Monday, February 6, 2012

Worlds to Conquer

Urgent prayer note: Just as I was about to post this, my husband's co-worker R. was rushed to the hospital with heart attack symptoms. God knows his name, and I know you and how generous you are with your prayers. Please join me in lifting this man and his family to God?

I am Yahweh your God,
who brought you up from the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

Psalm 81:10, HCSB

My new acquaintance, Thomas Traherne (1637-1674), relates a tale of an unhappy king in his work Centuries of Meditations:

To what end do men gather riches, but to multiply more? Do they not, like Pyrrhus the King of Epire, add house to house and lands to lands that they may get it all? It is storied of that prince, that having conceived a purpose to invade Italy, he sent for Cineas, a philosopher and the King's friend, to whom he communicated his design and desired his counsel.

Cineas asked him to what purpose he invaded Italy? 
He said, "To conquer it." 
"And what will you do when you have conquered it?" 
"Go into France," said the King, "and conquer that." 
"And what will you do when you have conquered France?" 
"Conquer Germany." 
"And what then?" said the philosopher. 
"Conquer Spain." 
"I perceive," said Cineas, "you mean to conquer all the world. What will you do when you have conquered all?" 
"Why then," said the King, "we will return and enjoy ourselves at quiet in our own land." 
"So you may now," said the philosopher, "without all this ado."
Yet could he not divert him till he was ruined by the Romans. 
Thus men get one hundred pound a year that they may get another, and having two covet eight, and there is no end of all their labor because the desire of their soul is insatiable. Like Alexander the Great they must have all, and when they have got it all, be quiet. And may they not do all this before they begin? Nay it would be well, if they could be quiet. 
But if after all, they shall be like the stars that are seated on high but have no rest, what gain they more, but labor for their trouble? It was wittily feigned that that young man sat down and cried for more worlds to conquer (Waking Up in Heaven, 13-14).
Every life has its aching emptiness. Some of the soul holes last all the life long. Some shift and change like soap bubbles. The question the Christian believer must answer is what he or she will do with the emptiness? Will we chase after worlds to conquer and thus attain the contentment we crave? Perhaps world domination does not capture your fancy (as it does not mine). Will I pursue a bigger house, a faster car, a smaller smartphone, a wardrobe update, or a stack of new books and thus satisfy my empty places?

That hasn't worked for me. Has it worked for you?

My Bible study homework on James 1:17 last week offered an alternative. One or the exercises asked that we divide our lives in four equal sections. Considering one section at a time, we were to list God's good and perfect gifts to us during those years. What at first seemed daunting proved a source of joy and gratitude for the different gifts and circumstances the Lord has chosen for me and for the role they each played in forming (for better or worse) the person I am today.

What began as a mental exercise so I could get through the day's questions became an offering of thanksgiving, an act of worshiping the Father of lights who perfectly and generously gives all good gifts, even the ones I wish at the time came with a return receipt.

The emptiness in my soul will never be filled by earthly pursuits. Made in the image of God, no matter how broken that image may be, we can only be filled and "quiet" in Him. "Open your mouth wide," He says, "and I will fill it." It does not say "fill it with ___________," but simply "fill it."

My true hope of quiet contentment lies not in appetite, acquisitions, or accomplishments, but in being full of Him as I worship, trust, and surrender my will for His.

And so, I keep counting His kind and gracious gifts (#2844-64):
~free access to the throne of grace without fear
~God's constancy in a world of change
~promise of a day when all desire will be fulfilled by Him who is our chief delight
~strength for a week's laundry
~more real mail!
~a surprise from a friend left on the front mat
~God's protection and presence while Allen traveled for a family need
~hunger and thirst for God's Word and prayer
~the beautiful polyphony of birds singing this morning
~the flowering quince (I think) in a neighbor's yard
~the drone of lawnmowers welcoming the new month
~stems and leaves of daffodils rising hopeful above the cropped grass
~the color green
~frost sparkling on the old bridge like diamond dust
~a message perfectly suited to my heart at Bible study Wednesday
~ability to attend the first three of eight sessions
~crossing paths with two of the women outside of class
~a good eye exam
~flowers from my beloved, inside and outside the house

~laughing at Ebony's favorite Superbowl commercial and close second, although the second link won't make sense unless you have first seen it's predecessor the Darth Vader kid commercial (It is not my intention to endorse in any way the companies and products represented in these commercials. We don't actually own either one. We do, however, endorse clean humor when we encounter it.)
~the nineteen years God gave with my grandmother, who taught me to crochet and sew, who modeled for me the benefits of a well-worn hymnal and a piano, and who was one of my closest friends until her passing on a rainy February morning over two decades ago

sharing today with Ann and Laura's communities:


  1. Praying right now for your husband's co-worker...

    I love the Traherne passage (he is new to me). I want to be satisfied with being filled also, not filled with ___.

    Another beautiful post, Christina. Thank you, friend.

  2. Thank you for stopping by my blog, Sweet Blessings. Nice to "meet" you. I am praying right now for your husband's co-worker.

    Lovely post.


  3. Where to begin? Always feel like I want to blurt out too much here. Slowly. . .
    Prayed for R. Hope all is well.
    Fascinating Traherne excerpt. He is totally new to me. But yes, being full of the Lord in every way~wonderful.
    I go to the eye doctor next Monday:) Glad you had a good eye exam--it just cracks me up that we're going so close together. It's like it's our birthdays or something.
    Much beauty and good in your list, but I must say green and flowers just shocked me. With lawnmowers and such, goodness, your February is a bit different from ours.
    Here's to a good week, friend.

  4. I'm going to try this exercise. That verse in James is my Cade verse. I love it best KJV.

  5. I pray for R right now that he will know the comfort and peace of Jesus and understand that it is God who brought him through this ordeal tonight. May God bless R and his family that they will have no fear but only trust in Jesus.

  6. thank you for the Traherne passage, and your thoughts thereon! yes, if we're meant and built to enjoy infinite and uncreated goodness, then finite and created goodness will awaken, but not satify desire; it will make us thirst, but not quench that thirst. if i remember well, (C. S.) Lewis thought that the way this worked out in his life was providential. Inasmuch as earthly goods were reflections of the infinite good for which we all long, they got him moving towards (them and thus towards) God. but inasmuch as they were only finitely and imperfectly good, they kept him moving ("past them" and) towards God: they were evidently way stations, rather than resting places. i think this dynamic of engagement with and subsequent disengagement from finite good is very delicate. especially if i have invested a lot of time and effort in pursuing a finite good, and i feel i haven't got enough of it, i can become fixated on it, acting and living as though it will be my resting place, if only i can someday get there. if i feel i have given so much of myself to the pursuit of a good, without getting enough of it, that good can so easily become my idol. Is the fact that the concerted, single-minded pursuit of earthly goods can so easily end up in idolatry one reason we're enjoined to seek first the Kingdom, and trust that the Lord will provide other, lesser goods?

    joining you in prayer for R and his family--

    p.s.: the plant in one of your photos certainly looks just like the quince plant growing in our back garden...

  7. What an interesting exercise! Just doing the math and thinking about it got all kinds of thoughts and emotions going. So, it does seem daunting. But I do plan to pursue it. Yes.

    Also, striking, how opposite from conquering was the thing the king said wanted to do when he got all done. I wonder how many people follow a life path they don't even enjoy, supposedly to achieve what they could already have. Strange, the things that drive us. And to where.

    Kind of after the fact, but prayed for R. and family

  8. hi Tinuviel,

    i THOUGHT i sent you (more or less) this post this morning (GMT) (i no doubt haven't reconstructed it perfectly). but when i checked your blog tonight, it seemed to have vanished. sorry if the glitch is resolved, & you end up with two versions of the same post..

    thanks for the Traherne passage, and the reflections thereon! yes, if we are meant and built to desire God, then finite goods can awaken, but cannot satisfy our deepest desires: they can make us thirsty, but cannot quench that thirst. if i remember right, (C S) Lewis thought that this worked providentially in his life. Inasmuch as earthly goods were genuinely good, they got him moving towards (them and thus towards) God; inasmuch as they were only finitely and imperfectly good, they kept him moving ("past them" and) towards God: they were evidently way stations rather than resting places. but i think this kind of engagement with and subsequent disengagement from worldly goods is a delicate matter. especially if i have invested much time and effort in pursuing a finite good, and have not got as much of it as i want, i can get fixated on that good, and turn it into an idol. is the fact that the single minded and dogged pursuit of finite goods can so easily end up in idolatry one reason that we are enjoined to seek first the Kingdom, and trust God to provide other, lesser goods?

    i'm joining you in praying for R and his family.


    p.s.: the blossoming plant in your photo certainly looks just like the quince in our back garden...

  9. Hmm. Your original comment did show up in my Blogger comment feed but not in Disqus. Disqus determines what shows up on the blog. I will make a note to investigate that. For now, do rest assured your comment has been read and posted.

    Your notes on Lewis and finite good and God's good do sound familiar, I think in multiple places in his body of work. Did his experience of Traherne help him to that interpretation of things, I wonder, or only confirm his predilection? You offer plenty of food for thought.

    Glad for the confirmation on the plant I.D. :) No update on R. yet, but thanks for the prayers for him and his. Grace to you in our Lord Jesus!

  10. Praying for that dear man.

    That exercise was very enlightening for me as well, friend. I noticed that I tend to focus on the negatives of each decade and as I began to search for the positives, they shone forth and transformed so many things. We completed session five this morning. I am thoroughly enjoying this study. My memorization work is going ok, though this brain feels feeble of late. It has been a wonderful way to stay focused on all that is lovely and true.

    And those superbowl commercials? Did you see the one with the french bulldog racing the greyhounds? I don't even remember what it was for but we loved it :).

    Thanks for all your sweet words. You are a blessing.

  11. I read this earlier in the week but am just now finding time to respond. In light of the "letting go" place that you and I find ourselves in, this admonition to be filled and satisfied in Him alone is quite apropos. I am musing over a possible poem on the subject of letting go and suspect this will figure in somehow. I think what I love most here is the acknowledgment that we all have this aching emptiness, that it isn't something to be afraid of, not something to make us feel broken but rather something to draw us straight to God. As long as we live and breath on this soil, there's always going to be that aching yearning for *something.* And He's the only One Who can offer us joy and fulfillment in that place of yearning until our true satisfaction of being fully reunited with God.

    So many good "joy bits" on your list. Thank you for the laughter links--the Doritos commercial I had seen and liked but the others were new to me and I enjoyed them all.

    Grace to you in whatever this week is bringing for you, Friend!


Thank you for sharing your day with me! Your presence here is a gift. *You* are a gift. Right now I am unable to reply to every comment, but please know I read and pray for each and every commenter. Grace and peace to you in Christ.