I’ve been passionate about 1 thing from a young age: religion. Not really sure why, it just suited me well. Most of my life I’ve been searching for a balance, something to counter the weight that has existed on one side of my life. I had a professor at Erskine College who said once, “Be careful in life that you do not fall off either side of the horse. The goal is to get to your destination by riding straight and staying atop.” Since then, I’ve made a concentrated effort to do so. I’ve taken up some (very) amateur photography, shooting wildlife mainly (I love birds).
I also love early Church historical writings (NERD ALERT! – guilty). I’ve found great joy in reading the stories and writings of those who have come before us in the Christian faith – LONG before us. The first thousand years of Christianity are remarkable. They were very serious, but not so serious that they should be written-off and tucked away on a dusty shelf of Christian literature that is reserved for stoic, stiff-necked, party-poopers. The key – or the trick may be – is to understand what CAN happen if we open ourselves up to a most-forgotten side of the Christian life and let it sink down into our bellies enough for our bodies to digest it. I think you would be surprised. I know I have. Here’s a snip-it from something that has meant a lot to me in the past few weeks.
St. Mark the Ascetic lived during the early 5th century. His letters to others were powerful and full of good instruction. His writings are very passionate, written as if he were a caring father doing all he could to protect the ones he loved by teaching them to live well and live close to God.
From Mark to Nicolas
This, my son, is how you should begin your life according to God. You should continually and unceasingly call to mind all the blessings which God in his love has bestowed upon you in the past, and still bestows for the salvation of your soul. You must not let forgetfulness of evil or laziness make you grow unmindful of these many and great blessings, and so pass the rest of your life uselessly and ungratefully. For this kind of continual recollection, pricking the heart like spur, moves it constantly to confession and humility, to thanksgiving with a contrite soul, and to all forms of sincere effort, repaying God through its virtue and holiness. In this way the heart meditates constantly and conscientiously on the words from the Psalms: ‘What shall I give to the Lord in return for all his benefits towards me?’ (Psalm 116:12).
There’s a lot of good stuff here. The thing to that seems to be the most helpful right off hand is his mentioning of calling to mind, recollecting, the blessings that God has given us. If we are to live our lives in constant gratitude (the key word being ‘constant’) we can be blessed and be a blessing to others. I know how I feel when I run into or spend time with a person who’s truly grateful. There’s so much joy in their life. You can’t help but be attracted to that and want it for yourself. Someone who is grateful to God obviously loves Him very much and it shows.
But listen to the reason that Mark gives for living a life of grateful recollection: “for the salvation of your soul.” For Mark, there is an intimate connection between being grateful and our souls being right with God. Salvation is a gift from God that comes through Christ. It is in living like Christ that we experience a life (or lifestyle) of salvation. How is salvation lived out? Good question. First, many tend to think of salvation as saying a certain prayer and the rest is taken care of. But God’s intention is that in believing in Him, we would be justified (i.e., made right) and then live out salvation day-after-day. Salvation isn’t becoming a member of the God-club and then enjoying the benefits of fancy food and an olympic size pool. The Church of St. Mark’s time believed that they were being saved more and more everyday, living in relationship with God, each and every day becoming more and more like Christ in the way they thought, spoke, and worked. This is why the way we live is so important. This is why Mark wrote numerous letters, to teach others how to live.
Never take for granted your relationship with God, thinking that you are done. Many of those who said a prayer and went on about their business may be shocked to find out that the true fruits of genuine faith seep out of their hearts, their thoughts, and their actions. Remember, there will be those on the day the Lord casts judgement that he will say, “I never knew you,” and he’ll say it to some of those who performed miracles and worked in God’s fields. Your salvation isn’t magical but it isn’t simply “doing good things” either. It’s a complicated and miraculous bond that God desires to share with you. It’s a contract, laying out the expectations and duties of what it means to be a part of his glorious family, all the while God listing his promises to you. God has signed the bottom line with the blood of his Son. Our response is to sign the line with our faith. It can be scary when seen that way, but I like what Jesus said in John 14:1, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” And 1John 5:10a, “Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts.”
So, all this to say: Bring to the forefront of your thoughts the blessings of God, both past and present. Use this recollection to discipline your mind and your actions. Let God mold you EVERYDAY in a new and fresh way. Let the Spirit move your heart to a place of healing and wholeness. At the end of the day, ‘wholeness’ and ‘health’ is what the word ‘salvation’ means. God is not done saving you, rescuing you, making you more whole. There is more health for you to experience. Hold fast to God and when you waiver, call out to Jesus, your rock and your redeemer (Psalm 19.14).