The Liberating Power of One

As I’m reading along in the II Kings 17, I come to this little phrase, “The Songs of Israel did things secretly which were not right, against the Lord their God”.  I put the Bible down, feeling like there’s something important in the air, something that needs digesting.  I’ve had countless conversations over the years about the disillusionment and bitterness that grow inside people because it is eventually discovered that there’s a Grand Canyon of distance between the leader’s private life they live and public teaching they proclaim.  They have a secret life, like the sons of Israel in II Kings.

I pick up the other book I’m reading called “Practicing the Presence of God” by a 17th century French monk named “Brother Lawrence”.   This guy had a reputation for being calm in the midst of any circumstance, overflowing with genuine patience and generosity, a genuine manifestation of Christ’s grace.  He tells us that he learned, “The most excellent method he had found for going to God was that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men but purely for the love of God.” Again, later, he says that he came to the point where he, “began to live as if there was none but He and I in the world.”

I’ve read Brother Lawrence before and when I came to that “none but He and I” bit, I’d close the book.  I’ve seen the “none but me and Jesus” paradigm become a veil for detachment from real relationships, or honesty, or laughter and hospitality.  That kind of veiled piety can be nothing more than license for selfishness, arrogance, even contempt.

But today, with Brother L’s words juxtaposed with II Kings 17, I suddenly saw that Brother L was simply talking about doing everything we do both “for” and “through” Jesus, realizing that the end result will be greater engagement, hospitality, and joy, not less.  The monk unpacks what both “for” and “through” mean in his writings. “For” Jesus means that everything; writing this blog, doing the dishes after that, working on texts for my summer series after that, doing e-mail after that, shopping after that, shopping after that, caring the basil plant after that, and watching Boston (hopefully) win game 7 on the road after that while eating with my family and guests – all of it can be done “for Jesus” – for His glory.  Brother L speaks of how, over the years, his times of “work” became as hallowed as his times of “prayer” because he’d learned, through practice, to make every act and act of worship.

This paradigm will have the effect of changing your life.  To help us all overcome discouragement, he reminds us that he failed often, but when he did, he simply picked up where he left off, confessing, and starting once again to do everything “for the love of God”.  He takes this one step further by saying that he purposed to do everything “through” the power of God.  He shares the example of being sent to the city to buy the wine for the monastery.  When given tasks, he’d simply pray, commit the work to God, and do it, confident that God’s presence and the power of the Holy Spirit would infuse the work with grace and beauty.

It would be easy to read this kind of thing through either a romantic or cynical lens.  The former elevates Brother L to unworldly status and sets us up for disappoint as we try to learn from him.  The latter gives us license to dismiss him as a quack, and remain in our spiritual mediocrity.  Instead, I’d invite you to look at him and say this:  “Here’s someone who sought to live everyday in the conscious awareness of God’s presence as much as possible, more and more over the years, and it changed him.  I think I’ll try that too.”

When I’ve been in that space, the effects are palpable, ranging from blood pressure, to sleep, to the capacity to really be present and listen to people. I laugh more, am fearful less, and just generally find greater joy in living when I’m trying to please one rather than two thousand.  Reducing the audience to One is both more challenging and liberating that I’d imagine.  I hope you give it a try!

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