[present perfect] chapter 1: mere christianity

Written by Bryant Neal

Bryant is currently serving as the pastor of a rural church in Georgia and the chaplain coordinator of his community's hospital chaplaincy program. A pastor, teacher, and mentor, Bryant has a passion for helping people discover their best selves in Christ and exploring the deeper sides of spirituality. A closet philosopher, Bryant enjoys writing and publishes a periodic journal that challenges his readers in their relationship with God. Bryant is married to Cheryl and they have two cats.

July 7, 2010

To get the full flavor of what this chapter entitled: “Mere Christianity” talks about I must take a moment to go back to the introduction of the book and share the experience of the author, Gregory A Boyd. As Boyd is running along a serene lake side road a couple of sounds stir him from the concentration of his running and slowly, an awareness begins to overtake him. Sounds that he had never heard, colors that he had never noticed, smells that he had never before detected began to over take him. Bit by bit he begins to realize that the Creator has touched him in a very specific way and has begun to make the reality of Jeremiah 23:24 when God asks: “Do I not fill the earth?” That is not to suppose that God is everything and everything is God as some religions teach; instead, it means that God sustains all things and gives life to all things. Paul writes that “all things are created by Christ and are sustained by Him”. The point of this digression is to remind all of us that as Boyd learned, God is always around us, always at work in everything we see and experience in life and as we learn to live our lives in the ever-presence of God, all things become and experience with God. Brother Lawrence and Brother Jean-Pierre de Caussade wrote about these experiences in what they termed as “practicing the presence of God” and “our duty to the present moment” (respectively).

C.S. Lewis referred to the practice of appreciating God in every moment of every day “mere Christianity” which gives the first chapter of this book its title. Boyd presents an interesting theory that the reason we are not experiencing transformational Christianity is that we have lost the ability to experience God’s presence in our lives as a regular and, indeed, expected practice in the Christian experience. This life begins in surrender and the ongoing practice of surrender. The modern idea of surrender is that we pray a prayer asking for forgiveness and then go about life as usual with the same agendas, concerns, cares and, dare I say it, selfishness, that we started with. Experience with God is something that is relegated to Sunday mornings and maybe Wednesday night prayer meetings. The priority of Christ has been left out. The Kingdom is left unsought (Matt 6:33), continuous prayers are left unprayed (1 Thess 5:17), and the presence of Christ is left undwelt in and vacant (John 15:4-5).

I would picture the context of the modern Christian life as an interstate, such as the one that travels a few miles from my home, that we sprint down at the speed of light. We get on at one exit and speed along until we get to our destination, never realizing the adventures and quests that lie just a short distance away. I remember traveling with my family as a young boy. We would drive down endless miles of back roads and country lanes from Georgia to Florida stopping at road side attractions, souvenir shops and many other soon to be memories and experiences. This is hardly the Christian life today. God is an interchange that has to be scheduled along the interstates of our lives. We go by an endless array of experiences and revelations of God about Himself and ourselves without a thought. Until Sunday comes and we hit the right off-ramp and role up into God’s rest stop and feel good because we’ve made time in our busy schedule to bless HIM with our presence.

Boyd makes a simple suggestion, and one that I whole heartedly endorse since I read Brother Lawrence 10 years ago. WAKE UP!!! Set your spiritual alarm clock, compel your mind to open up toward God; wait, watch and listen for God as He ignites a new passion and desire for Him in your life. Transformation begins as we become a part of the True and Living Vine that is Christ Jesus.

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13 Comments

  1. Crystal

    As I read this chapter, I was struck by the quote “We go about our lives as functional atheists.” We compartmentalize our lives – our spiritual life is completely separate from the rest of our life. When we try to combine our spiritual with our secular, we are seen as “odd” to the world around us. And yet maybe that's what it means to be awake – to be truly alive – not to walk around like robots, but to be constantly aware of how God is moving and acting in our daily lives. God's not only at work when we are looking – God's always at work…the question I'm left with is this:

    How different would we be if we stopped compartmentalizing and let everything just mesh together?

    Reply
  2. Victoria

    I'm such a robot without being purposeful…which I'm really flailing at these days…God's timing in this project is just Divine!

    Reply
  3. @bibledude

    It's somewhat disturbing to think of the church living as 'functional atheists'… and that's not a place that I want to be. That statement is one that stuck with me from this chapter too. And I think I agree that our lives would look completely different if we stopped compartmentalizing like that… what a great question to ponder (and hopefully allow to change us)!

    Reply
  4. @bibledude

    I'm really glad to hear that this is hitting home with you (and others) Victoria! I think if we are honest, then the VERY large majority are in the same place…

    Unfortunately, I think that it's a side-effect of our culture. We've been conditioned for a LONG time to (as Crystal puts it) compartmentalize our spirituality… now it's just time to do something about it!

    Reply
  5. Kathy

    I have always struggled with what it means to surrender. I want to-but what exactly does that mean. Give up my own rights to myself? my agenda? For the first time, Greg talks about surrender in a way that makes sense to me and I can practice. Each moment–the only life we have to surrender is the one we live–moment by moment. Awesome. Life changing view for me.
    Kathy

    Reply
  6. Rich

    The most intriguing part of this chapter comes right at the end for myself as Boyd sums up much of the chapter when he writes “All our life we've practiced forgetting God; now we're seeking to remember him. This is as formidable a challenge as we could ever undertake, and we will need all the help we can get.” The idea of us as western christians having been brainwashed by what Boyd calls a 'secular worldview' is a hard concept to grasp let alone accept. But I have to admit that it does offer some explanation why this discipline is so dang hard. The breath of fresh air that I needed came with the realization that I need only do this in the present moment and not stress about doing it the rest of my life. Ugh, still hard to do. Hoping that it gets easier and easier with each passing moment.

    Reply
  7. @bibledude

    Surrender is something that I think a lot of us struggle with. It's difficult for people in our culture to lose control. But there definitely seems to be so much freedom in that kind of Godly surrender.

    I'm glad to hear that Boyd's teaching has been so transformational for you! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience!

    Reply
  8. Crystal

    Kathy – I agree … when you think of surrender in a moment by moment way, it doesn't seem so daunting, and seems like something we can actually do.

    Reply
  9. @bibledude

    I agree that it can be difficult to accept that idea, but I also see the validity in it. I think that the church has ALWAYS been affected by the views of society, and that's been her biggest struggle. Today's society says that our spirituality must be completely separate from the rest of our lives, but that idea is just so far from the truth and reality of God's plan.

    I'm sure that just like anything else that we practice, it WILL get easier with time.

    I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your perspectives on this topic! I'll definitely be praying that it gets easier for you!

    Reply
  10. Tim Sherfy

    The part of this chapter that most impacted me was almost an afterthought in closing out the “Waking Up to God” exercise. Greg mentioned that when he wakes up each morning he previews his day in his imagination. What a powerful exercise to take the time, before our feet even hit the floor, to visualize our appointments and interactions of the day ahead. As you visualize, see Jesus there in the meeting or conversation, or next to you as you drive or work. By playing out each setting with Christ included, I believe we will be more able to be awake to His presence when the scene plays out in reality. It's something I will definitely try starting tomorrow morning.

    Reply
  11. @bibledude

    I agree Tim! I found that to be a pretty powerful exercise as well! I think that it helps us to start our day much more intentional about including Jesus in our lives throughout all of those events.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  12. Nathan

    I like your view of Christian life as an interstate; I definitely think we become complacent with the mundane routines of our every day grind and forget to stay involved and engaged in our lives.

    Personally I do find myself running on Auto pilot and forget to participate!

    Reply
  13. @bibledude

    This is a GREAT picture of the routines we get stuck in that cause us to lose that sense of engagement in our lives! I totally think that you are not alone in this Nathan! I often think that I just need to literally pull the car over and find some wild-flowers on the side of the road to pick them…. but in many more ways than the literal sense…

    Thanks for sharing Nathan! And for spending SO much time here!

    Reply

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[present perfect] chapter 1: mere christianity

by Bryant Neal time to read: 3 min
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