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The Wisdom Of Monks

I’ve been reading some classic Christian literature. It’s absolutely amazing. The faith these folks practiced is profound. It’s not the hypocritical stuff we’re so used to seeing, and making fun of (e.g. Shit Christians Say). Rather, it has some really great teaching if we can get past our biases.

The following comes from Thomas A Kempis – a Medieval monk. It’s from his work entitled, The Imitation Of Christ. Keep in mind he was a monk so his language is, well, monkish. Nevertheless, let’s take a look and then reinterpret it to see if it helps at all.

Thomas writes:

Do not be concerned overmuch who is with you or against you, but work and plan that God may be with you in all that you do. Keep a clean conscience, and God will mightily defend you; for whoever enjoys the protection of God cannot be harmed by the malice of man. If you learn to suffer in silence, you may be sure of receiving God’s help. He knows the time and the way to deliver you; so trust yourself entirely to His care. God is strong to help, and to free you from all confusion. It is often good for us that others know and expose our faults, for so may we be kept humble.

I think he’s saying this:

Don’t worry about what others think of you – good or bad. Work with God in all that you do, and pray. Always keep God close. Keep your thoughts pure – get rid of the garbage inside you (greed, lust, envy, anger, sloth, pride, expectations). God will protect you from the wrath of man. In other words, you won’t care what they think of you because God has your back, no matter what. Quietly endure what is (don’t condemn or judge) and you will experience God’s help. He will guide your steps and actions. Trust God entirely. He’s powerful beyond words, and will free you from your confusion. Be happy when others point out your faults, as it’s a great reminder to humbly accept we are far from perfect, and that we can trust in God’s grace.

Even in modern language these words are challenging. They call for a level of humility and faith that few ever experience or practice. As a final reminder (perhaps just in case we forget), he closes with this Jesus-esque line: Do not consider yourself to have made any spiritual progress, unless you account yourself the least of all men.

Being the least is a bit of a learning curve for those of us steeped in a modern culture of desire-fulfillment, independence, instant gratification, and righteous indignation. Many refuse to step out, or even realize it’s an option. In our culture, the words above sound ridiculous. They’re not. They are different though. It’s a mind-set on God.

Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson

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  1. It is so hard to let go of the feeling that we need to stick up for ourselves – for our rights. We live in a culture that, when we feel our personal rights are being attacked by another, worships and glorifies a good comeback or ‘dis’ that puts other people back “in their place” – which is somewhere below us (where they belong in that mindset). The truth is, there is nothing that people can do or say that will ever truly contaminate a life rooted in God’s Kingdom. We can be certain of God’s love for us no matter what unloving attck we receive from the world around us in its many forms. And – whatever disparaging comments come with the attacks don’t fully stick. A humble life that earnestly and authentically seeks to follow God and compassionately love the world around them stands by itself as a beautifully lived life that makes others take notice. No human I know of would ever dare to call Mother Theresa a jerk – neither now nor when she was living her quiet but powerful life of loving the unloved of the world. Nor have I ever heard of any protestant theologian who attacked her personally about her theology because of any disagreements they may have had with her faith or the Catholic church. Why? Because her life was so steeped in ‘God’s Kingdom Living’ it spoke for itself. God’s work in and through her life was, and is to this day, a powerful testimony of how God uses ordinary humans to reach back into this broken world with His deep love and compassion and show the beauty of a life spent for Him and the good of others! She is one of the most power-filled ‘least of these’ people I know who has ever walked on this earth – and the earth is better for it. No, my friends, what people say and do to us while on this earth are temporary at best. Hurtful? Yes. Discouraging? You bet. Truthful? Sometimes. Able to keep us from the love of God and the life he longs for us to discover in Him? No way. God – help each day for me to let go of everything else each day except my desire to take my very next step towards you. What others may say and do to me along the way is not where I want to fight my battles. If I may fight a balttle, may it be to take this broken jar of clay that is my life and hold as much of your treasure in it as possible. Not for myelf, but that the world around me would see your love and the true beauty of the life you created to share with them.

    • Ted Olson says:

      Great comments Matt – love this: Nor have I ever heard of any protestant theologian who attacked her [Mother Theresa] personally about her theology because of any disagreements they may have had with her faith or the Catholic church. Why? Because her life was so steeped in ‘God’s Kingdom Living’ it spoke for itself.

  2. Susan L. says:

    Ours is NOT a God of confusion…the day I learned that essential gem was a great day indeed. Having spent too much of my life proud and confused, I was encouraged by the discovery that God did not mean for our lives to be so complicated, and so I made up my mind to simplify things and attempt to live my life the way Thomas Kempis so eloquently describes. It is not an easy road (especially after years of other-indoctrination and my own natural pigheadedness), but it IS a simple one. I have already seen the results of this new way of living, and, interestingly but not surprisingly, they are commensurate with my own humble efforts towards quietly practicing and experiencing God’s Will with a single eye. Humility (which often is practiced by “suffering in silence”) is, in fact, the key.

    Thank you for your insightful and thought-provoking post.

    • Ted Olson says:

      Susan – thank you for your comments. I like that your own “humble efforts” and “single eye” (versus doctrinal theology) have allowed you to experience God. This is indeed the way. Not that we can’t learn from others (or even doctrines), but our God is indeed a personal God that is intimately involved in each of our lives (individually and through community).

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