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Food for Thought - Musings

Taking Your Spiritual Pulse

This month I present you with a simple spiritual formation tool that will allow you to take your spiritual pulse, and if needed (and desired) provide you with the opportunity to re-orient your life so that you are more likely to live into and out of who God created you to be. And this month I am going to offer it to you absolutely free – but wait, there is more! If you use this amazing spiritual formation tool not only will you immediately be able to discern your spiritual pulse, have the opportunity to re-orient your life if you so choose, you will also, over time, become more aware of the internal movements of God’s Spirit and develop the ability to discern the leading of God in the ongoing circumstances of your life. Sound too good to be true? This is my guarantee to you; if this simple spiritual formation tool does not help you to immediately ascertain your spiritual pulse, more fully live into and out of who God created you to be and live life with a greater awareness of and partnership with God’s Spirit, then you will be reimbursed for the entire cost of your yearly subscription to this monthly musing. That’s right!

The remarkable tool I am referring to incorporates a particular understanding of consolation and desolation. Now these words are normally defined in terms of one’s affect. I am happy, joyful, pleased… this is consolation. Conversely, if we are sad, down, frustrated…we are in desolation. It is important to be aware of our affect, but I am going to redefine consolation and desolation: volitionally, relating to our ability to choose. When speaking of volitional consolation/desolation the concern switches from feelings to our internal focus. Where is this event, circumstance, interaction taking us – toward God (life) or away from God (death)? Thus volitional consolation is defined as an interior movement toward God, while volitional desolation has to do with interior movement away from God.

A simple way to remember the difference between volitional consolation and volitional desolation is this: consolation means that God is on the screen of my life, while desolation means God is not on that screen. When we talk about volitional consolation and desolation the best way to think about them is in terms of the inner orientation of an individual. The key question is not what do I feel, but rather which direction is my current life situation (emotions, circumstances, interactions, thoughts…) taking me – toward God or away from God?

Two excellent examples of the combination of the affect meaning of consolation/desolation and the volitional meanings of consolation/desolation can be found in the lives of Jeremiah and Jesus.

Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:1-25) In this passage Jeremiah complains about his circumstances, he is in extreme affect desolation; but if one reads carefully you will notice he is also in volitional consolation, for his complaints are all directed to God. God is on his screen and when God is on your screen anything is possible. We see what is possible when God remains on our screen in verses 21 when Jeremiah suddenly states; “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning;
 Great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
 “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
to the person who seeks Him.

Jeremiah, even in the midst of affect desolation, was practicing volitional consolation for his moaning and complaining was directed toward God. He was choosing life and this life eventually burst forth within him. His circumstances remained the same but his volitional consolation eventually brings him life.

We see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:36-46) in the grip of affect desolation. He is sweating drops of blood but he chooses to move toward God in prayer (volitional consolation) asking God “if possible let this cup pass but not my will but your God’s will be done.” Jesus, overwhelmed emotionally, chooses to focus on God, to put God on his screen, volitional consolation. This frees Jesus from the paralyzing effects of fear and enables him in the midst of this traumatic time to live true to who he is – to do the will of the one who sent him.

So now for a brief quiz. Let’s say a person is informed that she has been promoted, given a new title, a significant raise, and a corner office. Also this promotion has been something she has desired and prayed about over several months. Upon hearing the news she is elated! Is this person in volitional consolation or desolation? The answer is at the bottom of the musing.

The simple spiritual formation tool I spoke of earlier is this; incorporating the concept of volitional consolation/desolation as defined above, that you from time to time throughout your day internally stop (you could be in middle of a meeting, an errand, a task or just finishing something, getting ready to start something…) and ask yourself where is this (whatever is before you, you are involved in, or just completed…) taking me; to God or away from God? In that movement you will have a good idea of where your heart is and in that precise moment be afforded the opportunity to make a choice toward God or away from God. Over time, you will discern in the flow of your day if indeed your heart is God-focused or not. One cool thing is that the moment when you employ this simple tool you have already, at least in part, turned toward God, if you had not been prior to this time. What this simple tool helps us to do is to become internally aware and once aware we can make a choice. So much of life is mindlessly lived. We are swept through a day unaware internally and so are at the mercy of our circumstances, our culture. This simple tool helps to momentarily stop, become aware and adjust accordingly. One important note: when you stop and realize that God is not on our screen, this is NOT about condemnation (see Rom 8:1) but about being invited into freedom, freedom to live the life we want to live at the depth of our being, the life we were created to live, the abundant life in Christ.

An ongoing awareness of our volitional consolation and desolation is critical to be free to more fully live into and out of who God has created us to be. This awareness also helps us to live proactively rather than reactively. This simple spiritual formation tool helps us to pause and become aware of where we are internally headed – toward God (life) or away from God (death). Once we become aware we can then adjust as needed and live life as God has intended.

So why not begin to use this tool throughout your day. You do not have to stop or close your eyes but simply ask yourself where is this (my circumstances, what I am doing, this current interaction) taking me – toward God or away from God. For example, I am driving down the freeway on my way to a meeting and the traffic suddenly slows and now I am creeping along, I feel frustration building, I am feeling very impatient but then I decide to ask myself where is this taking me – toward God or away from God. I now can choose, I can continue to be swept along by my circumstances that I have no control over or I can turn my attention to the One who is in control, the One who loves me, delights in me, is faithful to me and be free to live true to who I most truly am in Christ.

So give it a try and see what happens.

(Question answered) The answer is - we do not know. It may be obvious that she is in affect consolation but that does not necessarily have anything to do with volitional consolation or desolation. The key question is where is this promotion, raise, title, new office taking her internally: toward God (thank you God for your grace, your provision, your goodness to me…) or away from God (I am awesome, my hard work, effort finally paid off, they are finally noticing me, there is no stopping me now….). The key question is not what is happening or what she is feeling but where is this taking her – toward God or away from God?
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