Remembering What We Already Know: The Labor of Older Theologians
Have you ever gone on a God Hunt? A God Hunt begins when you teach yourself to look for God’s hand at work in the every day occurrences of your life. Here’s one of my personal God Hunt Sightings:
What people call “the devotional life” usually infers a discipline of daily reading of Scripture and a time of prayer. That truncated understanding of the meaning of this phrase is annoying to me. First, because I think any spiritual habit can become perfunctory (doing something because we are supposed to, rather than because we love to). Second, this simplistic understanding irritates me because I think mature spirituality consists of an entire life—from morning, through the day, and through the night—should be a “devotional life,” a life given to unremitting devotion. Every moment should be one in which the soul stretches upward. This little rant aside, however, for this purpose of this blog, I’ll lean for a bit into the ordinary usage of this terminology.
I try to read Scripture every morning, think about it and listen to what it has to speak into my life. Most days, I record in my prayer journal, which includes among other things a list of all the ways I’ve seen God intervene on my behalf during the day before, and then I keep one or two books going that are spiritual in their nature—books generally published by religious houses. This year I’m leaning back into the works of older theologians, most of whom are now dead, some of whom long-dead.
I am married to a theologian, after all, who has a library of theological works—few of which I have examined, I am ashamed to admit, after 50 years of marriage. So (though it may seem obvious to some that this should have happened earlier), I am beginning to read the works of men (mostly) who were published 20, 30, 40, even 50 to hundreds of years ago.
I find that the writings of older theologians (because they are using words and phrases and teaching that were used frequently when I was a child growing up in a Christian home, attending conservative churches, and being raised by two parents working in Christian institutions) remind me mostly of things I know but have forgotten to practice somewhere along the way.
This morning I read from the English theologian John Stott, a contemporary evangelical leader who died in 2011. His authorship is vast, but he has written one book titled Life in Christ, which I began reading before Christmas. The book is illustrated with paintings from classical European artists like Rembrandt and Goya and William Holman Hunt.
This morning’s reading was from Colossians 3:22-4:1, which deals with Paul’s instructions to slaves: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. … It is the Lord you are serving.” Of course, Dr. Stott’s application is that anything we do should be done for God. He writes:
Similarly, it is possible to sweep a room as if Jesus Christ were going to pay us a visit that day, and we wanted the place to look spick and span for him. A servant girl, who was once asked how she knew she was a converted Christian, replied: “Well, you see, I used to sweep the dust under the mat, but now I don’t.” It is possible to visit somebody else as if Jesus Christ lived there, to type a letter as if Jesus Christ were going to read it, to serve a customer as if Jesus Christ had come shopping that day, and to nurse a patient as if Jesus Christ were in the hospital bed. It is possible to cook a meal as if we were Martha in the kitchen, and Jesus Christ were gong to eat it.
Now, I know this spiritual reality. I was raised on this kind of teaching in the conservative churches of my past. I just have forgotten (for how long?) to practice it.
So this is why I am reading the works of dead theologians—they remind me of what I need to be doing again. This is why I go to church and listen to sermons. Sometimes God just needs to get my attention in a way that does not originate with my own thinking. Someone else needs to speak into what I know to do but am not doing. It is one of the primary ways this God who loves us grabs our attention.
I’ve copied off this section and taped it into my prayer journal. I did the morning tasks with a happy heart though I was cleaning up the basement after the little grandchildren were here last night, scrubbing down that storage cupboard to the left of the kitchen sink, and making a nutritious breakfast shake for myself and my husband—as though I was doing it all for my Lord.
Stott quotes this hymn written by George Herbert, an early-17th-century poet and pastor—one whose work my generation is in danger of forgetting and my adult children’s generation will probably never know:
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see;
And what I do in anything
To do it for thee.
A man that looks on glass
On it may stay his eye,
Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass
And then the heaven espy.
All may of thee partake,
Nothing can be so mean
Which, with this tincture ‘for thy sake’,
Will not grow bright and clean.
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine;
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine.
This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold,
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.
I spy God!
Award-winning author Karen Mains has long had an interest in spiritual formation and the obedient Christian walk. She has written about the God Hunt in her book by the same name, The God Hunt: The Delightful Chase and the Wonder of Being Found. A hardback copy can be ordered from Mainstay Ministries for $10.00 plus $4.95 shipping and handling. Contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will be happy to autograph a copy for you.
Karen continues to write content for her Christian blog, “Thoughts-by-Karen-Mains.” In so doing, she desires to touch the lives of Christian women and men and help them find ways to walk closer with the Lord Jesus Christ. In addition, through silent retreats, spiritual teaching, women’s retreats, Christian vacation opportunities, and other ministry activities, Karen helps each Christian woman and man receive vital spiritual food.
Through her Hungry Souls ministry, Karen serves as a spiritual coach to many Christian women and men, and teaches a mentor-writing class. And, through the Global Bag Project, she is working to develop a network of African women who sew exquisite cloth reusable shopping bags, Africa bags. This micro-finance women opportunity helps provide a much-needed sustainable income for struggling African families. For more information on this critically important project, please click here.
For decades, Karen and her husband, David, have served God through religious communications—radio, television, and print publication. They are the co-authors of the Kingdom Tales Trilogy: Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance, and Tales of the Restoration. To find many valuable resources for pastors and congregations at the Mainstay Ministries main website, please click here.
Likewise, pastors will find special resources to help them prepare effective, life-transforming Sunday sermons by visiting David Mains’ website by clicking here.