Saturday, May 22, 2010

Practicing the Presence of God and Disdaining the Things of the World

When Jesus said, “Come, follow me,” it was to a radically different life he called those early disciples-in-training. The choice to follow Jesus in our time is still a choice of radical change in our lives. “You must lose your life to find it,” is still as applicable today as it was to those first disciples. While the church can teach the “how”, (and certainly should), it is up to each individual to choose this path of discipleship, this narrow road of following the One called Jesus Christ, Son of God. Many “loosely” follow Jesus, but few make that radical commitment to disdain the things of the world and live a monastic life in the midst of this world.

“Seek the ancient paths,” says the book of Celtic Daily Prayer, and it like the Bible and other classics of Christian literature, encourage us toward that life that Brother Lawrence called “practicing the presence of God.” Perhaps like no other written work, aside from the Bible itself, The Imitation of Christ gives us clear and challenging direction in living life as a follower of Jesus. Among the classics of Christian devotional and spiritual literature, the Imitation stands out and has been the #1 companion to the Bible for many of our “great cloud of witnesses.” The Imitation was written as a “beginner’s” guide to monastic life. It is constructed in devotional fashion, with shorter readings that lend themselves to “lectio divina” (divine listening or meditation).

If there is one clear theme throughout the Imitation, it may be that of humility? But closely followed is that of disdain for things of the world; from material possessions, to idle chatter and gossip, to desires of the flesh including power and authority. The Imitation commands us daily to lay down our worldly lives; it challenges and convicts us of sin . . . daily, continuous sin that dogs us throughout our days. One cannot read the Imitation without sensing the Spirit’s conviction, and done so on a daily basis is the stuff of spiritual formation . . . the life and times of a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I cannot recommend too highly the practical, daily use of the Imitation in conjunction with one’s Bible, (and perhaps a book of daily or common prayer.) To “wet” the appetite for consuming the Imitation I include the following excerpts:

“What good does it do you to be able to give a learned discourse on the Trinity, while you are without humility and, thus, are displeasing to the Trinity? . . . I would rather experience repentance in my soul than know how to define it. . . If you knew the entire Bible inside and out and all the maxims of the philosophers, what good would it do you if you were, at the same time, without God’s love and grace?”

“It is vanity to seek riches that are sure to perish and to put your hope in them. It is vanity to pursue honors and to set yourself up on a pedestal.”

“Whenever you desire anything inordinately, you immediately find that you grow dissatisfied with yourself. Those who are proud and avaricious never arrive at contentment; it is the poor and the humble in spirit who live in great peace.”

“Anyone who is not dead to himself will soon find that he is tempted and overcome by piddling and frivolous things.”

“Do not take pride in your skills and talents lest you offend God, to whom you owe these very gifts and endowments.”

“Peace dwells in the humble heart, while in the heart of the proud man there is envy, resentment and strife.”

Oh my Book 1, Chapter 14 is so full of wisdom I hesitate to include even an excerpt here, go buy the book and read it! Also, many of you will note that the Imitation is full of Scripture references, not by accident.

“If you wish to keep peace and live in harmony with others, you must learn to abdicate your will in many things. It is no small matter to live as if in a monastery within your own congregation and abide there without complaint and persevere faithfully until death.”

“We ought not place too much trust in ourselves because we are often without grace and understanding. . . “

“Jesus today has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few of them carry His cross.”

“Many love Jesus as long as adversity does not touch them and many praise and bless Him as long as they receive consolation from Him.”

Well, that is a sample of the tough teachings contained in the Imitation. I hope you will find, as I have, that God’s Truth rings clear and loud within those pages, and it compels us to pray and seek the transformation that only the Spirit can make in our lives. We will be asked over and over again to avoid idle gossip and chatter of worldly things, to let go of our selfish need to be “right” all the time, we will be challenged to hold loosely to temporal things of this world and tightly to Christ, we will be convicted in our pride and pray for humility of the Son, we will begin to see ourselves as the wretched sinners we are, and pray, “Lord have mercy!”

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