“Now we believe. Jesus says–Do you? The time is coming when you will leave me alone. Many a Christian worker has left Jesus Christ alone and gone into work from a sense of duty, or from a sense of need arising out of intimate contact with God by leaning to its own religious understanding. There is no sin in it, and no punishment attached to it; but when the soul realizes how he has hindered his understanding of Jesus Christ, and produced for himself perplexities and sorrows and difficulties, it is with shame and contrition he has to come back.
“We need to rely on the resurrection life of Jesus much deeper down than we do, to get into the habit of steadily referring everything back to Him; instead of this we make our common-sense decisions and ask God to bless them. He cannot, it is not in His domain, it is severed from reality. If we do a thing from a sense of duty, we are putting up a standard in competition with Jesus Christ. We become a “superior person” and say–“Now in this matter I must do this and that.” We have put our sense of duty on the throne instead of the resurrection life of Jesus. We are not told to walk in the light of conscience or of a sense of duty, but to walk in the light AS GOD IS IN THE LIGHT. When we do anything from a sense of duty, we can back it up by argument; when we do anything in obedience to the Lord, there is no argument possible; that is why a saint can be easily ridiculed.” -Oswald Chambers
Return. Return. Return. You literally can’t spend too much time sifting through Scripture without finding the command at least 56 times in one or two sittings (exaggerated, but close). It’s the one word that can sum up the rather one-sided love story between a God and his rebellious people, the one word that solves almost every problem we wrestle with by simply giving our eyes a 180-shift back from whence we came. And it’s a command we so easily ignore as history today, as we choose what we can know and understand in place of what we can’t and don’t.
I used to read books of the Bible like Hosea, and almost get annoyed with the amount of times Israel is told to hit the deck and run home to God (go check it out–it’s kind of impressive). I mean, at this point, God has literally saved the Israelites 8 million times, and they’re still being stupid and looking elsewhere for satisfaction, purpose, and drive. But, after 23 years of life, I’m sad to say that I’m far more like an Old Testament Israelite than I’d like to admit. I live life for the mountain peaks–the times when I at least feel on point with what God’s doing (ha funny thought right?)– and I have a bad habit of turning on my tunnel vision through the pitch black valley-times that life throws my way. I fumble. I crawl. I search everywhere except the place that has always given me direction, peace, light… And I get desperate enough to grab at things I know nothing of. Or perhaps worse, create a fix for myself that makes more sense in the moment than anything else.
“The test of spiritual life is the power to descend; if we have power to rise only, there is something wrong. We all have had times on the mount when we have seen things from God’s standpoint and we wanted to stay there; but if we are disciples of Jesus Christ, He will never allow us to stay there. Spiritual selfishness makes us want to stay on the mount; we feel so good, as if we could do anything–talk like angels and live like angels, if only we could stay there. But there must be the power to descend; the mountain is not the place for us to live, we were BUILT FOR THE VALLEYS. This is one of the hardest things to learn because spiritual selfishness always wants repeated moments on the mount.”
Obviously, I can’t get enough of Oswald Chambers lately. His wisdom on living resurrection life (inwardly and outwardly) absolutely baffles me more times than not. But, every now and again, my brain somehow latches onto what he’s trying to say– and man, on those rare occasions where that happens, it burns. If I really look at myself (beyond the kind words and birthday wishes that people have showered me with), I’m not sure that I like what I see. So far over the past few months, I’ve been living a spiritual selfishness that reeks of… well, me. Like the quote at the beginning of this post says, I’ve put a sense of duty in living this season of life at the steering wheel–what is that about? Since when does good and ripe fruit come from doing things out of duty? Spoiler Alert: it doesn’t. Yeah–there’s no doubt about it, I’ve been living life with only the mountain top in mind, despite God calling me to the valley. I’ve written off this difficult time in life as a “duty” and somehow turned this whole life-shindig into all about me. And the product is shocking. There’s no inflicted punishment necessarily–it’s worse. It’s like a mirror of the parts of me I haven’t even dealt with. A reflection of a soul that seems sick with self, a soul that has lied to itself and believed it.
We are riddled with a sickness of choosing our own way. Adam and Eve. Israel’s tragic history. The crucifixion of our Savior. The current state of this world. Over and over again, we continually think we know what we’re doing. And, consequently, we are continually reminded that we don’t… by screwing up beyond all fixes–except return. If there is any hope in the human condition, it’s that we have not lost our way back home. There is no valley dark enough, long enough, cold enough to extinguish the Light that leads us to Himself. But the unintentional tag-team of Satan and ourselves makes it pretty hard to see at times, especially when we’re too busy indirectly glorifying ourselves by living a “duty”-filled life. What a joke.
God does not place duty on anyone that knows Him. We do that to ourselves as an effect of misunderstanding who He is. If we are truly in tune with Him, referring to obedience as duty is absolutely ridiculous. His call is a privilege–His resurrection life is so far beyond anything we could insult and demean into a have-to-do. And once we have made it such, we have to throw ourselves (the source) out. We cannot return to God with spiritual selfishness lurking in our hearts, because our sinful state is devious enough to twist a return into an unintentional ego boost for ourselves. It is only through repentance, through RETURN— returning to the basics of who we are– that we can be reminded of how to live. Made from dust at the hands of a God who craves our return. Butt naked at the feet of the Father. Saved on repeat by grace. Given hope that doesn’t depend on us. Bestowed with an identity rooted in Someone far beyond sin’s ruin’s reach.
Ya know, these thoughts are not exactly coincidental to the fact that we are currently in the season of Lent. A season devoted to return. Some people give up things in efforts to try and re-route their cravings for said things with Christ. Some add on activities that might help them focus more on Jesus and His incredible feat of giving us hope and life. But somehow, I think I’ve managed to unintentionally give up God-time for me-time in this season devoted to quite the opposite. I’ve given up privilege and swapped it with duty. Annnnnd that’s a soul-problem. And I’m typically not good at soul-problem solving.
There is so much in my life to be thankful for. I’m a graduate student, student-athlete that gets to study a constantly perplexing world of economic development in between playing a sport that has taught me so much about who I am. I am surrounded by some rock-star friends and family that remind me this life is not my own. And I am constantly blessed with grace that cannot be lost because I screw it up. Yet still, this season of life is perhaps the spiritually hardest I’ve been through, and I’m sure much harder ones are on their way. But, I think the only reason it’s “so hard” for me is just because I’m looking to myself for things I’m not capable of giving. I’m trying to rationalize with a duty mindset, when rationalizing itself is the problem. If I can make it reasonable and get it to make sense and sound secure to my own liking, I’m probably on the wrong track. And the further down I go, the longer the return will be.
I don’t think I need to change where I am… but how I am. I’m not talking about a return of physical nature–that’s not it. I know God wants me “here” for now. But Lord knows, He’s calling me to get out of the way of seeing where I am from how He sees it. I’ve gotta go back to the basics–a soul returned to where it’s identity is (aka. not in me). A return that is maintained even when I leave the mountain top– a valley-awareness of what I know in the light of the mountain to still be true in the dark. Because just like Israel, I’ve made my own way too much of a habit. And I’m promised and shown where choosing my own way leads. Hence, my current state.
Here’s my prayer, stolen from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters: “Not what to what I think Thou art, but to what Thou knowest Thyself to be.” I love this prayer simply because it puts things (even understanding God) in God’s hands and nature–not ours. There’s hope there. There’s a chance at “getting it” if we’re not the ones gettin’ the “getting”.
If anyone has taken time to read these thoughts, I’m sorry–I’m a little crazy. And by a little, I mean a lot. But I think the season of Lent is a challenge to all of us of returning to the One who life’s about. Not just giving up Coke, or chocolate, or whatever else, but giving up ourselves. Throwing ourselves out of the way and into some arms that were made to hold us. Arms that are always waiting for a return. And Lent is an incredible reminder that there’s literally nothing stopping us from doing so apart from.. well, us. As we celebrate Jesus’s once-and-for-all Passover requirement satisfaction for our sinful state, maybe we should commemorate His sacrifice by rendering one of our own. Ourselves. Our spiritual selfishness in exchange for the resurrection into a life of privileged, willing call. Let’s be children of the Light, whether we’re in the valley or on the peak. Maybe then, we’re onto a more accurate understanding of who God is.