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Friday, April 30, 2010

Reflections on the poem, “Make Me Loathe Earthly Likings”

Ever hear the expression, “turning over a new leaf?“ The saying is trite today, but the principle is often applied to one’s spiritual journey, “I’ll just turn over a new leaf.” Many over-spiritualize and ask God to turn over a new leaf in them. God does not turn over leaves--He makes new ones.

Here is a simple 15th century prayer to Christ (author unknown). This prayer, and others like them, are nearly forgotten.

“Good God, make me for Thy love & Thy desire
Lay doune the burden of fleshly myer;
And erthly lykingis to lothe;
My will of the flesh haue ladiship
Reson of my wille haue lordship;
& Thy grace be lorde upon them bothe;
And so throw me withinne & withowte;
To soget ondir Thy wille alle abowte;
To alle that is reson Right & sothe.”

Immediately one is struck by the brevity and sensitivity of the poem. “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. “ (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

There are two basic requests of the prayer is seen in the title, “Make Me Loathe Earthly Likings.” This is a prayer of repentance and transformation as seen in two requests: the first is that God would cause “earthly likings” to be despised; and the second, that, heavenly desires increase. This is a worldview responding to a living God that transforms both the internal as well as the external. This is a prayer of complete surrender to the purposes He has for man. Both requests reveal the earnest desire to adjust all likings from earth to the heaven, where Christ is (Colossians 3:1-2). This is a prayer of one who earnestly desires to love God with all heart, mind, soul and strength. Is this an unusual request to make of God? Such a request may not be high on personal daily or our Wednesday night prayer list, and that fact alone speaks volumes about where our eyes look and where our love lies.

The prayer begins by focusing on “Good God;“ that is, God who is Good. There is none good but God. God made man as the object of God’s love and God desires all His goodness for man. He actually shares part of Himself with man! The life centered on God finds God to be good, enjoys Him with all love and makes God’s desires his own. But, what is life like for the one who does not have God for all goodness, who does not know the love of God nor love Him in return? What is the life of one whose desires are all but God’s desires? The supplicant describes what an earthly-focused life really looks like, and this can only be understood against God‘s perfection: the flesh is a burden, a swamp, a mire. The flesh is repugnant, worthy of loathing, not trustworthy. The will is immoral and reason wants to reign as lord. There is no goodness in the flesh.

“Make Me Loathe” admits that one cannot separate himself or herself from the pull of the world. God must do the work. “Good God, do for me what I cannot.“ God must put within the heart the despising necessary to walk before Him in holiness, which is with the principle of “putting off/putting on.” This means that one cannot in the course of his life suddenly become “spiritual” in the true sense of the world. One cannot simply “add” God-centeredness to a life focused on the world. Repentance is necessary, to see how horrible and offensive sin is from God’s perspective and desire to turn away from it’s power and penalty to an ethical and eternal life.

Only the grace of God in Christ Jesus can overthrow sin, conquer the flesh, the will and restore reason. He asks that grace control will and reason, asking that God overthrow “withinne & withowte.” This is a worldview that acknowledges more than a “God who is there.” This is a worldview that demonstrates the goodness of God to cast off the burden of sin and empty reason, religion that binds.

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