For the next three months, starting this Sunday night, we will have Masterpiece Theatre's broadcast of The Complete Jane Austen-all six of her novels in full color drama before our eyes. I don't remember when I fell in love with this fascinating world. But there are signs of my fascination with it everywhere you look in my house: I collect English tea cups and old silver, my one niece bought me a beautiful hardcover collection of Jane Austen's work as a Christmas present last year, I drink PG Tips tea (direct from England), and read all of Rosamunde Pilcher's novels over the years. I loved the new book out, A Journey with Jane Austen by Lori Smith.
I even recently entered this contest: "Pretend you are one of Jane Austen's parents. Describe in two or three sentences the kind of gentleman that would be worthy to win Jane's hand in marriage. What sort of man would you accept as a suitable husband for our favorite author?" over at Jane Austen Today . (See the Poll on the left side of the page and vote for me if you like my description!)
This proper world of courtesy and restrained emotion is fascinating to me. I often try to picture myself in this world, and I see myself stumbling about in a long dress with a tight bodice, not so much spilling my tea at tea time but spilling the beans about what I am thinking, what I want, what I hope for. You don't do that- in this world where formality and decorous behavior are all the rage.
It would be too bold to share what you really want, to declare your deepest feelings to a friend, or to even try to get another to join in with you in dreaming out loud and in declaring your New Year's resolutions or your aspirations. "Catherine sometimes started at the boldness of her own surmises, and sometimes hoped or feared that she had gone too far; but they were supported by such appearances as made their dismissal impossible"-Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Chapter VIII.
Nobody would be startled at my boldness if I lived in Jane Austen's day. My supposed boldness would be unmistakably evident to everyone's chagrin. But that really isn't boldness of spirit. That's more of a lack of social propriety, of being clumsy or foolish in sharing what others do not discuss.
I am not bold enough, of that I am sure. I lack total confidence and absolute assurance of God's power at work in me, and especially His desire to freely grant my requests. After all, there is that Scripture verse from 1 John 5:14 about asking anything "according to His will"- knowing that He hears us. Thus, the problem. Most of us get stuck in indecision about whether we're asking "according His will".
This treasure of 1 John 5:14,15 is the landscape of our hope and ideal. But we are stuck trying to access this treasure chest due to "knowing our place". We think our place is the world of those who appear humble, those who wait for God to speak out our thoughts and remind us of what we want. We think about boldly going into His throne room. Then we remember who we are, what we fear, our lack of intimately knowing His will- and we retreat.
I often read this passage, gasp at its magnitude, and then think about how I could appropriate this...another day.
"And this is the confidence (the assurance, the privilege of boldness) which we have in Him: [we are sure] that if we ask anything (make any request) according to His will (in agreement with His own plan), He listens to and hears us. And if (since) we [positively] know that He listens to us in whatever we ask, we also know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that we have [granted us as our present possessions] the requests made of Him." (Amplified version).
Alas, it is too much! (Said in a dramatic expression from Jane Austen's day). How can we get close to the meaning of this passage when words like assurance, boldness, positively know, settled and absolute knowledge- get in the way? Who has that kind of confidence about how they live, how they approach God? The only thing that provokes me to think I could ever be so bold as to go to God and confidently ask of Him my heart's desire- knowing that it was within His will- is to think of all of Paul's confident convictions. Here's one- "for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." 2 Tim 1:12
Then there's his confidence and boldness about the way, and where, he was serving God, in 2 Corinthians 10. He was confident that he was laboring where he should, and even confident about trying to go onward, making sure that onward meant laboring where no one had yet gone. "Then there will be no question of our boasting about work done in someone else’s territory" 2 Cor. 10:13-16.
I think I can ask God to help me know where to labor, what gifts and talents I can use for Him in a place where people need to be encouraged- because this is according to His will. I can ask God to work with me, forming and shaping me into a person who can boldly state that she knows Whom she has believed in- and she is absolutely persuaded and convinced that God is going to take her all the way Home. But first there is a journey, a cross country pilgrimage. First there is new territory to go to- where no man has gone before.
Somewhat boldly I circle around and come back to talk to God again. "Are you sure you want me to approach you boldly, confidently?" I fear falling into arrogance- and I think many fear this too. But I fear even more never being a child of God who exercises the privilege of boldness.
So before I zero in any more on my specific requests (that's coming), I want to make sure that I look at that passage again and stand there in amazement at what He offers. Free access to Him. The knowledge that He hears me when I talk with Him and ask Him for help. I can confidently call Him "Father".
He offers me the privilege of boldness. And in spite of how bold I would look in Jane Austen's world, I still have a LOT to learn.