Mike, an anonymous commenter on an earlier blog entry, asked how I put into practice those things I have learned in my scripture reading. I had begun to respond to him when I realized the comment I was writing was going to get pretty long pretty fast. Instead I sued for a bit more time to answer it properly, and that is what I was hoping to do here.
It's never easy to answer these types of questions. Obviously, it does not do to "sound a trumpet" about your own work. [Side note, the actual background behind that phrase is rather interesting. Evidently it was an idiom for dropping so many coins into the conical receptacles in the temple that it made a great sound. This was called "sounding the trumpet"] In addition to that, while I'm not a very private person, I do somehow see my various responses to study and the Spirit as something that does not seem appropriate to discuss publicly. If I were a better disciple of Christ, I might feel there was something to be gained by presenting my path as a model to others. But I'm not, so I don't.
Given the above, I'd like to speak in generalities without hiding behind them. I see my life as shaped by two particular spiritual priorities:
i) The importance of truly relying on God.
ii) The importance of hearing the Spirit.
Now, the above is a rather dubious separation...I'm not suggesting there are clean boundaries here, but I would perhaps say the first forms a type of "passive" informing while the latter forms an active one. Perhaps one is the gentle pressure of the spirit, and the latter is the more severe prick when needed.
In any event, I have learned that much of Christian practice comes down to truly relying on God, and understanding what that means. In my book I call this facet of salvation "Imperial Salvation." It is Christ viewed not merely as a king (who has the authority to make laws and execute power) but rather as "Emperor" (where the focus is on Christ as Provider). That understanding of a providing emperor is something our western culture has trouble fully getting, especially in America where self-actualizing is of huge interest.
In 1st century AD, the emperor was a major source of providence. The emperor also had his own church (though most emperors had the good sense not to be considered an actual god, but rather merely the Son of god). Much of what Paul was getting at in his letters has to do with the idea that "Jesus is Lord(, and Caesar is not)." That not only came down to who had the right to rule, but also whom was to be relied upon for sustenance. And that is one (getting back to Paul again) one of the reasons why Paul was so upset with certain Gentiles who were being circumcised. He found it almost an affront that believers were not relying merely on Christ but felt a need to hedge their bets by trying to be joined to the Temple and Mosaic covenant as well..a type of "back-up plan" of sorts.
In any event, the notion of relying on God is a very deep well that Christians have the opportunity to drink from. It is at its root an indication of faith. Not only faith in God's power, but also faith in God's benevolence. It also represents willingness to abide in God's desire by consenting to whatever state such reliance causes one to be in.
For that reason, I suggest to Christians to develop a healthy apathy toward their own bank account. I'm against mortgages (or any other situation where someone borrows money to obtain a personal possession). When I got into an accident (my fault), I determined the amount I was willing to pay for a car by simply looking at what I had in the bank at the time.
I don't lock my doors. I don't lock my car (unless asked to do so, or in a rare case where I think leaving my car unlocked my tempt someone into a crime). I don't believe in retirement accounts. I believe things we own end up owning us, and I strive to only buy things I actually have a real use for.
I think if Paul were alive today, he might well have some things to say about those who put their trust in their IRAs or their possessions. Just as he had some remarks about those who put their trust in the circumcision, rituals, or human philosophies (see Colossians).
None of the above is meant as casting judgment on others. But I do think that these things end up being a blessing [just as the Jews consider the Law a blessing when others might regard it as a burden]. Obviously, if someone wants to borrow money to buy a large home to start an orphanage, I'm certainly not going to criticize them.
This reliance on God transcends pecuniary issues. I rely on God for my self-concept as well, and the Almighty has blessed me with a wonderful fiancee who reminds me that I have some value. I believe much of the material-centric nature of our world is based on people turning to new cars and home-ownership not for the security they offer but as proof to themselves of their own success. This is once again a faith issue. Your place on the corporate latter, your car, your home, etc. these are always there staring you in the face to remind you of what you have accomplished or what you have that others want... and so they make an easier source for self-concept building than relying on knowing (or hoping) that your life is a pleasing aroma to God.
The same goes with our relationships, right. Much of the damage we do to others, either in romantic relationships or casual ones, comes from self-concept issues and a desire to be convinced of things about ourselves we do not believe but wish were true. Back-biting, insults, gossip, etc. much of how we treat others comes down to our own insecurities. Relying on God means not using our social interactions for our own affirmations, etc.
I might have wandered a bit from the topic now...but I did want to give some taste about how I see the "relying on God" notion as creeping into our lives in so many ways. I see two worlds co-existing at the present time: the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Mammon. I try to rely on the former for those things I need, and I"m hopeful I'll get better at that. I believe my soon-to-be-wife is better at that than I, so in marriage I'm buying free tutoring in this. ;)
Mike, if this does not answer your question, I trust you'll let me know.