–a Lenten reflection from Interim Rector Rev Thomas Kortus–
I am reading two books this Lent that are speaking right to my soul with regards to humility, prayer, dealing with temptation, and receiving and living in God’s grace. One of them is Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander. He shares profound and amazingly practical wisdom from the Church Fathers when it comes to our lives in Christ.
Yesterday I read a chapter that had so many echoes of my sermon last week on the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness that I had to share it with you. If you missed the sermon last week click here to listen to it. This extended passage from the book deals with humility and radical dependence upon God our Father in the face of temptation.
Reading this passage helped me understand my need for God in order to resist temptation and what it looks like to repent and get up after I fall. I pray you benefit from reading this extended passage.
In this Lenten season, may Christ give you grace to grow in holiness, deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow him!
Your servant and partner in the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
Do not direct your gaze towards the enemy. Never get into the controversy with him whom you cannot possibly resist. With his millennia of experience he knows the very trick that can render you helpless at once. No, stand in the middle of your heart’s field and keep your gaze upward; then the heart is protected from all sides at once: the Lord himself sends his angels to guard it both from the right and left and from the rear at the same time.
This, being interpreted, means that if you are beset by a temptation, you should not consider it a matter for examination or reflection or weighing for or against: by so doing you sully your heart and waste time, and already it is a victory for the enemy. Instead, without the slightest delay, turn to the Lord and say: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And the sooner you draw your thoughts away from the temptation, the sooner help comes.
Never be sure of yourself. Never make a good resolution, and never think: Oh yes, I’ll make out all right. Never believe in your own power and strength to resist temptation of any kind, great or small. Think, on the contrary: I am sure to fall as soon as it comes upon me. Self-confident is a dangerous confederate.The less strength you credit yourself with the more surely you stand. Acknowledge that you are weak, completely unable to resist the slightest beckoning of the devil. Then to your astonishment you will find that he has no power over you. For if you have made the Lord your refuge you will soon be able to ensure that no evil shall befall you (Psalm 21). The only evil that can befall a Christian is sin.
If you are remorseful because later on you fell anyway, and if you are full of self-reproach and resolutions “never to do so again,” it is a sure sign that you were on the wrong road: it is your self reliance that has been wounded.
He who does not rely on himself is thankfully amazed that he did not fall lower; he praises God for sending him help in time, for otherwise he would still have been lying prostrate. Swiftly he rises and begins his prayer with a threefold praised be God.
A spoiled child lies smarting for a long time when it has fallen. It seeks sympathy and comforting caresses. Do not fuss over yourself, no matter how it hurts. Get up again and resume the battle. He who fights gets wounded. Only Angels never fall.
But pray God to forgive you and not again to allow you to be unwary.
Do not follow Adam’s example and place the blame on the woman or the devil or on any other external circumstance. The reason for your fall lay within yourself: in the moment when the master of the house was away from your heart, you let thieves and robbers come in and make havoc there at will. Pray God that this be not repeated.
A Monk was once asked: what do you do there in the monastery? He replied: we fall and we get up, fall and get up, fall and get up again.
For not many minutes of your life go by without your having fallen at least once. Thus pray God have mercy on us all. Pray for forgiveness and grace, and for mercy as a criminal sentenced to death praise, and remember that it is only by grace that you are saved. You can make no claim whatever to freedom and grace. Think of yourself as in the position of a runaway slave as he lies before his Lord, praying to be spared. Such shall your prayer be, if you will follow send Isaac the Syrian and “cast off your burden of sin within yourself,” in order to find their “the upward path that makes ascent possible.”
Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander