Today’s Bible reading
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:1-8
More thoughts for meditation
The story of Nicodemus is famous for including the phrase “You must be born again.” Some Christians boiled that phrase down to mean, “You must receive Jesus as Savior.” But the phrase needs boiling up, not down. The Greek word might be translated: born “from above, from a higher place, of things which come from God” (like the NRSV does above), or born “from the first” or “from the beginning,“ or born “anew, over again,” as if starting from the first cause or first place. It is quite dynamic, isn’t it? Being born into the life of the Spirit is not a onetime event, it is an ongoing experience.
As Nicodemus learns, to dwell in the life of the Spirit is to be subject to the Spirit’s creative promptings, which are like wind – constant newness emanating from the source. Again that is very dynamic, like a tree bending — sometimes in a breeze, sometimes in a hurricane.
Nicodemus had a very stable faith structure (and a life structure to go with it) when Jesus came into his life and disrupted it all. The well-respected Pharisee had to find a way to get to know Jesus; so he went to see him after dark, apparently so no one would see him and his structures would not be too disrupted. But everything Jesus said to Nicodemus was destabilizing and re-creative. His story gets retold because we all have to face similar challenges when our longing to know Jesus disrupts the life we have been living. We often do not attend to our longings at all because we sense that following them will appear crazy in our present circumstances. So Nicodemus must have been overwhelmed by the revelation of Jesus, very brave or just plain desperate.
In Romans 8 Paul describes his own sense of longing that he can see built right into the world. Even though we experience sin and destruction, we can affirm these things — especially in times of transition:
- It is possible to love God and discern God’s ways for us
- Our own intentions can cooperate with God’s redemption project.
- We can wait patiently for what is to be revealed about us and the world.
- The groanings “too deep for words” in us are part of our Spirit-to-spirit dialogue with God and they help us discern the way.
The affirmations above are important. They are key to seeing beyond our present circumstances. What we would hope is that we can progress toward what is next within a stable life structure: job, family and finances all allowing us to proceed. But our advancement within a life structure may actually produce change: a move to more responsibility in the job, children growing up, or the need to care for parents. Or there may be failure within a life structure: immorality, an economic or health crisis, downsizing or termination, retirement. A sense of adventure or extraordinary difficulties can cause people to break out of their life structure: relocation, going back to school, marrying or remarrying. And some of us experience unstable life structures: we may experience difficulty; we may not have put in enough work to create stability; mental disorders or addictions may deter the development of practical skills, so we may need to rely on the stability of family or the government.
Suggestions for action
Pray: My longing is sometimes beyond my awareness and understanding. Bless me with the wind of your Spirit.
The idea of having a life structure can also be applied to our faith structure. Is yours adequate? Can you sustain ongoing growth? Are there discrepancies between what you practice and your soul’s longings? How long has it been since you grappled with your basic personal theology? We often rely on our church to provide this structure, but since we each make up the church together, it is hard to have a good church structure if the members are destabilized and out of process.
What we would hope is that we can progress within a stable faith structure: we can see how things are working for good in our inner and outer life. Our advancement within our faith structure may cause disruption: going to church might not do it for us anymore and we need to seek further ways to go deeper in prayer and understanding or find new ways to serve. Circle of Hope is structured to rely on people doing the word and leading, not just consuming church meetings. There may be a breakdown of the faith structure: cultural norms change, psychological scars surface, our sin puts us in a new relationships with others, our leaders seem unhelpful. A sense of adventure or extraordinary difficulties can cause people to break out of their faith structure: perhaps it is time to explore seminary, or workshops, new books, new practices, or maybe a new church. And some of us experience unstable faith structures: you may have never experienced stable Christian community for any number of personal or corporate reasons. You may be in a wilderness time. You may be gaining new psychological understanding that gives you more autonomy. You may be getting a concept of God more appropriate to your age and place. You may just be confused.
No matter the place, the wind of the Spirit is moving us and goodness is possible. This exercise might help you place your longings in relation to the structures that propel them or keep them waiting on the runway.
Think about your current life structure
- Describe your current living situation – with whom and where.
- Describe your job – satisfaction level, what you enjoy , what are problems.
- Describe your financial resources – feel stable or unstable?
- Describe your relationship network – do you find it supportive?
- What are your hobbies and leisure activities?
- What else locates you in your life structure?
Consider your faith structure.
- Describe your relationship to the church.
- Describe your faith practices
- Use just a few words to describe your understanding of God.
- Do you actively use symbols, practices, images from your faith to help you sort out meaning/ How so?
- What is the state of your personal relationship with God at this point?
Pick a significantly different point in your past and consider your life and faith structures then. How have you changed? How has your faith grown or diminished?
Return to the affirmations from above and today’s prayer.