In the Thick of It
“So the Christian, too belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. ‘The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among the roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ, If Christ had done what you are doing who would have been spared.’(Luther)”. Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Harper One, 1954, p17-18.
“Listen to my words, Lord,
consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.”
Psalm 5:1-3 (NIV)
Each morning I awake, my first ambition is to honor the Lord, yet before I turn the coffee on, my mind is soon flooded with the opportunities of the new day, and the desire to know just what has occurred within our community while I slept. Before now, it was the temptation to first pick up the newspaper from the driveway, a subtle distraction from my call to prayer but justified by my “love for the community.” Now it has become a temptation to check emails and Facebook, a more high tech invasion of my “sanctuary” space.
Behind that, the call to write; yes, even this blog demands some intermittent input, let alone the primary book that I have been trying to get out of my heart since the mid-80’s. I am so close and yet not quite to the point of releasing it. Actually, what I am discovering is that while I am writing my own book, God is writing His. He reminds me daily of His own desire to “write”. When I study the glorious things He has written upon the hearts of many now passed, I realize more so, the necessity of affording Him time in my life and space in my heart.
This week I am reading a small book by Dietrich Bonheoffer. I am moved by the book, but more by the reality of what it cost this man to write. His words flow out of a life committed to his country and to the Body of Christ. His passion aroused as well, by men like Luther, whom he quotes above.
I have been given such privilege over my now 63 years; yet I am now challenged by the likes of these men, let alone those saints whose words and life are spread across the pages of scripture. Many of them gave their lives for the gospel, Bonhoeffer himself hanged by Hitler at age 39! He literally walked into the words penned some six years before his arrest: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” p.8.
Martyrdom is not what I am after, but community service alone is certainly less than what Christ and others around me deserve. How do I fully offer up my life to Him, in the “thick of” the place in which I am called to serve? Offering my life is of no consequence unless I first allow Him to build a life through me…write His words upon my heart…become the author of the book He foresaw before my birth.
Arising early each morning is certainly not enough: “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” Psalm 127:2 (KJV). If sleeping late is the measure, I am disqualified; but getting up early just to get a head start is foolish as well.
Servant leadership, the mantra of our day is also less than sufficient, unless the love of Christ is also demonstrated through that service. Service alone quickly deteriorates into a “do-gooder” mentality; one who never intends to change the culture, they simply dig ponds while teaching few to fish!
Bonhoeffer states, “…there is such a thing as rising early for the love of God.” p.44. He describes the purpose, as not a means of empowering oneself to better address the woes of society, nor to simply become better at fellowshipping with the saints, both vestiges of the human self. Rather, to commune with God, “to wait in expectation” according to the Psalmist.
Herein lays the capacity and the treasury from which we give ourselves to this world, as we exit our homes each morning. In fact, unless this occurs we have little to give beyond some menial service that could easily be repeated by another “monkey” and when we pass, no show is stopped. The litmus test is our evidence of the Kingdom, beyond our religious practice or secular volunteerism.
It’s not enough to be in “the thick of things”, unless we have at some point prior, sat in the dense presence of His glory. It is there that we absorbed the character of God…truth in love. “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (I Cor. 13:3, NIV).
God forbid that I should only read books, study the lives of the martyrs or even write my own, and fail at allowing God to write the book He desires. Let me be His epistle, read of men daily as I serve. Otherwise, I have risen early in vain, conveyed only religious discipline, and failed at my calling to love others as Christ has loved the church.