Not Safe, But Good

It stormed the other day in central Indiana. The clouds were layered in multiple shades of gray, ranging from off-white to nearly charcoal. It made me think of the picture at the top of this newly-redesigened blog, although today’s skies were much less dramatic than they were the day I took this photo (which, aside from the quote, is unretouched). The storms here can be much more violent than where I grew up, but the upside is how beautiful the clouds can be. Beautiful, but scary; kind of like God.

Which brings me to my favorite quote in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series – well, actually, I think it’s just about everyone’s favorite quote. When the Pevensie children first hear about Aslan, they are surprised to learn that he is a lion.

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

– C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe

Not safe. But good. The King. The sovereign Lord who is always good, even when He’s more than a little scary. We can trust Him completely, but we dare not presume that He is a pushover. For even though He is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8), He is still the Holy One, the righteous judge (Psalm 7:11; 2 Timothy 4:8), and “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

I think one of the reasons God does not appear to be “safe” is that He’s far more concerned about our holiness than He is about our happiness, and our character is far more important to Him than our comfort. (I’m sure those phrases are not original with me, but I can’t dredge up the source from my middle-aged memory.) God is relentless in this regard; He’ll stop at nothing to shape us into the image of Christ. And that’s a scary thought, at least to me, because I’ve experienced a little of that relentlessness.

Every year our ministry runs a summer missions project for college students, and one year we decided the project theme would be “whatever it takes.” We soon learned that God would not let us teach something we could not live out. The sacrifices of time, effort and energy required to pull the project off that summer pushed us all to exhaustion. Knowing it was no coincidence, our team joke became, “Next year, our theme’s gonna be ‘peaceful, easy feeling’!”

It was definitely not a “safe” summer, but it was a good one. Lives were changed–the lives of our students, the lives of those who received Christ through their ministry, and the lives of those of us who taught, mentored, and administrated the project. Even though I was physically and mentally drained, probably more than I had ever been before, the reward of seeing God change us all was well worth the sacrifice.

Relentless. Beautiful, but scary. Not safe, but good.

This is our God.

The Sacrament of Living, Part 2

As a continuation from my last post, The Sacrament of Living, here is more of A. W. Tozer’s thinking on that topic. After the passage I quoted last time, he explains how difficult it will be to put this truth into practice. We’ll need to change a habitual thought pattern – and we all know how hard it is to break a bad habit! But beyond that, Satan will try to stop us, as he always does when someone wants to deepen their commitment to God. (Back to the “all of life is a battleground” side of the coin!) Tozer says:

We can meet this successfully only by the exercise of an aggressive faith. We must offer all our acts to God and believe that He accepts them. Then hold firmly to that position and keep insisting that every act of every hour of the day and night be included in the transaction. Keep reminding God in our times of private prayer that we mean every act for His glory; then supplement those times by a thousand thought prayers as we go about the job of living. Let us practice the fine art of making every work a priestly ministration. Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.

Sounds like hard work! But somehow, the thought of it makes me want to rise to the challenge, rather than feeling overwhelmed. Maybe it’s because of the incredible results that Tozer describes in this summary at the end of the chapter:

It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary. His entire life will be a priestly ministration. As he performs his never so simple task he will hear the voice of the seraphim saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.”

– A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

The Sacrament of Living

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)

One of the lessons I learned as a young believer was that everything I do can be an act of worship to the Lord. But to be honest, my heart attitude had fallen back into the old sacred-secular dichotomy: feeling that certain things (like ministry or bible study) are spiritual, but anything personal (like leisure or even housekeeping) is not.

A couple of months ago, my pastor spoke on spiritual warfare, and showed how Satan can take advantage of us when we think this way, because all of life can be a battleground. Then last week I read the last chapter of A. W. Tozer’s classic, The Pursuit of God, which describes this same false division between sacred and secular. It goes on to speak of what I see as the flip side of the coin: that all of life can be a sacrament.

Let us think of a Christian believer in whose life the twin wonders of repentance and the new birth have been wrought. He is now living according to the will of God as he understands it from the written Word. Of such a one it may be said that every act of his life is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord’s Supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; It is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament.

If a sacrament is an external expression of an inward grace then we need not hesitate to accept the above thesis. By one act of consecration of our total selves to God we can make every subsequent act express that consecration.

– A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

I think what really hit home was that all my actions – all of them! – can be a sacred act, holy to the Lord. Being disciplined at duties like cleaning or doing laundry can be an outward expression of God’s grace at work within me. (That’s huge for me, because those of you who know me well know how messy my house usually is!) How I spend my leisure time can demonstrate my consecration to Christ. I haven’t been thinking like this, but I want to. I want to honor God with every action, not just the ones that I’ve thought of as “spiritual.” I want my whole life to be a sacrament.

Wesley Covenant Prayer

A week or so ago, I saw this prayer on the blog of a fellow Campus Crusade staff member, and decided to do a web search for some information on it. I found that it’s an adaptation from a prayer by John Wesley (1703-1791), whose teachings are the foundation of the various Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness denominations. Over the years it has appeared in various forms in Methodist service books and hymnals. The version below is the one I saw quoted most often (including on wikipedia.org). It’s an incredibly powerful prayer of dedication to the Lord, which needs no further comment.

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
      thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

– John Wesley (1703-1791), Book of Offices of the British Methodist Church (1936)

Breathe In Me, Holy Spirit

Breathe in me, Holy Spirit, that all my thoughts may be holy.
Act in me, Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy.

– Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Augustine, bishop of Hippo in what is now Algeria, is one of the most influential figures in all of church history. He was a theological giant whose teachings are considered foundational by Protestants and Catholics alike. His prayer quoted above seems to me to be a fitting one to start off the new year. Though it is short, it clearly expresses a strong desire to please God in every area of life, both in attitude and in action. It also expresses a clear recognition that we cannot do this on our own, but must depend on the Holy Spirit to accomplish this in and through us.

But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”
– 1 Peter 1:15-16 (NLT)

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
– John 15:5 (NLT)

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won?t be doing what your sinful nature craves… But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit?s leading in every part of our lives.
– Galatians 5:16, 22-25 (NLT)

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