Discipleship is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God. Walking on water is easy to someone with impulsive boldness, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is something altogether different. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he “followed Him at a distance” on dry land (Mark 14:54). We do not need the grace of God to withstand crises— human nature and pride are sufficient for us to face the stress and strain magnificently. But it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint, going through drudgery, and living an ordinary, unnoticed, and ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God— but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people— and this is not learned in five minutes.
There is an emotional and even spiritual weight to life; we all feel it, especially as we age. An easy life is a myth, if not a red herring–the by-product of an advertising-drenched and social media-duped culture. Life is hard. Full stop. No comma, no but, no endnote. All the wise men and women of history have said as much; no new technology of substance or pill will ever erase humanity’s fall. Best-case scenario, we mitigate its effects as we advance Jesus’ return. But there’s no escaping the pain.
Why do you think there’s so much addiction in our world? No just substance abuse but more run-of-the-mill addictions to porn or sex or eating or dieting or exercise or work or travel or shopping or social media or even church?
And yet, even church can be an addiction, a dopamine hit you run toward to escape a father wound or emotional pain or an unhappy marriage…but that’s another book.
People all over the world–outside the church and in–are looking for an escape, a way out from under the crushing weight to life this side of Eden. But there is no escaping it. The best the world can offer is a temporary distraction to delay the inevitable or deny the inescapable.
That’s why Jesus doesn’t offer us an escape. He offers us something far better: “equipment.” He offers his apprentices a whole new way to bear the weight of our humanity: with ease. At this side. Like two oxen in a field, tied should to should. With Jesus doing all the heavy lifting. At this pace. Slow, unhurried, present to the moment, full of love and joy and peace.
Jesus not only offers us “equipment.” He offers us himself. And he not only offers us himself in his incarnation and on the cross, or from his place at the right hand of the Father, or from heaven. He lives “in” his disciples. Our life is hidden with Christ in God, even as we are called to “put on” or “clothe” ourselves in Christ.
Comer is playing here with Matthew 11:29-30, driving home the notion that we must join our life to Jesus’ life, we must walk in step with him as his students, apprentices, and disciples, and learn his way. I’m leading a retreat this weekend, and this book will serve as grounds for discussion. We will explore the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence, Sabbath, simplicity, and slowing. Notice, in all of these disciplines, all of life must be ordered in such a way that creates space for their keeping and observance. They require ordering and differentiation. They necessitate clear choices and make more plain the pace, narratives, and commitments of the everyday culture and habits of life that subvert, compete with, and challenge the pace, story, and way of life in the kingdom of God.
In Disciples Indeed, Oswald Chambers wrote, “I have no right to say I believe in God unless I order my life as under His all-seeing Eye.” The gospel we often preach focuses on life in the world to come. But the good news of Christ is not only concerned with what’s next. It has implications for life as it is lived today. Following Jesus will not make life easier in the immediate. In some ways, it may make it harder, at least in the short term. But in the long run, faith in Jesus is wisdom, not only for the resources that will be near at hand for this life as a citizen in his kingdom, but for the ways in which it will prepare us to serve in God’s great universe in the coming world without end. Our souls are made for eternity. Apprenticeship to Jesus prepares us for all that eternity will hold, not only for lasting fellowship with God, but for service.
Dearer than all that is nearest, Dearer than dear, or than dearest, Dearer than sight, Dearer than light, Is the communion with Jesus.
Oswald Chambers, as quoted in Wesley L. Duewel’s Heroes of the Holy Life: Biographies of Fully Devoted Followers of Christ
I’ve been reading and researching the life of Oswald Chambers, an artist, poet, preacher, Christian educator, and Baptist minister, born in 1874 in Aberdeen, Scotland, and died in 1917, at the age of forty-three. He is most well known for his devotional work, My Utmost for His Highest, compiled after his death by his wife, Biddy Chambers.
One of his students at the College of Dunoon recalled, “As one entered the room it was like stepping into heaven. Then Mr. Chambers spoke, leading us straight to God, and I afterwards found that this was very characteristic of him. In every lecture or meeting he brought one right into the presence of God.”
I’ve met a few men and women like that. I’d like to meet more. And, I’ll confess, I’d like to be a person like that. Chambers had a deep conviction that his life was a product of God’s activity and grace, that God had worked for reasons he did not understand nor grasp in response to prayers that he did not nor could not know to appoint him as a worker in the church, in schools, and in the world. Chambers not only taught people about God and pointed people to the Scriptures, he was a man of profound and rich spiritual experience.
Chambers dedicated himself to the life of faith. He also trusted that God’s outside power had come in, had shaped him, and was continuing to conform him to the likeness of Jesus. This is a yielding, of heart, mind, soul, and spirit, and taking up a cross, dying to self, and following Jesus wherever he leads.
Do you find yourself thinking that there is no one interceding properly? Then be that person yourself. Be a person who worships God and lives in a holy relationship with Him. Get involved in the real work of intercession, remembering that it truly is work— work that demands all your energy, but work which has no hidden pitfalls. Preaching the gospel has its share of pitfalls, but intercessory prayer has none whatsoever.
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, March 30
We tend to make prayer the preparation for our service, yet it is never that in the Bible. Prayer is the practice of drawing on the grace of God. Don’t say, “I will endure this until I can get away and pray.” Pray now — draw on the grace of God in your moment of need. Prayer is the most normal and useful thing; it is not simply a reflex action of your devotion to God. We are very slow to learn to draw on God’s grace through prayer.
Last month I did one hundred push ups a day. Thirty-one days in May. Three thousand, one hundred push ups total.
I made the commitment on a whim. It had been a while since I’d been in the habit of doing push ups. So I started with sets of ten or twenty, kept tallies in my daily journal. Keeping tallies is a technique I borrowed from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said “There are no shortcuts. Everything is reps, reps, reps.” Not only did he keep count of reps when he was a bodybuilder. He would put tallies at the top of his speeches when he was Governor of California to keep track of how many times he had practiced his delivery.
And I’ve kept it up. I even increased my daily count to 150. It’s a daily habit that helps me build muscle and maintain a basic level of fitness.
Push ups are just one part of my overall program.
In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes, “No one is born either naturally or supernaturally with character; it must be developed. Nor are we born with habits— we have to form godly habits on the basis of the new life God has placed within us.”
Habits must also be cultivated which develop character, bringing forth the fruit of salvation God has granted through the completed work of Jesus Christ and the present power of the Holy Spirit.
To have faith is to believe, to trust, to declare allegiance to God. To then exercise that faith is to act in accordance with what one professes to believe. One way to exercise faith is to develop daily habits of holiness, ways of engaging with God and relating to others that develop the character of Christ in us.
When it comes to suffering, it is part of our Christian culture to want to know God’s purpose beforehand. In the history of the Christian church, the tendency has been to avoid being identified with the sufferings of Jesus Christ. People have sought to carry out God’s orders through a shortcut of their own. God’s way is always the way of suffering— the way of the “long road home.”
Are we partakers of Christ’s sufferings? Are we prepared for God to stamp out our personal ambitions? Are we prepared for God to destroy our individual decisions by supernaturally transforming them? It will mean not knowing why God is taking us that way, because knowing would make us spiritually proud. We never realize at the time what God is putting us through— we go through it more or less without understanding. Then suddenly we come to a place of enlightenment, and realize— “God has strengthened me and I didn’t even know it!”
As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, forgetful delight, nor with the quickness of impulsive thoughtlessness. But let us go out with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays hold broken and irreversible things for us. It is true that we have lost opportunities that will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.
Leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.
Chambers’ entire entry for today is brilliantly true, for God is the God of all time, a God who can be trusted with what was, what is, and what is to come. In Chambers’ words, God offers “Security from Yesterday,” “Security for Tomorrow,” and “Security for Today.” We need not be shackled by the sins, mistakes, and failures of our past, we need not be overcome with worries about our future, and we can be assured that we will find grace enough for today.
Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” and Revelation 1:8 declares, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, theAlmighty.'” God is God over all time and has acted in time, thus, I can trust God with my time, you can trust God with your time, and we can trust God with our time. Time, after all, is a gift, and we have been given time enough for love by God, love eternal.
So as you make resolutions, if you do so, or as you look to the year ahead, let go of the past, release anxieties about the future, and rest in grace for today. Then, with patient power, step out. God goes before you, God stands behind you, and God walks with you.
At first we want the consciousness of being guided by God, then as we go on we live so much in the consciousness of God that we do not need to ask what His will is, because the thought of choosing any other will never occur to us. If we are saved and sanctified God guides us by our ordinary choices, and if we are going to choose what He does not want, He will check, and we must heed. . .God instructs us in what we choose, that is, He guides by our common sense, and we no longer hinder His Spirit by continually saying–“Now, Lord, what is Your will?”
Chambers follows a citation of Psalm 25:14 with a question, “What is the sign of a friend? That he tells you secret sorrows?” Chambers, rightly, says that many are glad to share their troubles, not only friends. No. A friend draws near not uniquely by sharing their woes, but instead when disclosing “secret joys.” When do we receive secret joys from God? Chambers answers with a question: “Have we ever let God tell us any of His joys, or are we telling God our secrets so continually that we leave no room for Him to talk to us?” If God has secret joys to share, surely we want to hear them. Hush. Listen.
Chambers identifies an ever-present Christian concern: knowing the will of God. We often seek the will of God by asking, presenting our requests. We pray, desiring assurance that every choice, every avenue we take, every word we utter, every feeling we have, every thought that crosses our mind, is, with certainty, according to the will of God. But Chambers gently reminds us that answers come with listening and through relationship, the means by which God “gets us in touch with His purposes.”
How does God do so? We listen for the voice of God in prayer; we also study the Word of God in Scripture. God has spoken, and God speaks. We also remain mindful that when we face trials and tribulations, it is through those circumstances that God conforms us to the likeness of Jesus, refines us by the fire of the Spirit, and matures us in faith. We look upon our days with and through the eyes of faith, trusting that God is there, present, with us, has not left us nor forsaken us, and is, right now, renewing our minds, hearts, souls, bodies.
Sanctification is a promise. God does set us apart as holy and will, by grace, render change in those who sincerely trust him–of outlook, understanding, feeling, or hope–at God’s own rate of speed. Our arrival at that place of transformation is often by a circuitious route that we would not choose nor could ever design. It comes when God confides in us, guides us, teaches us, instructs us, not only in what we should actively avoid, but how we are to be and become: people of love, gentleness, wisdom, discernment, service, truth, joy, peace, and humility.
Chambers is clear in reminding us that God knows every detail of our lives. God shares “amazing intimacy” with us. God knows us best, tending to our “tiny things,” in which God reveals his grace. As grace takes effect, we speak differently, we feel differently, we think differently and believe differently, we become like God by learning the way of Christ from Christ and in Christ.
The brilliance, I think, in Chambers’ meditation is the suggestion that we are not always consciousness with regard to how or why God has brought about our harmony with God’s will, our freedom in Christ, and our accountability to the Spirit. We desire God’s guidance. We draw near to God. Then, we find ourselves doing things that stem from being bathed in God’s grace, immersed in God’s Word, and present to God’s Spirit. We don’t always perceive it. We should. Chambers says God “guides our common sense,” which might also be said as, “God gives us wisdom” or “adjusts our judgment.”
That which seems natural to us was once unnatural. Our common sense would not be common apart from the God who is truth. The supernatural has taken up residence in us, the Spirit of God has made a home in us, and God’s immeasurable grace has done a quiet work in making us something we could never have become without The redeeming work of Jesus.
To walk in the will of God as though it were the only way to walk, the most natural way, is an incredible testament to the gracious action of God. God has shared “secret joys” with us, the greatest of which is God’s very self. God is there to be known, and God makes that knowing possible.