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Posted by on Mar 6, 2015 | 3 comments

Why I Am Not a (Good) Christian   

Why I Am Not a (Good) Christian  

brother-lawrence[T]hough I have done it very imperfectly, yet I have found advantages  by it.

-Brother Lawrence[1]

I am not a very good Christian. I struggle with it. I am easily distracted from what I should be doing; I don’t love in the way I should love; I am proud and distant; I am too quick to judge others and myself; I am not always the best of friends. God knows where my mind goes sometimes, especially in church… my goodness. I skip daily devotion more times than I’d like to admit. I stumble through an answer every time someone asks me a question about theology… The sum total of all this and more leads me to repeat my first statement: I am not a very good Christian.

Brother Lawrence was 17th century Carmelite monk who also struggled with being a good Christian. His primer, The Practice of the Presence of God, reveals a man who was not very good at following the spiritual disciplines that his fellow monks excelled at. What he was good at was discovering the presence of God in the everyday actions he participated in: “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”[2] This is not to say that he didn’t spend time in quiet contemplation and prayer, he was a monk after all, but his time in contemplation and prayer was a continuation of his busy life where he discovered the presence of God in his daily action.

For Brother Lawrence, the greatest testimony that a Christian could have was not a complete denial of their former actions that led to sin, but a redirection of that energy to the glory of God: “our sanctification did not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own.” [3] A common misconception we have of sin is it is a list of dos and don’ts. What we learn from Brother Lawrence is following a list does not keep us from sin—the only thing that keeps us from sin is worshiping God with our actions: “That many do not advance in the Christian progress because they stick in penances and particular exercises, while they neglect the love of God, which is the end. That this appeared plainly by their works, and was the reason why we so little of solid virtue.”[4]

The reason why virtue is so hard to attain is because our daily lives are separated from our spiritual lives. Perhaps this is because it is easy to view the spiritual life as a long, difficult, and arduous path filled with denial and self-abasement. This is not always the case. Brother Lawrence recognized this fact when he wrote:

“ We may make an oratory of our heart wherein to retire from time to time to converse with him in meekness, humility and love. Every one is capable of such familiar conversations with God, some more, some less. He knows what we can do… Perhaps He expects but one generous resolution on our part. Have courage… Accustom yourself, then, by degrees thus to worship Him, to beg His grace, to offer Him your heart from time to time in the midst of your business, even every moment, if you can [emphasis mine]… act with general confidence in God, with love and humility.”[5]

What makes a good Christian isn’t actions or denials for the sake of the goodness of the action or the denial. Anyone can be good and moral for the sake of goodness and morality. Christianity isn’t about goodness or morality. What makes a good Christian is a renunciation “of all that is not [God].”[6] This renunciation frees us to love our neighbours as ourselves. What Brother Lawrence reminds us of is the fact that we can only love our neighbour if we first love God. The love of our self is really our love of God working it’s way out into our daily lives. Therefore, in order to be a good Christian daily devotion begins with the setting aside notions of what it means to be a good Christian in order to seek after Christ. It is in this seeking that “goodness” is revealed to be the presence of God working its way out into the world through action. My goodness is not dependent upon me but upon Christ working in me. Therefore, I am not a “good Christian.” There is no such thing. There is only Christ and our love and desire for him. May our actions reflect this love of our devotion. It does not matter if we do it imperfectly. A habit of seeking after the presence of God can only lead to more joy. It is my hope that joy of the Lord fills you up with this desire to seek God not only in private devotion, but also in the quotidian action that takes up the majority of our days.

[1] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (New York: Pyramid Publications, Inc, 1967), 33-34

[2] Ibid., 6

[3] Ibid., 26

[4] Ibid., 24

[5] Ibid., 50-51

[6] Ibid., 54

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A.A. Grudem

I am a coffee drinker, book reader, and horrid speller.

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