Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Training for difficulties - The Instructor on similitudes and examples in right training

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"And if any one of you shall entirely avoid luxury, he will, by a frugal upbringing, train himself to the endurance of involuntary labours, by employing constantly voluntary afflictions as training exercises for persecutions; so that when he comes to compulsory labours, and fears, and griefs, he will not be unpracticed in endurance." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 8)
The time to train for difficulties is not when you are in the midst of them but before, when you are at ease. Consider the actions of King Asa, "He also removed the high places and the incense altars from all the cities of Judah. And the kingdom was undisturbed under him. He built fortified cities in Judah, since the land was undisturbed, and there was no one at war with him during those years, because the Lord had given him rest." (2 Chronicles 14:5-6) Asa and the Israelite found themselves in a time of peace, but instead of depending on their peace, they took advantage of the time to prepare themselves spiritually and their nation for future wars. Times of ease are when we need to be most diligent in preparing ourselves for difficulties to come. They are times when, though tempted to be slothful, we must choose to be diligent and active in preparation for the future.

This applies not only to preparing for our ability to overcome future adversity but also for preparing ourselves to be ready to respond to God whenever He might call us. I remember reading about J Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission during the latter half of the nineteenth century. When he was younger he always made sure to leave the table a little bit hungry and to sleep at night so that he would always be a little bit cold. In this way he hopped to prepare himself for life on the mission field. His discipline as a youth prepared him for over fifty years of fruitful ministry in China and for breaking new ground in inland missions. In contrast, I remember when a church I was apart of was ready to send a team to Venezuela to start a church there, there was a couple who knew that it was God's will and call for them to go and be a part of the team. Unfortunately, their life of undisciplined had left them in debt and this debt prevented them from responding to God's call when it came. They had waited for God's call but were unable to respond to it when it came because they failed to prepare themselves while they had the chance. Our choices today should be made based on the life we hope to have in the future.
"What pertains to disciplane alone is reserved now for description, as we delineate the life of Christians. The most indeed has been already said, and laid down in the form of disciplinary rules. What still remains we shall subjoin; for examples are of no small moment in determining to salvation." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 8)
One of the greatest gifts history gives us is the abundant collection of examples of lives lived well and not so well. By studying history, we can often see the reflection of our own life and the multiple possible outcomes if we continue in, or deviate from, the current arc of our life. We can learn to identify the things in our lives that are leading to a positive end as well as those things that are tending to destruction; history congratulating the former and warning against the latter. Clement sees examples of history as one of the greatest teachers of human life.
"For some men being instructed are saved; and others, self-taught, either aspire after or seek virtue. 'He truly is the best of all who himself perceives all things.' Such is Abraham, who sought God. 'And good, again, is he who obeys him who advises well.' Such are those disciples who obeyed the Word. Wherefore the former was called 'friend,' the latter 'apostles;' the one diligently seeking, and the other preaching one and the same God. And both are peoples, and both these have hearers, the one who is profited through seeking, the other who is saved through finding. 'But whoever neither himself perceives, nor, hearing another, Lays to heart—he is a worthless man.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 8)
Not all people learn in the same way, nor is the manor of instruction the same for all teachers. Some are given to seeking out truth and storing it up in their heart while others are given to receiving the truth and treasuring it equally within them. Some prefer reading, some hearing, and some need personal coaching. However, the "hows" of instruction doesn't matter, what matters is what we do with what we learn. Do we take the lessons of history and apply them to our lives that we might live abundantly, or do we ignore history and plow ahead towards our own destiny of destruction? Are we like those of whom Paul says are, "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 3:7) Or are we like those whom Jesus spoke of who, "hears these words of Mine and acts on them," (Matthew 7:24) who built for themselves strong foundations for their lives? The choice is ours.

David Robison

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