It is essential, then, to imitate people who are in danger at sea and throw things overboard because of the violence of the winds and the threatening waves. But here we must be very careful in case we cast things overboard just to be seen doing so by men. For then we shall get the reward we want; bu we shall suffer another shipwreck, worse than the first, blown off our course by the contrary wind of self-esteem.
That is why our Lord, instructing the intellect, our helmsman, says in the Gospels: “Take heed that you do not give alms in front of others, to be seen by them; for unless you take heed, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Again, he says: “When you pray, you must not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in synagogues and at street-corners, so as to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they get the reward they want… Moreover when you fast, do not put on a gloomy face, like the hypocrites; for they disfigure their faces, so that they may be seen by men to be fasting. Truly I say to you, they get the reward they want” (Mt. 6:1-18).
Observe how the Physician of souls here corrects our inflammatory power through acts of compassion, purifies the intellect through prayer, and through fasting withers desire. by means of these virtues the new Adam is formed, made again according to the image of his Creator–an Adam in whom, thanks to dispassion, there is ‘neither male nor female’ and, thanks to singleness of faith, there is ‘neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all, and in all” (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:10-11).
Throw things overboard when in a storm.
Not long ago I finished reading through the Aubrey/Maturin series of books by Patrick O’Brian. The seas can be a very dangerous place, not only because of storm, but also because of other ships. When caught in a storm, or chased by a heavier gunned frigate, the tactic was to let go of anything that wasn’t entirely necessary, to save the ship from sinking or being sunk.
This makes a lot of sense. However, it’s so interesting what we will hold onto, going down with the ship rather than casting away. Sometimes these reflect our fears and doubts and sinful ways. Other times, as I’ve learned over the years, these might reflect something we enjoy, or find interesting, or good.
Friendships can pull us away from God at times. Work. Pursuit of money. Pursuit of ministry. I ahve seen so many earnest pastors focus all their time on organization and strategy, and little time in prayer or study or their relationship with God. To save ourselves, we cast such things away during storms.
Another big one that I’m seeing so strong now is politics. Political action is our right and maybe even an obligation as citizens. But over the last thirty years or so I would guess there’s no other emphasis that has distracted the people of God from their mission as much as politics. Pornography and drunkenness have nothing on the allure of politics to drive people from stillness, and hope, and love. For a long time this was reflected on the Right, with Falwell and Robertson distorting the focus of our Faith. Now it’s the exact same on the Left, with so many people letting go the call to peace and love and hope for the sake of political grandstanding and scoring points.
This has been a big reason, maybe the biggest, why my blog here is quite different than it was in 2004. I’ve had to let go politics. Because the storms came. and politics was drowning me, because it’s not my calling to worship a candidate and demonize the other. It’s my calling to worship God, and fight the evils that are present and active, and seeking souls.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
This is a reminder for me this morning. Just because I cast something away for a little while, doesn’t mean it stays away, or that I don’t try to get it back. Then once again I wonder why the storms feel particularly strong and I feel cannon shots pummel my stern.