This is the second part of my post on reflections of three years in the School of Christ. You can read the first part here. Let’s jump right back in there…
Read the Puritans (especially when things go wrong)
This may sound a bit of an odd one but only if you have never read the Puritans! They have been my companions through many a difficultly. Richard Sibbes (called the heavenly doctor – you soon realize why!) has helped me when I was in darkness and sitting in the silence of God with The Bruised Reed and Martyn Llyod-Jones (yes, technically not a Puritan but kind of is…) gave me comfort through The Causes and Cures of Spiritual Depression; then Sibbes came to the rescue again when I went through a relationship breakup with The Love of Christ and he was joined with John Flavel and The Mystery of Providence – one helped me when I was ever feeling unloved by riveting my attention back on Christ’s love for me and the other when I was feeling grumpy by casting my mind to higher issues and all that God does through the hardships of life. Or what about All Things for Good by Thomas Watson, Charity and its Fruits by Edwards or Communion with God by John Owen? What heavenly medicine they bring! In comparison most modern authors are mere children compared to the depth of God-given wisdom these men had along with such a pastoral concern for the souls of their fellow brothers and sisters. It is easy to tell, when reading the Puritans, that here were men who walked closely with the Lord.
You can keep your Pipers, Driscolls, Kellers and Chesters; they ain’t got nothing on the Puritans!
It’s all about the heart
Christianity is one hundred percent a heart issue. The longer I am a Christian the more obvious this becomes. Deeds are masks, what matters is the attitude of the heart. I do what my heart wants me to do. And it is from the heart that evil thoughts come as Jesus said. Paul talks about how even the greatest act of good, giving your life for another, is rendered as nothing unless it is done from love. Likewise with Christianity, if a deed is performed, however outwardly holy, without love for God or man then it nothing, empty and an insult to God. I know full well what it is like to stand singing praises to God with a heart that is far from him; to do good and think bad at the same time, to sin and hate myself for sinning as I do so and to be cold and unmoved when I should be rejoicing.
I have never regretted any use of the means of grace
This still surprises me for when it comes to life it is possible to regret many things, even good things if too much time is spent on them. But I have never regretted a single instant spent using any means of grace, feeble as though my effort may have been. Not a single prayer, bible reading, bible study, hymn of praise, church service, prayer meeting , communion or fast has ever given me cause to think: “hmm, perhaps I should have done x instead”. In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite: “well, that star trek episode was very good but praying would have been better.” I just wish this was a lesson I put into practise more often!
Happiness is independent of circumstances and dependent on holiness
This has been a difficult lesson to learn and I don’t think I’ve learnt it very well. But it is true that I am have been miserable while, humanly speaking, abounding and I’ve been happy when, humanly speaking, I have little reason to be. Happiness is independent of my circumstances and completely dependant on my holiness. When holiness is my aim in life and I am making every effort to seek the Lord then happiness follows suit.
God knows best
This lesson wins a prize for the lesson I least like learning. As a planner I like to think ahead and know or at least have a good idea of what the future holds. And as a human being I have the pride to think that my plan is by default the best one for my life. The default setting of my heart is that I know best what is good for me.
And I don’t. God does. And it’s a real pain to learn that. Yet I would be the first to admit that it is an excellent lesson to learn. It’s a pain because pride is hard to let go, submission hard to put into practise, my complete and utter dependency on God and more, my inferior grasp of my own situation, is a bitter pill of humility to swallow and one which I never swallow very well.
Yet in hindsight it usually becomes abundantly clear that God did know best and in my better moments I am even thankful for them because they have made me the man I am today. It is still a lesson to be re-learnt every time my own plan is crossed and God’s plan prevails.
“Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19 v 21
Faithfulness in the little things
I would go out on a limb and say that the majority of the Christian life is faithfulness in the little things. Obeying traffic rules while cycling even though many do not, forgiving others for their minor annoyances, being hospitable even when tired, saying something nice to someone, not pirating music, avoiding uni work on a Sunday, suppressing the grumpy reaction, fleeing the tiny lustful thought, the fight against sin and for holiness begins in the little things of life and is often lost in them. We do not, as a rule, face the temptation to murder someone or not, our temptations are to be unpleasant rather than nice, to tell a small lie, to speak a little gossip, to break a minor rule. It is often hard to motivate ourselves for such small scale faithfulness but as Jesus says:
“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."
Matthew 10 v 42
The power of fervent prayer against sin
Nothing beats sin like fervent prayer against it. Fact.
“Because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.”
2 Timothy 1 v 12.
It of the greatest comfort to know that in another three years’ time, in another thirty years’ time, Jesus will still be guarding my soul until that day comes when he will see me safely home. The School of Christ is the hardest, greatest school it is possible to go through for it the process by which God transforms a sinner from one degree of glory to the next. And though we learn slowly, badly and often do not learn at all then his grace does before us, behind and surrounds us and he will see us home. Oh the four dimensional love of Christ for his people!
I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.
But I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.
I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.
I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing us of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.
I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.
I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.