Saturday, January 29, 2011

Detachment: Untying the Canoe

Photograph by Drew Collins

Many Christians I meet truly desire to pursue a deeper life in Christ. They are tired of the shallow Christianity that surrounds them. They dissatisfied with the lukewarmness of their own walk with God.

If we truly want to move to a more profound plane in our spiritual life, however, we need to detach from all the things that bog us down. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Not only sin holds us back, but anything that encumbers us and weighs us down will keep us from running the race as God desires.

One of the essential rhythms of genuine, transformative spiritual formation is the practice of detachment. Detachment is letting go of the many things that we cling to. It is loosening our grip on anything that we try to fill our inner emptiness with. Detachment is breaking our emotional attachment to the many things that we tend to clutch so tightly.

Detach from What?
We need to detach from anything created. As created beings we have a propensity to grasp other temporal things. There are three general categories of things that we cling to. So long as our hands cling to them, we are not free to cling to the Lord.

First, most of us need to detach from material possessions. Our preoccupation with buying stuff is unhealthy. We work extra hours to make the money needed to buy all of our toys. Then more time and effort are devoured as we try to maintain them and store them. Concurrently we complain that we have little time for prayer or the closest friendships in our lives—and we cannot figure out where our time has gone!

We need to detach. Detachment is such a foreign concept to contemporary Western believers. Our lives are surrounded by so much materialism that we have adopted more or a worldly orientation than we begin to realize. Rather than grasping our possessions, we must learn to hold all things loosely. We enjoy them as blessings from the Lord, but do not claim them for our own. As we release our death grip on all that we possess, we being to discover a new freedom in life.

Second, we tend to cling to people. God has given us others to love and from whom we can receive love. Relationships are some of the greatest blessings in this life. However, when we begin to cling to those closest to us, we run the risk of turning them into idols. Instead, we must hold all people as a gift from God and not grip them so tightly that we try to draw our life from them.

Third—and most insidious—we cling to ourselves. As fallen human beings, we hold onto our wants, our comforts, our way of doing things. We also defend our plans, our agenda and even our own concepts of how we want to grow spiritually. Just as much as we cling to material possessions, we tenaciously clutch our own spiritual agenda. Our fallenness creeps into our own way of doing spiritual formation. Again, we need to detach.

Canoe tied to the Shore
Trying to move forward spiritually without detachment, is like trying to paddle a canoe while it is tied to the shore. No matter how thin the cord is, so long as it connects the canoe with land, the canoe is going nowhere.

So it is in Christian spiritual formation. So long as we maintain our attachments to stuff, we will not move forward on the spiritual venture that God has for us. But as we daily practice detachment, we discover a freedom that we have only dreamed of for our lives. Like the canoe unbound from the shoreline, we can glide forward on an exploration of a vast new territory that God has waiting for each one of us!

© 2011 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, January 17, 2011

Detachment: Essential Dynamic of Deeper Spiritual Formation

We constantly focus on the wrong things. As fallen human beings, how often we fail to direct all of our affection toward our loving Creator! Instead we fixate on created things—material possessions, people, popularity, power, pleasure, and the list goes on.

When we came to Christ, we repented of our worldly orientation. However, such repentance was not simply a one-time event that solved everything once and for all. Rather, our initial turning was just the beginning of a repentant lifestyle. Jesus calls us to die daily to ourselves and our temporal orientation in order to genuinely follow him.

Letting go of all the worldly diversions that we tend to hold on to is classically referred to as “detachment.” If we desire to pursue the deeper spiritual life in Christ, we need to practice detachment on a daily basis.

Isaiah 60:1-2 says,

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.”

Reflecting on this passage, one of the great spiritual writers of the church, Johannes Tauler, challenges us that we have a job to do. We must arise and shine!

“God desires and requires but one thing in all the world. This he desires so much that he turns all his diligence upon this one thing, namely that he would find our noble inner depth . . . empty and ready for him to fulfill his divine work.

“We must raise ourselves up from everything that is not God—from self and from all created things. Such rising sets off a turbulent longing in our depths to be stripped bare and set free from everything that separates us from God. The more we lay aside all these things, the more such longing grows within us and flows out over itself, and—when God touches our naked depths—it often surges through our flesh and blood and marrow!”[1]

As you seek to grow spiritually this new year, what do you need to detach yourself from? What do you need to stand up and walk away from in order to let Jesus’ light shine into your life? The Lord is ready to pour out his glory and you and me, but we must first stand up, detach ourselves from all the false fulfillments that the world has to offer in order to let God’s glory appear on us!

1 Johannes Tauler Predigten: Vollständige Ausgabe,ed. Georg Hofmann (Freiburg: Herder, 1961), sermon 5, pp. 35-36. The translation is my own.

© 2011 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, January 10, 2011

Epiphany: Light Breaks into the Darkness

Light! Light breaks through the darkness. Epiphany is all about light—God shining into the darkness of our world.

January 6 marks the day of Epiphany on the church calendar, celebrating God’s breaking into the dark world. This day commemorates God’s appearance (i.e., “epiphany”) to the Gentiles as the three magi came to worship Jesus.

So often we place the emphasis on the magi, but the bigger story is God’s—revealing himself to a dark world. The magi would never have come unless, out of love, God chose to reveal himself to them. Through the star, God shined forth in the physical light and called the magi to come. Then on Epiphany, God radiated forth in Jesus, the Light of the world!

In Isaiah 42:6-7 God says concerning the coming Christ:

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

This time of year the sun is weak and the earth lies covered with snow during the dark, cold months of winter. (The photo above was taken a crisp morning at 6 degrees below zero!) Yet we have this certain hope—the light is ever-increasing. The days are becoming longer, a few minutes each day. In time the hours of sunlight will overcome the cold and melt the snow. Although it will take a few months, springtime is certain.

Likewise in our lives, the light of Jesus’ shining grows stronger and stronger. His appearance (“epiphany”) is for the deliverance of us, Gentiles and Jews alike, as Isaiah states. Whatever the dark area or need in our life, Jesus is ready to radiate his love, deliverance and healing.

Our Lord will open the eyes of the blind—if we but reach out to receive his light. He will free us from the prison of captivity—whatever that looks like in each of our lives. He will release us from the dungeon of darkness—as we seek to live in his light.

© 2011 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Prayer: Promise and Hope

Our God is a God of Promise! From the Garden of Eden where the Lord promised a coming savior (Genesis 3:16) to God’s promise for Noah in the rainbow (Genesis 9:8-17) to his promise never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), God’s word can be trusted.

The photo above is the beautiful rainbow that the Lord gave us on New Year’s Day. What an image of God’s hope and promise shining on wintry land! “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Perhaps you will join me in this prayer for the new year.

. . . . PRAYER FOR THE FUTURE . . . .

As I look to the future, I will hope in you, O Lord,
Choosing expectation instead of fear,
Anchoring my soul in your goodness,
Resting in your omnipotence and wisdom,
Because you know the plans that you have for me:
Plans for welfare and not for calamity, giving me a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

O Lord, teach me to place all my trust in you,
To not take my “self-fulfillment” too seriously; rather,
To choose expectancy instead of fear,
To abandon myself to you and not to lean on my own
understanding, and
To be attentive to you in all my ways,
knowing that you will open a path before me. (Prov 3:5-6)

I shall wait upon you, Loving God, and your timing,
Living life in light of the vision your have given me,
Loving the questions you have placed before me,
Living out those questions in my daily life,
Embracing the mystery of your ways,
Cultivating receptivity, and
Enjoying the process, no matter how long it may be.

Step Forward
O Lord, today let me move forward in obedience,
Praying that your will be accomplished in my life,
Taking the steps that you have revealed for now,
Listening to your voice guiding me in the path on which I should walk.

© 2011 Glenn E. Myers