What Must We Do? Reflection for 5 August 2018
The crowd asks Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus responds simply, “Believe in the one He has sent.” In a similar way, Paul encourages the church at Ephesus to “put off the old self” and “Put on the new self.” This seems easy enough…until we actually try it!
When things are going great, the old self doesn’t seem so bad and “believing” in Christ can simply be an intellectual assent on most Sundays. When things aren’t going so well, the old self seems stuck, the new self far away, and actually relying on Christ feels beyond reach. It often seems like just a constant movement from not needing God to not knowing how to find God. So what must we do?
Placing our trust in Jesus and being transformed in Him from old self to new requires a tremendous amount of grace and also some work on our part. Fortunately, God provides grace in abundance like manna in the wilderness. Our work is the work of noticing, habit, and discipline.
The first part of our work is noticing where we encounter the presence of God in daily life. Do you encounter Christ in solitude or community? In Scripture? In liturgy? In study? In prayer? In serving others? The practice of examen can help us with this (see http://holytrinityanglicansa.com/reflection/jesus-in-our-midst-reflection-for-15-april-2018).
The second part of our work is taking these “noticings” and cultivating them as habits then letting these new habits replace the old habits which were useful in avoiding God. If my old habit is worry, I can cultivate a new habit of prayer as I learn to place my trust in “the one He sent.” If my old habit is seclusion, I can cultivate a new habit of community. If my old habit is busy-ness, I can cultivate a habit of quietness. If my old habit is self-reliance, I can cultivate faith. If my old habit is self-deprecation, I can cultivate a habit of resting in my belovedness in God.
While we are starting to get a little more tangible in the “what to do’s,” we still aren’t to “easy.” That is precisely why these practices are called spiritual disciplines. They take commitment to continue especially when they are not easy. Perhaps they even teach us to let go of a desire for “easy.” The good news is that these disciplines create in us a kind of spiritual muscle memory. By noticing where we encounter God and cultivating the habits that open us to further encounter, we can remember how to come to the place in ourselves where we allow ourselves to encounter God even when we feel far away from Him.
A few books that I find particularly useful:
The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton
Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron
Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren
Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen A. Macchia