Forty days of imitating Christ
Thanks for joining me for 40 devotionals of short excerpts from my book The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ (Ephesians 5:1–2).
These are the words of Christ: “If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness” (John 8:12). They teach us how thoroughly we must imitate his life and character if we desire true understanding and freedom from our own deceptive hearts and minds. And so, may we earnestly study and meditate on the life of Jesus Christ.
Christ’s teachings surpass all of the great holy writers of the past. If we have his Spirit, we find spiritual nourishment.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)
The Christ: My friend, the more you let go of your own desires, the more you will become like me. When you have no desire for outward things, only then you will enjoy internal peace. When you stop living for yourself, you will grow into union with me. I want you to learn perfect self-denial and to live as I desire without disagreeing or complaining. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Without my way you cannot go. Without my truth you cannot know. And without my life you cannot grow.
“Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them” (John 14:21).
Come, my brothers and sisters, let us go forward together. Jesus will be with us. For Jesus’ sake, we have taken up this cross. For Jesus’ sake, let us persevere as we carry it. He is our leader and example. He will help us carry it. Look! Our king enters in before us, and he will fight for us. Let us follow bravely, fearing no terror. Let us be prepared to die bravely in battle. Let us not be dishonored by fleeing from the cross.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).
Lord, I lay before you all the sins and offences that I have committed from the day when I was first able to sin until this hour. Please consume and burn every sin with the fire of your love and mercy. And may you cleanse all the stains of my sins and purify my conscience from all guilt. Restore me to your favor, which by sinning I have lost. Fully forgive all my sins and mercifully grant to me your peace.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Jesus has many lovers of his heavenly kingdom but few bearers of his cross. He has many seekers of comfort but few willing to face troubles and trial. He finds many companions at his table but few with him in fasting. Many desire to rejoice with him, but few are willing to undergo adversity for his sake. Many follow Jesus that they may eat of his bread, but few are willing to drink of the cup of his passion.
Many are astonished at his miracles, but few follow after the shame of his cross. Many love Jesus so long as no troubles happen to them. Many praise him and bless him, so long as
they receive comforts from him.
Oh, how powerful is the pure love of Jesus—unmixed with any material benefits or love of self!
The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
This seems a hard saying to many: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). But do not fear, for the cross leads to heaven. In the cross is health, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from enemies, in the cross is heavenly delight, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of the spirit, in the cross is the height of good deeds, in the cross is holy living. There is no health of the soul nor hope of eternal life except in the cross.
For if we die to ourselves for him, we will also live with him. And if we participate in his sufferings,
we will also participate in his glory.
Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is (Ephesians 3:17-18).
O Lord God, holy lover of my soul, when you come into my heart my entire being rejoices. You are my glory and the joy of my heart. You are my hope and my refuge in the day of my trouble.
Love is a great thing: a virtue above all others. Love alone makes every heavy burden light and equalizes every inequality. For it bears heavy weights and creates no burden. It makes every bitter thing sweet and good tasting. The love of Jesus inspires us to do great works and motivates with a continual desire to be more like him.
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:6-8).
Trusting in your goodness and great mercy, O Lord, I draw near: the sick to the Healer, the hungering and thirsting to the Fountain of life, the poverty-stricken to the King of heaven, the servant to the Lord, the creature to the Creator, the desolate to my own gentle Comforter.
For you do this for your own sake, not for my goodness, but that your goodness may be more evident to me, your charity more abundantly poured out on me, and your humility more perfectly given to me.
“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me” (John 15:15).
Let all be loved for Jesus’ sake, but love him for his own. Jesus Christ alone is to be supremely loved, for he alone is found good and faithful above all friends. For his sake and in him, let both enemies and friends be dear to us, and pray for them all that they may know and love him. Never desire to be praised or loved because these belong to God alone. And we must not wish that people trust us, nor give ourselves up to the love of any, but let Jesus be in us and in every good person.
But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
The Christ: My friend, you must give all for all and be nothing of your own. Know that the love of yourself is more hurtful to you than anything in the world. According to the love and attitudes which you have, everything more or less clings to you. If you love, be pure, sincere, and well-behaved so you will not be in captivity to anything. Don’t covet what you may not have. Do not hold onto anything that holds you back or robs you of inward freedom.
You can change without me, but you cannot better yourself without me.
Then these righteous ones will reply, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing?
“When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:37-40).
People who have true and perfect charity, don’t seek their own good but desire that God alone is fully glorified. They envy no one, because they seek no selfish joy; nor do they desire to rejoice in themselves. They long to be blessed by God as the highest good. They credit good to no one or no thing except God alone. He is the Fountain from which all good flows, and the End, the Peace, the Joy of all saints.
O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).
The Christ: My friend, walk before me in truth. Seek me in the simplicity of your heart. People who walk before me in the truth will be safe from evil attacks, and the truth will deliver them from the schemes and insults of the wicked. If the truth makes you free, you will be free indeed, for you will not care for the vain words of others.
Let, therefore, nothing you do be thought of as great. Let nothing be grand, nothing of value or beauty, nothing worthy of honor, nothing lofty, nothing praiseworthy or desirable except that which is eternal.
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. . . . He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me” (John 16:13-14).
Blessed is the soul who hears the Lord speaking and receives the word of comfort from his mouth. Blessed are the ears that receive the echoes of the soft whisper of God and aren’t distracted by the murmurings of this world. Truly blessed are the ears that listen—not to the sounds surrounding them—but to the voice of Truth inside. Blessed are the eyes that are closed to outward things, but are focused on things within. Blessed are they who long to have time for God and free themselves from every time-waster in the world.
Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
Happy is the person who is taught by Truth itself, not by unreliable words. Our own judgment and feelings often deceive us, and we understand only a little of the truth.
The more people have unity and simplicity in themselves, the greater and deeper things they understand. It is not by human labor, but we receive the light of understanding from above. The spirit which is pure, sincere, and steadfast is not distracted though it has many things to do, because it does all things to the honor of God. It strives to be free from self-seeking thoughts. A humble knowledge of ourselves is a surer way to God than the deep searching for human wisdom.
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged” (Matthew 7:1-2).
We must beware of judging others, but first look to ourselves. People who judge are engaged in futile labor and often make errors. They easily fall into sin. But if we judge and examine ourselves, that always works for a good purpose. However, by judging based on our own personal likes and dislikes, it is difficult to make true and godly judgments. If God were always our only desire, we would be less troubled and make fewer poor judgments.
God wants us to be perfectly obedient to himself. Then all our reason will be revealed by abundant love toward him and others.
He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! (Deuteronomy 32:4)
The Christ: My friend, don’t argue about the hidden workings of God that are beyond your comprehension. Do not ask, why is this person seemingly neglected and this person shown such great favor? Why is this person greatly afflicted and this one so highly exalted? These things are beyond human power of understanding. Divine judgments are beyond earthly reasoning, arguments, or explanations. So, when the enemy of our soul—or curious people—ask such questions, answer with the words of the psalmist: “O Lord, you are righteous, and your regulations are fair” (Psalm 119:137).
I once thought . . . things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him (Philippians 3:7-9).
Many foolish and unstable people say, “See what a prosperous life that person has. How great, powerful, and exalted.” But lift up your eyes to the good things of heaven, and you will see that all these worldly things are nothing. They are utterly undependable and even wearisome, because they are never possessed without trouble and fear. Our happiness does not lie in the accumulation of temporary things, but in being content with a modest portion. The more we desire to be spiritual, the more wretched and bitter the present life seems, because the more clearly we see the defects of human corruption.
Together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later (Romans 8:17-18).
The Christ: Determine to bear suffering patiently. If you do this, you are wise and deserve praise. You will find that if you have this attitude and behavior, you will bear trouble easier. However, do not say, “I will patiently endure this person’s actions, but I cannot bear the things that person has done to me, for he has done terrible and unimaginable harm.” This is a foolish thought. It is not patient suffering if it is conditioned by the person or offenses against you. Impatient people will only bear those things that seem justified or committed by a pleasing person. Truly patient people are indifferent as to who has hurt them.
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (John 15:9-10).
The Christ: Because you are so in love with yourself, you shrink from yielding yourself to the will of others.
But what a great thing it is when you, who are dust and nothingness, yield yourself to other people for God’s sake. Remember, I the Almighty and Most High, who created all things out of nothing, subjected myself to humanity for your sake. I became the most humble and despised human being so that my humility could overcome your pride. Learn to obey, O dust! Learn to humble yourself, O earth and clay, and bow beneath the feet of all. Learn to crush your passions and to yield yourself to all authority.
It matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide (1 Corinthians 4:3-4).
The Christ: My friend, firmly anchor your soul upon God, and do not fear people’s judgments when your conscience pronounces you righteous and innocent. It is good and blessed to suffer judgment, as it will not be painful to a heart that is humble and trusts God more than itself. Many people have many opinions, so don’t put much trust in them. Besides, it is impossible to please all people.
Keep your eyes on me and do not worry about cruel words.
We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2-3).
It’s true that people willingly follow their own preferences and are more attracted to those who agree with them. But if Christ is among us, then it is necessary that we sometimes yield our own opinion for the sake of peace. No one is so wise as to have perfect knowledge of all things. So, let us not trust our own knowledge or opinions too much, but be willing to hear other people’s perspective. Though our own opinions may be good, for the love of God and for the greater good, let them go and defer to the opinions of another.
“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:25)
The Christ: My friend, you cannot possess perfect freedom unless you completely deny yourself. Many are enslaved by riches, love for themselves, selfishness, curiosity, discontentedness, and by the search for creature comforts. These selfish things, which people continually plan, devise, and seek after, are not my things and will pass away.
My friend, you should not turn aside or be discouraged because you have heard the way is hard. Instead, you should strive toward a higher aim or at least desire to follow my perfect path. To do this, you must not love your own self, but always be listening to my guidance as your example.
When you fully please me, you will go on in joy and peace.
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
The Christ: My friend, lose yourself and you will find me. Stand still with no thought of yourself, and you will receive great gain. For more grace will be given to you as you surrender yourself—as long as you do not turn back and put yourself first again.
Give yourself up, surrender yourself, and you will have great inward peace. Give all for all. Demand nothing, ask nothing in return, but simply give with no reservations. Then you will possess me. You will have freedom of heart, and the darkness will not overcome you.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being (Philippians 2:5-7).
Within each of us is a natural desire for knowledge, but what does knowledge benefit us without the fear of God? The security of a lowly peasant who serves God is better than a proud philosopher who watches the stars and neglects the knowledge of himself. Those who know themselves well realize they are wicked and disregard the praise of others. If we knew all things that are in the world, but did not love, how would that help us before God? He will judge us according to our deeds!
Rest from an indulgent desire for knowledge, for much distraction and deceit is found in it. Those who have knowledge desire to appear learned and to be called wise. There are many things we can know that have little or no benefit to our souls. And people who devote themselves to things that don’t serve their soul’s health are extremely foolish. Many words do not satisfy the soul, but a good life refreshes the mind, and a pure conscience gives great confidence toward God.
For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).
The Christ: I freely offered my will unto God the Father on the cross for your sins, with outstretched hands and naked body. Nothing remained in me that was not a sacrifice for divine judgment of sin. In the same way, every day you should offer yourself—with all your love and strength—to me as a pure and holy offering. I only require that you completely offer yourself to me. I do not desire anything from you—other than yourself. I don’t ask for your gifts, only you.
If you wish to attain liberty and grace, then freely offer yourself into the hands of God before you offer your works.
So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
Your grace is entirely necessary, O Lord, for a good beginning, good progress, and coming to perfection. Without your grace, I can do nothing, but “I can do everything through [you], who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).
We are powerless, for without your heavenly grace, no gift of nature has any value. Arts, riches, beauty, strength, wit, or eloquence cannot do anything without you, O Lord, and your grace.
For the gifts of nature are both good and evil alike. But your gifts of loving grace bear the mark of everlasting life. This grace is so mighty, that without it, the gifts of prophecy, the working of miracles, or any wisdom—no matter how lofty—have any value at all. Likewise, faith and hope, nor any other virtue is acceptable to God without love and grace (1 Corinthians 13:2).
“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).
The Christ: My friend, stand firm and trust in me. For what are words but only words? They fly through the air, but they do no harm. If you are guilty, think of ways that you can change. If you know there is nothing against you, then bear this gladly for God’s sake. If you can’t bear to hear gentle correction now, when will you be able to bear harsh criticism? And why do such trivial words pierce your heart? Because you are still earthly minded and regard people’s words more than you should. If you fear criticism, it because you are unwilling to be corrected for your faults and would rather make excuses.
But people who trust in me and do not live by their own judgments will be free from the fear of people’s judgments.
Be patient with everyone (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
The Christ: If troubles have struck you, don’t let it discourage or trip you up you for very long. At the least bear it patiently if you cannot bear it joyfully. And although you may feel resentment toward the trial, check yourself and don’t allow any reactionary words to come from your mouth that may offend younger believers. Soon the storm which has risen against you will be stilled and inward grief will be comforted by returning grace. I, the Lord, say I live to help you and will give you your desired comfort if you put your trust in me and call sincerely to me.
Remain calm in your spirit, and prepare yourself for greater endurance. Nothing is out of control—even though you find yourself attacked and seriously tempted. You are a human being and not God; you are flesh and not an angel. So, how could you always remain in a state of righteousness when angels in heaven and the first couple fell? I am the One who lifts up mourners and those who know their own weaknesses to deliverance. I raise you up to my own nature.
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The Christ: Strive, my friend, to do another’s will rather than your own. Always choose to have less than more. Always seek after the least honorable place and be under all authority. Always wish and pray that you will fulfill God’s will for you. If you do this, you will receive an inheritance of peace and tranquility.
The Disciple: O my Lord, your short lesson is perfect. It is short in words, but long in meaning and abundant in application. If it were possible for me to fully live it out, I would not be so easily disturbed with evil thoughts and desires. When I find myself anxious and depressed, I find that I’ve gone against this teaching. But you, who are the Almighty who loves to see me make progress in my soul, grant more grace that I maybe able to fulfill your command and work out my salvation.
The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
If we are at peace with ourselves, then we will be able to be peacemakers with others. A peaceable person does more good than a well-educated person. People ruled by their emotions turn even good into evil and easily believe evil. Good, peaceable people turn all things into good. They are not suspicious of anyone, but people who are discontented and restless are tossed about with much paranoia. They are neither quiet, nor do they tolerate others who are quiet. They often say things they shouldn’t say and don’t know the right things. They are quick to point out rules that should be followed, but they themselves neglect those rules. So we must first work eagerly on our own spiritual lives. Only then can we help our neighbors in their spiritual lives.
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).
Two wings lift people above earthly things: simplicity and purity. Simplicity should be our motivation; purity our goal. Simplicity reaches toward God; purity brings us into relationship. No good action will be distasteful to you if you are free from wrong desires. You will find inward freedom if you seek and reach after nothing but the will of God and the good of your neighbor. If your heart is right, then every creature is a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine. There is no creature too small or evil that it doesn’t reveal to us the goodness of God.
Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-8).
Our Christian life should be demonstrated with all virtues, so that our inward and outward behavior should be the same. Our inner attitudes should be even better than our outward actions, because God looks at our hearts. We must reverence him with all our hearts wherever we are and walk purely in his presence as do the angels. We should daily renew our commitment to God and rekindle the zeal of our hearts as if each day were the first day our conversion.
In the morning, we can make our resolution to imitate Christ and at evening examine how we have done in word, deed, and thought. Have we offended God or our neighbor in any of these areas? We must prepare our minds and bodies to repel the assaults of the devil. Let us control our appetites, and we will soon be able to control every human desire. Always have something good to do: read, write, pray, meditate, or
do something helpful for the community.
Blessed be your name forever, O Lord, who has allowed this temptation and trouble. We cannot escape it, but we need to flee to you that you may encourage us and turn it for our good (Romans 8:28).
Lord, your will be done. We truly deserve to be troubled and weighed down. So, we should bear this with patience until the storm is past and comfort returns. Your power is able to take this temptation away from us and to lessen its power, so we are not crushed under it even as you have rescued us many times in the past. O God, merciful God, my merciful God, as difficult as being delivered from the temptation is, it is easy for your mighty hand.
The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble” (Psalm 91:14).
The Christ: My friend, you are never secure in this life, so you will need your spiritual armor for as long as you live. You live among the enemy and are attacked on the right and left. Use your shield of faith on all sides, and you will remain unharmed.
If you seek rest in this life, how will you attain eternal rest? Don’t strive for more rest, but more patience. Seek the true peace which is found only in God in heaven—not on earth or in created things. For the love of God, you must willingly bear all things: labors or sorrows, temptations, frustrations, anxieties, necessities, illnesses, injuries, conflicts, rebukes, humiliation, confusion, corrections, and disrespect. These things build righteous character, prove you are my disciple, and fashion your heavenly crown. I will give you an everlasting reward for temporary labor, infinite glory for short-lived shame.
Wait for my reward and be strong. Do not be faint of heart nor stray from my path. Constantly glorify me with your body and soul. I will richly reward you as we together go through your troubles. You are my child and my heir.
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure (1 Corinthians 10:13).
So long as we live in the world we will always face troubles and trials. No people are completely free from temptations so long as they live, because we have the root of temptation within us since we were born in sin. One temptation or sorrow passes away and another takes its place. We all have to suffer because we haven fallen from perfect happiness. Many people who try to flee from temptations fall more deeply into them. We cannot overcome simply by fleeing, but by endurance and true humility we are made stronger than all our enemies.
To only resist temptation outwardly and not pull it up by the root, doesn’t benefit much, but temptations will re¬turn quickly and will become worse.
However, temptations can turn into great benefits. Through them we are humbled, purified, and instructed. All saints have endured many troubles and trials and temptation, yet have grown through them. Those who have not endured temptation become good for nothing and fall away. There is no state so sacred, no place so secure that it is without temptations and troubles.
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life (Proverbs 4:23).
If you want to make spiritual progress, always respect God with holy reverence. And don’t desire to be free, but restrain all your senses with discipline, and do not spend your time in senseless humor. If our hearts are sensitive to the Spirit, we will live a life devoted to God. This sensitivity opens the door to many good things, but a calloused heart will lead to great loss. It is wonderful that we can rejoice heartily in this life considering that we are pilgrims facing many dangers to our souls.
Through the lightness of our hearts and the denial of our shortcomings, without feeling sorrow in our souls, we vainly laugh when we have good reason to weep. There is no true liberty and real joy unless we reverence God with a good conscience. We are happy when we can cast away every source of distraction and serve the one purpose of holy sorrow over sin. We are happy when we remove anything that may strain or burden our conscience.
So, humbly pray to the Lord that he will give you the spirit of repentance, and say with the psalmist, “Don’t raise your fists in defiance at the heavens or speak with such arrogance” (Psalm 75:5).
People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God (James 3:7-9).
Avoid, as much as you can, people’s drama. Talk of worldly things, though innocent enough, is a hindrance as it quickly becomes a habit and leads to meaningless chatter. Many times I wish I had held my peace and avoided going out among people. Why do we continually talk and gossip, since we seldom resume our silence without harm to our con¬science? We like talking so much because we hope, by our conversation, to gain some comfort or refresh our wearied spirit with our words. We are very willing to talk and think about things which we love and those things we hate.
But often our conversation is fruitless with no good no purpose. The outward comfort on conversation is a huge hindrance to the inner comfort which comes only from God. So, we must watch and pray that we do not idle away our time. If it is right and desirable to speak, speak only things which build up yourself and others. Evil habits and ignoring what is of real value causes us not to watch our words. Nevertheless, holy conversation on spiritual things help us in our spiritual progress. Those with kindred minds and spirits find their common ground in fellowship with God.
Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace (Romans 8:5-6).
The Christ: My friend, pay strict attention to the workings of human nature and grace. They subtly move in opposite directions and are hard to distinguish unless you are spiritual and inwardly perceptive. All people try to look good and appear to be good in all they say and do, but their “goodness” can be deceiving.
Human nature is deceitful and distracts, it entraps and deceives many people, and it always has selfish motives. But grace walks in simplicity and turns away from every appearance of evil. It does not put on a false facade, but does everything entirely for the sake of God. Grace is submissive and bears its responsibilities willingly. Grace dies to selfish desires and resists sensuality. Grace-filled people seek to be disciplined, seek to be submissive, long to be under authority, and don’t want to take advantage of their freedom. Grace loves to be held accountable and not to dominate anyone, but always to live under the authority of God, and—for the sake of God—submits to the human law. Nature strives for its own advantage and looks at people, considering what it can gain from them. Grace considers not what is useful or convenient to itself, but what will benefit many people. Nature eagerly accepts honor and reverence. Grace directs all honor and glory to God.
Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God! (Psalm 43:3-4).
Above all things and in all things, I always rest in you, O Lord, for you are the eternal rest for your saints. Grant me, most sweet and loving Jesus, to rest in you above every person, above all health and beauty, above all glory and honor, above all authority and dignity, above all knowledge and skillfulness, above all riches and arts, above all joy and exaltation, above all fame and praise, above all delights and comfort, above all hope and promise, above all merit and desire, above all gifts and rewards which you give and pour out, and above all joy and jubilation which my mind is able to receive and feel. You reign above angels and arch¬angels, above the army of heaven, above all things visible and invisible, and above everything which you, O my God, are not.
For you, O Lord, my God, are the best above all things; you alone are the most high; you alone are the Almighty and all-comforting; you alone are completely lovely and loving; you alone are the most exalted and most glorious above all things, in whom all things are and were and for¬ever will be, altogether and all-perfect. Everything you give me falls short and is insufficient without you. Whatever you reveal or promise me that is not revealed yet or fully pos¬sessed, is not sufficient.
Truly my heart cannot truly rest and be content unless it rests in you. You satisfy beyond all gifts and anything people can offer.
“Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them” (John 14:21).
The Christ: My friends, if you want to be truly happy, I must be your supreme and final desire. If I am your purpose, then your love will be purified. Often people are sinfully focused on themselves and created things. If you seek your own desires in any matter, certainly you will become self-centered and become spiritually barren. So, think of me first of all, for I gave you all. Look upon each blessing as flowing from me as their source.
From me, the humble and great, the poor and rich draw water from me as a living fountain. Those who serve me with a free and faithful spirit will receive grace on top of grace. But people who take credit for any good or boast about the good in themselves will not receive true joy and love in their heart. They will be greatly hindered and be thrown into troubles. So, you must not take credit for any good and claim any virtue by your own effort, but credit it all to God, without whom you have nothing. I gave all. I will receive all again. I want you to give all thanks to me.
Thanks for taking this 40-day journey with me. These readings are excerpts from The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language.
Copyright © 2016 James N. Watkins
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