Quick, Slow, Slow – The Discipleship Rhythm

dance_steps

 

I remember vaguely being told that the waltz rhythm could be described as ‘Quick, Quick, Slow’. How this was meant to help me dance I don’t know; it didn’t. But I digress.

Today I came across a verse that described the rhythm of discipleship as ‘Quick, Slow, Slow’.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:

everyone should be quick to listen,

slow to speak

and slow to become angry[1]

Why does James, perhaps the practical of the New Testament writers, describe the rhythm of discipleship in this way?

Being quick to listen and slow to speak is about relating to others. It is about valuing the other person and believing that they have something interesting and valuable to share.

The great danger in the life of a disciple of Jesus is that as we learn more through our study and experience, we know quite rightly that we have more and more ‘good stuff’ in our heads that we can share with others which might actually be a blessing and a help to them.

Indeed, it would not be kind nor Christian to refuse to share the good things we have received from God.

But our sharing is only valuable and useful to the degree that it speaks into the situation and needs of our friends and that is something that can only be determined through listening.

So there is a paradox here; the more you have to share, the more listening and not speaking becomes important.

We need to explore by active listening where our friend is, what they are going through, where God may be working in their lives, and it is only when we have developed an understanding of them and their situation, that we can start to think about what might be helpful and appropriate for us to share with them.

So if we can understand why we need to be quick to listen and slow to speak, what about being slow to become angry?

We know that anger is a valid emotion sometimes, we are right to get angry at some things. Jesus Himself got angry on occasion. Perhaps the most famous example of that was when he visited the temple at Jerusalem and found that the Court of the Gentiles – the only space in the temple to which women and non-Jews had access – far from being a quiet and holy place for prayer, had become a noisy marketplace where unscrupulous traders short-changed pilgrims. Jesus was so angry about this that he overturned the stalls and chased the traders out with a whip.

So if anger can be valid and appropriate why does James say we should be slow to become angry?

Perhaps it is because anger can have very many causes, and for many of us most of the time our feelings of anger will have little to do with righteousness.

James indicates his rationale about anger in the next verse when he goes on to say;

because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires[2].

James reminds us that anger often leads to conduct that we later regret. We shout, we swear, we insult, we demean, we wound with our words, or even our fists. None of which is helpful in building up a Christian community.

Perhaps it is here the greatest danger in anger – it often destroys relationships. Once we get angry with someone – for whatever reason – it can create a barrier in our relationship with them and it can be a long and very slow path back to mutual forgiveness and restoration.

For this reason anger is a dangerous emotion within a Christian community and we should reflect very carefully on the reason for our anger, and whether it is justified and righteous, or merely the expression of our human frailty and imperfection. Slowness in getting angry will save us a lot of heartache and prevent a lot of harm.

So I think we should all learn to dance the discipleship dance – Quick, Slow, Slow.

God help us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] James 1 :19, NIVUK

[2] James 1 :20 NIVUK

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Dancing with the Trinity

dancing together

Trying to think about the Trinity is impossible. It is one of the deepest mysteries of the Christian faith – something C.S. lewis termed “The deep magic”.

Howver, in seeking to approach this mystery there is a theological word from the Orthodox branch of Christendom that I have found helpful.

That word is ‘perichoresis’ and it comes from two Greek words, peri, which means “around,” (eg. perimeter) and chorein, which means “to give way” or “to make room” (eg. choreography). So perichoresis  could be translated something like “rotation” or “moving around togther”

In theological terms Orthodox theologians use this word to refer to the mutual intersecting or interpenetration of the three Persons of the Godhead. It is a term that expresses intimacy and reciprocity among Father, Son and Spirit[1].

Perichoresis helps us to remember that at the heart of the Trinity is the Father, Son and Spirit expressing their love for each other in creative acts that together reveal the glory of God.

Perhaps a useful image is to think of God the Father instigating an expression of His love, God the Son sees this and responds to it, adding something of His own to it, God the Spirit then sees what the Father and Son are doing and He also responds in the same direction and also expresses something of His unique nature and love.

Perichoresis describes a relationship that is something like that of a group of people dancing an improvised dance together. One partner creates a new movement, the others see this, reflect it back responding to it and also adding a further element of their own.

I suppose instead of calling the Trinity ‘the Dancing God’ we could equally use the term ‘the Jazz God’, because in jazz improvisation there is also the same idea of players responding to each other melody inventions, reflecting them back and adding their own riff in a joyous, creative exchange.

This perichoretic principle is brilliantly displayed in Scripture as each Person of the Trinity is shown working together to reconcile mankind to the God. The Bible affirms that;

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ[2]

So it was God the Father who was reconciling the world to Himself in the activity of Christ, God the Son. Totally united, moving in one will and action.

In another biblical example of perichoretic action we read;

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us[3].

It is God the Father’s love that is being demonstrated in Christ’s death. Again this shows a total unity and harmony, God the Father and God the Son expressing the same divine love in action.

We see that the Holy Spirit is vitally and centrally involved in this process too, for it is through Him at work in us that our Christian experience begins;

However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, No ear has heard, No human mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him—“

but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit … What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us … The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.[4]

So what the Father has purposed, the Son has accomplished on Calvary, the Spirit makes real in our experience through a salvific encounter in which faith is birthed in our hearts.

Indeed, if any human being comes to saving faith in Christ it happens solely through the cooperation of each of the Persons of the Trinity – Father / Son /Spirit working together, through their ‘dancing’ together.

Their joyous, love fuelled creative dance is what saves us –

the only way that people are saved is by being danced into the Kingdom of God!

Right about now you might be saying to yourself, “Well this is all very interesting and high-falautin’, but what has that got to do with me?”

Well the answer to that question is the wonderful and glorious fact that as part of our life of Christian discipleship, God the Trinity invites us to dance with Him!

In the same way that Son and Spirit respond to the Father’s activity, God invites us to respond to what He is doing in the lives of those around us; to be involved with Him in brining others into the experience of His saving love – to dance with Him.

You might ask “How can we do that?” Well the ability to recognise God at work in people’s lives is;

The outworking of a relationship; not a technique to be learned.

However the following biblical texts give us some useful pointers:

All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away… ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: “They will all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.  (John 6:35-37, 44-45 NIV)

First Principle : Only those that God draws to Himself, come to Him.

Application – Prayer is therefore the most crucial evangelistic activity we can undertake.

As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:10-11 NIV)

Second Principle: The very act of someone seeking God is, in itself, the evidence of God at work in them.

Application – Any ‘openness’ towards God, any interest in spiritual things, are clear evidence of God at work.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer;  and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:7-11, NIV)

Third Principle : Only the Holy Spirit’s action in a human heart can convince a person of the reality of the Incarnation, Ascension and Resurrection (and Parousia) of Jesus.

Application – Any person that starts to think in a positive way about Jesus, to glimpse His divinity, to start to realise the significance and meaning of His life, death and resurrection, such a person shows irrefutable evidence of the Holy Spirit’s activity.

These signs are the out-working of the Holy Spirit at work, but they are the fruit of a process that starts small. It is in normal, everyday conversation that we can explore where people are spiritually by being sensitive to any expression that might indicate some spiritual movement/openness and gently offering responses that permit them to tell us more (should they wish to).

Perhaps a concrete example from my own life will help.

During my 14 years in France I was fr several years a volunteer fireman in my village (a Sapeur-Pompier). The only perk of this activity was a weekend away every two years, where we would go on a coach trip somewhere with or partners. They were typical tourist holidays, which in France meant visiting cathedrals and monasteries along with the other tourist sights. On one of these trips we happened to be visiting a church and I noticed that one of my sapeur-pompier colleagues, was staring intently at a crucifix on the wall. I went over and stood beside him. Without preamble or question on my part he just said to me,

“I’ve just realized that Jesus must have suffered terribly for us.”

Straight away my spiritual radar fired up and I thought to myself this has got to be God at work, for only God can help people understand that Jesus died for them and their salvation. I thought how can I respond to this activity of God revealing to Yann something of the depth of God’s love for him?

So when we got back on the bus I just went and sat beside him. A conversation naturally began and we just talked. Over the next few hours we had the most amazing spiritual conversation in which I was able to present to him the Christian faith and to respond to some of his questions and difficulties. I was also able to offer to pray for him.

Now, I cannot say that he became a Christian that day, or that he is even one now. But I know with an absolute certainty that at the moment I was dancing with the trinity – how cool is that!

[1] http://www.gotquestions.org/perichoresis.html#ixzz3bFvoQjvh

[2] 2 Cor 5:18f, NIV

[3] Romans 5:8, NIV

[4] 1 Corinthians 2 :9-14