“The visible world daily bludgeons us with its things and events,” Dallas Willard writes in Hearing God. “They pinch and pull and hammer away at our bodies… But instead of shouting and shoving, the spiritual world whispers at us ever so gently.”
So God waits patiently, continually offering his gentle overtures of love. Why? Why doesn’t God normally overpower us with his presence?
Dallas answers, “God wants to be wanted [and] to be wanted enough that we are ready, predisposed, to find him present with us.” If we had any sense we’d “arise in the morning as hungry for God as [we] are for cornflakes or toast and eggs.” (Hearing God, IVP’s 1999 edition, pp. 217-218)
Am I hungry for God? Ravished? Are you? I want to be more so! Reading and writing about devotion to Christ helps me to press on and take hold of the One who has taken hold of me! (Phil. 3:12)
It’s the great challenge and the great opportunity of our lives to learn to live “bi-habitationally”: in this physical world and yet also in the spiritual world of the Kingdom of God. Jesus says that the treasures of life, our sustenance, and our true identity are with our Father who is in secret (Matt. 6). We can learn to live as citizens of the heavenly realms (Phil. 3:20).
Along these lines, Dallas recommended that his students study chapter one of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. (He said this in his two-week, Doctor of Ministry “monastery class” that I completed in June of 2012.) I’d read The Imitation a few times, but with Dallas’ urging I returned to study the first chapter. Like a monk in his cell I read it, re-read it, and prayed through it. I asked God to help me absorb the great monk’s perspective on living from the unseen eternal world in our midst.
What follows is my paraphrase of Chapter One from Thomas à Kempis’ 15th Century devotional classic, The Imitation of Christ:
The Imitation of Christ: Contempt of All the Vanities of the World by Thomas à Kempis
Press On Into the Heavenly Kingdom (My Paraphrase of Chapter 1)
“If you follow me you will not walk in darkness” (John 8:12), says Jesus. We must keep walking through the darkness, with his example and Spirit as our only light — if we don’t see this then we are blind. Therefore let’s make it our sole purpose to meditate upon the life of Jesus Christ.
The way of Christ is supreme, far surpassing that of any saint, and if we have his Spirit then we will feast on the hidden manna (Rev. 2:17). But sadly many who hear the Gospel of Christ over and over don’t feed on it because they don’t have his Spirit (Rom. 8:9). But if we are to fully delight in the words of Christ then we must also conform our lives wholly to his life.
What good is to give learned theological explanations of the Trinity if you lack humility and thus displease the Trinity? Profound words don’t make a person holy, only a virtuous life can show how precious we are to God. I would rather feel sad over my sins than to know the definition of sin. What good would it do to know the whole Bible by heart, and all the wise sayings of the philosophers, if you didn’t have love, which alone can bring profit (1 Cor. 13:2)?
“Vanity! Vanity! All is vanity” (Eccl. 1:2), except to love and serve God only. This is the highest wisdom to have contempt for worldliness and to press on into the heavenly kingdom.
Specifically, it is vanity to seek after and put your trust in wealth that doesn’t last. It is vanity to strive for honors and climb to higher accomplishments that make momentary impressions on people rather than to receive God’s permanent mark on your soul. It is vanity to seek worldly pleasures that eventually cause pain. It is vanity to be careful to live long and yet careless to live well. It is vanity to look only to this visible life and not to keep your eye focused on the invisible realm of life that goes on into eternity. It is vanity to set your affections on this fleeting world when you could live in everlasting joy.
Recall the Proverb, “Our eye is never satisfied by what it sees; nor the ears by what they hear” (Eccles. 1:8). Therefore, be earnest to pull your heart away from loving visible things and set it onto invisible things. For if you follow your own sensuality and not the way of spiritual knowledge then you’ll defile yourself and lose the grace of God.
O that I’d do more to pull my heart away from visible things in this world and put it onto the invisible things of heaven! Jesus, you are my True North — you magnetically draw me into the wonders of God’s kingdom.