputation as well as damage relationships.

If you found this post to be interesting, inspiring, informative or helpful, please share it.

Relevant Scripture

… if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
you will be my spokesman….(Jeremiah 15:19)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Eph 4:29)

References

The Truth About Gossip” by Mark Travers Ph.D.

Gossip Is a Social Skill, Not a Character Flaw” by Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D.

Good News about Gossip” by Megan Robbins Ph.D.

The Science Behind Why People Gossip—and When It Can be a Good Thing” by Sophia Gottfried 

Psychologist Say Gossiping is a Social Skill.  Here’s How to Know if You are Doing It Right” By Sarah DiGiulio 

statue of Jesus blessing

Uncover Blessings Concealed in Beatitudes / Spiritual Meditations

Every day we hear someone say “I’m blessed” referring to just about anything.  It’s usually the receipt of something: a goal achieved, support or endorsement, a gift or acquisition, money.   Although the words “I’m blessed” imply that the receiver credits God for the gift, which may be legitimate, the type of blessings spoken of by Jesus, the apostle John and the Psalmists are quite different.

What we consider a blessing is often still the same as it was when Jesus walked the earth.  At the time he taught the Beatitudes, the “blessed” ones were considered to be those who lived on a higher plane than everyone else.  Either:

  • They were gods.
  • They were humans who had gone to the world of the gods.
  • They were the wealthy, upper crust. They were those with many possessions. The blessed were those people and beings who lived above the normal cares, problems, and worries of normal people.

Matthew (reflecting Jesus’ thoughts) uses the word  “blessed” in a totally different way. It is not the elite who are blessed. It is not the rich and powerful who are blessed. It is not the high and mighty who are blessed. It is not the people living in huge mansions or expensive penthouses who are blessed. Rather, Jesus turned it upside-down and pronounced God’s blessings on the lowly: the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the meek, and the mourning.

So, when you read the Beatitudes do you see yourself in one or more of those blessed groups?  This is the way I always looked at them; as separate groups. That is until I started doing some research.  Then I had a real eye-opener.

With the help of my friend Rev. Nathan Carlson. I’ll tell you what I found.

Setting the Scene

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.  (Matt 5:1-2)

Matthew wrote his gospel many years after Jesus spoke on the mountainside. In his view, the ‘crowds’ included  the new groups of  Christians who would be reading his Gospel. His intention was for a closer look at this part of the teaching, targeted to disciples already living in a post Easter, post Ascension, post Pentecost times.  Therefore, although the ‘disciples’ who were mentioned may have included only Jesus’ current 4 disciples, it most likely referred to all those who were part of the crowd, or indeed, all readers of Matthew’s gospel, including you and me! 

Some have understood the beatitudes as teaching the true meaning of either Torah or prophetic pronouncements upon Israel. And the beatitudes borrow heavily from themes and phrases found in the Prophets and Psalms, which you can see by reading the Relevant Scriptures at the bottom of this article. Thus, Jesus could be viewed as explaining the meaning and fulfillment of texts well known to his Hebrew listeners who would have interpreted Jesus’ teaching as concerning the coming of the promised land of Israel. 

Therefore, note that there are multiple parallel thoughts running through the beatitudes: the Hebrews on the hillside were expecting the creation of the state of Israel, Christians (who existed at the time Matthew wrote his gospel) were expecting the Kingdom of Heaven on earth at Christ’s second coming, and  those who believe that the Kingdom of God is the individual’s inner relationship with God anticipates that relationship for each seeker of God.

The Beatitudes

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,

The purpose then of these beatitudes is not to prescribe actions necessary to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, but to describe the type of characteristics expected to be seen in those who are in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven, here, refers specifically to God’s reign on earth.

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

Whereas Luke (Luke 6:20-26) only mentioned the poor who are in a state of financial and physical need and excluded those who are wealthy, Matthew included the qualifier “in spirit”, opening the inclusion of everyone. Various meanings of the words “in spirit” have been suggested, however, Rev. Carlson believes the best use for them relates to those who are entirely dependent upon God’s grace, mercy, sovereignty, and care. There is supporting evidence throughout the Gospel of Matthew and it makes sense with what follows in these verses.  For the Jewish community, the poor are those missing a homeland – themselves.

Blessed are Those who Mourn for They will be Comforted

This should be understood as those who mourn the loss of the things of this world that reflect the will of God and the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. They will be comforted by the restoration of the kingdom, whether it be land, the second coning or our inner connection with God.

Blessed are the Meek for They will Inherit the Earth

If you equate “meek” with “milk-toast”, you are not alone.  But my friend and Hebrew/Greek/English translator, Dr Frank Leeds, gives us a much more accurate way to visualize what the Greek speaking folks of the time understood ‘meek’ to mean.

Greek is loaded with ‘picture’ words and English simply does not have the language to fill in the difference.  Meek is a horse term which the New Testament is full of.  Here is the picture:  A horse is by its very nature, scared to death of fire.  It sees fire and it bolts away to save its life.  When the Romans used horses for military purposes, they often used them at night and soldiers at night needed torches to see properly. Light a torch and the rider had a crazy horse to deal with.  However, by training a horse, a torch could be passed in front of its eyes and it wouldn’t move.  Taking its cue front the calm of its rider rather than the fire of the torch, the horse was declared to be “MEEK”.  What was going on around the horse, no matter how frightening, the horse took its perspective of life from its rider not from its environment.  When Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek” he is saying, “Blessed is the man who does not get all bent out of shape and scared to death about what is going on around him, but is strong enough to take his cue from his master.  It is a description of the person who does not ‘fly off the handle” but remains perfectly in control. It is about a person who has reached beyond his or her nature.  It is a person who takes their cue from God.

So, the meek reflect the character of Jesus as the suffering servant. Those who have been used and abused by tyrannical political systems and have the strength to not fight back. Those who exhibit the peaceful nature of the Kingdom. Those who confront power not with power but with God’s love and promise as their fortifying backbone.

Can you now accept being called ‘meek’? I can.

Promised to the meek is “the earth”. In the prophet’s words in Isaiah, the same concept is used to signify the earth being not the globe but the promised land of Israel.  This is the long-awaited hope of the people of Israel; that that for which they mourned the loss, will be restored to them. Or It will be given to those who reflect the nature of Jesus with the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Blessed are Those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness for They will be Filled

Like Luke, Matthew raised up those who are hungry, but also those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  The idea of hunger and thirst relating not just to the physical body, but also to the spiritual body, already existed in Psalms. What does it mean, however, to hunger and thirst for righteousness? This addition cuts several directions.

  • First, righteousness indicates a right relationship with God. This meaning absolutely applies to this verse.
  • The second meaning of the word in Greek means justice, specifically God’s justice. This then has something to do, potentially, with the judgment at the end of the time.
  • Considering the oppression of Israel’s people by the Romans, ‘justice’ also refers to the coming of God’s will to provide Israel with a homeland.

The fulfillment of these would be a right relationship with God and for the Kingdom of Heaven to be perfectly represented in the new ‘earth’ spoken of in the previous verses.

Blessed are the Merciful for They will be Shown Mercy

Mercy, the act of forgiveness even in the face of the unforgiveable (as Jesus demonstrated on the cross for his crucifiers and mockers) unveils the true nature of the Kingdom of God in the present kingdom.  This then is a mark of a right relationship with God which will be made apparent as those who are merciful have already received God’s mercy and at the final judgment will receive God’s mercy.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart for They will See God

This has often been mistreated as a matter of Christian thought and is worth exploring. Some recent and historical Christian teaching has suggested this to be a matter of moral or ethical purity: “I need to keep my mind pure; I need to keep my actions pure; I need to keep my mouth pure”. This value, while commendable, does not seem consistent with the original language. The original Greek used the term “katharoi” whose first meaning is “purified by fire”. One commentator suggests that a good translation would be “Whose heart is unalloyed”. The person whose heart is not a mixture of two things, but single minded, of single purpose, of single devotion; this is the one who Jesus speaks of here. Then we can see that those whose hearts are single-mindedly focused on God without including any other gods or devotion to anything else alongside God; those people will be the ones who see God.

Blessed are the Peacemakers for They will be Called Children of God

The focus here is on the Hebrew word “Shalom”. Shalom is not a passive peace but a peace forged out of the hard work of reconciliation between God and humanity and humanity and itself. Peacemaking in the sense of uniting individuals’ hearts with themselves, uniting conflicting people with one another, uniting people to God who have been estranged, and even uniting the vision of the Kingdom of Heaven with the current reality. These people are the peacemakers. The conclusion of this verse should be translated Sons of God. Sons of God is a phrase used early in scripture to denote the angels in heaven. Therefore, peacemakers on earth act as the angels in heaven bearing God’s message to all.

Blessed are Those who are Persecuted Because of Righteousness, for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

This verse does not address all who are persecuted, but rather those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, which as we have seen is living a right relationship with God and their desire to see the justice of the Kingdom of God reflected in the world. This concludes the words spoken by Jesus on the hillside to the crowds. Notice that up to this point all the beatitudes begin with “blessed are those.” This will be important in a moment.

Bracketed by verse 3 and 10 in which the received blessing is the Kingdom of Heaven, Mathew may have, and likely did, include verse 4-9 as being the same blessing, while providing further augmentation of what characteristics would be found in those who reach the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are You when People Revile You and Persecute You and Utter all Kinds of Evil Against You Falsely on My Account.   Rejoice and be Glad, Because Great is Your Reward in Heaven

Jesus in this moment inserts Himself into the equation in the same place as righteousness in the verse before. He becomes, for Matthew and us, the righteous one. This verse is seen by some as a Matthew insertion because it points to the time after Jesus was on earth in the flesh. Verse eleven makes little sense in a context in which many are following Jesus and during which there is little present threat to Him or His followers.

It speaks directly to Matthew’s community of Christian Jewish followers ostracized by both the synagogues and Rome.  The reward for faithfully following Jesus through all of this, for standing up for Him and claiming Him is that “your reward is great in heaven.”

Conclusion

We can clearly see that the nine beatitudes were written as much for those who were in the Christian church of Matthew’s day as well as spoken to the first disciples and the crowds.

Even amid persecution and separation from the synagogues and other Jewish groups, Matthew saw Jesus as still calling this community to peacemaking and reconciliation. They, and those who followed after them, would be persecuted for maintaining a right relationship with God – especially as found through Jesus – and their reward was the Kingdom of Heaven. We can also see how the beatitudes today relate, not how the church OUGHT to live, but how the true people of God WOULD live. It is less prescription and more description of the nature of the lives of disciples.

They were poor, potentially, for being disinherited from sacred Jewish spaces, mournful for their loss, meek in taking their cue from God to avoid conflict with oppressors, hungering and thirsting for right relationships with God and for justice, merciful in that they still desired to extend the Gospel to those around them and were quick to forgive those who had wronged them (think Saul/Paul), pure in heart as they believed in and sought God above all things including family and possessions, persecuted by the Roman authorities and those around them, and persecuted from within their own Jewish community and ostracized from it. This, then, for Matthew and his Jesus marked the traits of the authentic community of the people of God and identified the promises for which their hearts longed.

If you found this article interesting, helpful, inspiring or informative please share it.

Relevant Scripture

The meaning of the word ‘beatitudes’ (μακαριότητα in Greek) is ‘the joys of heaven’ or ‘a declaration of blessedness’.  As you will see here, they are not limited to only those in Matthew 5.

Blessed are all who take refuge in Him. (Psalms 2:12)

Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalms 32: 2)

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside from false gods. (Psalms 40:4)

Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble. (Psalms 41:1)

Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.  Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. (Psalms 84:4-5)

Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right. (Psalms 106:3)

Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him. (Psalms 128:1)

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (Matthew 13:16)

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”  “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Rev 14:13)

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Rev 19:9)

Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev 20:6)

viewed from behind 6 people with arms across each others shoulders.

The Pandemic Interrupts My Hug-fest!! /Spiritual Meditations

If pre-pandemic you attended church most Sundays, you have probably been missing the hugs as much as I have.  This week I happened upon this writing by Dietrich Bonhoeffer which speaks so poignantly to our current pandemic restrictions that I felt it was handed to me by God for our benefit and gratitude.  Giving this to you is not meant to express any opinion on when churches should open or how to provide for the safety of their congregations.  I share this as a reminder of one of God’s gifts that many of us take for granted and our responsibility to extend this gift to others wherever needed, now and post-pandemic.

Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity!” (Psalms 133:1 ). In the following we shall consider a number of directions and precepts that the Scriptures provide us for our life together under the Word.

It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end, all his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evil doers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work.

“The kingdom is to be in the midst of our enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?” (Martin Luther)

So between the death of Christ and the last day it is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians. It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God‘s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the gospel in foreign lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing. They remember, as the Psalmist did, how they went “with the multitude… To the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday “ (Psalm 42:4).

But they remain alone in far countries, a scattered seed according to God’s will. Yet what is denied them is an actual experience they seized upon more fervently in faith. Thus, the exiled disciple of the Lord, John the Apocalyptist celebrates in the loneliness of Patmos the heavenly worship with his congregations “in the Spirit on the Lords day “ (Rev 1:10). He sees the seven candle sticks, his congregation, the seven stars, the angels of the congregation, and in the midst and above it all, the son of man, Jesus Christ, and all the splendor of the resurrection. He strengthens and fortified him by his word. This is the heavenly fellowship, shared by the exile on the day of his Lord’s resurrection.

The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer. Longingly, the imprisoned apostle Paul called his “dearly beloved son of the faith,” Timothy, to come to him in prison in the last days of his life; he would see him again and have him near. Paul has not forgotten the tears Timothy shed when last they parted (2 Timothy 1:4). Remembering the congregation in Thessalonica, Paul prays “night and day….exceedingly that we might see your face“ (1 Thes 3:10). The aged John knows that his joy will not be full until he can come to his own people and speak face-to-face instead of writing with ink (2 John 12).

The believer feels no shame, as though he or she were still living too much in the flash, when he or she yearns for the physical presence of other Christians. The human being was created a body, the son of God appeared on earth in the body, he was raised in the body, in the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of Gods spiritual–physical creation.

The believer therefore lauds the Creator, the Redeemer, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of a brother and sister. The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian and exile, sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of a gracious presence of the triune God. Visitor and visited in loneliness recognize in each other the Christ who is present in the body; they receive and meet each other as one meets the Lord in reverence, humility, and joy. They receive each other’s benedictions as the benediction of the Lord Jesus Christ. But there is so much blessing and joy even in a single encounter of brother with brother, how inexhaustible are the riches that open up for those who by God‘s will are privileged to live in the daily fellowship of life with other Christians!

It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden underfoot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let them who until now have had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God‘s grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and declare it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brothers and sisters.

The measure with which God bestows the gift of visible community is varied. The Christian in exile is comforted by a brief visit of a Christian brother or sister, a prayer, together and a brothers or sisters blessing; indeed, he or she is strengthened by a letter written by the hand of a Christian. The greetings in the letters written with Paul’s own hand were doubtless tokens of such community. Others are given the gift of common worship on Sundays. Still others have the privilege of living a Christian life in the fellowship of their families. Seminarians before their ordination receive the gift of common life with their brothers and sisters for a definite period. Among earnest Christians in the church today there is a growing desire to meet together with other Christians in the rest periods of their work for common life under the Word. Communal life is again being recognized by Christians today as the grace that it is, as the extraordinary, the “roses and lilies”, of the Christian life.

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Relevant Scripture

These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng. (Psalms 42:4)

On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, (Rev 1;10)

Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. (2 Timothy 1:4)

Reference:

A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer   edited by Kelly & Nelson

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German:  4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has been described as a modern classic.

Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later, he was transferred to Flossenbürg concentration camp.

After being accused of being associated with the 20 July plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then hanged on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing.

person comtemplatin cross with bay and city in background

Are You Listening for God’s Messages?/Spiritual Meditations

Because you are a follower of Spiritual Meditations, I believe your faith is, at least, partially based on your own experience with the Holy Spirit.  As such, the following content is especially being sent to you to enhance that experience.  The process of becoming Spiritually Conscious may be new to you or you may practice it regularly. You may be on the first steps of your spiritual path or you may be fully aware of God’s daily presence in your life.  If the following content seems foreign to you, I encourage you to ask God to help you absorb and utilize it to form a greater connection with Him. 

Before getting to the heart of Consciousness, I want to avoid any confusion. 

Conscience is an inner feeling viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior. It includes a sensitive regard for fairness or justice. Although a desirable trait resulting from care and nurturing, that conforms to spiritual consciousness, this is not what will be discussed here.

The medical community will define consciousness as being fully alert, aware, oriented, and responsive to the environment.  It is the worldly perspective but by substituting the word “God” for the words “the environment” we have a good working definition of Spiritual Consciousness.

Those who try to understand the inner life intellectually will meet with failure. The life for which they are looking will vanish in the analysis. S. S. Singh

Spiritual Consciousness Provides Fulfillment

The secret of harmonious living is in the development of spiritual consciousness. Fear and anxiety disappear, and life becomes meaningful with fulfillment as its keynote. The degree of spiritual consciousness which we attain can be measured by the extent to which we relinquish our dependence on the external world of form and place our faith and confidence in something greater than ourselves, in the Infinite Invisible, which can surmount any and every obstacle. It is an awareness of the presence and the grace of God.

Our work may require greater strength, greater knowledge, greater ability then we seem to possess, or there may be greater demands on our finances then we can meet. The human belief may be that there is a physical, mental, or moral demand made upon us that is too great. Instead of accepting this apparent lack, let us remember, “He performs the thing that is appointed for me…. The Lord will perfect that which concerns me,“ or some other scriptural passage. The very moment we turn to God’s spirit, recognizing that He performs that which is given us to do, a weight drops off our shoulders, and the sense of personal responsibility lifts. Suddenly, we are given the necessary ability, which we discover is not our ability at all; it is His ability being expressed through us. Out of our weakness comes strength, but not our strength; it is His strength, and we perform the work through His strength.

We are Not of This World

There is a specific practice which will aid in the attainment of this spiritual consciousness. It is a practice which can be carried out throughout the day as the world crowds in upon us. To every insistent desire proposed by the world, let our answer be “No, no. This is not what I need or want. Thy grace is sufficient, nothing else, only Thy grace“. Let us learn to hold to this resolutely.

Gradually, as over and over the temptation comes to say, “I need; I want; I haven’t enough; I am insufficient “; we remember that our sufficiency is in the Infinite Invisible. This practice deepens spiritual consciousness. Brother Lawrence called it practicing the presence of God. The Hebrews called is keeping the mind stayed on God and acknowledging God and all ways. Jesus called it abiding in the Word. It is a practice that ultimately leads to a complete reliance on the Infinite Invisible, which in its turn brings the visible into our awareness as we need it.

As consciousness becomes more spiritual, confidence in the Infinite Invisible increases, and our love, hate, or fear of the external world diminishes. We see the Infinite Invisible as the law, cause, and activity of all that is and drop our concern for the form, whether it be personal, thing, or condition.

Material living puts its faith in forms of good. Spiritual living makes use of that which is in the world; it enjoys the form, but its reliance is on that which is the substance of the form, that which has created the form, the Invisible God.

The Kingdom of God is Within Us

All spiritual revelation has shown that the substance of this universe is in us. Every issue of life is determined, not by external conditions and things, but by our consciousness. For example, the body, in and of itself, has no power, no intelligence, and is not responsible for its actions. A hand, left to itself, would remain right where it is, forever and ever. There must be something to move it, and that something is called “I”. That “I “determines how this hand will be used; the hand cannot determine that in and of itself. The hand exists as an effect or as a form, and it responds to direction. As a vehicle or tool, it is obedient to us, and we impart to it whatever usefulness it has. This idea can be applied to other parts of the body.

Once we understand this principle, we will have grasped the entire principle of life. Literally, the “I” is the Kingdom of God within us; the law of life – the substance, the activity, the intelligent direction of life – is within us. If we can prove this to ourselves in one single way, that the life, activity, substance, and harmony of our being is determined by the law of God within us, we shall have no difficulty in proving this in every phase of our life, in the health of our body, and in all the relationships. The audio lecture entitled the Inner Kingdom will provide further explanation.  

The whole secret lies in the word “consciousness.“ And intellectual knowledge of the fact that ‘God is all’ is of no value. The only value any truth has is in the degree of its realization. Truth realized is spiritual consciousness. If we are conscious of the presence of the Lord (some will recognize this as the Holy Spirit) we are conscious of the activity of God

God is Omnipresent

In most religious teachings, we are told that the Spirit of God is everywhere just as electricity is everywhere. That is true. Electricity, however, is of no value to us, unless it is connected in some way for our particular use. So it is with the Spirit of God. It is everywhere, in an absolute, spiritual sense. But it is only effective in our experience to the extent we connect to It.

God is; there is a God – never doubt that. God is infinite in nature; eternal, universal, impartial and omnipresent. But how do we avail ourselves of that which God is? How do we bring this that we know about God into our individual experience? To illustrate, we can turn to the field of music. The principle of music is absolute. If, however, we fail to understand its principal and the sounds produced turn into a jumble of discordant noises, we do not fault the principle. We apply ourselves more diligently to practicing the principal until we become proficient in its applications. So it is in our God experience. God is, and God is here, and God is now, but God is available only in proportion to our realization and willingness to accept the discipline that is necessary for the attainment of that mind which was also in Christ Jesus.

There is a spirit in everyone. There actually is a spirit – the Spirit of God. No one is devoid of it, but most of us are unaware of it. God is with us. His presence fills our space; the Spirit of God dwells in us. But how many people have felt that presence? It is talked about, prayed about, theorized about, and sermonized about; but it is not experienced. It is the conscious awareness, the actual feeling or realization of the presence which is necessary.

How to Attain Spiritual Consciousness

Scriptural Immersion and Truth

Spiritual consciousness is attained through the activity of truth in consciousness. Dwelling on scriptural quotations or statements of truth helps to spiritualize thought. The more truth that we read and hear, the more active is truth in our consciousness. Thus, we learn to abide in the Word. This is the first step on the way.  It is important to learn all that we can about the correct letter of truth, to understand every principle, and then to practice these principles until we go from an intellectual knowledge to an inner awareness of them.

Take scriptural passages which embody spiritual principles and live with them. Take them apart, one by one, considering every implication and meaning, talk to God about them. Carry one of them with you day in and day out for a week or a month. Then take another and live with it, using it as a yardstick with which to measure every experience. Hold them up as a banner in the presence of any and every problem, until these principles become automatic.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • God is the only power
  • Love your neighbor as yourself
  • To him who has, more is given.
  • I can do all things through Christ
  • Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart
  • I and my Father are one.  He is always with me
  • My peace I give to you

If we solve enough problems and seek to understand the truth behind issues and situations, day in and day out for one, two, three, or more years, we shall have all the answers available for instant use. Years and years of contemplating God and the things of God, meditating/praying and communing with God, will have eliminated our worries about the things of this world. When a question arises, the right answer is immediately revealed.

Listening to the Holy Spirit

The second, and more important step, is to be able to receive truth from within, to be receptive and responsive to the truth that comes to us. At that point we do not think, read, or hear truth with the mind. We are becoming aware of the importation of the word of God from within because the inner ear and the inner eye have been developed through our knowing the letter of truth, dwelling on it and clearing our mind through meditation. Do not expect to hear from God whenever you meditate. For me, this practice enhances my ability to hear God when He has something to say.

How do we know when the Spirit of God dwells in us? If we are letting go of hate, envy, jealousy, malice, self-seeking, self-glorification, prejudice, and bigotry, we are making room for the Spirit of God, for God cannot dwell amid such qualities. As long as these qualities are present in our consciousness we have more work to do abiding in the truth and letting the truth abide in us, until such time as the Christ has come so alive that’s such mortal thoughts no longer touch us. Then the Spirit of God dwells in us, “which is Christ in you, The hope of glory… Behold I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him, and will stop with him and he with me. “

The listening attitude, the expected attitude, developed through meditation, creates a kind of vacuum into which God rushes with the things we need, whether it be wisdom, power, grace, or with whatever may be necessary.  For further info about meditation, you will find the audio entitled The Art of Meditation very useful.

Living with Spiritual Consciousness

The student of spiritual wisdom cannot go through his day, satisfied that he has read some truth in the morning, or that he is going to hear some truth in the afternoon or evening. There must be a conscious activity of truth going on all the time or a pause at frequent intervals for the practice of the presence (clearing our mind and listening for God). That does not mean that we neglect our human duties and activities; it means that we train ourselves to have some area in consciousness always active in truth. Whether we look out at forms of nature such as trees, flowers, or oceans, or we are meeting people, we find some measure of God in each experience. We train ourselves to behold the presence and activity of God in everything around us and remember that “My grace is sufficient”, that the spirit of the Lord God is upon me, and that His spirit of peace and joy is discernible to me and to all those who come within range of my consciousness.

The goal of God-awareness is very close to us, but nonetheless, as close as it seems, it is far away, because with every horizon reached, another beckons beyond. As we go forward in our quest or search, we can measure our progress in this way: We see the horizon before us and we have the feeling, “oh, I have just a short distance to go”. Sometimes, it takes only a few weeks or months to reach that horizon, then the whole world of spirit is opened before us. We believe we really have entered the kingdom of heaven, and we have – for a few days. Suddenly we become accustomed to this light and we are aware of another horizon that urges us forward, another advance that must be traveled step by step, and again, we press forward to even greater spiritual consciousness.

Conclusion

It is important that we let no hour of the day go by without some conscious reminder within us that the goal of life is to attain that mind which was also in Christ Jesus. The goal of the spiritual life is to attain God consciousness – to live and move and have our being in the eternal awareness of God‘s presence.

It is possible for anyone to change the trend of their life, not by hearing or reading truth, but by making it an active part of their consciousness and daily experience, until it becomes a habit every moment of the day, instead of an occasional thought. Make these principles operate in consciousness morning, noon, and night, until gradually the actual awareness comes. Then we make the transition from being hearers of the word to being doers of the word. Then we shall be abiding in the word and shall bear fruit richly.

A friend once asked me why some people experience God’s presence and others do not.  Only God can answer this definitively, but I can affirm that the practice described above created a stronger God-connection for me. Anyone with enough desire for a realization of God can achieve that realization – the grace of God will guarantee it.

If you found this article useful, informative, inspiring or interesting, please share it.

Relevant Scripture:

Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer regarding his disciples and all believers, was prayed as he was about to leave this world and was already mentally moving into the next.

11 I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are….

16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

20 I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; 26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”  (John 17:11-26)

Reference:

Practicing the Presence: The Inspirational Guide to Regaining Meaning and a Sense of Purpose in Your Life by Joel S Goldsmith