Fully Embracing Christ – 1 – Introduction

INTRODUCTION

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Jesus (John 16:33)

Trouble. Setbacks. Injustice. How do we relate to God in circumstances that threaten to overwhelm us?

Scripture contains numerous examples of people who had encounters with God during stressful times of trial and suffering in their personal lives as well as in their nation. These biblical examples reveal a common pattern of response to his “visitations”: adoration, repentance, and obedience.

Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th century Christian leader, has something to teach us in this regard. He taught three ways of symbolically “embracing” the Lord over a lifetime that incorporate these responses: embracing his “face in adoration,” his “feet in repentance,” and his “hand in obedience.”

God has not stopped visiting his people. It may not be as dramatic as Moses and the burning bush, but whether we recognize them or not, each of us has encounters with the living God. He is speaking to us and drawing us to himself throughout our lives.

Learning to recognize and respond properly to these encounters was what dramatically changed the lives of the biblical characters in our study. It can also change ours. Like them, we can learn to look into the face of God in adoration, grasp his feet in repentance, and take his hand in obedience.

Using Bernard’s teaching model of the three embraces, we will study the lives of several men and women in Scripture who experienced long-term trials, and who learned to more “fully embrace the Lord.” They are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews 12:1,2, who model for us today how to persevere in faith and “fix our eyes on Jesus”. Although visitations by God are unique to each person, we will see the common pattern of response we have identified: adoration, repentance, and obedience. Their stories are instructive for those of us today who want to pursue a lifelong process of maturing in Christ.

We will also take a detailed look at the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, who lived during a tumultuous time in the nation of Judah. How Habakkuk responded to the Lord during years of oppressive setbacks and injustice, could be instructive for World Vision staff who are also faced with seemingly overwhelming obstacles in their ministries.

As we see in these biblical examples, God initiated the relationships with those who learned to fully embrace him. He visited and drew them to himself—certainly individually, and sometimes as a community (e.g., a new nation begun through Abraham, Israel rescued from 430 years of bondage, and the three thousand in Jerusalem who responded to God on the Day of Pentecost). Of course, the entire incarnation story of Christ’s coming to earth is the most dramatic and convincing example of God’s loving initiative in seeking to draw the entire world to himself.

However, this study will focus only on personal visitations that are instructive in learning how to respond and relate to God over a lifetime. Lessons learned from these visitations, often called “theophanies,” will be helpful in developing a framework for spiritual formation.

 

 

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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