A Lenten Focus on Grace-Filled Obedience – Bishop Mark Lawrence’s Exhortation

Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina is such a gift to the Church!  So often pastoral letters he has written, or talks he has given have encouraged and challenged me deeply.

So it is this morning as I read Bishop Mark Lawrence’s pastoral letter for Lent 2015.   In his letter he asks this question:

If grace-filled obe­di­ence not self-imposed depri­va­tion is the path­way to God’s bless­ing shouldn’t one’s Lenten dis­ci­pline focus on this?

For me that really crystallized a way of defining the Lenten disciplines I have chosen.  More about obedience than deprivation.  But I didn’t have an easy way or phrase in my mind to describe it.  Now I do.  Grace-filled obedience.  Amen.

Here’s part of the larger context of Bishop Mark Lawrence’s letter

This Ash Wednes­day morn­ing … these words from Pro­fes­sor J. Alec Motyer’s com­men­tary on the prophecy of Isa­iah .. leapt off the page and brought my rest­less mind to a sud­den pause.

“The Lord is more con­cerned with the enjoy­ment of his bless­ings through obe­di­ence to His com­mands than in self-imposed deprivations.”

These words came as if they were a prophetic word to my soul as I was prayer­fully con­sid­er­ing what dis­ci­plines to embrace this Lent. It wasn’t lost on me that Pro­fes­sor Motyer’s words were com­men­tary on Isa­iah 58 where the prophet spoke of the fast God chooses for his peo­ple: break­ing the bonds of oppres­sion, shar­ing bread with the hun­gry, car­ing for the home­less, cloth­ing the naked, and nur­tur­ing one’s own fam­ily. How might this apply for us here in South Car­olina? For our broth­ers and sis­ters in Christ in Egypt, Nige­ria, Kenya, Sudan and else­where around the world?

This was not the only word that resounded on this Ash Wednes­day morn­ing on this 2015th year of our Lord. There were oth­ers as well. Another was this open­ing para­graph from a homily by St. John Chrysos­tom expound­ing First Corinthi­ans 1:1–3: ‘See how imme­di­ately, from the very begin­ning, he [Paul] casts down their pride, and dashes to the ground all their fond imag­i­na­tion, in that he speaks of him­self as “called.” For what I have learnt, saith he, I dis­cov­ered not myself, nor acquired by my own wis­dom, but while I was per­se­cut­ing and lay­ing waste the Church I was called. Now here of Him that cal­leth is every­thing; of him that is called, noth­ing (so to speak,) but only to obey.’

Then there was this word, spo­ken orig­i­nally to John Ort­berg by Dal­las Willard, and quoted in his book Soul Keep­ing: “Hurry is the great enemy of spir­i­tual life in our day. You must ruth­lessly elim­i­nate hurry from your life.”

What do all these words read this day and res­onat­ing in my ears have to do with my obser­vance of holy Lent? This I believe:

If grace-filled obe­di­ence not self-imposed depri­va­tion is the path­way to God’s bless­ing shouldn’t one’s Lenten dis­ci­pline focus on this?

If God’s call, not the dri­ven life, is for each of us our apos­tolic mis­sion shouldn’t that be the place out of which we live our lives and do our work and ministry?

If we are dust and to dust we shall return (as the words of the Ash Wednes­day liturgy reminds us) why am I, and so many of us, in such a hurry?

I encourage you to read and reflect on Bishop Lawrence’s entire letter.


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