Sometimes the Lord has to speak to us multiple times over a period of years before his word is “piercing to the division of soul and of spirit…discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.…” (Heb 4:12). This is certainly the case with my decades long struggle to submit to the rest we enjoy in Jesus. I trust this article marks the commencement of a permanent shift in my awareness of the priority of practising the presence of God.
Jesus spoke clearly to his disciples; ““Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”” (Mark 6:31). The neglect of this call in our over busy world has resulted in great loss of depth in life and ministry. Given the state of church and nation Christ’s call to sit and sup with him is an urgent one (Rev 3:20). Having just returned from a week on personal retreat I am still processing some deep and difficult issues brought to the surface by the Holy Spirit. Yet the unusual clarity that being in the dedicated presence of the Lord for an extended period of time brings is exactly why I went away. The deepening inner work of God always begins with his highlighting areas of confusion, which when exposed to prayer lead into illumination and transformation into the image of Christ.
For some time, especially just before sleep, I have felt a deep sense of detachment from all that is of substance, almost like I was not really present. I never worried about this too much as I figured that it echoed a sentiment like Paul’s; “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Gal 6:3). Around the same time as these empty feelings were becoming acute I noticed my increasing cynicism about human efforts. I would see folk jogging of a morning and think to myself that in the end all their efforts will come to nought. Being away on retreat meant I had the space to pray into these things more closely and it soon became very transparent that I was suffering from a foundational sense of incompleteness. I was viewing things through the lens of my own brokenness and not through the grace-filled eyes of Christ. It was as if I was seeing the world through the image of a broken circle. Meditating in prayer over this sense of deep incompletion I recalled a series of very damaging family interactions from long ago that seemed tied together by a feeling of abandonment. Whilst we can never change what others have done to us with God’s grace we can repent of our own misshapen broken responses, like mine below.
Wanting to lay down an emphatically true unconditional promise the Lord at times swears “by himself” (Gen 22:16; Heb 6:13). Since there is no-one higher than God this is a perfectly valid expression of divine universal sovereignty. You and I however are not God! When we make a solemn promise to ourselves we commit idolatry and the result is always tragic. The kindest idols are the most dangerous of all. My wounded conscience long ago vowed that I would never abandon others in need. Though God has often worked through this self-righteous attitude to bring himself glory it has also caused me no end of trouble (Ps 76:10). One congregation that was used to my constant pastoral visitation responded with much anger when I told them I was being called to prioritise a prophetic call to be with God first of all. Not being able to “desert” people and situations I have criss-crossed the city countless times upon myself great weariness. I could always rationale these things by looking through the word of the cross; “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). Majoring on this aspect of the life of Jesus left me with a radical sense of incompletion whose shadow fell across many things. Whilst remaining blessed in my hourly morning prayer walks I started to long for them to come to completion. Having received inspiration for another article I passionately desired for it to be finished; yet soon there would be insight for another teaching….. The tragedy here is not psychological but that in trying to bring something to completion we shut out an awareness of the completion we ALREADY have in Christ; “In him the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and you have come to completion in him” (Col 2:9-10). Being led to repent of my perfectionist vow of never abandoning anyone the Lord has begun to show me some deeper things about himself as our Judge.
The New Testament outlines two dominant scenes of judgement that involve sitting. Pilate unjustly “sat down on the judgment seat” to condemn Jesus (John 19:13). Paul likewise describes the critics of his apostolic ministry as “those who sit in judgement on me” (1 Cor 9:3). His response to error laden human judgments is the cue we need to follow; “with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court”, he goes even further, “In fact, I do not even judge myself” (1 Cor 4:3). The only way to be free from our own conscience or that of other sinners sitting in judgment over us is to sit down with Jesus.
“God….raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6). Being seated with Christ on his heavenly judgement throne we already know he has declared us “righteous” before him (Rom 1:17). Sensing such a declaration brings a wondrous sense of peace and wholeness. As we remain seated with Jesus we enjoy with him the unparalleled wisdom of the Father in bringing the plan of redemption to completion (1 Cor 1:30; Heb 12:2). Such a conviction drives out our ego based urges compelling us to reach some sort of completion in this world through our own efforts (Rom 9:16). Striving draws to an end as long as we abide in the revelation “our life in this world is the same as Christ’s” (1 John 4:17). Only a posture of seated rest marks the way forward for the busy, stressed and anxious. ““Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”” (Mark 6:31). This disposition is foundational to the spiritual reformation the Lord desires to send upon his Church.
Whether you are a megachurch celebrity or a self-convinced spiritual pigmy to be ruled by the judgements of your own conscience, or that of others, brings fear-filled enslavement. God’s verdict on us in Christ is however completely clear; “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isa 26:3). This perfect peace is communion with Jesus own peace in heaven where he is seated at the right hand of God (John 14:27; Col 3:1). Jesus is totally satisfied with all that the Father has accomplished in his life for us. This satisfaction can be ours.
God is challenging us to turn away from all our inner idolatrous vows to bring things to fulfilment by our efforts so that his Spirit might reveal we are already complete in Christ (John 19:30; Acts 3:20; Col 2:9-10). This is a theme we will need to explore many times more over the coming days and years.