Christ, Our Fellowship, Part 3
We are moving along in this new series, which surprises me a bit because I thought it was going to more complicated for me to sort through, given the way I think and over analyze things. But, as usual, God has found a way to make things clear to me so that (hopefully), I have been able to make them clear to you as well.
If you have not read our previous article, I would recommend it because these individual articles are intended to build on one another. In this article, I’d like to talk about a monk named Brother Lawrence. I’m sure some of you are familiar with him.
I would like to remind that entering into fellowship with God is something that is only available to authentic Christians, those who have, by faith, received salvation. This salvation changes our legal standing before God from unrighteous to righteous and provides a way for us to enter into that fellowship. Scripture provides many references to the fact that God does not hear the prayers of those considered (labeled) unrighteous (unless of course, it is the prayer for salvation). Whether or not we fellowship with God is up to us, though God will do what He can to draw us to Him. I’m hoping that you will see why fellowship is only available to authentic Christians (and how we enter into it), as you continue to read this series.
It is important to understand that we are never to enter into fellowship with God for self-gratification. I think you’ll understand why after you finish this article to learn how we actually do fellowship with God.
We enter into fellowship with God for the express purposes of partnering with Him as He brings His own purposes and plans to fruition. He has things to do and is doing them now. Partnering with Him in fellowship means that we are volunteering for service under His leadership and in His authority to bring His plans and purposes to fruition in and through our lives for as long as we live here. This is exactly what Jesus did every moment of His life (cf. John 5:19). In this way, Jesus showed us what it means to partner with, and because of that, fellowship with, God.
When we enter into fellowship with God, we do so mainly to work with or alongside Him in fulfilling His purposes here on earth. One of the main byproducts of that is to also become like Him, but we do not necessarily set out with that as our main purpose. Over time, as we continue to partner with Him to bring His purposes to fruition, we will find that our character becomes more like the character of God the Son (in His perfect humanity). In other words, He recreates more of His Son’s perfect human character in and through us as we serve Him. He does not recreate His Son’s character within us because we ask Him to do so. He will only recreate His Son’s character as we partner with Him to bring His plans to fulfillment. If our reason for doing something is for self-aggrandizement, no matter how “holy” we believe it to be, then we are either on the wrong path or doing things for the wrong reasons. That person should not expect to receive anything from God because they have given up nothing. They are still operating under the delusion of self.
Years ago, I read a book by Brother Lawrence called, The Practice of the Presence of God. I wanted to experience what Brother Lawrence experienced so I also began “practicing” God’s presence. This was done simply by concentrating on the fact that God was always with me. If I was picking up the dog mess in our back yard, I would think that God was there with me. If I was in school, God was with me there. If I was delivering papers, He was with me there. This, in actuality, is certainly biblical truth. God is everywhere. But this idea that I should expect or look for some sort of ethereal, ecstatic, spiritual experience because of it is questionable at best and unscriptural at worst.
The problem with Brother Lawrence’s belief is that it is focused in a huge swelling of our emotions where God is concerned. He taught that as we continue to practice God’s presence, our emotions are affected in a positive way, whereby we “love” God and others more and we begin to experience joy, love, happiness, etc. This so affected Brother Lawrence that he said just to wash the pots and pans became an ethereal thrill to him.
Here’s the problem though. Those feelings he had – no matter how strong – were purely emotions and more than that, were emotions that benefited him but did not necessarily make His commitment to God any greater nor did it create a desire to win the lost to Jesus. People who are involved in experiencing such rapturous emotions too often tend to set good theology completely aside. I’ve been there and I can actually recall thinking things like, “Wow this is love as God loves? How can anyone be sent to hell then?”
It is very dangerous because it is as A. W. Tozer stated (in our first article):
Strange as it may seem, the danger today is greater for the fervent Christian than for the lukewarm and the self-satisfied. The seeker after God’s best things is eager to hear anyone who offers a way by which he can obtain them. He longs for some new experience, some elevated view of truth, some operation of the Spirit that will raise him above the dead level of religious mediocrity he sees all around him, and for this reason he is ready to give a sympathetic ear to the new and the wonderful in religion, particularly if it is presented by someone with an attractive personality and a reputation for superior godliness.
Unfortunately for Brother Lawrence, the entirety of his focus once he began to practice God’s presence was on himself and the alleged benefits of “experiencing” God. He would argue that no, he was not focusing on self, but on God and His presence. No, he was focusing on a very, very strong emotion that I believe the enemy created to make Lawrence only think that he was gaining more of God.
In the end, what did his experience of practicing God’s presence do? Aside from providing Lawrence with a feel-good, ecstatic experience, nothing really. Granted, he discusses how he did menial tasks in the kitchen with pleasure because of his ecstasy from God’s alleged presence. But of course, the real issue is that Brother Lawrence was a monk, living in a monastery, only working alongside other monks. Their days were spent in prayer, solitude, and the recitation of Scripture and away from society.
Clearly understanding how others might have viewed his approach to God as being somewhat “delusional,” Brother Lawrence offered this in response.
Yet, I cannot see how this could be called imagination or delusion because the soul which enjoys God in this way wants nothing but Him. If this is delusion, then only God can remedy it. Let Him do what He pleases with me. I desire only Him and to be wholly devoted to Him.
The problem though is that there was little to no opportunity for Lawrence to actually spread the Gospel message. He lived apart from society and because of that, had little reason for contact with anyone outside the monastery except on rare occasions. This lifestyle is not something that is promoted in the New Testament and was clearly not part of Jesus’ life or that of His apostles and disciples. They moved among the community. They reached out to people in need, healing, feeding, and helping through the proliferation of the gospel message.
These forms of alleged worship of God promoted by Brother Lawrence (and others today), are likely little more than thinly veiled demonic subtleties that force the worshiper into a very contrived (and self-satisfying), experience that, for them, mimics what they believe to be an expression of God’s love and devotion for them. Today, we have similar oddities in what are known as “breath prayers” or the “be-still-and-know-that-I-am-God” movement whereby the worshiper endeavors to literally still his/her mind so that he/she can “hear” God can speak to them. Learning about God through His Word? Passe.
Instead of moving out and doing what God is doing, these people do the exact opposite by coming away from society (the very people who need us because we have the truth regarding salvation), to spend time being silent before God so that God will “speak” or engage with us. It’s all very self-centered in reality. Since they often do this corporately, with other believers, they would argue that they are not coming away from society. Yes, they are and while worshiping God is absolutely necessary today, our entire lives should be worship to God, not just the times we step into our prayer closet or gather together for corporate worship.
It seems to me – and we will explore this much more – that knowing God is accomplished by doing His will. The two seem to go hand-in-hand. This appears to be the beginning of and meaning to fellowship with God. We will explore this.
I believe that as we submit and commit ourselves to doing what God is doing in the world today, we are in fellowship with Him. Jesus said He only did what He saw the Father doing.
Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does,” (John 5:19).
There were many times that Jesus tried to get away to pray but was often interrupted. Instead of insisting He needed time away to regain His strength or to “hear” the Father (by ostensibly being still”), He often left His place of prayer (while continuing to pray, I’m sure!), to be actively involved in something else because there were people in need and because it became immediately clear to Him that He was seeing the Father doing something. Jesus would then partner with the Father to accomplish what the Father was doing. He also gained strength and empowerment from the Father because He was partnering with Him as opposed to simply going out and doing things in our own strength. This was fellowship. This is where it starts and ends.
Fellowship is not living the monastic life, living for the excitement of one ecstatic experience after another. It is fulfilling God’s will for your life because we “see” God doing things and we join Him in also doing those things. When we do, we find that we are able to do these things in His strength, not our own. Beyond this, God works within us (and through us) to recreate the perfect image of His wonderful Son deep within our own character.
Do you want to fellowship with God? It will involve your willingness to partner with God to fulfill His purposes. It will involve you being an ambassador for Jesus, bringing light to dark places and the truth about His Son to those who are lost. This is fellowship. You can only fellowship with God by leaving your self behind. There is no other way. It’s not about you. It’s about God.
Consider the cost.