Part of my devotional life recently has been to go back to the writings of the historical church–not as a replacement for scriptural devotion, but as a subtle effort to break through the facade that our modern culture has painted into and over what we believe it means to be a Christian. In hindsight, I think the genesis of this has been in teaching through the Bible over the past six years, and especially through the four gospels the past three.
When going earnestly to scripture for what scripture says–and with a decision to break it out of the box of our cultural interpretations, allowing it to speak from its own motives and cultural setting–I think one incapable of ‘not’ noting the vast chasm between what scripture (Jesus) says, and what we bend it to mean, thus allowing us our lukewarm, milquetoast, disconnected ‘discipleship’ of our Lord and Savior.
Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, God in flesh.
I’ve gone back to the earlier parts of the 20th Century and allowed God to speak through the sermons of AW Tozer’s ‘The Crucified Life’. I’ve gone back to the hymns of old, as poetry of the faith. Now, I’m slowly ingesting ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’, by/about Brother Lawrence–a humble servant of the Lord and church whose words have been preserved through four centuries of church history–not due to education or title, but due simply to the gravity of a message that came from a life humbly serving God.
This is not scripture, so do not give it the place of Paul, or James, or John. But it is the words of a man completely smitten and in love with God, so give it whatever place it deserves as an agreement to scripture, a picture and testimony of that scripture applied and lived out in one man’s life, and I think most importantly:
A stark contrast to the life so many Christians feel called to today. A stark contrast of gospels–one that we feel is called to enhance or augment our lives, or the Biblical one that is meant to assassinate our life for the purpose of giving us a completely new one?
Brother Lawrence’s ‘conversations’ begin:
The first time I saw Brother Lawrence, was upon 3d of August, 1666. He told me that GOD had done him a singular favor, in his conversion at age eighteen.
That in the winter, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed and after that the flowers and fruit appear, he received a high view of the Providence and Power of GOD, which has never since been effaced from his soul. That this view had perfectly set him loose from the world, and kindled in him such a love for GOD, that he could not tell whether it had increased during the more than forty years he had lived since.
Now, I view a bit of that with a bit of distrust, depending on Brother Lawrence’s definition of ‘perfectly’. I know that I’m still struggling to be ‘perfectly’ set loose from this world. I know that Paul was as well. So, it may be that either Brother Lawrence wasn’t quite as humble as history tells us, or there is some break-down in translation between French/English, the 16th Century and 21st?
But I can’t help but see some beautiful keys in this conversion story.
How many of us are/were so soul-crushed by our current, fallen state, with such natural intuition about our own ‘deadness’, that as late teens we would see the barrenness of Winter trees and attach that image to ourselves? How many would so inherently yearn for rebirth that we would cry out for the God who created Spring as a promise?
Can the current cultural message that “everyone’s alright in their own way” create such a pressing need? I think not, as I’ve not seen it do so; and I think not, since that message is the antithesis of a soul-emptying view of God.
And can that message of our current culture–that everyone’s alright in their own way–create such a life-long, life-altering view that upon our conversion, God did us the greatest of favors?
Again, I think not. Our current culture tells us that we don’t REALLY need Jesus and that if we accept Him, we’re doing Him a favor. We’ve become workers in His global factory. We were alright before Him, perhaps better with Him. But a lack of perfected view of our absolute need for Him intrudes upon that absolute desire that we should have for Him.
We become at best paid workers for Him, at worst shallow professions of a faith that ignores Him for shiny distractions.
God, grant me the ability to see the new life in the trees today–to see between the green leaves to the branches that would have been dead since October if not for the cycle of your renewed life between the seasons. And God, please make me thankful for that beautiful favor you did me at Calvary.
John 15:1-8 —
1“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. 2Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.
5“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. 6If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.