March has come in like a lion. It remains to be seen if she will leave like a lamb.
Life is a continual battle between the lion and the lamb – not the lion and unicorn of 18th century political satire and children’s songs. In each of us there is a tussle, not between our good and bad consciences, but between our desire to dominate and and win. That is the meaning of the lion and the lamb. It is about our willingness to have humility. Our willingness to be carried.
The lion in us is the demon we must cast out. But, as Jesus says, this kind only comes out by prayer.
The great tragedy of the English Church is that it has stopped growing in prayer. Despite the initiatives and the sermons and exhortations, there is no growth in prayer. Because growth in prayer ALWAYS moves from words to silence, from action to stillness. ALWAYS. Only when this is seriously understood can our engagement with communities and society be anything more than what anyone else does – with ‘Jesus’ tacked on. What is taught is strength for action, asking for results, asking God to provide stuff. Our prayer is just internalised action. When action should be externalised prayer.
Many atheists do fantastic work in communities and society just because of their natural love of neighbour. Simply joining in with them is an obvious Christian response… but our engagement with others is not morally superior to anyone else’s.
In short, social engagement is not an act if witness. It is simply doing no more than our duty… it has no more value than anyone else’s act of love and compassion.
Working with a Foodbank or being Street Pastors or whatever is no more valuable because we are Christians than those activities done by an ‘out and out’ atheist. God’s love is mediated through both.
How could it be otherwise? Jesus tells us that it is not our love for the world, but our love for each other, that marks us as Christians. (John 13.35) And we fail before we start on that score!
So what really makes such love possible?
It is about letting the lion go… and letting the lamb emerge. The lion wants to be in charge, to dominate, be right, to win each confrontation. The lamb does not. The lion wants to roar and pounce. The lamb has a poor bleat and a flick of the tail, and the skip of joy.
It is interesting to note that the earliest depictions of Jesus were more likely to be.. no not crucified… but as the Good Shepherd…
A Christian or a Church that is unwilling to be carried has missed an important part, perhaps the most vital part, of being living the Christian life.
Yet the Church of England’s narrative we have heard over the past few years has been about working hard, getting better, witnessing more, growth and “turning things around”. The language of lions. It is the language of the ego that has not learned that we who have been crucified with Christ are no longer ego! (Galatians 2.20)
We are called not to have worldly power.. and our engagement with society is to be as servants… not as those using their service to score religious points (or “witnessing” as such activity is misnamed). Doing something loving “in Jesus’ name” is not better than simply doing something loving for any other reason. In fact, it seems to me, to be of very much less worth as an act of love, because it looks like a way of making a point.
So our lion must go. The lion, in scripture, is used both as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah,and as the devil, prowling round, ramping and roaring.(Revelation 5.5 1 Peter 5.8) Christians are never called lions! We can not take the place of Christ, and must not, I guess, be identified with the devil!
But we are, like the Christ, called lambs, identified with the lamb that was slain. Although Revelation 13.8 is ambiguous nonetheless it is clear that the description as “Lamb” applies to Christ from the foundation of the world… and we are named in the Lamb’s book.
Lambs are quiet in the land (Psalm 35.20) … bleating only out of fear or care for their young.
When we speak of prayer warriors, or wrestling in prayer,we touch on a scriptural nerve, it is true, but we fail to differentiate between stages of learning in prayer. And those are very early stages – youthful in point of fact. We are called to be adult in prayer.
Mature prayer is increasingly silent, and is about the emptying of the self so that our lion can be done away with and our lamb can
grow. Contemplative prayer is where we learn to stop trying to be right, learn to stop trying to win and be in charge. Contemplative prayer is where we allow Christ, the Good Shepherd to carry us
What if we were to return to the image of the Good Shepherd? What if the Church was simply those who were carried?
How would that change the Church?