He was serious when he said he didn’t “need” to go to church to be a Christian. He could just be walking through the woods and sense God’s presence. I had been wondering where he’d been. You see he had been quite faithful up until about a year ago and then, poof, he was missing. Once I tracked him down and was able to spend some time with him, I heard all the familiar words: “My job is very busy,” “We’ve been traveling a lot.” But then he hit me with the walking in the woods story and I began to see. This man did not want to be in God’s presence on God’s terms. He wanted to be in God’s presence on his terms.
But it doesn’t work that way! You see, the whole point of the Faith is to wake us up to conforming our life to God’s life, not remaking a god in our own image. That’s just one more icon of hell and it makes God too small to transform me!
Look at our lesson today in Hebrews 9:1-7:
BRETHREN, the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties; but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people.
Notice how often the word “prepare” is used in this passage. It is a huge hint to you and me today about WHY preparation is both necessary and difficult.
First, preparation is necessary precisely because my awareness for the need for preparation is the first step to true repentance. And I am never going to be Orthodox on Purpose without repentance. In fact, St. Isaac the Syrian insists that “this life was given to you for repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits.” The lifestyle of repentance is God’s way of keeping us awake to the subtle temptations of going to “sleep” about my need for Him! Everyday you and I are tempted with the slumber of self-delusion. Delusions that suggest “I’m OK” or “I’m so busy” or “I’m not as bad as that person” all work to keep me bound to a lifestyle that doesn’t prepare me to enjoy God’s presence or His Life. So much so that the powerful symptom of not “enjoying God” or the Faith should be the loud alarm in my heart that something is not right. So, God gives me the gift of repentance to keep me aware of my need to prepare.
Next, preparation grants me the gift of “symphonia!” Imagine the soul affirming message that God Himself invites me to “work” with Him in transforming my life to be able to embrace His Life! God loves me. God values me. God chooses, out of His freedom, to dignify me with His respect. He invites; He doesn’t enslave. And this invitation by our loving and respectful God throws into stark relief how my selfishness and my spiritual poverty treat others. I do insist. I insist on my “rights.” I insist on being respected. I insist on “fair” treatment, all the while justifying the mistreatment of others for my benefit. This eternal loop of slavery can only be broken by learning to be in “symphonia” with God. My active participation in my spiritual life and avoiding the soul destroying delusion of Faith on automatic pilot or being Orthodox by accident is WHY active preparation makes a person like God.
Today, God has done everything to prepare you and me to be like Him; to be free from a too small life. God has paved the way for you and me to participate in our own preparation for Him by granting us His Church to lavish on us the wisdom of the saints and the path to peace. And it all starts for you as you decided day by day to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. We launch our “A Journey to Fullness” outreach and evangelism video series on October 3rd this year! Keep up with this exciting resource at www.journeytofullness.com. So many of you made this day possible and I thank God for you. Countless others we will never meet this side of heaven will thank you as well!