Steps to God: Holy Things

The following is an article that I wrote under my pen name “Irinia Demkiw”
and it was published in “Progress” (a bi-weekly Ukrainian community newspaper)
and my irinademkiw.wordpress.com blog site on January 22, 2012.

Note from author, Gloria Winn:
This message was written for the New Year of 2012 however since the New Year of the Church begins on September 1, I believe it is an appropriate message and timely.

 

May this year, 2012, be your best year yet. I wish each of you a “Holy” New Year.

I do not wish you a happy new year because I believe that the word “happy” limits the amount of joy that you might receive. The joy that the world gives at new year celebrations is carnal and does not sustain us for the whole year.

I believe that whatever is holy is the best and the joy of Jesus, having been received by us, is complete and will sustain us and re-create in us all that we need spiritually for the whole year and all of our lives. Imagine, complete joy! Awesome!

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
Now remain in my love.
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
(John 15:9-11 KJV)

Our Father has given us Jesus who is “God with us” and He is the best gift.

Whenever I am in a hard space and I step back and reflect on the words Jesus, Emanuel/Immanuel, meaning “God is with us” the depth of my discomfort lessens and I am strengthened. I am so grateful that God is with us all the time. He is with us every second and every breath. We have been promised that we would never be left alone – God is with us! Wow!

After a time of meditation, what came to me is “If God is with me, am I with Him? This caused me to reflect deeper. God’s Holy Word, Scripture, reveals that God sent His only Son Jesus – God with us. I understand that it means that God desires intimacy with me and loves me so much He would not leave me but always be with me. This thought touched me in my inner part – my heart. I looked back through my life and was able to find several instances where I realized that God was really there with me by the fruit of the Holy Spirit in my life

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
(Galations 5:22-23 KVJ)

I needed to go to pray and meditation regarding the words “am I with Him?”

Many years ago I had a spiritual mother who taught me a phrase that still causes me to take a deep breath and reflect. Her words were: “Do not do holy things without becoming holy.”

I have learned that I cannot make myself holy. Only God is holy and for me to become holy would be a work of His hands in me. But further, what I have learned is that the words of the Divine Liturgy help me to give myself to God so that I am with Him and giving him permission to do with me whatever He wants.

During our Divine Liturgy, we pray holy words but the effect of these words is limited unless we are heart connected. During our Divine Liturgy we commend ourselves and our whole lives to Christ our God three times.

Firstly, we pray these holy words at The Great Litany,

Remembering our most holy and immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, together with all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.

Secondly, we pray these holy words at The Litany of Supplication,

Having asked for unity of the faith and for the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, let us commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.

Thirdly, we pray these holy words at The Thanksgiving Litany.

Having asked that this whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless, let us commend ourselves and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.

My challenge is to live the words passed to me by my spiritual mother, “Do not do holy things without becoming holy.”

Lord I cannot do this without you. Lord I thank you that I am baptized and that you are my Lord, my sovereign God, my Saviour, my Redeemer, my very breath. I can do nothing without you that will be good. May I have your Holy Spirit please so that I grow and become all that You have planned in my life. I want more. Yes, Lord, I want more.

 

Copyright © 2012 Irina Demkiw, all rights reserved.

Copyright © 2014 Gloria Winn, all rights reserved.

Learning and Discerning Vocations: …. Baby Steps to God; Obstacles

 The following is an article that I wrote under my pen name “Irina Demkiw”
and it was published in “Progress” (a bi-weekly Ukrainian community newspaper) and
my irinademkiw.wordpress.com blog site on December 11, 2011.

When I desire more of what God has for me, I am feeling the need to draw closer. I sense that He wanted me to come and listen. This listening is such a learning curve. For me to hear His messages is life giving.

As I am learning how to listen, I am recognizing that there are times when I find it almost impossible to hear. I pray hoping to discover what am I doing differently when I am unable to hear and when I am able to hear.

Sometimes I sense that I desire to hear the message from God more than spending time with Him. I have been taught that this is a selfish attitude that is really out of order in the listening practice. God has designed us to be a reflection of Himself and so He knows when we are pure hearted towards Him or self-seeking when we reach to Him. I know that when someone wants something from me more than being with me, I am not too receptive to hear him or her. I feel used.

Sometimes I want to hear God’s message so that I might find relief from the struggle and pain in my life. Again, my attitude is not pure. I am like a child reaching and demanding His attention. God is so loving and compassionate that He will still receive me and let me know that He is with me. Scripture says that God will never leave us.

When I have acknowledged to God that He is my all and I cannot live without Him being at the helm of my life, I am beginning the path to a pure heart. To love God without an agenda is the start of pure heart loving – unconditionally loving Him and receiving Him and desiring to be in His Presence. When I get lost in this loving of God, and I stop living in my head, I am moving closer to fulfilling the scripture,

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Psalm 51:10 (KJV)

Someone shared with me many years ago that her aunt made a point of going to prayer with an agenda of not ever asking God for anything but to spend time in thanking Him only. I was so touched by the story and have tried it. I found it to be difficult because my inner child wanted to have my needs met. I found it to be work to spend time only thanking Him for my life and all the graces provided for me. Surprisingly, this work has proven to be joyous. When I have worked at praising God, my spirit is lifted out of its comfort zone and enters into a space where I sense a greater freedom and happiness than when I began to pray.

The early church fathers have often taught about the Jesus prayer. This prayer is similar to only praising God and thanking Him for all graces received. This prayer takes my thinking out of myself and my head and heart soon are in oneness. Praying this prayer in rhythm of my breathing has been so beneficial to my hearing God’s voice. I have occasionally read the early church fathers and do pray the Jesus prayer. These are tools to help me hear God’s voice.

My major obstacle to hearing God’s voice is sin.

I need help to even recognize my sins. I use books that have been written to teach how to discern sin as a preparation for confession. Sometimes, I need to have my spiritual director to help me recognize my sins and point me to the steps I need to take to live a healthier spiritual life. A heart committed and fully surrendered is my goal. I cannot even do that without God’s help. I have prayed for God to help me to be surrendered.

I heard from a friend something that made an amazing difference. He told me to give God permission to change whatever needed to be changed in my life so that I could live a better life with Him. It took me a long time to be able to say that prayer with full conviction. But when I finally did, I know that God has embraced me and I am different…..in a good way. I want more.

 

Copyright © 2011 Irina Demkiw, all rights reserved.

Copyright © 2014 Gloria Winn, all rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Learning and Discerning Vocations: Baby Steps to God; About Listening

The following is an article that I wrote under my pen name “Irina Demkiw” and it was published in “Progress” (a bi-weekly Ukrainian community newspaper) and on my irinademkiw.wordpress.com blog site on November 13, 2011.

When I am feeling like I am being cared for, listened to, provided for, and not alone, this sense of safety feeds my soul, my spirit, my mind, my heart with responsive love to my God. I was beginning to know God by His subtle nudgings and whisperings which sometimes were clear at the moment they were happening, and sometimes only recognizable in hindsight. When I took time to reflect on the happenings of my day, often I could see that God sent some answers to prayers. Whether it was a person who I desired to see or hear from, or whether it was hearing about someone for whom I had prayed for, that his or her need received an unexpected answer to that need, I always seemed to be surprised. I know I was grateful. I could feel myself growing in faith and trust.

Listening is not my first gift. Listening is hard work. Listening causes me to change my daily life and make room for God. My attitude about my life seems to be “about me.” Listening changes that perception. I started out learning how to listen to God because of what my mother said to me “You should be listening to what God wants you to do with your life.” As I began to strain to “hear” God speak to me, I noticed that I desired to be with Him more. I had a sense in me that said that this is good. When something is good, like a child, I usually will reach for more.

I heard on a television program about monks that they pray continuously and come together many times throughout the day to pray as a community. One monk explained that he felt it was important to listen to what God was saying but that it was equally important to respond to what God was saying. He named this part of the listening as obedience. I could feel my skin ripple. I am not good at obedience. But my spirit desired to understand. I sensed that God allowed me to watch that monk on TV so that I would have information about listening. It was one of His nudgings.

A very important teaching about listening came to me through several books and Christian Catholic and Orthodox evangelists. These teachings were cautioning that it is important to “know God’s voice” and to discern that there were three voices that could be heard. What? Three voices? Uh-oh! I did not know that. There is a scripture that says,

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6)

 What I understood from the teachings about the three voices is this:

a)    A voice that I might hear might not be God; it might be my own voice.

b)   Another voice that I might hear might not be God; it might be the enemy.

c)    Another voice that I might hear might be God.

I did not want to be destroyed because I heard a voice that I thought was God.

I continued to read and study and pray on how to discern which voice was from God. This took time. I am a slow learner and I made many mistakes. These mistakes caused me much frustration. I began to understand and know that I cannot do this discerning of voices unless I was filled with love for God and a heart open to God. When I make room for God in my heart, I am trying to do what that monk said about listening and obedience. Obedience is not one of my strengths. My ego lives in my head. My head has thoughts about “me” and I began to recognize that voice as my own. When it is my own voice, the message will feed my ego, my pride, and lead me away from God. The message will subtly try to sound like God, loving, encouraging, but a tricky sneaky nuance that will put my ego or my pride on the “throne” of my life. Oh yes, I have made many mistakes. Thank God that He loves me still.

This discerning of voices was and still is work. This work is worth it. To know God’s love, recognize His Presence, to receive His graces, is all worth it.
This other voice that I was warned about showed up sometimes. I was usually caught off guard. I was anticipating hearing God’s message and yet this “other” voice snuck in. Often I did not recognize the other voice until I reflected on the “fruit” of the message.

The acts of the flesh are obvious:
sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;
idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy,
fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions
and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
(Galations 5:19-21 NIV)

This other voice from the enemy would try to make me believe that God was speaking to me. The message would sound like it was a blessing but over time the result of the message would be leading me away from God. The teachers of this lesson of the three voices say that the enemy is joyful when we listen to his messages. I do not want to listen to any voice but God’s. Often these sneaky messages would cause me to lose my desire to be with God, to think that I do not need God or that I do not want to be a blessing to others.

This other voice that I really desire to hear, that is God’s voice, is the only one that will bring good fruit into my life:

But the fruit of the Spirit is
love,
joy,
peace,
forbearance,
kindness,
goodness,
faithfulness,
gentleness, and
self-control.
(Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)

When I have heard God’s voice then He is on the throne of my life. I worked at listening, clearing the way for His voice by going to confession and apologizing for my sins. I have and am still learning that my sins get in the way to my hearing God’s messages. He does not love me less but my sins are like thick clouds distorting my vision (hearing).

I am still learning that it is important to “test the waters” of the message that I hear. It is so easy for me to be like a child and instantly react to whatever message I hear. When I have done so, I have found myself having to struggle to get back myself, my faith, my trusting of what I hear.sense that God is pleased when I continue to “work” at listening and discerning His voice.

Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure,
   whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable
   —if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
   Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me,
   or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
                                                                                (Phillipians 4:8-9 NIV)

 His voice brings me peace, a sense of safety, a sense of love for Him and everyone. I want more.

Copyright © 2011 Irina Demkiw, all rights reserved.

Copyright © 2014 Gloria Winn, all rights reserved.