Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grace of the Commonplace

I was laying in bed late last night, thinking and praying... examining my own heart.  I was able to do some reading on our trip, having bought "Crazy Love" and "Erasing Hell" by Francis Chan in Lyndon.  I read "Crazy Love" while we were on the road, and my mom would occasionally read a chapter from "Erasing Hell" or an entry from Oswald Chambers' "My Utmost For His Highest".  For those of you who have read these books, you know that they do not contain easy things.  My heart was changed and convicted as I again realized the greatness of my God, my great inadequacy, and the cost and beauty of my calling. There is no way I could ever change myself - to somehow live up to the perfection of who Christ is. If I see myself as able to stand, I am gravely mistaken. I am swept away in the flood, on my face before a holy God, who gave His life to make me His child.  And so I am continually learning, growing in understanding, in the knowledge of my Saviour, and to this there will be no end.  But with each new insight, I pray that I will not merely hear, but that my life would be transformed.  These past few days, I've been thinking a lot about self-consciousness, insecurity, and pride.  All of those go hand in hand, and I struggle with each one.

Last night I was thinking of how I can so often separate myself from the life of Christ in me.  I realized that the things which I see as being to my account are in reality discounted.  As soon as I do something to which I associate a reward, I have begun to rely on myself and give in to pride. I had to ask myself, "Am I the judge of how effective I am as a Christian, or is God?"  Am I rewarded based on the knowledge that I somehow blessed the life of so-and-so?  If that were true, I would have already received my reward in full. 

During our holiday, Mom would often read a devotion from Oswald Chambers' "My Utmost for His Highest".  The August 21st entry really spoke to my heart on this issue.  I have copied it below.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit." Matthew 5:3

The New Testament notices things which from our standards do not seem to count. "Blessed are the poor in spirit," literally - Blessed are the paupers - an exceedingly commonplace thing! The preaching of to-day is apt to emphasize strength of will, beauty of character - the things that are easily noticed. The phrase we hear so often, Decide for Christ, is an emphasis on something Our Lord never trusted. He never asks us to decide for Him, but to yield to Him - a very different thing. At the basis of Jesus Christ's Kingdom is the unaffected loveliness of the commonplace. The thing I am blessed in is my poverty. If I know I have no strength of will, no nobility of disposition, then Jesus says - Blessed are you, because it is through this poverty that I enter His Kingdom. I cannot enter His Kingdom as a good man or woman, I can only enter it as a complete pauper.

The true character of the loveliness that tells for God is always unconscious. Conscious influence is priggish and un-Christian. If I say - I wonder if I am of any use - I instantly lose the bloom of the touch of the Lord. "He that believeth in me, out of him shall flow rivers of living water." If I examine the outflow, I lose the touch of the Lord.

Which are the people who have influenced us most? Not the ones who thought they did, but those who had not the remotest notion that they were influencing us. In the Christian life the implicit is never conscious, if it is conscious it ceases to have this unaffected loveliness which is the characteristic of the touch of Jesus. We always know when Jesus is at work because He produces in the commonplace something that is inspiring.

A quote from the previous day sums this up well, "Christ-consciousness will take the place of self-consciousness. Wherever Jesus comes He establishes rest, the rest of the perfection of activity that is never conscious of itself."  If it is God who judges and rewards, I will be eternally blessed, not by deeds consciously done in my own strength, but by things done in the unconscious life of the Spirit of God, of which God alone knows the effects and the rewards.

In the end, it comes down to pride. Isn't it such a struggle? I have heard many of you express the difficulties of the battle - but I am so encouraged knowing that we are fighting it, facing it.  And yet, you see, this too poses a problem in my mind.  If we think we can beat pride by simply mustering up the strength to fight it, we will only find ourselves entrenched more deeply.  When we feel that we have become less proud, that is when we are most proud.  As Oswald Chambers alluded to, the only true humility is "unconscious" humility.  If I begin to focus on the overflow, rather than the Fount, it becomes mine rather than His, polluted and worthless.  Jesus said in John 4:14, "Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  Who will seek this water but the one who recognizes their thirst?  Likewise, we must remember always that it is God who is at work in us - it is the overflow of His grace that proclaims His glory. 

As 1 Corinthians 13 shows, love is ultimately self-less.  It is love that we must walk in, for love "does not seek its own."  Galatians 5:6 says that the only thing that is of any value is "faith expressing itself through love." (NIV)

"If anyone supposes that he knows anything,
he has not yet known as he ought to know;
but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him."
(1 Cor 8:2-3) 

"For it is not he who commends himself that is approved,
but he whom the Lord commends." (2 Cor 10:18) 

"For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this,
that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, 
so that they who live might no longer live for themselves,
but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." 
(2 Cor 5:14-15)

There is a mysterious and beautiful complexity to the surrender we are called to.  While dying, we live - not by the merit of our death, but His life.  May it be that we would never attempt to commend ourselves to the Lord, but instead be overwhelmed by the Savior's love, longing to serve Him with true devotion.  It is the Lord God who has approved us in Christ, so that we would be controlled by the love of Christ. He knows us! Incredibly, He chooses to use our lives for His purposes, but we must realize the truth that He is not dependent on us, or even on our obedience. Yet, by Him, we live, and are empowered by the Spirit to no longer live for ourselves! This is the work of God alone, and is deserving of our praise. It is my prayer that we would grow in the knowledge of this great Saviour, to the praise of His grace. "He must increase, but I must decrease."

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