Just A Closer Walk With Thee

by Alexei Laushkin

There’s something very simple in these powerful lines from “Just A Closer Walk with Thee.” Consider:

I am weak but thou art strong

Singing from such a simple place. I am weak without you Lord, help me walk closer, help me draw near, help me be more confident in my walk with you. Help me know you walking with me, help me make you my desire and confidence today.

The author of this hymn, is giving us a timeless Christian prayer.

Lord I need you more, help me draw closer. Grant me the desire and unceasing focus to draw ever-closer and lean ever-nearer into my daily walk with you.

Desire is the Beginning of Christian Formation 

We have to desire and want to draw closer to God. How that desire comes about is different for everyone, but we can say desire is so key whatever the starting point.

We can also say that desire becomes a great treasure to us, a pearl of great price, helping to cement our deepening love and walk with the Lord. At that point we start seeing the fruits of living a fully Christian life. Not the fruits of changed circumstances, but the fruits of a God who brings in his wings, healing, worth, affirmation. We begin to know a God who says, I know you very well, and I am well pleased with you, I am glad I made you and took the time to create you. I delight in you because you are my son, you are my daughter, and that’s reason enough. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, to me you are very worth while.

For many that kind of deep and intimate loving affirmation is really what helps them know and see a truly loving God.

Usually when we know him well and we feel the love of him knowing and accepting us fully, wanting to know him better comes fairly naturally to us. The way you might miss a friend or loved one, you begin to miss the Lord when your attention has been drawn away from him. And so you strive to make more complete the promises of faith so that they might re-anchor and re-orient your sense of time and meaning and purpose. 

When this occurs, no matter what happens to the Christian that simple confidence of faith is never shaken. Christianity displaces the life of the Christian, it re-orients his sense of time, it re-orients his loves, it re-orients his commitments, it displaces secular time, and fills him with great joy, because it is durable through the trials, waves, temptations, storms, pains, and tragedies of life.

It’s durable not as an escape from time, but as a reformation of time, a re-orientation of time, through the Holy Trinity we are drawn into God’s sense of time and goodness and provision, and that sense is so much more trustworthy and durable and full than the day to day we used to experience that it grants us great contentment, because our contentment is re-oriented towards the kingdom of God.

This is the victory of the saints. His blessed assurance. Not well being, but a very intimate and loving God who intervenes and makes things well in this life and the one to come through his presence. This is the ark of rescue, and in this way Jesus makes a mockery of the sin, evil, and decay in this world.

Begins with the Daily Walk 

This victory is for the Christian, and it is accompanied by the prayers of desiring that closer walk.

Just a closer walk with you, that’s my plea. Jesus grant it, let it be. Daily drawing closer to thee. Let it be Lord, let it be.

Alexei Laushkin is Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network,  a Board Member of the Kingdom Mission Society,  and writer of the Foolishconfidence blog. His views are his own. 

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On Forgiveness

If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. (John 20:23)

These are words of life. Not just words that express some ideal, these are words to put the nature of sin in oneself to death by. We are to be marked by mercy, by grace, by our forgiveness.

When we begin to delve deeply into this passage on forgiveness we begin to feel the weight of our obligation before God and each other. As we dig into this passage, we can no longer carry the words that we are more prone to carry. Words of indifference. The indifference that characterized the grave act of sin between Cain and Abel, when Cain murdered his brother, ‘am I my brother’s keeper?’

We realize that in the new reality, the new covenant, the life that starts and finishes with the author of life,  forgiveness is not a concept to just be past over. Left for the unskilled and the uninterested parts of our life to attend to.

When Jesus says to ‘seek first the kingdom of God,’ he means seek first, make it of primary importance. The first thing you think about when you rise, the last thing when you sleep, and in the countless moments throughout the day orient your lives towards God and God’s ways. If you try you’ll find how hard it is to live this life, and it will drive you to repentance and from repentance and mourning into the grace of his forgiveness. When we experience that kind of forgiveness we dare not hold the debts against those who have sinned against us. We forgive and repent so that no root of bitterness might take root. There is no time for merriment apart from God, taking a break from his ways and only returning to them for prayer. There is no full way of being human apart from the life of faith.

Seek first the kingdom, means to be deeply inwardly changed. To have the wellspring of life transform you. Not to change yourself, but to have God do work that only He can do. It’s not simply the absence of sin and evil but the presence of Life and even Life evermore.

Before the Children of God are sent off to the wilderness there is this interesting promise in the Book of Exodus:

“He said, ‘If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you’ (Exodus 15:26).

The healer, the great physician, the God who does not change his character, his love or his nature. For in him we live in light ineffable.

Forgiveness removes us and our hurts from the center of the brokenness that we experience in our lives. Our need for forgiveness from God, reorients our experience of others. We are no longer the center of our own pain and wrongs committed on us, but instead we see ourselves as a fellow beggar in need of daily manna from heaven. It’s a type of humility that says if I were in the situation of another, I know that my character apart from God is of such a quality where I may have very well done the same. It makes us live into the reality that the only good things in this life are truly gifts from above, that apart from God we can do nothing.

So instead of things to be consumed, relationships become the gift of a good God. The maintenance and commitment of such a relationship depends on the Lord working in the relationship itself. If we are others oriented the Lord can use that to bring some remarkable and family like dynamics with those we love and are in relationship with. Apart from that we can still practice peace, patience, kindness, and the heavenly and holy fruits in all our relating, even if it is simply for a season.

Forgiveness is a balm that brings us into the reality of the frailty of others and our own frailty. True forgiveness frees us from ourselves and orients us back to the well-spring of Life which is Jesus.

 

Relational Commitment

We live in an age that does not have a very good concept or grasp of Christian commitment when it comes to loving our neighbor as our self. We interpret these words to mean that we should treat each other well not that we should commit to each other whether the relationship is going well or not. We tolerate each other, we seldom repeatedly seek each others good or take the time to heal misunderstandings or divisions. Ours is a polite culture that values not inconveniencing others unnecessarily.

Jesus says that those that follow his teachings are his sister, brother, and mother. Those who are deeply committed to Christian life are family. The new testament writers often use language reserved for family to describe their heartache, prayers, and hopes for the communities the Lord has focused them on.

Even the word family can be problematic to describe commitment in our present cultural moment. Many people come from families where love and warmth were not readily or consistently available. When as people we are robbed of the experience of joy, love, and commitment we are left with ourselves. Thereby we let our own wants and interests rule why we stay in certain friendships or get to know certain people but not others. We are robbed of the understanding of Christian love and commitment without being left with any way to navigate or feel comfortable with those types of relationships.

In this way the sins of the parents or grandparents can easily be passed down for multiple generations. Cruelty and unkindness can disproportionately alter our understandings of the sort of life Jesus prays for us to have.

In the Gospel of John we hear the words that Jesus prays that we would be one as He and the Father are one. That same level of unity and commitment. It is a powerful prayer that ought to have some earthly connotations, especially when we think of loving specific neighbors and friends.

Obviously this type of commitment has to be mutual. While one person may consistently love and care for another and while Christians are called to be extraordinarily patient and persistent, in some ways without reciprocity a stable relationship cannot be built. There has to be a level of discretion when you are encouraging loving kindness and commitment while knowing that many may have very little interest on what you are saying or doing. Above all forgiveness and care has to be consistently practiced if any sense of Christian depth of community is to be realized.

Transformation has to occur persistently in oneself to more fully live into the command ‘to love your neighbor as yourself.’

Is such a thing even possible in the present time? Yes, but it is rare. Trans-formative but rare. In an age where the bonds of fidelity, trust, and care are so easily broken and transgressed it is deeply counter-cultural and difficult to push things in a reverse direction. But with God, all things are possible, and it does not take huge numbers for God’s people to triumph and transform the moment at hand.

 

On Friendships

There is too much being written about how hard it is for men to relate to other men. Given that we live in a more socially mobile age, you get the impression that it must be almost impossible to have good, stable male friendships.

That’s really not the case.

Jesus tells us that we are his  friends if we do what he says. In the words of the book of James we are to become doers of the word, not simply listeners.  So what is a doer when it comes to friendship?

One that loves his neighbor as himself, one that forgives his neighbor, one that helps his neighbor in need whether physical or otherwise, one that exemplifies peace, patience, and self-control. One that does not avoid conflict or avoid their neighbor when they are hurt or disappointed, but one who is steadfast with his neighbor to the end.

Now just by putting the words of scripture into practice doesn’t mean that we’ll advance far along the way of robust, healthy, and long lasting friendships, but it does mean that we can be consistent in our character as far as it depends on us. We could consider holding in our slights and hurts and be more consistent in bearing with each other. We will find plenty of people who will come in and out of our lives, who won’t be there for us, who won’t match our ideas of friendships, who won’t be honest. All of this is really beyond our control.

What we can control is our approach to others, having an ever better understanding of our inner life, being transparent with how God made us, seeking counsel and help as needed, acknowledging our many weaknesses, and growing in our willingness and ability to forgive and be engaged with others. This is no easy thing. We are all called brothers and sisters in the Lord. We have a familial relationship in our standing with each other whether we recognize it or not. In other words we are a dysfunctional family in the church that needs to work on our ability to be reconciled to each other.

One way that happens it through friendships. A friendship may or may not met your expectations and you might not be able to share yourself fully or even be yourself fully, but by being consistent and by operating within your abilities and personality, you can over time have a solid and consistent friendship with other people.

The ultimate goal of Christian friendship isn’t simply vulnerability (though that may happen) or overcoming obstacles and challenges together (that may happen too), it’s growing into the fullness of Christ’s character. That means consistency, compassion, firmness of inner character, and a radical commitment to forgive and be reconciled. In other words to live at peace and grow in our ability to be graceful to each other as we are and as we will be in the age to come. Amen.

On Remembering

One of the consistent themes in the Old Testament is remembering. Remember what I did in Egypt, remember what I did in the desert, remember what I did in the midst of you. Deuteronomy 11:2 has an even more interesting theme:

Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm

Remember not only that I did these things, but that you witnessed what I did. Why? So that those who witnessed the work of God might have the strength to go forth and do what what was left to be done in their generation.  Deuteronomy 11:8:

Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess,

What role does memory serve in our own walks with the Lord? Why do we remember the great works and interventions of God on our lives? Why are we so prone to forgetting God? As the hymnist puts it:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love

We are prone to forget that in Christ we are loved by God and accepted by him. We hear it so often but seldom let it into our hearts. When we don’t remember whose we are, we can not go forth and be restored. Our dismembered selves can not be healed and transformed into the new life and new humanity.

We need to strive and take time to remember and understand and know the work of the Lord in the fabric of our lives.

And The Second is Like It

 And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39, NIV)

If you’re like me, you likely read past this part of scripture. Love, the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. You read the Lord part and skip or at least abbreviate the neighbor part.

Photo by Lauren Manning used through flickr creative commons

Photo by Lauren Manning used through flickr creative commons

The truth is our Christian culture is geared towards ME+GOD not as much geared towards ME+OTHERS. Don’t get me wrong. We want community, we want connection, but we often don’t find it. Why is that?

If we really believe that the second is like it, we have to work through loving others in a bit more of a complex way then I just want to be loved and known.

If prayer is to be transmuted into action, then this Trinitarian faith which informs all our praying must also be manifest in our daily life. Immediately before reciting the Creed in the Eucharistic Liturgy, we say these words: ‘Let us love one another, so that we may with one mind confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.’ Note the words ‘so that’. A genuine confession of faith in the Triune God can only be made only by those who, after the  likeness of the Trinity, show love mutually towards each other. There is an integral connection between our love for one another and our faith in the Trinity: the first is a precondition for the second, and in its turn the second gives full strength and meaning to the first. (The Orthodox Way by Bishop Kallistos Ware)

If one commandment is like the other, it would only make sense that the two are connected. If our relationship with God seems stilted or not as robust as we would hope, maybe a good place to start is our relationships with our neighbors.

Integral to faith is repentance, communion, and fellowship. Repentance is tied to communion and fellowship. A lack of repentance and reconciliation in relationship is wicked.

Have you ever had the friend you had no desire to be around? You know the one who bugs the heck out of you? Maybe instead of excusing our feelings of contempt it would be better to confess them. Better to confess contempt then to begin to mistreat our fellow neighbor.

So much of scripture and the kingdom is opened up when we focus on the neighborly command. Love does no harm to a neighbor. The forgiveness of the servant to those who owe us less than we owe God.

Perhaps it is our relationships with family and friends that tells us more about our faith than our private devotions to the Lord. A public show of faith, even if it is done in private for an audience of one (yourself), does not make one righteous before God.

Self-love is the negation of love. From Descent into Hell by Charles William:

self-love is hell; for, carried to its ultimate conclusion, self-love signifies the end of all joy and meaning. Hell is not other people; hell is myself, cut off from others in self-centeredness.

We are called to reflect the love of the Trinity in our relationships. Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one, Jesus prayed that we would share in the love and fullness of Life.

If we believe that we are to love God with our heart, mind, strength, and soul then let us also believe that we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves.

May the Lord convict and free us to love, repent, forgive, and be in fellowship as much as it is in our power to do so.

Blessings,

Alexei

Things Tend to Fall Apart

“Things treated merely as things in themselves destroy themselves because only in God have they any life” (For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann)

Millennials are taught to expect things to be temporary. Whether it’s marriage or mobility, jobs or friendships, everything ends or at least everything tends to fall apart. Seasons come, seasons go. If there is one thing you can count on it’s that you can’t count on very much.

Photo by Corey Holms. Used through flickr creative commons

Photo by Corey Holms. Used through flickr creative commons

These experiences leave us with an impoverished view of friendship. This is a tricky thing to talk about, because you also have to address temporary relationships, the delay of marriage, and the loss of core relationships. If up to half of our parents (before they pass on) will divorce at least once, if we are more likely than not to have had a few possible core dating relationships before we settle on marriage, if we are told to establish ourselves in our careers before we really start putting down roots, if we are just one degree away from the perfect life relationships get handled less like relationships and more like things.

I have heard more than one friend tell me that they have put their relationships on hold to focus on what’s before them (grad school, career, etc.). It’s not a bad idea to prioritize, and if it is hard to imagine sustaining friendships and doing something that your life may depend on than the tendency is to prioritize what is most important. I don’t really have neat, simple solutions to these questions, but I do have another way to look at them.

What if commitment, honesty, forgiveness, and fellowship were to infuse our relationships. A commitment to love despite the circumstances. A true respect for the free will of the person you are relating to. A willingness, even a stubborn refusal to refrain from judging those who let you down. The honesty and the courage to be ourselves in relationship. The ability to forgive and to reconcile when things do come up. And the regular fellowship which is to mark the life of the Christian. The Christian life is lived in community. When we view community as primer to our health and not a secondary obligation, we can begin to be creative enough to serve, be, and be known by others. If we put Christ central in our relationships than he can light the way to relating to neighbors as fallen as each one of us. These values can help us in any season.

As you look at your life, who is your primary community (think of people and names)? Do you put the time and communication necessary to keep that community vibrant? How can you reconnect with someone today?

May the Lord bless you and keep you,
Alexei