Saturday, March 5, 2011

Resting and imbibing

It has always stuck me as symbolic that the physical place where Jesus swept into my life was a path on the way to a chapel in the woods of a camp.  The girl who was His agent of my surrender had suggested that we go to the chapel but as we approached we saw a counselor there, dancing to music only she could hear.  So we stopped along the path.  Sat down right there in the woods, among pine needles and fauna, and she prayed for me.  And I simply breathed, "Oh God, Oh God," over and over until she whispered, "It's okay for you to talk to Him."  Then I spoke my first halting, baby-talk prayer.

After that, I had no other language to call what had happened to me than the words I'd already learned in a former life.  A thorough-going Methodist-Sunday-School life, where I'd memorized all the books of the Bible, and knew all the stories.  Because I knew something new had happened to me, I said I'd become "religious."  It wasn't until I was drawn into my first real community of faith, Young Life (specifically Campaigners), that I heard that, "It's not a religion, it's a relationship."  And, of course being a Christian isn't being religious in the generally accepted way, because Jesus is a person.  He asks us to relate not to a series of precepts and propositions, of rules and rituals, as a way of practicing our adherence to Him but to respond to Him personally, to give ourselves to Him as He gave Himself to us.  Yes, to us.  The Incarnation is all about Him giving Himself TO us.  The Cross is all about Him giving Himself FOR us.  These prepositions are important, and denote relationship, not religion.

However, (you knew there was a but coming, didn't you?) I actually think the best word for what we should--must--call ourselves, we who are His, and seeking each day to be more His, is disciple. According to Easton's Bible Dictionary of 1897, a disciple of Christ is one who (1) believes his doctrine, (2) rests on his sacrifice, (3) imbibes his spirit, and (4) imitates his example (Matt. 10:24; Luke 14:26, 27, 33; John 6:69).  

I love the words contained in this definition, as archaic as they are.   Rest on His sacrifice, a phrase which conjures two ideas to me.  The first is that of one thing balancing on another, like one rock resting on another.  If the lower, steadier rock is removed, the one resting will crash and fall.  Our lives rest on Christ's sacrifice--on His death on our behalf--in exactly this way.  If the Cross was taken away, we'd be lost.  But there's a second idea within the word rest, that of giving us respite.  The Cross of Jesus actually takes away the burden of sin we carry.  We are spiritually restored--given back spirit energy as sleep might give physical energy--by His sacrifice, His taking of the sin that weighs us down. These two thoughts, contained within one phrase, encourage and challenge how I think of what He did/does for me.

The other provocative phrase is 'imbibes His Spirit.'  Imbibe is a synonym most often for drink; however, it can also denote a soaking up of something.  And yes, it also means simply taking something in through the mind.  What strikes me is that in a sense we receive the Spirit in all of these ways.  We drink Him in, we soak Him up, we take Him in.  All our senses are involved in receiving the Spirit of God, if we are to believe the Word. So this word is full of all the kinds of things that happen when we allow Him to enter us.  We 'taste and see that He is good.'  We become a 'pleasing aroma' and a 'sweet, sweet sound to His ear.' We drink of the 'living water' and never thirst again. And every day, we are the visible expression of His presence in the world.  We imbibe of Him and He fills us up.  And it is good.

Yes, a disciple.  Far more than a religion, more than simply a relationship but the deepest, most comprehensive relationship there is: a disciple. For me, metaphorically still on the path to the chapel, the place where I will see Him face to face, fall on my feet and worship Him.

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