Here’s the thing: in the throws and passions of every day life it is easy to think that your life is fundamentally vital, significant and necessary. We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, the centre of our own lives. Certainly, as humans we have value – I’m not seeking to undermine that intrinsic value we have as those who reflect something of the Creator’s glory. What I’m saying is that we’re just not that important…not most of us, anyway. Paul reminds the Corinthian church of this – ‘not many of you were wise/of noble birth…’ when you were called. Let’s not give ourselves a hard time though – we are conscious beings afterall. Of course we see the world through our own lens. Remembering that we will physically die one day may help spur you on, but the Christian life is one of dying daily, hourly, moment-by-moment.
Perhaps this is where an authentic spirituality can help us out. An authentic spirituality helps us to die before we die. The Cross is not just an event in history, it is a journey we’re all invited to take daily. Carry your cross, Jesus said. It’s a journey symbolised in our baptism. It is expressed in our daily dying to self and coming alive to Christ. It helps us to see ourselves in perspective, in the larger scheme of things, and in particular, for Christians, in the grand scheme of the Kingdom. But, all of scripture teaches us that we have to die to our own visions in order to be born into this Kingdom and into Christ. It is not just our sin we crucify with Christ, but our whole being that he might raise what he will raise up. We place ourselves under the Lordship of Christ. We become servants to do his bidding.
I say all this simply because it is very easy to believe our own hype.
There are many times when I’ve had to say to God ‘God, help me to let this die’. A whole manner of things that don’t need naming, but usually some sort of over-inflated ego-centricity if not outright sin. Or, times when my life just doesn’t correspond to the desires of my heart. Echoing Paul again in Romans: ‘I do what I do not want to do, and I do not do what it is that I want to do.’ This is the human struggle, but it isn’t a struggle we’re left to figure out on our own.
Through a men’s retreat week some years ago, the work done there helped me to die well and good. It is in that place and that experience through which many old shackles fell of and where I was free to descend further into my brokenness so that God might make something new. He’d already done lots of that at my conversion at 15. But this work at in my early 30s or so was a different case. I came to be at peace with Andrew Clark this time round and let all the stuff fall away that no longer served me. It was out of THAT experience, over and above any other, that convinced me that the next and rightly natural step was adult baptism. There was a significant dying and bringing back to life – almost like a second but deeper conversion to Christ – a deep personal renewal.
Why am I writing this now? Simply because it’s my hunch that many of us don’t ever really step deeper into Christ, not really. It is so easy to remain at the surface level of religion without allowing God access to the depths of you. I guess, also, that as ministry develops and moves on I fully recognise that the whole framework of what I see priorities in ministry now were not the priorities I thought ministry was about when I started. Thank the Lord for that! There are more siginificant priorities at play than the year and date of the writers of the songs we sing on Sundays or all the other things that capture our religious attentions.
Thing is, you can only point to the path. You can only read the faint hint of a script. You can only open the map or unfurl the pages of the Book. Each of us has to find our own way into the depths of the work I believe Christ wants to do in us all because it is ultimately a journey for us to take, and noone else in the same way. And, wandering around churches in ministry, you can see it…you can see the ones who’ve taken the extra journey. You can sense the ones who, initially having arrived home then discover that there’s an extra path to travel with regards their spiritual journey. Sometimes vocation makes that call. Sometimes it’s an inner sense of a need for more (or less). Sometimes it’s a crisis of some sort. But, it is a dark invitation deeper into the death of yourself so that you can be more fully alive to Christ.
I can’t tell you how or when to start. But what I can say, with great confidence, is that what you see around you is not all there is. Your rose-tinted lens will certaintly do a certain job at getting you through life. But why in the nanosecond of a thing we call life, in the light of eternity, would you be content to simply paddle the surface of the deeps beneath you?
It was Deitrich Bonhoeffer who said ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’
Remember your death.
Step into it through Christ and find life.