I have just returned from a time interstate which I hoped would include a time of retreat from people; almost the exact opposite happened. I turned out spending quite some hours answering a host of questions from a group of Coptic Orthodox Christians of varying ages; from teenagers to a senior priest. They all shared a very authentic love for Christ grounded in a martyr tradition spanning the beginning of the Church in Egypt today and reaching to the present day. Their passionate desire to listen to whatever I had to say about Jesus and his Church was quite a remarkable experience echoing my encounters with this form of spirituality in North Africa. It was what however happened shortly after these events that grasped me most deeply. I was inwardly and powerfully torn between a great desire to communicate the Word of Christ wherever/whenever possible and an overwhelming sense of ignorance (Eph 3:8; Col 3:16). Knowing that there was no way to resolve this conflict rationally, I went out to the large iron cross erected in the middle of the paddocks where we were staying. It was in this context that I saw a way forward through my polarised emotions; I needed to whole-heartedly consecrate my appalling ignorance to God. This is a symbol of what I believe the Lord is saying to us all at this time and it is grounded in his personal experience.
The Conflicted Son
Jesus was always a committed hearer of the Word of God. As a child he appears in the temple “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). This is not a casual observation but a sign that Jesus believed the scriptural promises that the prophetic word of blessing for all nations would go forth from Mt. Zion (Isa 2:2-3). Years later Christ takes his cue to move into public ministry from the utterance of God’s Word through the mouth of John the Baptist (Luke 3:2, 21ff.). Jesus had ears perfectly “dug out” and completely attentive to all his Father wanted to say (Ps 40:6; Heb 10:5-7). Such absolute attentiveness would lead him into great anguish.
The Gospels unashamedly present the inner tension that Jesus experienced as he approached the cross. ““Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name…”” (John 12:27). Jesus is moving through a process of hesitation to submission. At the heart of this process is consecration, ““for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be set apart in truth”” (John 17:19). What consecration meant for Jesus comes out in his pained cry from the cross, ““My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). This is Jesus’ personal confession of experiencing spiritual ignorance, an ignorance which he does not seek to cover over but brings directly to God (Heb 12:2). It is through consecrating this radical sin bearing emptiness to God that Jesus opens up the glory of a whole new creation. (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 2:7). The resurrection of Jesus reveals that the consecrated empty space of the cross has now been filled with the presence of God (Heb 2:9). Since the crucifixion is for us, our consecration of emptiness to the Father is an essential part of spiritual formation.
In other generations the open confession, “I am a worm” (Ps 22:6), was taken as a sign of the sanctifying work of God, today such an admission is reviled as an expression of low self esteem. Yet “wormhood” directed to God is a share in the saving sufferings of Jesus that releases resurrection life! Today we are more enlightened than to think and feel like Christ did on the cross. This is an age of experts, the time of Google and Wikipedia is upon us. Today’s “doctors” of the Church no longer include martyrs and confessors but are church growth/health consultants and therapists who will always have a “how to” answer for your spiritual condition. The massive biblical ignorance of most of our congregations is masked by the paid professionals whose charisma covers for everything, especially the passivity of a popular Christianity too lazy to search the scriptures for itself. Observing these realities does not leave me depressed.
Consecrate your Emptiness
I see something different on the horizon. I see young people focussing on electronic copies of scripture with the same passion as they text their friends. I sense old people learning to hand over their many regrets to the Father and being filled with the Holy Spirit. I see the Lord sovereignly releasing a grace-filled culture of confession amongst his holy people (James 5:16; 1 John 1:9). I see a hope-filled turning of many to prayer and fasting. The grounds for such a seeing are not visibly discernible in the tide of contemporary Church or culture. Nor can I find anything in myself which is of myself that could in the least way move or motivate God to send his Spirit. Speaking bluntly, I cannot see anything in your life that could move God either. Such talk is neither negative theology nor an expression of a bitter spirit but a consistent theology of the cross. I am seeing serious disciples of Jesus growing in dissatisfaction with life as it is. This dissatisfaction is a divine gift which as it issues in a deeper revelation of Christ crucified will graciously prove to be a precursor for genuine renewal and revival.
Jesus promised that as his friends we would know what he is doing (John 15:15), at times my dullness causes wonder at the depth of my friendship with Jesus. I started this article thinking I had missed out on a much needed rest from people during my trip to Adelaide. Now I realise that the circumstances of sharing so intensely with dedicated disciples were a trap set by the Lord (Jer 20:7), a glorious trap through which he might teach me a deepening truth about himself for the sake of his Body: Consecrate your emptiness to Christ!
I never cease to be amazed by the supreme slowness of my spiritual awareness, my ignorance of the things of God. No doubt you have your zones of dullness too – perhaps about the love of God, or his patience, justice, peace, intimacy….and so on. Through Christ crucified our stupidities (cf. Gal 3:1) are opportunities for a consecrated life. I am totally persuaded that as we hand over our emptiness to the Lord his Spirit will work a remarkable inversion; in Christ the weak will become strong, the poor shall be rich and the foolish turn wise (1 Cor 1:26-30). In this way God will be glorified amongst us, and this is everything we should ever need.