by Lisa Colón Delay
“Prayer of the heart” falls outside of the hurried and hectic ways and mechanisms of the contemporary American lifestyle. It’s foreign culturally. Since it is so uncommon for us, we should pay attention to what we might be missing. We should explore the benefits, and grow by learning lessons from this particular spiritual attitude.
If we think of the heart as the “feeling mind,” rather than, let’s say, gooey sentiment or an emotional mood, we realize the “heart” has everything to do with how we grow and mature spiritually speaking. It’s common Bible knowledge that “God looks at the ‘heart’.” But, we also know this word speaks neither of the blood pumping flesh in our chest cavity, or just some romantic, interior place were Cupid’s arrow has pierced us, and made our eyelashes flutter rapidly. Coupled with our reasoning, the “feeling mind” is the impetus for many, if not most, of the choices we make, whether foolish or faithful. Dallas Willard calls the heart the “control center” or C.E.O. of the mind. It is the place where we make up our minds, if you will.
As this curious part of our being is trained, we come into grater contentment, a righted knowledge of self and our Redeemer, and better worship and adoration of God. A cooperation of our obedience and the Holy Spirit do this work. It’s a process of relieving ourselves of our misguided concepts of control, and willingly letting God’s Spirit change us. I think of what Jesus said… if we save our lives, we lose them; and if we lose ourselves for his sake, we will truly find ourselves completed in God’s righteousness. This holds fast as we take care to desire God. The “loss of self,” of course, is not some reduction of individuality, or a diminution of the psyche, but rather a fulfillment of our potential as humans creations of God’s, fashioned in his image.
For many, a study of the devotional writings of Christians present and past, has served as a powerful guide to this “change of heart”. There are 2,000 years worth of devotional classics to choose from, starting with the Bible, and the early writings of the Christian devout, and coming into present day with the likes of Andrew Murray, Humility & Aboslute Surrender;Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together; C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, many works by A.W. Tozer, and others. These people serve as needed mentors and guides.
One classic stands toward the top of the heap as a favorite among Catholics and Protestants both, over the last 500 plus years. It is among the most translated books ever written, along with John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. (Obviously, none of these works come close to the Bible in abundance of copies or proliferation of translations.) I speak of Thomas á Kempis’ work, written between 1420 and 1427, called The Imitation of Christ.
Decades before Martin Luther and other Reformers attempted to incite reform within the Church, the Holy Spirit’s whisperings were at work, drawing his own to greater devotion and holy living. One such group was the community known as Brethren of the Common Life (or sometimes called The Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life, because it included plenty of women as well). This was a decidedly grassroots movement of (non clergy) laity, and the Church in Rome didn’t know what to do with them. They lived side-by-side, sharing their money and possessions, like the early church in Jerusalem. In devotion to Christ they maintained lives of prayer, work, and community in the bond of the Holy Spirit. They provided for their needs as copyists, reproducing Christian manuscripts by hand, and were led spiritually by the revival and renewal teachings of Dutchman Gerard Groot, more than the Pope. Groot’s primary teachings come forth most powerfully in The Imitation of Christ.
Please enjoy this excerpt:
Had you but once entered into perfect communion with Jesus or tasted a little of His ardent love, you would care nothing at all for your own comfort or discomfort but would rejoice in the reproach you suffer; for love of Him makes a man despise himself.
A man who is a lover of Jesus and of truth, a truly interior man who is free from uncontrolled affections, can turn to God at will and rise above himself to enjoy spiritual peace.
He who tastes life as it really is, not as men say or think it is, is indeed wise with the wisdom of God rather than of men.
He who learns to live the interior life and to take little account of outward things, does not seek special places or times to perform devout exercises. A spiritual man quickly recollects himself because he has never wasted his attention upon externals. No outside work, no business that cannot wait stands in his way. He adjusts himself to things as they happen. He whose disposition is well ordered cares nothing about the strange, perverse behavior of others, for a man is upset and distracted only in proportion as he engrosses himself in externals.
If all were well with you, therefore, and if you were purified from all sin, everything would tend to your good and be to your profit. But because you are as yet neither entirely dead to self nor free from all earthly affection, there is much that often displeases and disturbs you. Nothing so mars and defiles the heart of man as impure attachment to created things. But if you refuse external consolation, you will be able to contemplate heavenly things and often to experience interior joy.
The Imitation of Christ focuses much on renouncing the world–a major concern of their day; as was a very academic perspective toward the things of God. These common religious dispositions lacked a heart’s devotion to God in thought and deed, and The Imitation of Christ attended to that deficit.
Perhaps, to our contemporary sensibilities, The Imitation of Christ goes too far in casting away the world. Our place and time in human history does not correlate directly with their era. Yet, if we set aside, for a moment, our personal tastes, or our exact situations in 21st century America (or elsewhere), and read this work with friendliness toward the community of believers in the time it was written, we will find much treasure there. I encourage you to do just that!
The Imitation of Christ a short work that is available in its entirely, online, in various places. Here is one location: http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/imitation/imitation.html I hope you will contact me with your thoughts about this devotional classic. Peace and God blessing, Lisa.