You have heard me talk about this before but so many layers keep getting peeled back and so I keep talking about it. But, my journey into the historic Church and the practice of our faith as it has been once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3) has brought tremendous change to my life. But not just my life but my heart, my mind, my worship, my prayer; all aspects of my life.
But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? I mean, if we truly believe in the Lord Jesus and have decided to walk in “the Way” (Acts 9:2), our lives and everything about us should be different. If not, then we should seriously start to question whether we truly believe. As I have walked in this Way and delved further back and deeper into the historic Faith, I discovered two primary pillars of Orthodox spirituality. These are hesychia and nepsis.
Let me define these really quickly. Hesychia is the practice of contemplative prayer. The word is Greek and means simply “stillness.” Nepsis means “wakefulness or watchfulness.” The practice of hesychia and neptic theology is as old as the Church itself. I was surprised at the number of the Fathers that talked about this, either directly or indirectly. A friend of mine, when I brought this up in conversation, sarcastically called this prayer practice “navel gazing.” Aside from being rather disrespectful, that idea completely misses the point. The point is deeper communion with Christ.
Anyways, as I have walked in this, the Holy Spirit has revealed some things to me that I really don’t like about myself and that I really didn’t want to face. This all relates directly to why I’ve been so silent for so long on this blog site so I’m going somewhere with this.
I always question motives, my own and others. That’s probably not a super healthy way to look at things but that’s where I am. So, the question of why always comes up in my mind. Why am I doing something, why are you doing something? For example, why pray or go to church? Do we do that to get something from God as if He were a cosmic slot machine? We put our “money” in, and we expect a return; that He will do good things for us if we perform or “be a good person.” Or do we do those things to look good before others? Why do we do the things we do?
I ran into this headfirst vis a vie blogging. As I have gotten more and more still before the Lord and have become more watchful over my own heart, I began to see some things. Why was I blogging? As I examined this for myself and asked the Spirit to show me where the dark places needed Light, I came to a place that was very unpleasant.
In His great love for me and because He doesn’t want to leave me in my flesh, He has shown to me that my motives for blogging were not very pure. Even as I say this, I recognize the irony of blogging about my motive for blogging. Anyways, I’ll make this part short. I realized that my primary reason for blogging was validation. I wanted to be recognized and seen and validated as someone who was wise or holy or whatever. The point is, my blogging, at the heart of it all and even perhaps as helpful as it may have been for others, was about me.
This has been hard to take for me. I was confronted by my own darkness and my own desperate but unseen grasping for recognition. I had to and am still repenting of this. That is why I haven’t been blogging and honestly don’t know how long it may be (if ever) that I do this again.
Something that relates to this for me (and maybe this will resonate with you as well) is stillness. Let me be more specific. There is so much noise in my life, so much noise in all our lives. I don’t necessarily mean actual sounds, but it includes that. I’m talking about the clutter of our lives, the busyness of things and the distractions of the world. Most of us have the attention span of a gnat. There is so much clutter going on in the world and our lives that we find it incredibly difficult to focus. Our souls are at stake.
A good friend of mine has recently done something that I’ve been wanting to do for awhile but spending the initial money has been resisted. He got a “dumb phone.” I want this in my life. I want freedom from the clutter of the world that so quickly distracts me from Christ, so quickly turns me inward so that I truly “navel gaze” and get wrapped up in myself rather that consumed by Christ.
Anyways, I know this has kind of jumped around. I will not be blogging on a regular basis until I can deal with this sin issue in my own heart. I may not ever blog again; I really don’t know. I have to unclutter my heart and life. In fact, if anyone wants to donate a “dumb phone” to me, I’ll happily take it! (I’m mostly kidding)
I want for us, brothers and sisters, a lived experience with the risen Lord Jesus. For me, I’m not super confident that I can have that and still be engaged in the noise of the world. Maybe you’re stronger than me and you can pull that off. If so, please share that strength with others and help them. If not, maybe you should consider how to unclutter your own heart so that you may be watchful in prayer.
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen!
Among the many things that caused me to leave the Protestant tradition was a problem that I began to see with what is called “easy believism.” What that basically means is what I experienced as a child; I was told to say a certain prayer, be baptized and then I was all good. Now, I look back on that and feel like it was kind of a “get out of hell free” card. Once saved, always saved, right?
The problem with that is that it’s not actually a biblical understanding of what salvation is or what it means to be a faithful Christian. There are repeated exhortations in Holy Scripture, specifically the NT, to be faithful, to endure, to keep the faith until the end. In other words, there are things we must do if we are of the Faith.
St. Paul says we are to “examine” ourselves to see if we are of the faith in 2 Corinthians 13:5,
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.”
And St. Peter exhorts (2 Peter 1:10-11) us to make our calling and election sure by doing “these things,”
“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
One of the things that I have found in the historic Church that is profoundly helpful is the practice of asceticism. And it has changed the way I live out the Faith. I have always been drawn to a monastic practice (though I am not a monk) of prayer and asceticism and the early Church did this very well, I feel. I’ve begun to slowly work my way through a book entitled Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander and it is fantastic. I want to interact with what I am learning and putting into practice in my own walk with Christ and His Church.
Colliander starts right off in Chapter 1,
“If you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the Cross and say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Faith comes not through pondering but through action. Not words and speculation but experience teaches us what God is.”
I feel like, in my own life in the past, there has been great lethargy. I depended on a little prayer to “save me” and did little to actually put forth any effort of my own. I love his call to action but not just action for the sake of action alone. No, the call to action is to a lived experience of walking with God.
This is a way of life. It is the Way. The first Christians were initially called “followers of the Way” (Acts 9:2).
One of the earliest extant Christian writings we have, other than what became the books of the New Testament is The Didache (literally meaning “teaching”). In this work, one of the major themes talked about is the comparison between two “ways” that are called the way of life and the way of death.
Following the Way, following Christ should change everything about our lives. And once we change our lives to follow Christ, we cannot let go, we cannot give up. Colliander exhorts us to,
“Hold fast to your purpose and do not look back.”
Don’t look back. Sounds like something Jesus said when He stated,
“No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62
Jesus says that, if we begin to follow Him, if we put our hand to the plow and look back, we are not fit for the kingdom of God. Not fit. I don’t think Jesus is taking this lightly, but I fear that we do. We are given warnings throughout Holy Scripture of how we are to live and the judgement that comes on those who do not.
We must remember that we are no longer our own; we are not even alive in our flesh. As St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:17,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
He didn’t say old things are to be put on a shelf so we can take them down and look at them occasionally. Old things have passed away. They have died. Or, as St. Paul again says in Colossians 3:3,
“For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Our former selves are dead, and our life is hidden with Christ in God (at least this should be true of us). As Colliander puts it,
“You have cast off your old humanity; let the rags lie.”
Our lives should be lived with one purpose: to be conformed to the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29). This can only be accomplished by putting on the Lord Jesus (Gal. 3:27) and putting our flesh to death (Rom. 13:14). We must, moment by moment, take up our cross and put our flesh to death and be unified to Christ.
Although this sounds impossible, it has already been done! This is the glory of the gospel! Christ has already defeated sin, death and the devil. In Him, our humanity has been redeemed in His own flesh! We have but to walk it out, daily dying to self and putting on the Lord Jesus, walking in His way and finding again the communion with God we lost in the Garden.
This is the glory of Christ and ours to share in! Through Christ, our communion with God has been restored and, like our first parents, we can now walk in the cool of the evening of our lives with Him. This is not yet fully realized but one day…oh, one day! In that day, we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be like unto Him! Glory to God!
Hold fast to your purpose, beloved, and do not look back.
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!