Tis So Sweet

I wrote most of this piece five years ago.  We had recently gotten back to Toledo after 4 months in Cleveland following Allana’s bone marrow transplant and after weathering what was easily the greatest test of our lives.  I can remember hearing this song that morning and feeling the impact of the words more than I had ever.

TisSoSweet

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,Just to take Him at His word, Just to rest upon His promise and to know ‘Thus saith the Lord’

Wonderful words penned by Louisa Stead over 200 years ago ring true today.  She lived in a world that served up tragedy on a regular basis just the same as we do today.  Even as we struggle with the trial of Leukemia the trials of this world impact so many others all around us.  A young bride is bereft of her husband on the way to her honeymoon.  A mother and grandmother passes away.  A child is desperately ill.  Families are losing their homes.  All these things rock the carefully manicured lives that we try to prepare for ourselves and those closest to us.  It is in the midst of grief and turmoil that the words of this great hymn begin to make sense Jesus, Jesus how I trust him.  How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er.  Jesus, Jesus precious Jesus oh for grace to trust him more.”    It really makes sense because it is grace that makes our trust possible.  I have in my life attempted to trust by study, by effort and by ostrich (sticking my head into the sand).  I can attest to the fact that these paths to trusting our Savior do not work.  In the end they magnify the turmoil and most often leave one sensing an ever increasing gap between God and oneself.  We end up feeling unloved and that God has somehow failed to keep up his end of the bargain.  Thoughts like, “But God I have done everything you asked…”; “Lord I don’t know what you want from me I can’t do anymore…” tear at our faith and bring in a spirit of defeat that can be more devastating than the tragic events themselves.

It is when by grace we detach our faith from circumstance and effort, relying on the Holy Spirit, simply fanning the flame of the gift that God has given each of us through whatever circumstances occur because we are convinced that He will guard us and the Gospel He has entrusted with us through the Holy Spirit (1 Timothy 1:6-14).  Paul follows up this impassioned guidance to Timothy with the difficult circumstances that Paul found himself in and the sustenance that God provided to Paul.  I think that even in his chains Paul would have sung Louisa Stead’s lyrics with an honest heart.

I’m so glad I learned to trust Him,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend
And I know that He is with me,
Will be with me to the end.

Our Story

There are times

in the Christian walk when it is clear and obvious what God is doing in our lives and the lives of those around us.  However those times, at least for me are few and far between.  When God asks us to walk a particular road there are times when we never (perhaps until we are in the glory of His presence) know the rest of the story.  There are other times when we are far past that path and have moved to other roads of His choosing that He honors us with a glimpse of the rest of the story.

Sometimes we are “the rest of the story” for someone else.  Early in Allana’s battle with Leukemia we were both in a dark place.  The realities of Chemotherapy had begun to set in. We were separated from our children because of the epidemic levels of illness in the Toledo area and Allana’s dropping immune levels.  The nature of the Leukemia and the length of the battle ahead was becoming apparent.  The response of our faith community, friends and family was amazing.  They were all definitely the boat that God provided to keep us afloat in the storm, but still the waves, the wind and the darkness were overwhelming.  Into this storm walked a young nurse.  She was not one of our regular nurses, in fact we never saw her again.  She came in to the room during her shift and told us that she had heard we were believers and asked if she could pray with us at the end of her shift.  The prayers of many, all kinds of prayers, have been a comfort and strength throughout many trials in our lives, so of course we said, “of course”.

When the end of her shift came, she arrived as she said.  She was so young and seemed so small in comparison to our plight.  Don’t get me wrong we appreciated her heart and the prayers of everyone who lifts us up to God’s throne, but our expectation was perhaps a little wind for our sails.  However God knew that at that moment we did not need a little wind in our sails.  We needed light to shred the darkness and we needed to FEEL the presence of God.  This little nurse began to pray and called down the fire of heaven into that hospital room (and yes I am crying as I type this).  The darkness and the storm shredded in the light of God’s presence.  I can certainly imagine the joy of a mariner caught in a seemingly endless storm when the sun breaks through to warm his face.  I honestly don’t remember what happened next, it is lost in the overwhelming presence of God. I am sure that we thanked her.  I doubt that she realized the importance of her obedience to God in our battle.  I have told this story a number of times, but I don’t know if she has ever heard the rest of the story.  I hope so but that decision rests in the hands of God.  We are so blessed when He imparts the rest of the story into our lives but as His children we can be assured that the rest of the story is amazing.

 

The Noble Lover

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“My son, thou art not yet strong and prudent in thy love.”

“Wherefore O my Lord?”

“Because for a little opposition thou fallest away from thy undertakings, and too eagerly seekest after consolation. The strong lover standeth fast in temptations, and believeth not the evil persuasions of the enemy. As in prosperity I please him, so in adversity I do not displease.”

“The prudent lover considerest not the gift of the lover so much as the love of the giver. He looketh for the affection more than the value, and setteth all gifts lower than the Beloved. The noble lover resteth not in the gift, but in Me above every gift.”

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

no·ble

adjective
1.belonging to a hereditary class with high social or political status; aristocratic.
“the Duchess of Kent and other noble ladies”
synonyms: aristocratic, patrician, blue-blooded, high-born, titled; archaic: gentle
“a noble family”

2.having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals.
“the promotion of human rights was a noble aspiration”
synonyms: righteous, virtuous, good, honorable, upright, decent, worthy, moral, ethical, reputable

Strong, prudent and noble, Kempis offers these as the attributes of one who loves well as spoken by God to one who has not achieved the status of a strong and prudent lover.  He defines the first two attributes in terms of action.  The strong lover stands fast in the face of opposition.  The prudent lover looks past the gifts and sees the value of the lover/beloved behind them.  However when I look at the noble lover, the definition is not in action, but in position.

Kempis wrote The Imitation of Christ as a series of booklets in the early 1400’s.  When he wrote this, the concept of nobility was much more defined and important in the daily life of almost everyone than it is now.  It was widely believed that nobility was a matter of birth and that noble birth predicated a higher standard of behavior.  In Christian nations nobility was given a foundation in the will of God.  History reveals the flaw in this thinking (stemming from the basic flaw in humanity, sin).  Kempis himself was the son of blacksmith who apparently entered monastic life under the influence of his older brother.  Still this idea of “noble” was a very real one to him and to the readers of his writings.  It was an idea of position.

Kempis proposes a position in his description of the noble lover.  It is a position of stillness.  Originally written in Latin, Kempis chose the word quiescere.

Nobilis amator non quiescit in dono, sed in Me super omne donum.

A Roman would have used this word to say, “good night” ( bene valeas et quiecas).  God is calling us into a position of rest in Him.  Kempis recognizes that we tend to rest in the gifts or the positive circumstances that we find ourselves, and not in the being of the lover who gives us these gifts.  I find a cool parallel in the periodic table.  The noble gases sit at one side of the table.  They are called such because at one time they were considered to be completely non-reactive to their environment.  This quality in nitrogen is why it is used to preserve foods in sealed containers and used as a replacement for compressed air in filling tires.  The nitrogen will not react to the food or to the rubber of the tires in the way that oxygen in particular does.

Our love for God should not be reactive to the things around us or the circumstances of our life.  It should rest in Him above all those things… “in Me super omne donum”  Matthew records an exchange between Jesus and an “expert in the law”.  We pick up the exchange in verse 36.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 
Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 
This is the first and greatest commandment. 
And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
The first and greatest is to love God and he sets the standard of that love.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
The flawless demonstrated his love for the flawed.  It is not based on anything we have to give or offer.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39
The intrinsic focus of God’s love begets it’s noble nature, completely unaffected by circumstance as God is completely unaffected by circumstance.  This is both the great example of noble love and the measure of the noble lover.  It is in this love that we find rest not in the many gifts that He gives but in who He is.

 

 

Clock“My son, thou art not yet strong and prudent in thy love.”

“Wherefore O my Lord?”

“Because for a little opposition thou fallest away from thy undertakings, and too eagerly seekest after consolation. The strong lover standeth fast in temptations, and believeth not the evil persuasions of the enemy. As in prosperity I please him, so in adversity I do not displease.”

“The prudent lover considerest not the gift of the lover so much as the love of the giver. He looketh for the affection more than the value, and setteth all gifts lower than the Beloved. The noble lover resteth not in the gift, but in Me above every gift.”

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

prudent – adj – acting with or showing care and thought for the future

Kempis has uncovered the weak lover.  The one who falls away in the storm, seeking only for consolation.  He has proclaimed the strong lover.  The one who stands fast in the face of temptation and whose love does not rest on the whims of circumstance.  Now we find that there is yet another quality of love that we are called to in our Imitation of Christ.  The Lord turns his conversation to the prudent lover.

How often we mistake the gift for the lover.  This is the sign of imprudent love.   The gift is wonderful and amazing.  We wrap ourselves up in the gift.  We hug it and caress it.  We proclaim the gift to the world.  It thrills the soul, but like all gifts it fades in value.  The storms of life batter the gift and the sands of time wear it down.  Suddenly that thrill is gone, that tingle that we called love has faded away and because we have been so focused on the gift instead of the lover, prudent love that might have been is never found.

Jesus speaks of this love in Matthew 13:5-6.

5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.

The gift of the Gospel is heard and perhaps even believed but the faith that springs up is in the gift, not in the giver, not in the lover of our souls.  So when the circumstances of life arise there is no depth to hold our faith because our eyes are not on Jesus.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

As great as the gift is (For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord .Romans 6:23) it is only great because it opens the path for us to focus on The Lover.  If we take our eyes off him….

As is so often the case, the qualities of our vertical relationship with God speak into our horizontal relationships as well.  The gifts of our life both given and received should conduits of intimacy drawing us into relationship with others.  When the gifts are the focus, the love is compromised and when the circumstances change one finds that it is not love at all.  We are all to often ready to believe that gifts (given or received) are enough but there is no endurance in gifts when they do not bring clarity of focus on the lover.

The prudent lover looks to the future, not to the present or the past.  The actions of the prudent lover are framed to sustain and grow intimacy over time with the beloved.  This is the focus of a steadfast relationship, one that will stand the test of time.  It is this kind of love that Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Be prudent in love, setting ALL gifts lower in value than the lover who gives them.

“My son, thou art not yet strong and prudent in thy love.”

“Wherefore O my Lord?”

“Because for a little opposition thou fallest away from thy undertakings, and too eagerly seekest after consolation. The strong lover standeth fast in temptations, and believeth not the evil persuasions of the enemy. As in prosperity I please him, so in adversity I do not displease.”

“The prudent lover considerest not the gift of the lover so much as the love of the giver. He looketh for the affection more than the value, and setteth all gifts lower than the Beloved. The noble lover resteth not in the gift, but in Me above every gift.”

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

The strong lover, the fodder of many a dime store novel.  Yet too often the hero or heroine is just the opposite of Kempis’ hero, plunging instead into temptation and believing the persuasion that the fulfillment of lust justifies any behavior.  Jesus is our great example of love.  He is the archetype of hupomone.

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

Christ stood fast.  He stayed the course to complete a plan that called for the complete sacrifice and abasement of his very being.  He rejected the lies of the enemy time after time.  He rejected that Matthew could never be anything except a crooked tax collector.  He rejected that a girl named Mary Magdalene was too soiled to be of any use to anyone.  He rejected that a woman of Samaria could never serve the Gospel.  He rejected that the human race was not worth the sacrifice.  He rejected that a young man who was raised in the faith but walked away wreaking destruction all around him for 25 years could not turn his life around and become a tool of the Holy Spirit and a man who sees value in imitating Christ.

8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16

As the song says “This is love”.  It stands fast in Truth.  The strong lover is based not in circumstance but based in the Gospel, a love that is truly for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health but its strength transcends the grave.

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

This is the love God has for us and it is the love that is required of any who would be proved a true lover.

HeartCross“My son, thou art not yet strong and prudent in thy love.”

“Wherefore O my Lord?”

“Because for a little opposition thou fallest away from thy undertakings, and too eagerly seekest after consolation. The strong lover standeth fast in temptations, and believeth not the evil persuasions of the enemy. As in prosperity I please him, so in adversity I do not displease.”

“The prudent lover considerest not the gift of the lover so much as the love of the giver. He looketh for the affection more than the value, and setteth all gifts lower than the Beloved. The noble lover resteth not in the gift, but in Me above every gift.”

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

I briefly touched on love and the Hupomone life (sounds like a bad comedy form the 70’s…but it’s not) in an earlier piece. When I read this paragraph from The Imitation of Christ, I thought it time to open the topic again. Thomas a Kempis in his dialogue with his Lord and Savior examines the quality of Hupomone love. Though written in the 15th century it stands as a challenging definition of love.

“Wherefore O my Lord?” protests our protagonist. It is perhaps our arrogance in self-reflection that most aptly defines our lack of prudent love. We are like the unprepared virgins, not realizing our lack of oil until it is too late….or until the Lord Himself calls us out and we stop our frantic efforts to listen carefully to His words. Kempis utilizes this conversation milieu throughout this work. It is more than a literary it device. Kempis highlights the need for us to be in constant communication with God. It is only when we accept conversation with Him as a lifestyle that we move forward in our imitation of Christ. This is more than Sunday mornings and perhaps Wednesday nights. It is even more than daily devotions and scheduled times of prayer. These are not bad but perhaps consider them disciplines of faith as opposed to conversations of love. We often do them out of a sense of duty not a heart of love. A discipline can become mechanical and void of meaning. A loving relationship and the conversations that must accompany it are filled with meaning and actually feed life into the disciplines. We are called to be in relationship with God 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. When do that we are well on our way to imitating Christ.

Hupomone Love listens to the Words of our Lord and recognizes the truth of His assessment. It is an everyday, every hour, every minute relationship.

“for a little opposition” The Lord uncovers our instability in love. The word circumstance comes up again and again in our Hupomone discussion. Whether it is our love for God or our love for those around us when a little opposition raises it head, how quickly we fall away. Interestingly enough Kempis says “little opposition”. When the sky is falling and disaster raises its ugly head we tend to cling to our Lord and Savior and band together to battle the incoming doom. It is the “little oppositions” that send us running, too often to places we should not be. We drop the armor of God for the tranquilizing pillows of consolation. When we take our eyes off of Jesus and begin to look at the circumstances of our lives as guides then we forfeit the effectiveness of His promise to be with us always (notice I said effectiveness, the promise stands and the truth of it is eternal). It is when we have fled in the face of these little things that we are to crash and burn when the world throws its weight against us.

Hupomone Love does not fall down or drop its armor at the first sign of trouble.

Having expressed His assessment of the writers love, God moves on to the qualities of prudent love. Join me next week as I continue to consider this conversation with God and The Proving of a True Lover.

True LoveI will be posting The Proving of a True Lover Series in its entirety on Easter Sunday (tomorrow).  I cannot think of a better day to celebrate the love of God!