Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Power of the Monk

In school we have been studying monasticism recently. People desired to escape the immoral society and get out into the wilderness alone with God in order to train themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. The one problem in their early thinking was that they stayed there alone with God and never returned to society.

But they were definitely on to something important. In today's society of instant gratification and media surrounding us we often don't ever think that it might be a good idea to step away from that from time to time. But let's face it, with everything going on around us, it's hard to keep up good relationships with those we want to. How much more difficult is it to keep up a relationship with God, whom we can't see or hear physically? He's there, but we don't see or hear him because of all the distractions. We need to get back in touch with the discipline of Solitude.

Two books that everyone should read regarding spiritual discipline are The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard and Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster - in that order. Dallas talks about our big problem in Christianity being the concept of WWJD. We somehow have come to think that if we just want to bad enough, we can make good decisions in the moment - imitating all the good decisions Jesus made when facing the Pharisees and being obedient even to death. We think we can be like Jesus, but we miss an important part of the equation. Much of Jesus' time was spent alone, in a quiet place (like the desert, or a garden, or mountaintop) - fasting and praying, spending time alone with God. And this is where He drew His strength from. It was always after a time like this that He came back to society and did something amazing. He would strengthen Himself in the Lord, through solitude and prayer, and then do the "Jesus things" we try to imitate. But we never imitate His discipline. It's like me watching baseball all the time and thinking that if I were to get the chance to hit against a major league pitcher, I could probably hit a pretty good one - maybe even a homerun - because I am so familiar with it - from watching. But the problem is I never put the time into disciplining myself like major league hitters do. Practicing their swing thousands of times, weight lifting, eating right, studying pitches. I would have false confidence. And many Christians suffer from this - and it harms their overall journey on the spiritual path of life.

We can't be like Jesus in part, we have to imitate the whole. We have to be well-versed with Scripture like He was and practice the disciplines. This is what the monks valued - practicing and honing their spritual skills. One problem some of them had though was that they never returned to society to benefit anyone else with that spiritual strength. And this is a problem we have today too. Sometimes we believe that our Christianity is about us and God. We just need to work on our relationship with Him on a personal level and once we've achieved that, we're happy. But that's because we're selfish. We negate everything Jesus taught us, and in fact, much of the teaching from the Pentateuch as well - that we are supposed to take care of those around us, guiding them towards Jesus. But if we never take our relationship with God back into society, we fail this most important mission - the Great Commission.

So, I admire the early monks for seeing the value in solitude, but I urge everyone (especially myself) to then turn around and come back to society with that renewed strength and be the salt and light this world so desperately needs. Solitude. Think about it...

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