Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Not by effort, but by rest.

Watchman Nee states in "Sit, Walk, Stand" that we cannot advance in the Christian life until we rest in Christ. He says that all "effort" at the spiritual life is doomed to fail because of the flesh. However, he says that when we cease trying and instead trust in God to work in us and have faith that God already accomplished all things for us in Christ, then almost unconsciously we will begin to exhibit the divinity that lives in us via the Spirit.

The other approach I've seen to advancement in the spiritual life is through the spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting, meditation, study, etc.

On one hand, I've seen the benefit of the disciplines. On the other hand, the disciplines are always undermined by the very thing they seek to master - the flesh (e.g., I fail to pray because my flesh is too lazy). This makes Nee's proposition particularly compelling to me. But it also seems dangerous to stop "trying" to improve at the spiritual life.

1 comment:

Ρωμανος ~ Romanós said...

One of the chapters in the book, "Touching Heaven" by John Oliver is called "Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!"

This line has become quickly an Orthodox "saying," alluding to our practice of standing in prayer, which is the work of silence and in some ways represents what Watchman Nee is expressing. I'm not surprised that Nee would say this, as it reflects a foundational attitude in Asian thinking and, as you know, Christian Orthodoxy is an Asian expression of the faith more than a European.

The spiritual disciplines you mention are there to train us, to challenge us and also to gauge us in the only way we can be gauged. We take on the disciplines as voluntary acts, hopefully parallel to the involuntary acts of life that come at us from the world and through which we also achieve mastery in Christ over our flesh. But the disciplines are only what they are, OUR work, and without the work that Christ does in us "secretly" while we labor (Mark 4:26-29), they would only be dead works. As it is, while we labor in Christ to achieve self-mastery and spiritual discipline, we still rest in Christ, knowing that "we have done nothing good upon the earth" (Liturgy of St. Basil the Great), and in that rest, our good and loving God accomplishes in us those things we can never do for ourselves.

On the practical level, another way to say this is, yes, rest in Christ, but don't forget to fill your lamp with oil (faith, prayer, Bible study, fellowship, service to others, witness, worship) to receive that Light which comes only from Him, so that you can be welcomed into the Wedding Feast.