“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness” – Thomas Merton
While I don’t always agree with Merton, I do enjoy his thoughts on solitude and living the monastic life. I often wonder about living that kind of life – separate, distant, serene. It seems so appealing. I bet monks can focus a lot on discipline with so much time. And then I wonder what my life would look like if I had that discipline, time, and freedom. Which leads me to Goal #4 for 2012 – Getting in & Staying in a regular habits of Prayer, Fasting, Meditating, Study, Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, Service, & Worship.
What would look different in my life if I – out of a joyful heart that is changed by the Gospel – lived a life of spiritual discipline? Hudson Taylor, the great missionary, once said “The prayer power has never been tried to its full capacity. If we want to see mighty wonders of divine power and grace wrought in the place of weakness, failure and disappointment, let us answer God’s standing challenge, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not!'” (Jeremiah 33:3). There are so many promises God makes about prayer, but if I were to be completely honest, prayer is not my 1st or 2nd or even 3rd choice when life is going well or even when it all hits the fan. I immediately turn to my own ingenuity, problem-solving skills, and “war-room” so that I can assess the problem and make whatever pain it is causing go away. Most of my life is spent making pain go away. What if instead I drop to my knees and beg God to keep my heart free of fear and anxiety so that I may fully rely on His provision and His faithfulness? Just like Laertes in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, I want to grapple God to my soul with “hoops of steel” so that I never wander from Him. (Act I Scene III), because God says this in Isaiah 54:10:
“For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but My steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and My covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”
God has this way of putting all my little problems into perspective, so if I spend more time dwelling with Him, speaking with Him, and resting in His presence, some of that steadfast love and peace may actually wear off on me in my daily life. This is what Paul calls being “conformed to the image of His Son” in Romans 8:29. No matter what happens in life, even if the mountains were ripped out of the ground and all the hills were pulled up by their roots, God still loves me, has compassion on me, and will give me peace.
A City within a City
But I’m not a monk. Heck, I don’t even own a robe. Well, I do, but it’s white and made out of polyurethane and has “IBM” on it (job gift) … and my wife always “borrows” it. I am constantly in the world, in the midst of my own and others’ problems, surrounded by people and sin and distractions and temptation and agony. The luxury of living in a closed off, hidden, separated world eludes me. I am so easily distracted, you know? I have a iPhone with tons of apps, I watch Hulu and Netflix, I can barely make it through the day without some sort of media “fix.” So what do I do? What can you do?
My vision needs to be enlarged and I need to remember the mission God has for me. Tim Keller has this great illustration he uses to describe this very problem. He talks about ancient Israel being defeated by armies and sometimes taken into captivity because of their sin. And God would speak directly or through His prophets and tell His people an interesting thing – not to live outside of the city and be separate, and not to live in the city and conform to their sinful culture, but to go deeply into the city and yet remain distinctly God’s people so that they may change the city around them for God’s Name and Glory. That is what God calls us to do as well – not to live some separated monastic life where we avoid all pain and temptation, and not to become like the world around us, but to go deeply into the surrounding culture while remaining uniquely Christian. Tim Keller says it this way – “A frightening proportion of our churches are trapped by … the ‘fortress church’ mentality. That mentality is made up of attitudes that may be conscious or unconscious: “Let them come to us! Our doors are open. We come to church to have our needs met, to escape the cold, cruel world.” But there are biblical truths that knock flat the walls of our fortress. Every member is a minister. Every member has kingdom power to destroy strongholds. Through us Jesus continues to immerses Himself in the needs of the world.”
Henri Nouwen says it this way – “Christian life is not a life divided between times for action and times for contemplation. No. Real social action is a way of contemplation, and real contemplation is the core of social action.”
So go deeply into the city today, surrounded with hurting people who are filled with stress, anxiety, temptation, fear, insecurity, and pain. And be uniquely different than everything else out there. Be so transformed by the Gospel of Jesus that it is expressed in the most simple of acts. and be so radically immersed in the love of God that it flows out on all around you.