Finding God in Abundance

Another simple thing that is quite difficult:

From Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain

paisius_athosI have realized that the destruction of man lies in the abundance of material goods, because it prevents him from experiencing the presence of God and appreciating His benevolence. If you want to take someone away from God, give him plenty of material goods. He will instantly forget Him forever.

I realized this when I was younger. When I was on Mount Sinai [at St. Catherine’s Monastery], I lived in a place that had no water. I had to walk for two hours to get to a rock where water was leaking from its side. I placed the jug underneath and waited about an hour until it was filled up. The limited amount of water created in my soul various feelings:

Every day I was in agony: “I wonder, will the water be dripping from the rock?” I prayed to God to continue to make it drip. As I was walking towards the rock, I was anxious to see whether I would find some water and I prayed. When I could detect from far away the water glittering as the sun beams were falling on the rock, I glorified God. On my way back, I constantly thanked and glorified Him for the water He gave me. So, the small amount of water impelled me first, to constantly pray to God to make the rock drip and secondly, to thank and glorify Him, as He is the giver of all good things.

When I left Sinai, I went to the Scete of Iviron [on Mt. Athos], where there was no shortage of water. We had plenty of water, which was sometimes wasted, as it was left running for no reason. At some point, I felt that I had developed a different attitude inside my soul. I realized that during my stay at the Scete, I hadn’t said, not even once, “Glory to God.”

While the small amount of water became a reason for me to pray and glorify God, its abundance made me forget that water is indeed a gift from God and I should be grateful to Him. The same thing applies to material goods.

I will give you another example. I could never feel the need to thank God for giving me the opportunity to sit down and rest, as I thought it was natural for me to do so. Now, I suffer from hernia and I cannot make myself comfortable while sitting down; the moment I find a comfortable position, I glorify God for giving me the opportunity to feel at ease. This led me to the conclusion that being able to sit down is also a gift from God and we should thank Him for it.

The same thing applies to everything. If we are found in a difficult situation, we must not be upset; instead we should realize this is God’s way to make us feel closer to Him and become aware that He is the grantor of everything in our lives.

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46 Responses to “Finding God in Abundance”

  1. easton Says:

    father stephen, thank you for this. something that is confusing to me is the statement that “if we are found in a difficult situation, we must not be upset; instead we should realize this is god’s way to make us feel closer to him. i understand that god is everything but in what way does his hand work in our lives? does he let our choices have consequences?this is something i struggle with. your thoughts are appreciated.

  2. fatherstephen Says:

    I think He lets our choices have consequences in our lives, and that He redeems us in the midst of those consequences. Christ descended into Hades in order to save us from sin and death. That would seem like the most extreme set of consequences I can imagine, and yet, as Scripture says, “Lo, if I descend into hell, Thou art there.”

    As to how He works – you might find this post to be helpful.

  3. Raphael Says:

    Father Bless.
    This reminds me of the podcast you did recently that really touched me. You said something to the effect that there are no everyday lives. We must seek to transform ourselves so as to see God as He truly exists in every moment of our life.

    You may only have a few things to say (wink), but I love the way you say them.

  4. Dusty Henry Says:

    I used to wonder, even aloud, why God makes life so hard. If he is a good God then why do I have to suffer so many things? Sometimes when other Christians would say how good God is, my heart would say, in secret, not to me He isn’t.

    I often asked: “ Are you trying to kill me? Are you against me?” In real quiet times the answer to these questions came to me, in a still small voice: ”Yes I am.”

    And, some how, I knew that was Love speaking. But, what love is this? What great love this! That someone would dare to touch my wounds and heal the depths. And teach me gratefulness. Gratefulness for the little things. And that is so Big!

    One of the most astounding things that I have ever read in a bible is the note in the Orthodox Study Bible for Ephesians 1:4-6: “Becoming a Christian is not so much inviting Christ into one’s life as getting oneself into Christ’s life.” If any one sentence could some up the “Orthodox Way” this is it.

    One school of Christianity invites Him into our lives and encourages us to make our selves better and happier. After all, that is what God is for. Isn’t He? But then what if I am a failure, and I surely am, what does that make God?

    The other way is to kill our self and become someone new. The other way is to die and receive the gift of new life. And it is a long process. It is a struggle. It is learning to be grateful one day at a time. For the little things that are big.

    One of the hardest obstacles to overcome in becoming Orthodox is to really truly believe that God is good and the lover of mankind. And that all these trials of life, like getting water by the trickle from a rock, are for our joy. Because they get us into His life and out of the other.

    Glory to God for all things!!!

  5. Damaris Says:

    The best yet, Father. May I really learn to fast this year so that I can remember to thank God for every mouthful.

  6. George Patsourakos Says:

    I agree that the abundance of material goods destroys man, because it leads to selfishness, greed, and the failure of man to appreciate God for everything that He has given us.

    On the other hand, when we need something we do not have — such as a bottle of water — we tend to pray to God to make it available to us, and to thank and glorify God for providing us with that gift.

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    Damaris,
    One year during Lent, I tried to fast from anger (this was before I was Orthodox). Anger makes a terrible meal, anyway. It was one of the most helpful fasts I ever attempted. Now I would like to fast from anxiety – it makes an even worse meal than anger.

  8. Joseph Says:

    Father how would you fast from having a negative view on life in a simple way? I know my question is broad, thanks for any insights

  9. Victor Says:

    Fr. Stephen,
    I recently was reminded of how all things come from God and how those who deny this are trying to believe in a God who is ultimately less than God. Real Theodicy comes from an elemental, primal trust in God, in His Goodness, His providential care for us. It does not make God the author of sin but it shows his majesty in how he can use even our most wicked impulses for our salvation. As Joseph said to his brothers “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.”
    V

  10. Rebecca D. Says:

    Father Stephen, thank you for posting this. I needed to read it right now.

  11. fatherstephen Says:

    Rebecca,
    May God continue to bless.

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    Joseph,
    It is rather broad. The closest thing I can think of is to work at giving thanks to God for all things. It is a powerful discipkine.

  13. Pam Says:

    I was just wondering.. I went to Amazon.com to see what Orthodox Study Bibles they had. They have many different kinds. I do not know whick one to look for. I would very much like to get one and read it. I have the King James Study Bible. But I went to the post you talked about earlier and I like what you wrote from your Orthodox Bible.

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    Pam. Try this link – it should take you to the one I was referencing.

  15. Matthew Redard Says:

    Father, this is the exact message I needed at this exact moment. Thank you.
    By the way, love the new iPhone app for the blog!

  16. fatherstephen Says:

    Matthew,
    There’s an iphone app for the blog? Cool.

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  20. Carl Says:

    Dusty,

    “One of the hardest obstacles to overcome in becoming Orthodox is to really truly believe that God is good and the lover of mankind.” I count not agree more. I’m still trying to get there. This post helps…

  21. Karen Says:

    Dear Father, bless! This is a very difficult discipline indeed to receive from God’s hand. His purposes are good, but my flesh is exceedingly weak. Would that I even had the faintest clue how to fast from anxiety! (Well, I just realized one way for me will be to avoid certain sites on the Internet! I already avoid most TV and all major news media!) I know that for me my anxiety is most often related to allowing my security and sense of being valued and loved to depend upon the good opinion of very fallible people and tangentially upon my own “good performance” (an ever elusive goal–only God knows what that really should look like for me right now), rather than upon God Who knows all things, yet Who in Christ descended even into Hades with and for us, as you have said. I think I have to work on accepting being considered the lowest of the low and being okay with that, clinging to the truth that God loves me and cares deeply about all that touches or concerns me. This is difficult to know experientially when the onslaught from the enemy comes from many different angles all at once. That still, small Voice is so easily drowned out. This will be a good day, I think, to spend some time in the Beatitudes. . . .

  22. Matthew Redard Says:

    Yes. Well, I’m calling it an “app” – it’s just a special iPhone version of your blog (previously, when accessing your blog from my iPhone, it pulled up the “full” version of your blog – now, it pulls up a version formatted specifically for iPhone).

    I believe WordPress has a plug-in that allows you to provide this special iPhone version of your blog for users accessing it via their iPhone.

  23. Marsha Says:

    Karen, I think you have hit upon a very apt description of anxiety, at least as I experience it. I am a long way, however, from being able to fast from it, except for moments perhaps!

  24. fatherstephen Says:

    Matthew. That’s great. I just checked it out on my itouch – it’s quite new (last couple of days) and you’re right – it looks great. A vast improvement.

  25. fatherstephen Says:

    Marsha,
    I am terrible at fasting from anxiety – which makes the fast a worthwhile struggle.

  26. Anna Says:

    In the Morning Prayer to the Holy Trinity we pray, “But thou hast shown Thy customary love toward mankind, and hast raised me up as I lay in heedlessness, that I might sing my morning hymn and glorify Thy sovereignty.”

    In my abundance, my alarm clock raises me up. I will try to remember to give thanks for both my alarm clock and for God’s help in raising up (out of bed.) How many times do I not even realize God’s gift of getting up?

  27. Kevin Isaac Says:

    Father Stephen,

    Have you ever written on the topic of anxiety?

    In reference to fasting from anxiety, there indeed seems to be an over-abundance of it in our lives, providing ample opportunity to practice such a fast, but it is indeed a fierce struggle and to be “anxious for nothing”, as scripture instructs us, is a lofty goal.

    Have any of the Father’s addressed the topic of anxiety? I cannot seem to recall ever coming across it in my reading.

  28. Hillary@ The Other Mama Says:

    Father Stephen,
    Thank you so much for this post. I was just trying to clean my kids toys today and get my mind wrapped about what they didn’t play with or currently need and realized that we could take 90% of it away and they would still have PLENTY to do! It IS the abundance that takes away from the thankful. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and insight!
    Off to clean toys…🙂

  29. fatherstephen Says:

    I have not written on it – though I am deeply familiar with it. I’ll look around in the fathers.

  30. Damaris Says:

    One of the hardest things about trying not be anxious is that people often get resentful of calm people. Being worried is often seen as proof that you care about something; if you don’t fuss, you don’t care. “Worry” has become a synonym for “pay attention to” or even “do.” How many times to people say, “I’ll worry about that later,” as if we have to worry in order to achieve anything? For years I have tried to remember what an insult to God my anxiety is, just as I get insulted if my children think that, after almost twenty years, I might forget to feed them today!

  31. Lewis Says:

    To all of my “anxious brothers and sisters”, I recommend memorizing relevant Scripture. Here is one of my pivotal experiences: one day I was anxiously hurrying to my next responsiblity, which would very soon be followed by another stream of stressful events. I had this haunting feeling of a car right behind me blowing the horn and realizing I was honking at myself. Another unexpected thought filled my mind, namely, a Scripture I had recently taken to heart: “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phillipians 4:6-7).
    Surely, Paul knew how true this was.

  32. Stephen Says:

    Glad to say that this blog is nice to read on the Nokia touch as well! Does one have to do anything special to make a blog readable for a phone?

  33. Diana S. Says:

    There is a little book called “Victory In The Unseen Warfare” by Jack N Sparks, that has been a spiritual lifeline to me. My copy is worn and marked with stickers and sticky notes, especially chapter 7,”Establishing and Preserving Peace of Heart’ and chapter 9, “If Inner Peace Withdraws”

  34. Karen Says:

    Katia and Lewis, thank you for your comments on anxiety–two more tools in my belt to combat this demon in my life. The words of St. Nicholai are so apt: “Of course, one who forgets God, takes God’s worries upon himself. And God’s worries are not something that weak human backs can carry.” That verse from Scripture is one I have heard often, Lewis–so often I regret that I too easily tune it out. I forget to allow its meaning to penetrate my heart, and I fail to follow its instruction. Thanks for the reminder. I once started making a list of verses speaking about the Lord’s sovereign will and power (as a reinforcement of St. Nicholai’s word here). I realize it would be good to resurrect that list and carry those verses around with me to refer to when my heart gets faint!

    Father, bless!

  35. fatherstephen Says:

    Stephen,
    Apparently not. WordPress has handled all of this. I didn’t know it until I connected with my itouch and, lo and behold, new format appeared. Good work, wordpress!

  36. fatherstephen Says:

    I’ll offer a brief thought on anxiety. There are, I think, a number of different experiences with a number of different etiologies that we name “anxiety.” Battling with them, or living with them, can have similar approaches. But I am thinking in particular of experiences of anxiety that have a physical/chemical basis and are less easily managed (although every thought has some chemical expression – it’s part of how the brain works). But there are conditions of anxiety that are rooted in physical problems (more or less) that, as I said, are less easily managed. In such a cases the battle is long, takes a lot of patience, and sometimes different strategies. I have no way of knowing how common such cases are, nor what proportion of people experience anxiety in such a manner. I’m simply aware of it as a phenomenon. We should judge carefully (including judging ourselves) and pray with patience, hopefully with a good confessor, and with compassion – both for others – and for ourselves if we find that we are engaged in such a battle.

    I believe that prayer and spiritual discipline can make a difference and even a change in things that have such a physical basis – but such difference and change is a work of great grace. On many occasions such a weakness or infirmity must be borne with patience and as much as possible carried in a way that it does not become the source of harm to others.

    I know of a case of schizoprenia which a person carries with great patience and miraculous spiritual struggle. Simply discerning true reality from schizophrenic delusion is a miraculous feat. Such a feat would likely go unnoticed and even unappreciated by many around such an individual. But I know of a person who lives such a life. That is far more extreme than living with a genuine anxiety disorder – but a comparison can be made.

    Our cultural inheritance in which the split between the material and the “spiritual” is rather extreme (classic protestant thought tended to equate spiritual with mental – hence the whole emphasis on preaching over sacrament) makes it difficult for people not to see all so-called mental conditions as somehow “spiritual” in which “spiritual” is divorced from the physical. True Orthodox understanding does not have this split – which is why Orthodox spiritual disciplines pay attention to things like food intake, sleep, physical exertion, as well as the sacraments, prayer, etc. Prayer can be quite physical in many Orthodox expressions.

    Thus the current medical studies that recognize that “thought” has as much of a physical component as anything else is not inimical to Orthodox tradition. We simply have to spend time thinking more carefully about these things and coming to a greater understanding and application of the Tradition. In the wrong hands (those lacking sufficient understanding), the Tradition can be used with harm.

    Having said all that, it is my practice to approach such things with care and patience and to rejoice in every victory I find in my life and the victories found in others. We are fearfully and wonderfully made – and even our infirmities do not lack for wonder.

  37. Margaret Says:

    God bless you, Fr. Stephen! Thank you for this posting and thank you also for the “brief thought on anxiety” that you offer here in the comments. Especially “even our infirmities do not lack for wonder” May God be praised!

  38. payton Says:

    Elder Paisios’ words are very convicting and beneficial. Thank you for sharing.

  39. Jrh Says:

    Father, bless. I have tears in my eyes reading your comments on anxiety. Thank you for posting them. All of my life I’ve lived with a near-constant state of worry and dread. Most of the members of my family of origin struggle with anxiety disorders of one form or another. I have been diagnosed with one myself. When I became Orthodox a few years ago, I felt hope for the first time in dealing with my fears. I know I may always be afraid, that my body is hyper-sensitive to even the normal stresses of life, but now I know that I must struggle against such fears to the best of my ability. Before I became Orthodox, I didn’t think I could struggle–I simply accepted that being an anxious person is who I am. Now I know that it is not who I am, but one of the things that God can use to make me into who He intends me to be. And if it is better for my salvation that I’m not cured in this life, I accept His wisdom.

  40. Theodora Elizabeth Says:

    Accessing blog on your mobile – I subscribe to several blogs via Google Reader (I have Gmail). Works quite well. All the blogs I read come to one place and easy to read on iPhone (via Google Mobile). That being said, I have to check out the new format for this blog via my mobile brower.

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  42. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you, Father Stephen, for your insight and words about anxiety and other mood/mental disorders. I am an Orthodox Christian dealing with some of what you have mentioned. Your comments have helped me more than you can know. I intend to save them for myself so that I can read them and heed them.

  43. Bruce Says:

    Father Bless

    Here are a few thoughts which, with God’s help, are changing my view of anxiety and worry.

    1. I have an ability to be anxious without ceasing
    2. Much of what I’m anxious about has nothing to do with what I can control. My fundamental level of control is over my attitudes and actions; the outcomes in my life are really God’s work not mine.
    3. My anxiety fits into 3 buckets: My stuff, your stuff, or God’s stuff
    4. I need to accept responsbility for my stuff, let go of your stuff, and learn to trust God for His Stuff
    5. When I write down my anxiety and classify them this way, I’m left with lots of anxiety related to outcomes which are really God’s stuff not mine. When I take the time to quickly right write a letter to God reminding myself that each of these items is in His Hands, I have a great vehicle to transform my anxiety into a prayer. The simple prayer becomes “Thank you God for taking care of xxxxx, I trust you and love you”. This letter helps me recognize how much of the anxiety I experience is really my desire to play God instead of letting Him. Maybe the real issue is I would rather trust myself and hold onto my anxiety rather than trust God and let my anxiety become a praise/thanks.
    6. I begin to see the possibility that my anxiety is no longer a problem I must eliminate but rather an opportunity for intimacy and union with God as I transform my anxiety into a prayer of thanks. If I’m unwilling to do this, I’m not accepting reponsibility for my stuff (my attitude) and the “sacrifice of praise” described in the Psalms and Hebrews.
    7. Paul’s challenge (1st Thess 5:16-18) to “rejoice, pray without ceasing, and be thankful in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you” becomes somehow more realistic to me. If I know I can be anxious without ceasing and realize that a seed of praise/prayer is planted in this anxiety, why can’t I transform my ceaseless anxiety into ceaseless prayer.
    8. I have a chance to experience God’s power to transform my circumstances (even anxiety) into an intimacy and union with Him. I also realize that my challenge may not be to eliminate anxiety but simply learn how to transform it into prayer.

  44. Marlena Says:

    Father,

    Thank you for this post. It reminds me of a verse I read the other day, although I don’t remember where…I believe it was Paul speaking saying..”It was granted to you that you should suffer for Christ’s sake.” That used to astound me, but now I find that suffering (although we don’t usually welcome it or wish it upon others) has a way of transforming us into the image of Christ and helping us see what is truly important…what we should be thankful for. It helps us see reality.

  45. Stephanie B Says:

    “Even our infirmities do not lack for wonder.” What a beautiful and evocative thought. Thank you for speaking it. I’m sure I will carry that with me for awhile.

    Many blessings to you.

  46. Marsha Says:

    Bruce, #6, #7, and #8 are so profound that I am going to copy them for my own use! Thank you. I , too, have found (dimly) that anxiety can lead to greater intimacy with Christ.

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