The way up is the way down
I am tired of religion, tired of going to church. I am hungry for revival.
I have tasted the dynamic, life-giving presence of God – the electric flow of the Holy Spirit – the sweetness of the love and mercy of Jesus. I don’t ever want to get used to living without this.
I have also experienced the beauty of genuine, transparent Christian community with a group of believers who are committed to knowing one another in ways that get beyond the surface, and helping one another walk faithfully with Christ in the midst of life’s ups and downs. I don’t ever want to get used to living without this either.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading – for the third time – a series of powerful historical novels by Jack Cavanaugh about a group of young dissident Christians in Hitler’s Germany. The series chronicles how the lives of these young believers were affected by their decision to rescue a number of disabled children from the Hadamar Clinic, a facility devoted to their destruction. The last book in the series, which I am currently reading, is set in post-war East Germany. As residents of the Eastern part of Berlin, after the war they came under the boot of the Soviets, which they found to be not much better than life under Hitler. To toughen themselves against the constant deprivations, drabness and bleakness of life under Communist rule, they used a mantra. “You can get used to anything”, they would say to one another.
It is one thing to toughen yourself to withstand political repression and material deprivations for the sake of the Kingdom. This may be a necessary discipline, required for obedience and victory. After all, Christ-followers are in a war against the Prince of Darkness, and in some times and places that warfare becomes quite visible in the political realm. We are told in the Book of Revelation that we should expect an intensification of such warfare in the Great Tribulation to come.
Yes, we can get used to withstanding hardship without complaint for the sake of the joy to come. But what is ultimately much more tragic is when we get used to living without the spiritual riches that are promised to us in Christ. When spiritual dullness, dryness and barrenness are our constant experience, eventually they seem normal. This is far worse than getting used to living with material deprivation and political repression. “You can get used to anything”. Yes you can, but at a cost. When what you are getting used to is life without the daily experience of the presence of the Lord, the cost is too high. As John White wrote 20 years ago in his masterful study of revival phenomena, “Certainly we learn lessons in drought that could never be learned in a cloudburst. But who would want to settle for permanent drought?” (When the Spirit Comes with Power, ©1988 InterVarsity Press, p. 236).
Marion and I look forward to our weekly Skype chats with Simeon and Heather. We enjoy these chats even more now that Sophie, our eight-month-old granddaughter, is beginning to recognize and respond to those two funny-looking old people who appear on the laptop screen each week and talk to her. A few days ago, when Simeon turned the screen towards Sophie so that we could see her face, she favoured us with a huge grin. This was a first, as up until now she had wanted to grab the computer but hadn’t really interacted with us during Skype calls, and it made our day! Her smile spoke volumes – it said that she recognized us as part of her world and was happy to see us.
I want to be close enough to the Father to see his smile. Many things in my life bring a measure of joy and satisfaction – going for a walk on a beautiful day, playing racquetball, solving a problem at work, playing my guitar, times of intimacy with my wife. All of these are reflections of God’s goodness, but none of them compares with the sweetness of the manifest presence of the Lord. Without him, every other joy is ultimately empty. With him, all other joys are that much more satisfying, and even sorrows, deprivations and trials are transformed until they drip with meaning.
As I was thinking of these things recently, I was prompted to re-read a little classic called The Calvary Road, which I first came across just a few years ago although it was written in 1947. It is a deceptively brief and simple little book but its message probes the depths of the heart.
I was reminded that the way up is the way down. If we are hungry and thirsty for a life dripping with the dew of God’s presence, there is only one way forward, and that is to humble ourselves before Him every day in dependency, transparency and (where necessary) repentance, leading to the simple obedience of faith. We can’t do this alone, we can only do it in community. If we try to do it alone, we deceive ourselves. By ourselves we don’t see our own hearts clearly enough, but with the help of brothers and sisters, we can walk in the light – and if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. The promise of Jesus still stands : Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
The way up is the way down. If you are already daily tasting the fullness of the life of Christ in you, then God bless you – carry on! But if you are tired of things as they are, and know there must be more, will you humble yourself and seek with me the only One who holds the key to life as it was meant to be lived?