Several days ago I was struck with the strange juxtaposition of thoughts that came flying at me from a couple of different directions. I was sitting in a Starbucks to do some devotional reading on my day off. I had brought with me a book on spiritual formation by arguably one of the most popular authors in that genre today. It is basically a book about cultivating the presence of God – kind of a modern version of Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God. It was about how God is always nearer to us than we realize, about how we have a God-radar that can detect God’s presence in a situation, about the different pathways to God: intellectual, aesthetic, contemplative, service, etc.
There were of course lots of helpful things in this book and the author probably would be orthodox in his confessional theology. But the glaring absence in the book was . . . Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.
After thumbing through this book for several minutes, I was struck with the difference in Hebrews (where I’m doing some of my devotional reading in Scripture). That day I was reading and journaling on Hebrews 4:14-16 which says this:
Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus is our great high priest – the imagery literally dominates Hebrews. And the language of atonement and sacrifice and cross and resurrection just course through the New Testament.
The next day I was driving to a Deacon’s meeting and listening to a CD ("For All the Saints" by Indelible Grace) and was struck by this song from Horatius Bonar:
Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.
Your voice alone, O Lord, can speak to me of grace;
Your power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase.
No other work but Yours, no other blood will do;
No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.
I praise the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
And with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.
My Lord has saved my life and freely pardon gives;
I love because He first loved me, I live because He lives.
I find this so much more helpful than simply focusing on what may be my tempermental pathway to God. Jesus is really the only pathway to the Father (John 14:6). My awareness of God's presence is only genuine when it is built on the solid hope of Jesus' sin-covering, death-defeating death on my behalf. Perhaps the author of this book assumes all of this. He probably does. But the New Testament does not assume it. Scripture is explicit. It is to our great spiritual impoverishment to not keep it central.