Stability: Our Desert Home
There is something within us that wants to be great. We want to be people who are recognized for making a difference. We are like those Pharisees who announced their almsgiving and fasting. And Christ quietly says to us, “No.” He says that we must do good works but that we must do them in secret.
Sometimes we become so desperately evangelical that we forget that the majority of people in the early church did not go to the far reaches of the known world. They stayed where they were. The communities in Jerusalem or Antioch were not revolving-door churches where everyone trained for a while, made disciples, and then left while their disciples stayed and trained until they too were ready to go. Some were called out from these churches to go, but most were called to stay, pray, and reflect Christ to their cities. Going is never incompatible with staying unless one is specifically called to do one or the other. It is no victory to artificially motivate others to go by convincing them that being a good Christian—being truly in love with Christ and others—requires going. It is the Spirit who calls.
I am not advocating complacency or the syncretism, so prevalent in our American churches, that conflates the Kingdom of God with America. Simply believing all the right things and living as we please is not Christianity. Faith is dead if it is divorced from love. So whether we go to Africa or stay in America, we must proclaim Christ. We must be alive to Christ and dead to the world. But the call for most of us is to remain in the culture in which we were born, to be at our posts as salt and light within that culture. We are called to be faithful.
What fights against the discipline of stability is restlessness, discontentment, often referred to by the Desert Fathers as accidie or acedia. It is a deep feeling of restlessness that they called the noonday demon, and it whispers to us that we could serve God better somewhere other than where we are. We must overcome this restlessness with stillness, acceptance, and peace, not with movement. We resist it on our knees, even when prayer itself seems impotent. We must be faithful, thankful, praying always, loving the ones who are in our lives. Accidie is not of the Spirit of God but rather a temptation to get us away from our actual calling. The desert is not a place to give in to temptation, but the place to resist, to discover him who is life, real bread. It is in resisting temptation that we find the very strength of God. It is the discipline of stability that calls us to discover this strength, to see the Spirit of God at work wherever we are. And he is always working, everywhere.