God, Draw Us Near

This week’s theme in the Ancient Christian Devotional is God Draws Us Near.  This was a hard one.  We read some heart-wrenching laments from Jeremiah in chapters 8-9, and dive into some Patristic commentary.  Unsurprisingly, I spent most of my time reflecting on the words of John Chrysostom (there’s a reason he was called golden-tongue).

We make our hands ready for unjust gains and not for helping others.  We are all ready to plunder, but no one is ready to protect.  Each one of us has much anxiety over how he may add to his wealth.  No one has anxiety over how he may save his own soul.  One fear possesses all, that we should not become poor.  No one is in anguish and trembling out of fear that we should fall into hell.

On the Epistle to the Hebrews, 23.8[1]

This should bother us.  It should make us feel uncomfortable.  Not because we are at risk of losing our salvation, but because for many of us we see salvation as a done deal.  I’m saved.  It’s done.  It’s over.  So we get lazy.  It’s like a marriage.  We remember our wedding.  That means we’re married, right?  So we can go on about our day, because nothing is going to change the fact that we’re married.

Except that marriage should change the way you live.  You are now united to another human being.  That has to alter your behavior.  I know I’m a better husband today than I was eight years ago.[2]   The same is true with Christianity.  You are not your own, you’ve been bought with a price (1st Cor 6:20, 7:23).  You are a new creation, and your old life has died (2nd Cor 5:17, Gal 2:20).  Your new life should be different.  As you grow closer to the Lord, being conformed into the image of his son (Rom 8:29) you should see a difference in yourself.

That should motivate us to ask…is it?  I am different?  If we’re honest, we often don’t want to be different.  We cling to our old life.  We cling to our old concerns.  And when we do that, we’re not remotely concerned about what that does to our marriage to the Lord.  We’re telling him that our previous life was better.  Sure, marriage is great…but we kinda want our freedom back.  But it was for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal 5:1).  Marriage is legitimately better, even when it’s convicting.  Even on the days when you have to apologize for being stupid, marriage is better, because you are now better.  Union with Christ is better than anything else we have ever or will ever find because he makes us better.  C.S. Lewis puts it this way in the Weight of Glory:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. 

I don’t think Chrysostom legitimately wanted Christians afraid for the security of their salvation.  That would lead to an inaction of a different sort.  It seems as though he wanted their perspective to change.  If we look earlier in the same work (28.7)[3], he has this to say about God (emphasis added):

He both is abundantly and infinitely rich; and He desires and earnestly endeavors to obtain our friendship; we do not thus earnestly endeavor. What am I saying, ‘do not earnestly endeavor’? We do not wish to obtain the good things as He wishes it. And what He has done shows that He wishes it more [than we]. For while, for our own sake, we with difficulty think lightly of a little gold: He, for our sake, gave even the Son who was His own.

And again (28.8, emphasis added),

Give a hand, stretch it forth, O you who have not yet been overwhelmed, to them who are undone through their drunkenness: ye that are whole to them that are sick, you that are sober-minded to them that are mad, that are giddily whirling round.  Let no man, I beseech you, prefer the favor of his friend to his salvation

The concern here is our priorities.  When we ought to help, we are instead concerned with our own well being.  One of the first quotes I read in this devotional was from Cyprian, a bishop from North Africa:

Let us prefer nothing to him, who preferred nothing to our salvation.

I think that’s the challenge here.  Don’t let anything draw your focus.  As the author of Hebrews says,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…

Hebrews 12:1

There are two things to lay aside.  Sin is obvious, but weights are tricky.  They aren’t necessarily wrong, but they do slow you down.  As God draws us near, he will ask us to lay aside these weights.  So whatever it is, put it down, and focus on your savior.

[4]O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee, mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  

-The Gelasian Sacramentary

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are taken from Crosby, Cindy, and Thomas C. Oden. Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings (Lectionary Cycle-C). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007.

[2] If you’re not married, change the metaphor to friendship.  A deep friendship should work in many of the same ways that a marriage does.  For more about this concept, I highly recommend the work of Wesley Hill.  Go here for his blog, and here for his books.

[3] The remaining quotes from Chrysostom were found by looking up the original quote in this collection, which you can purchase for $3.  If you enjoy quotes from the early church, this will be the best $3 you ever spend.  I promise.

[4]One of the greatest parts of reading Ancient Christian Devotional is that every week begins and ends with a prayer.  I’ll be including them each week as they are relevant.<

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