Wait Upon the Lord – “In-house” Prophetic Word

I am fond of saying that transformation in Christ is “excruciatingly gradual.” Most of us are not particularly patient. We do not “wait well.” Our television service gives us the ability to watch movies “on demand.” So, the virtues of waiting and patience, which are at the core of what transformation is all about, has been all but lost. The spiritual disciplines, which presuppose a desire to wait patiently, are adopted with the expectation that they will bear their fruit in a “Christian” environment that is founded on the “instant” and what we can “demand and claim.” And, oh yes, self-control has left the building.

Certainly, that is not going to turn out well sooner or later… And where will the “blame” be placed? Hmmm….Vector stopwatch

What does this look like in practical terms?”

  • We adopt a “throw away and replace” attitude. For many of us, daily life is not about seeking to have things last through patient care (TLC) but figuring out ways to get what is the “newest” and get rid of what is “old” and irrelevant and worthless.
  • Children skip childhood. They often don’t get to be kids or child-ish in the good sense.
  • Aging becomes something to be avoided. So, antique things are valuable but antique people are not. (this second statement takes some consideration to realize… It does not look like it but taking a deeper look at how Sunday morning looks in most evangelical congregations reveals, perhaps, this dynamic in play. Think “target audience.” While I am on this particular subject, a parallel questions is” How long is the “target length?” OR “How long is too long?”)
  • Relationships become negotiations about instant gratification and need satisfaction rather than mutually self-giving love over the course of decades.

So, let’s get the message about waiting and patience. The spiritual disciplines are not just designed to nourish and nurture. They bring to the forefront the need for a whole new matrix for understanding and living out the Christian life. The spiritual disciplines point a prophetic finger at the subtle enemy of transformation in Christ, which might very well be our Christian mindset. Sounds like the kind of thing Jesus said about the Pharisees. He basically said that their way of being righteous was taking them away from God not toward God. It was the problem to which they were blind. Yikes…

I do not stay by the wayside and point the finger as one who purports to be innocent. “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…” Lord, have mercy on ME a sinner.

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“But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3.8-9)

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“If you should beseech God for a thing and He is slow to hearken to you speedily, do not grieve, for you are not wiser than God. This happens to you either because you are no worthy to obtain you request, or because the pathways of your heart do not accord with your petitions, or because you have not yet reached the measure wherein you could receive the gift you ask for. We must not rush onwards to great measures before the time, lest God’s gift be debased by our hasty reception of it. For anything that is quickly obtained is also easily lost, whereas everything found with toil is also kept with careful watching.” St. Isaac the Syrian

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“The ‘fruit of the Spirit’ does not appear instantly in our lives.  Fruit trees have several stages of growth before the harvest time comes.  As Jesus said in one of His parables, ‘First the blade, then the ear, and then the full grain I the ear.’  One fruit trees the first stage is the appearance of beautiful blossoms.  But soon the tree loses its blossoms and there is a long period of growth before the harvest comes.  To some extent all of us are in this long period of growth.  This emphasis on the gradualness, the slowness of sanctification, of growth in the spiritual life, is a warning against those quack practitioners of the soul who promise instant holiness by a given formula such as ‘being born again,’ as if one becomes a full-grown, mature Christian in the twinkling of an eye.  Three is no such thing as instant holiness.  Sanctification is a process — a fruit of the Spirit that ripens slowly and steadily.” Anthony Conairis, Daily Vitamins For Spiritual Growth

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“Imagine yourself as a living house.  God comes in to rebuild that house.  At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.  He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.  But presently, He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense.  What on earth is He up to?  The explanation is He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.  You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but He is building a palace.  He intends to come and live in it Himself.  The command, “Be ye perfect …” is not idealistic gas.  Nor is it a command to do the impossible.  He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.  The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for.  Nothing less.  He meant what He said.” George MacDonald

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“Good Lord Deliver Us”

“The world” is the general name for all the passions. When we wish to call the passions by a common name, we call them the world. But when we wish to distinguish them by their special names, we call them the passions. The Tintern Abbey insidepassions are the following: love of riches, desire for possessions, bodily pleasure from which comes sexual passion, love of honor which gives rise to envy, lust for power, arrogance and pride of position, the craving to adorn oneself with luxurious clothes and vain ornaments, the itch for human glory which is a source of rancor and resentment, and physical fear. Where these passions cease to be active, (in the saints) there the world is dead; for though living in the flesh, they did not live for the flesh. See for which of these passions you are alive. Then you will know how far you are alive to the world, and how far you are dead to it. (St. Isaac the Syrian [7th century])

Remember not  Lord, our offences, nor the Offences of our forefathers, neither take thou  vengeance of our sins : spare us good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast  redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever.

Spare us, good Lord.

From all evil and  mischief, from sin, from the crafts, and assaults of the devil, from thy wrath,  and from everlasting damnation.

Good Lord deliver us.

From all  blindness of heart, from pride, vain glory, and hypocrisie, from envy, hatred,  and malice, and all uncharitablenes.

Good Lord deliver us.

From fornication,  and all other deadly sin, and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and  the devil.

Good Lord deliver us.

From lightning  and tempest, from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battel, and murder, and  from sudden death.

Good Lord deliver us.

From all  sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion from all false doctrine, schism &  heresy from hardnes of heart, and contempt of thy word and commandemente

Good Lord deliver us.

By the mysterie  of thy holy Incarnation, by thy holy Nativitie, and Circumcision, by thy  Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation.

Good Lord deliver us.

By thine Agony,  and bloody sweat, by thy Cross and Passion, by thy precious Death, and Buriall, by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and by the coming of the holy  Ghost.

Good Lord deliver us.

(Book of Common Prayer 1662)

The Invitation-Promise-Mandate of Lent

Psalms 1Follow_Me pilgrim icon
[1] Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
[2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
[3] He is like a tree
planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
[4] The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
[5] Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
[6] for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

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Acts 2.12-21
[12] And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
[13] But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
[14] But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.
[15] For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day;
[16] but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
[17] `And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
[18] yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days
I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
[19] And I will show wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth beneath,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
[20] the sun shall be turned into darkness
and the moon into blood,
before the day of the Lord comes,
the great and manifest day.
[21] And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall
be saved.’Be not drunk with wine but with the spirit.

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Love Divine
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Charles Wesley

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The Aim of the Christian Life
“The Lord has revealed to me,” said the great elder, “that in your childhood you had a great desire to know the aim of our Christian life, and that you have continually asked many great spiritual persons about it.”

I must admit, that from the age of twelve this thought had constantly troubled me. In fact, I had approached many clergy about it, however their answers had not satisfied me. This could not have been known to the elder.

“But no one,’ continued St. Seraphim, ‘has given you a precise answer. They have said to you: “Go to church, pray to God, do the commandments of God, do good – that is the aim of the Christian life.” Some were even indignant with you for being occupied with such profane curiosity and said to you, “Do not seek things which are beyond you.” But they did not speak as they should. Now humble Seraphim will explain to you of what this aim really consists.

“However prayer, fasting, vigil and all the other Christian practices, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life. Although it is true that they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end, the true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. Mark my words, only good deeds done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit. All that is not done for Christ’s sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this life. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said: “He who does not gather with Me scatters” (Luke 11:23). Not that a good deed can be called anything but gathering, even though a deed is not done for Christ’s sake, it is still considered good. The Scriptures say: “In every nation he who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:35). Saint Seraphim of Sarov, On Acquisition of the Holy Spirit

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Divine Sweetness Tasted by Man
When a man progresses in good discipline and succeeds in mounting the step of repentance, when he draws nigh to the experience of the divine vision that results from is righteous works, and when a gift from on high descends upon him that he may taste the sweetness of spiritual knowledge, a second activity after the first will arise.

First he becomes certain of God’s providence for every man, he is illuminated by His love for creation, and he is filled with wonder at His governance of rational beings and His great care for them. This is the beginning of the sweetness of God and the fire of His love, which is kindled in the heart and consumes the passions of the soul and body. A man will be conscious of this power when, in all the natures in creation and in everything that he encounters, he ponders them with understanding, and searches them out, and discerns them in a spiritual manner.

Wherefore, through such zealous and divine diligence and through his good conscience a man begins to be stirred to divine love, and straightway he is made drunk by it as by wine; his limbs become limp, his mind stands still in awestruck wonder, and his heart follows God as a captive. He becomes, as I said, like a man drunk with wine. The more the inner senses grow strong, the more this divine vision gains in strength. And the more a man struggles to live a righteous life, to be watchful, and to labor in reading and prayer, the more its power is established and made fast within him. In very truth, O brethren, a man comes to this at times when he does not remember himself, that he is clad with a body, and he does not know that he is found in this world.

The second activity is the beginning of spiritual theoria (divine vision – the activity of the Holy Spirit in the soul, giving it spiritual vision and understanding beyond the reach of human efforts) in man and this is the beginning of every revelation in the understanding; by this activity the understanding grows and becomes powerful in hidden things, and by this the understanding advances to other revelations that surpass the nature of man. In a word, guided by the hand of the second activity, all divine theoria and all revelations of the Spirit that the saints receive in this world, and whatever gifts and revelations human nature can come to know in this life, pass over to a man. This is the root of our perception of our Creator. Blessed is the man who has kept well this good seed once it has fallen into his soul, and has given it increase, and has not lost it by scattering it in vain concerns and in the distractions of transient and fleeting things! But to our God be glory unto ages. Amen. Saint Isaac the Syrian – Homily Forty-Nine

The Value of a Right Fear of God
“There is a humility that comes from the fear of God, and there is a humility that comes from the fervent love of God. One man is humbled because of his fear of God; another is humbled because of his joy. The man humbled from fear of God is possessed of modesty in his members, a right ordering of his senses. and a heart contrite at all times. But the man humbled because of joy is possessed of great exuberance and an open and irrepressible heart.” Saint Isaac the Syrian – Homily Fifty-One

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If I were to sum up the fruit I desire this year to be born from the Spirit’s tending the garden of my soul and body during lent, it would be summed up in the previous quotes. I desire an increase in genuine humility and love that issues from the sweet joy of union with God and the members of His Body.

Have a great and transformative lent!

God Bless you mightily,

Fr. Thomas

Our Weakness and God’s Strength

“Blessed is the man who knows his own weakness, because this knowledge becomes to him the foundation, root, and beginning of all goodness. For whenever a man learns and truly perceives his own weakness, at that moment he contracts his soul on every side from the laxity that dims knowledge, and he treasures up watchfulness in himself. But no one can perceive his own infirmity if he is not allowed to be tempted a little, either by things that oppress his body, or his soul. For then, comparing his own weakness with God’s help, he will straightway understand the greatness of the latter. And again, whenever he looks over the multitude of his devising, and his wakefulness, his abstinence, the sheltering, and the hedging about of his soul by which he hopes to find assurance for her, and yet sees that he has not obtained it; or again, if his heart has no calm because of his fear and trembling: then at that moment let him understand, and let him know that this fear of his heart shows and reflects that he is altogether in need of some other help. For the heart testifies inwardly, and reflects the lack of something by the fear that strikes and wrestles within it. And because of this, it is confounded, since it is not able to abide in a state of surety; for God’s help, it is said, is the help that saves.

When a man knows that he is in need of divine help, he makes many prayers. And the more he multiplies them, his heart is humbled, for there is no man who will not be humbled when he is making supplication and entreaty. ‘A heart that is broken and humbled, God will not despise.’ (Ps. 50.19) Therefore, as long as the heart is not humbled, it cannot cease from wandering; for humility collects the heart.

But when a man becomes humbled, at once mercy encircles him, and then his heart is aware of divine help, because it finds a certain power and assurance moving in itself. And when a man perceives the coming of divine help, and that it is this which aids him, then at once his heart is filled with faith, and he understands from this that prayer is the refuge of help, a source of salvation, a treasury of assurance, a haven that rescues from the tempest, a light to those in darkness, a staff of the infirm, a shelter in time of temptations, a medicine at the height of sickness, a shield of deliverance in war, an arrow sharpened against the face of his enemies, and, to speak simply: the entire multitude of these good things is found to have its entrance through
prayer.

From this time forward he revels in the prayer of faith, his heart glistens with clear assurance, and does not continue in its former blindness and the mere speech of the tongue. When he thus perceives these things, he will acquire prayer in his soul, like some treasure. And from his great gladness the form of prayer is turned into shouts of thanksgiving… And from this vehement inner ardor, since he is very greatly moved by astonishment at this comprehension of God’s graces, he suddenly raises his voice in praise and glorification of Him, and sends up thanksgiving; and he moves his tongue which being held with great awe…

All these good things are born to a man from the recognition of his own weakness. For out of his craving for God’s help, he presses on toward God by the petitions of his prayer. And to the extent that he draws near to God in his intention, God also draws near to him through His gifts, and will not take His overshadowing away from him, on account of his great humility…” The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, Homily 8, pgs. 185-187

Unseen Warfare: Our Struggle toward Perfection – Chapter One

In Chapter one of Unseen Warfare, it is stated clearly from the outset that “perfection” is the goal of the Christian life.

“We all naturally wish, and are commanded to be perfect. The Lord commands: ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. V. 48).”

But the meaning and content of “Christian perfection,” is not necessarily understood by all. The danger of a misunderstanding of what our Lord and the Apostles mean by Christian perfection should be a concern to us. If you have ever sailed a boat or gone on a hike, you know the disastrous effect of being off course by 5°. Over time, the miscalculation will result not only in missing your desired destination but becoming completely lost. The spiritual application of this analogy is obvious.

“But if you, my reader beloved in Christi, wish to attain to such heights, you must first learn in what Christian perfection consists. For if you have not learnt this, you may turn off the right path and go in a totally different direction, while thinking that you make progress towards perfection.”

So, what is Christian perfection?

“I will tell you plainly: the greatest and most perfect thing a man may desire to attain is to come near to God and dwell in union with Him.”

Such a statement, while brief and to the point, is not enough. There are many practices that can seem like the pursuit of perfection but miss the mark. It is easy to confuse means and ends. As a result, the author(s) makes it clear what does not qualify as the right pursuit of perfection.

“There are many who say that the perfection of Christian life consists in fasts, vigils, genuflexions, sleeping on bare earth and other similar austerities of the body. Others say that it consists in saying many prayers at home and in attending long services in Church. And there are others who think that our perfection consists entirely in mental prayer, solitude, seclusion and silence. But the majority, limit perfection to a strict observance of all the rules and practices laid down by the statutes, falling into no excess or deficiency, but preserving a golden moderation. Yet all those virtues do not by themselves constitute the Christian perfection we are seeking, but are only means and methods for acquiring it.”

To practice the spiritual disciplines as ends in themselves is worse than not practicing them at all! They fall into the trap of pride. This is an extremely dangerous condition for a disciple.

“On the other hand, these same virtues may do more harm than their open omission, to those who take them as the sole basis of their life and their hope; not from their nature, since they are righteous and holy, but through the fault of those, who use them not as they should be used; that is, when they pay attention only to the external practice of those virtues, and leave their heart to be moved by their own volitions and the volitions of the devil…”

Righteousness doesn’t consist in mere outward observance of the disciplines.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23.23-28)

“When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. But if you call yourself a Jew and rely upon the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed in the law, and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth — you then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God.” (Romans 2.14-29)

 “Fasting and vigils, prayer and psalmody, acts of charity and hospitality are by nature good, but when performed for the sake of self-esteem they are not good.  In everything that we do, God searches out our purpose to see whether we do it for Him or for some other motive.” Saint Maximos the Confessor

“Going through the fast does not consist in merely going through the time, but in going through it with amendment of manners (behavior and motive).  Let us consider this; whether we have become more diligent; whether we have corrected any of our defects; whether we have washed away our sins?” Saint John Chrysostom

“Even if we have thousands of acts of great virtue to our credit, our confidence in being saved must be based on God’s mercy and His love for men.  Even if we stand at the very summit of virtue, it is by mercy that we shall be saved.” Saint John Chrysostom

“Love sinners, but hate their works, and do not despise them for their faults, lest you be tempted by the same.  Remember that you share the earthly nature of Adam and that you are clothed with his infirmity.” St. Isaac the Syrian

The disciplines, in as much as they have been created by the Holy Spirit to bring about our salvation, are a matter of the heart. Why? Because salvation is a matter of the heart before it is a matter of words and deeds (Matthew 7.13-29 and Romans 10.8-10). The disciplines are a necessary means to a greater end. The end cannot be achieved without them but they are not the end in themselves. You cannot be saved by them but you cannot be saved without them.

The fault in this scenario lies not in the spiritual discipline but in the disciple who practices it. That is of immense importance. Over the course of the history of the Church, effective disciplines have been mistakenly and tragically excluded because of their misappropriation by errant Christians. The Christian who practices the disciplines as ends and not means, eventually begins to judge others as inferior to him. What is more, this confusion of means and ends begins to be taught to new believers, leading them astray as well.

The disciplines of the Holy Spirit are, therefore, a two edged sword. They are designed to save but they can serve to destroy. For those who diligently seek the Lord with all of their heart (even though they struggle to be faithful), the disciplines purify and establish in joy. But, for those who seek to only to promote and themselves and their own interests, they serve only to further separate the wayward from the Lord (see, for example, St. Paul’s intense exhortation regarding the spiritual discipline of Holy Eucharist – 1Corinthians 11.17-30).  The result of practicing the disciplines of the faith in a manner that doesn’t proceed from a spirit of humility and gratitude in response to God’s mercy is spiritual delusion.

“Experiencing with this certain spiritual stirrings and consolations, such people begin to imagine that they have already reached the state of angels and feel that God Himself is present in them. And at times, engrossed in the contemplation of some abstract and unearthly things, they imagine that they have completely transcended the sphere of this world and have been ravished to the third heaven…

If desirous of bringing them to self-knowledge and leading them to the right path of perfection… they refuse to bend their necks to the yoke of God’s will and to trust in His righteous and secret judgments. They do not want to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Who humbled Himself and suffered for our sakes, and they refuse to be humble, to consider themselves the lowest of all creatures, and to regard their persecutors as their good friends, the tools of the divine bounty shown to them and helpers in their salvation.”

Delusion is accompanied by an almost complete refusal to submit to and receive correction.

“Thus it is clear that they are in great danger. Their inner eye, that is their mind, being darkened, they see themselves with this and see wrongly. Thinking of their external pious works and deeming them good, they imagine that they have already reached perfection and, puffing themselves up, begin to judge others. After this it is impossible for any man to turn such people, except through God’s special influence. An evident sinner will turn towards good more easily than a secret sinner, hiding under the cloak of visible virtues.”

So, having been given an example of the dire consequences of misunderstanding the meaning and content of perfection and how to pursue it, the author proceeds to outline the proper understanding and approach toward the disciplines. What should the attitude of our heart and mind? So now the author takes up where he left off.

“Now, having seen clearly and definitely that spiritual life and perfection do not only consist in these visible virtues, of which we have spoken, you must also learn that it consists in nothing but coming near to God and union with Him, as was said in the beginning. With this is connected a heartfelt realization of the goodness and greatness of God, together with consciousness of our own nothingness and our proneness to every evil; love of God and dislike of ourselves; submission not only to God but also to all creatures, for the sake of our love of God; renunciation of all will of our own and perfect obedience to the will of God; and moreover desire for all this and its practice with a pure heart to the glory of God (I Cor. X. 31), from sheer desire to please God and only because He Himself wishes it and because we should so love Him and work for Him.”

Wow… Now that is clear and to the point! No wiggle room. As was said above, this must be “heartfelt.” External observance that doesn’t issue from a heart of humility and gratitude is worthless. Less than worthless, down right damning!

It is worth listing them again just to be crystal clear: 

  1. A heartfelt realization of the goodness and greatness of God
  2. Consciousness of our dislike (distrust) of ourselves
  3. Submission not only to God but also to all creatures, for the sake of our love of God
  4. Renunciation of all will of our own and perfect obedience to the will of God
  5. Desire for all this and its practice with a pure heart to the glory of God (I Cor. X. 31), from sheer desire to please God and only because He Himself wishes it and because we should so love Him and work for Him.

Now, just to make sure that we GET IT, the author(s) says:

“This is the law of love, inscribed by the finger of God Himself in the hearts of His true servants!”

Get it?! Love… Not the law of self but the law of Christ. Not the law of merit and performance that issues from self, but the law of merit and performance that proceeds from Christ Jesus – the power of the Holy Spirit to do all things in and through disciples who abide in Christ and have Christ abiding in them (Isaiah 40.28-31; Jeremiah 31.31-34; Ezekiel 36.25-27; Romans 5.5; Philippians 4.7-13; 2 Timothy 1.8). The law of freedom and power in Christ Jesus.

This law of love involves a mandate to obedience that is filled with grace and yet unwavering in its demands.

“This is the renunciation of ourselves that God demands of us! This is the blessed yoke of Jesus Christ and His burden that is light! This is the submission to God’s will, which our Redeemer and Teacher demands from us both by His word and by His example! For did not our Master and the Author of our salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ, tell us to say when praying to the heavenly Father: ‘Our Father, … Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven’ (Matt. vi. 10)? And did not He Himself exclaim on the eve of His passion: ‘Not my will, but thine, be done’ (Luke xxii. 42)! And did not He say of His whole work: ‘For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me’ (John vi. 38)?”

Do you hear the power behind and within these words? Do you hear the excitement and zeal? If the author were here in flesh and blood, I imagine him to be standing on tip-toe with hands outstretched, deeply desiring to have me join in his excitement!! These words thrill my heart every time I read them!

“Blessed be your zeal!”

But, be aware of the cost of this zeal and desire. It is not a cheap grace to which we have married ourselves…

“But prepare yourself also for labour, sweat and struggle form your first steps on the path. You must sacrifice everything to God and do only His will. Yet you will meet in yourself as many wills as you have powers and wants, which all clamour for satisfaction, irrespective of whether it is in accordance with the will of God or not.”

Remember? It is a warfare, unseen though it be.

“Therefore, to reach your desired aim…”

And what is the aim?? “…coming near to God and union with Him.”

“Therefore, to reach your desired aim, it is first of all necessary to stifle your own wills and finally to extinguish and kill them altogether. And in order to succeed in this, you must constantly oppose all evil in yourself and urge yourself towards good. In other words, you must ceaselessly fight against yourself and against everything that panders to your own wills, that incites and supports them. So prepare yourself for this struggle and this warfare and know that the crown – attainment of your desired aim – is given to none except to the valiant among warriors and wrestlers.”

I love those words too!! I hear the echoes of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” in the background, don’t you. I know, it is not the “in thing” or the “spiritually politically correct thing” to couple the spiritual life with images of warfare. But, you know, it is what it is. Who am I to call it anything else?! I believe one of the reasons we don’t enjoy a certain quality of transformation lies in this squeamishness regarding the language and the images.

Is it ALL about warfare? Are those the only images we have been given by our Lord to use? By no means! We have a myriad of images and analogies and stories. But, let us not shy away from this one and think we can use another just as well. It does not work that way. If it did, then Jesus would have told only a couple of parables and they would have sounded pretty much the same. But, He drew on a huge variety of images and plot lines to portray the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s ministry within and among us. Here is a point of obedience that you and I need to heed.

This unseen war is a hard war. Why? Because it is against OURSELVES! As the little possum in the old “Pogo” comic strip said on one occasion, “We has met the enemy and he is us.” Or as Charlie Brown said on a lot of occasions, usually flat on his back after having been convinced by Lucy to try and kick the football that she was holding, “Good Grief!”

But if this is the hardest of all wars – since in fighting against ourselves it is in ourselves that we meet opposition – victory in it is the most glorious of all; and, what is the main thing, it is most pleasing to God.

Are we willing forsake all to gain mastery over ourselves by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God? Are we willing to take “the road less travelled?” Are we willing to join St. Paul in saying:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith;  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3.7-11)

The author(s) of Unseen Warfare echo St. Paul’s distinction between a false righteousness, the kind that proceeds out of self powered obedience, and a true righteousness that is the fruit of a grace powered obedience that is a synergy of our will and the will of God.  Once again, we are reminded of that self-powered observance of the spiritual disciplines is a dead end (it avails us nothing).

“For if, inspired by fervour, you overcome and put death your unruly passions, your lusts and wills, you will please God more, and will work for Him more beautifully, than if you flog yourself till you draw blood or exhaust yourself by fasts more than any ancient hermit of the desert. Even if you redeem hundreds of Christian slaves from the infidels and give them freedom, it will not save you, if with this you remain yourself a slave to your own passions. And whatever work you may undertake, however glorious, and with whatever effort and sacrifice you may undertake, however glorious, and with whatever effort and sacrifice you may accomplish it, it will not lead you to your desired aim, if you leave your passions without attention, giving them freedom to live and act in you.”

Truly, we may do great deeds in the name of God but if our passions are left unaddressed and our hearts are darkened and enslaved by them, they are as filthy rags in the sight of God (Isaiah 64.6).

So, having defined perfection, enlightened us regarding the danger of using the spiritual disciplines as ends rather than means, and the rewards of joining the Holy Spirit in confronting our passions the author(s) bring the first chapter to an end. We are presented with four dispositions and activities that arm us for the warfare.

“…if you really desire to be victorious in this unseen warfare and be rewarded with a crown, you must plant in your heart the following four dispositions and spiritual activities, as it were arming yourself with invisible weapons, the most trustworthy and unconquerable of all, namely: (a) never rely on yourself in anything; (b) bear always in your heart a perfect and all-daring trust in God alone; (c) strive without ceasing; and (d) remain constantly in prayer.”

In the following chapters, our guide(s) will instruct us in the meaning, content, and conduct of these dispositions that constitute the weapons of our unseen warfare.

“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!                          (Refrain)                                                                                                                                                                                             Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.”

Note – All quotes from Unseen Warfare are from Chapter One, pgs. 77-81

Fr. Thomas